Expat relationship problems
and how to solve them

July 23, 2019

Changing location can mean a change of roles in the relationship. A previously employed partner may find life as a trailing spouse difficult. Language barriers, government regulations and unaccredited qualifications are among the main reasons for this.

Spouses may find it difficult to adjust to being financially dependent on their partner as well as adjusting to unemployment. This shift in roles can put a strain on the relationship while the couple are trying to adjust to their new life abroad.

Try to keep an open dialogue between you and your partner. Communication is key when overcoming any relationship issues. Discuss how you both feel and try to come up with solutions for each other. Remember that your transition experience could differ from theirs.

If your partner is finding it difficult to get work, help them with their job applications. If they are unable to work at all, schedule planned together time and help them to identify activities in the area that they can take part in.

Often, expat families are leaving behind their support system of family and friends. This separation can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Adjusting to life abroad can be tough when you’re missing home and comparing everything to your past life. This may be harder for the trailing spouse who left it all behind to support their partner in their international career.

Meeting new friends as an expat can be a challenge, especially as an adult. It may be easier for the assignee as they have a workplace community which gives them a head start for making friends.

Today’s technology makes staying in touch with family and friends easier than ever. Set a time that suits for a weekly catch up with your circle and keep them updated on your new adventure.

Join a local club to physically meet people. Find one that suits you: book club, tennis, cooking… anything! Check if there’s an expat support group in your area. Meeting with people who are experiencing the same challenges as you is helpful in overcoming loneliness.


There’s a lot to learn and take in when starting a new job. You desperately want to impress your manager and sometimes, this leaves less time to spend with your partner. For example, when you get home in the evenings you’ll find that you’re more tired than usual as your brain tries to digest the day’s goings on.

Your partner may have spent most of the day alone and is yearning for some conversation when you arrive home. Tiredness can be mistaken for not caring.

Succeeding at work is important, but family time should be prioritised also. Dedicate a few hours per week to spending time with your partner. Plan date nights, visit local museums and consider taking up a hobby together. Have fun with each other.

Not only is spending time together good for your relationship, but exploring your new location and sharing experiences together help you settle in to life abroad.

According to marital therapist Andrew G. Marshall, “resentment is the silent killer in relationships and can easily grow if you are an expat”. Moving to a new country is usually the result of chasing a career opportunity for one partner. The trailing spouse must make a lot of sacrifices that can lead to feelings of resentment and arguments between the couple.

Resentment can stem from many issues including:


Inability to work

Many foreign countries have strict regulations when it comes to employment. Qualifications held in your home country may not be accepted abroad and getting a working visa may not always be possible.


Loss of identity

With language barriers, cultural changes and the loss of your friends and family it’s easy to lose sight of you are. 


Loneliness and isolation

Being alone for long periods of time and feeling isolated in your new home can lead to loneliness and feelings of resentment. 


Culture Shock

It is not uncommon for expats and their partners to experience a period of culture shock. For example, your level of independence could change abroad and foods or activities that you once enjoyed might not exist in your new location.

These are serious issues but they can be solved by communicating and empathising with your partner. Learning about the local culture can improve symptoms of culture shock and joining clubs with likeminded people will help you to reclaim your identity. Keep busy and become part of the community to overcome feelings of resentment.

Changing locations can be a very positive experience for couples too. Everything is new and exciting and there’s so much to be discovered. If time and communication are prioritised in your relationship you will have the tools needed to make your expat experience the best it can be.


If you or your partner are working abroad make sure you’re protected with comprehensive international health insurance.