Chiswick Herald Article - Relationships and relocating / emigrating

I’ve noticed that many of the couples who come to see me have moved to the UK - usually for work. In therapy we often talking through the impacts on each other and their relationship of having made the move.
This can include the stress and pressure of moving, finding a new home, finding good schools, settling in to a new area, new jobs, leaving behind family or friends. Sometimes the couple will have moved for a career opportunity for one of them, this can mean the other having to leave a their job, or having to find a new one, or if they weren’t working the task of rebuilding a life with new people and places.
Having noticed that relationships can struggle when people move for work I started to think about what can happen when a couple moves in an effort to leave the rat race. I visited Tenerife, a place that many British people have moved to, so that I could see for myself how the communities were integrating UK expats and also to speak to local therapists to understand what relationship struggles their clients were bringing.
What I discovered was that whether you are moving for work, or even to get away from work, relationships can face the same challenges. Overall, the relationships that are most resilient appear to be those that have proven themselves through previous times of change.
Change contains loss and how we are with ourselves. How we are in our relationships during times of change and loss is something that only becomes apparent when we are faced with it. I would say that so primal can be our reactions to change that our flight, fight and freeze responses can easily derail even the most apparently resilient of relationships.
Couples where both partners have been faced individually with change and where they have been able to maintain communication and understanding, learn and integrate ways of responding to change. When we know our responses to change and know what our partners do when under pressure it enables a couple to look out for each other, know how best to respond and ultimately stay safe and well.
A local psychologist, who as a fluent english speaker has as a result worked with UK nationals who had moved to Tenerife, Dr Ignacio Rosillo confirmed that social and cultural factors are very important to the wellbeing of the individual and therefore the couple. 
He explained that it can be very hard to integrate into established communities and so there can be a tendency for expats to form sub-communities. Whilst they can be supportive and rewarding they can also create limitations. 
The second “cultural” factor relates to how different and therefore difficult it can be to get things done. Bureaucracy can be frustrating and it is not the bureaucracy per se that is problematic but the stress that comes from how different things are to expectation.
Families moving to London generally benefit from finding that there are many other people sharing their experience. In particular when it comes to children, the schools are a great focal point for parents to make contacts but also the diverse, multi-cultural and transient population of London means that children can often integrate relatively easily.
This is not the case however for the children of UK expats in Tenerife. Jane, a counsellor working with the children of expats points out though that relocating can cause issues for the children. 
From reflecting on my work with couples in London and my discussions with colleagues in Tenerife I can say that there are no rights or wrongs and it’s not possible to give a list of do’s and don’t but I can offer a number of questions that can help a couple think about relocating.
  1. Do you both know what you both find helpful and unhelpful when things are difficult?
  2. What are your expectations about what the move might mean - think about yourself  individually, your relationship, other family members, friendships, work, finance, health, interests, spirituality.
  3. How are you the same and how do you differ in terms of the things you find important and have you given equal weight to ensuring your new home will sustain you equally? For example, if the countryside and quiet is essential for one, whilst proximity to a busy city and lots of people essential for the other are you able to find a location that can offer both?
  4. What sources of information are available in the location so that you can compare your expectations with the reality?
  5. If things go well what will that look like?
  6. If things go badly what will that look like?
  7. What will you be most likely to want to do if things do go badly how might you handle that together?
  8. What review processes / stages might be helpful to make the transition easiest. For example, might you make a number of visits before making the final decision? Rent before you buy? Agree a trial period? Agree a termination period?
  9. What do you both think about the future and how comfortable do you feel with each others views?
Overall, I think that it is really important that a move works for both equally. Compromises should mean giving up a little for both rather than one giving in to the other. Both should be in a position of being able to think forward and again for both, communication should feel fluid and open.