Bi-cultural Relationships and Couple’s Therapy

I work with couples of which one has moved to the other’s home country. This situation produces a unique set of circumstances and specific couple issues in terms of their shared relationship. A bi-cultural relationship is the convergence of two people and their individual cultures creating a new combined couple culture.

Taking the bold step to move from your country of origin to your partners’ country of origin either for adventure, work, a better life or solely for love can be very challenging and often far more difficult than we anticipate. Sometimes it is hard to admit just how difficult the challenge! We are faced with adjusting to a new life while coming to terms with the loss of the life we left behind. The ‘displaced’ partner may often feel some of the following emotions:

  • Alone and isolated – at home all day while your partner is at work;
  • Negotiating loss and separation from country of origin, family members and familiar customs and traditions;
  • Homesickness on many levels;
  • Loss of self esteem and the feeling of having to prove yourself in this new environment;
  • Frustrated because when your partner comes home from work they are too tired to connect in the way you hope;
  • Feeling disoriented and out of balance leading to feeling cumbersome or a burden;
  • Frustration of trying to be understood or ‘seen’ in a foreign language and culture;
  • Trapped without the agency to feel as though you can leave;
  • A sense that you are simply ‘filling in time’ without a goal or sense of purpose;
  • Difficulty finding a legitimate place in your partner’s family and having to deal with difficult questions e.g. ‘haven’t you found work yet’?;
  • Uncertainty about how to start a life for yourself in this new environment; uncertainty about how to make friends and how to integrate generally;
  • Ambivalence about whether you really want to integrate into the new culture and the feeling that you have to make a choice between your country and this new country;
  • Sense of obligation because your partner is now the sole earner and provider;
  • Lack of independence and now feeling dependent; having to relinquish choices and resources;
  • Under pressure to do certain things because of your circumstances e.g. having to re-sit driver’s license, learn a foreign language, have qualifications reassessed;
  • Fear of what the future will hold e.g. will I find work, will I make friends, will I be happy?;
  • Confusion about how the new systems work and reliance on others for explanations and translation e.g. healthcare, taxes;
  • Anger and frustration with new foreign systems and their norms and values;
  • Lack of motivation, putting yourself under pressure to get it all sorted but powerless as to know how to achieve things in an environment that feels very foreign. Even simple tasks become major obstacles;
  • Sense of being a burden to the other partner because of how you’re feeling; perhaps anxious or depressed, not exercising enough, putting on weight;
  • Regretful about lack or loss of work opportunities;
  • Disappointment of feeling as though your life is on-hold while your partner’s moves forward….

These are a few of the issues that can arise! And while these are problems for the individual they have a profound impact on the couple. If you’re in this situation are you in touch with what’s hard for you? Is your partner in touch with what’s hard for you? Do you find yourselves competing about who’s sacrificed or sacrifices the most? Do you understand each others’ sacrifices?

In therapy we can explore the emotional process of moving and of identifying or being identified as the expat. If you want to begin figuring out how to relate better to each other in your new set of circumstances and create a solid relationship-base within this new environment contact me and help yourself to get started on your journey.

Come and paint yourself a new world! Discover how to ‘live juicy’ in your new environment!

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