Following the love: challenges of a local-foreigner expat couple

The local-foreigner expat couple faces challenges, weighting on the local side. For the native partner, there are big responsibilities to take care of the financial, social and emotional well-being of the newcomer as well as to adapt one’s routine for a couple’s life. Whereas for the migrant partner, there is pressure to accept and assimilate to the local norms and partner’s social routine, sometimes without having space for one’s own needs and wishes.

Over the last several months we have discussed expat couples in general, identifying different types, general challenges they face and relationship changes they need to overcome. While the big picture is already drawn, it is time to look into each expat couple type in a little more detail. Thus, in this article, we will overview the main challenges of the most love-driven expat couple—the one with one local and one foreigner who migrated for relationship.

If the name above is not intuitive enough, here is a typical story-line of this couple type: a man meets a woman. They like each other. Since they have no (or limited) time to date in person, they continue in a long-distance relationship. After some time, they grow tired of being apart and want to take their relationship to the next level. Eventually, a decision is made which country of theirs would be more suitable to live in. One partner migrates to live with his or her partner. They live happily ever after…

…or so they expect. As we discussed in the previous article about general challenges and we can even notice in the most predictable Hollywood movies, there is an array of challenges every relationship faces before the “happy ending”. No different is the couple facing their new chapter of love: equally like any other couple, but uniquely like no other they encounter difficulties that might have been unexpected and need to be sorted out. Let’s take a look at the few of them.

1. Leading role for the local partner

When a foreign partner moves into his or her partner’s country, everything is new and unknown. He or she does not know about the social rules, language, job market, even where the supermarket is. At least, in the beginning, the local partner has to take control of most parts and introduce his or her life to the loved one. Besides the “tour-guide” aspects, the local partner may be (temporarily) responsible for the financial as well as social needs. While (if) the partner is in search for a job, the local partner has to provide for the needs of both partners and be emotionally supportive while his or her partner is adjusting to the new life. Not to mention that even re-arranging the house and sharing the home might be a greater difficulty than expected. For example, the local partner will have to adjust to different routines on time management, food preferences, cleaning and organizing styles of his new “room-mate”. While he or she is used to doing things the usual way, the migrant partner would bring up his or her own wishes, raising the need for a compromise.

All in all, the first period of living together brings a lot of pressure to the local partner to accommodate and support his loved one, while the migrant partner might feel dependent. Although this phase gets easier in time, both partners should be prepared for this changed interplay, and allow time and space to discuss their feelings as well as find ways to address each other’s needs.

2. The pressure to adapt to the foreign partner

While the local partner is genuinely opening his or her world to the loved one, the expectation to accept it comes along. Since the beloved one agreed to come to the country of the partner, he or she might be presumed to accept all the aspects of it (at least the ones liked by the partner). For example, the local partner would be surprised or even hurt if his or her country’s social norms, traditions, or even language is unappreciated or criticized.Here comes a difference between exploring the new country by oneself, being open to making personal opinions as compared to learning about the new country with the local, where the comments might be taken personally. This particular difference in familiarity adds the expectation and pressure to agree on and go along the culture of the local partner.

Besides the general opinions of the country, the migrant partner might be expected to assimilate the life of the local partner: adjust to his or her daily/weekly routine, learn the local language, join social gatherings, among other events. Especially in the beginning, while the migrant partner does not have his or her own unattached life (job, social circle, hobbies), he or she not only might feel dependent on the routine of the partner but feel forced to go along with it. For example, the migrant partner may wish to spend every evening together, while the local partner might not be ready to give up his routine hobbies and meetings with friends. Generally speaking, there is a common belief that the expat couple would acculturate to the local life, creating a greater demand for the migrant to accept and adjust to all.

It is essential, again, to openly discuss these expectations and make room for different opinions, needs and wishes of each partner. Also, it is important to notice the possible change and adapt to it—for example, from the need to be always together in the beginning to the need for personal space later on.

3. One-sided social circle

An additional difficulty that lays within the topic of adaptation is a one-sided social circle. Unsurprisingly, the newcomer to the country does not have family and friends around. Their partner is the only family they have and, thus, the migrant partner is usually included in the existing family and friends of the local partner. While it is definitely a positive action, helping the migrant partner feel part of the group, it may also feel a bit constrained.

As already mentioned before, the foreign partner does not have a choice to make his or her own opinions about close people to the local partner, as any criticism would be taken personally by the local one. Even with the most understanding partners, it would be difficult to accept that the beloved companion does not agree on the friends’ choice or family. Thus, the migrant partner might find it difficult to not only keep his or her opinions to themselves but go along with the socializing habits of the native partner. For instance, the newcomer might not be interested but feel compelled to spending every occasion with the partner’s friends or family.

The same frustration could apply to the local partner as well. It is possible that the native partner might feel obliged to include his or her significant other for every gathering with friends, whereas he or she would rather have some private time or even prefer to keep his or her friends apart from the relationship. Depending on the desires and social needs of the migrant one, these intentions can bring uninvited tension and pressure.

Dealing with these differences, extra care should be taken not to offend each other, phrasing your own needs rather than comparing or criticizing the ones of the partner. Read how to address dissatisfaction in a non-conflictual way in the previous article.

4. Relationship challenges

Last, but not the least, are the relationship changes that every expat couple faces in their migration phase. Without repeating oneself on the topic, the couple should not forget that this new phase of their exciting love story always comes with some changes in the status-quo: at the first glance scary, those changes are the natural outcome of the relationship moving forward, re-arranging itself and asking each partner to go along with it. The best thing every couple can do is to openly observe and embrace any differences in each other, and discuss how their daily ways should change to adapt to it.

As exciting as their story might sound, the local-foreigner expat couple comes across challenges in their relationship. Expected or not, the local partner (initially and temporarily) becomes in charge of the financial, social and emotional support for the loved one, taking care of smooth adaptation of his partner. Together with it, the local partner is faced with the need to become more flexible with his daily routine and socializing, plus making more space for the new partner in the house and his or her life.

The migrant partner, on the contrary, encounters the pressure to adapt as soon as possible, sometimes fighting personal opinions and wishes. While being new in the country, he or she has to mediate between becoming part of the local partner’s life and finding her or his own life aside.

This new phase in the relationship, thus, brings a need for a lot of changes and open discussions between partners, which are equally a challenge and an opportunity to grow closer together as a couple.

Eglė Naraškevičiūtė

I am Eglė Naraškevičiūtė, an Expat Psychologist in Eindhoven. I help other internationals adjust to the new country, relationship changes, individual past, present and future challenges. Via individual, couple counselling or the expat women support group, we step out of the cloud to live the bright day. Take the first step and reach out via

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