8 Reasons Why Expat Living Causes Stress and Strains Your Relationships

I see life and our overall wellbeing as a complex jigsaw puzzle and ‘stressed pieces’ don’t fit together. The key to ‘life’s puzzle’ is to find and fix our Emotional, Physical and Environmental stresses so our pieces can connect again. That’s why I say life is a journey filled with happiness when all our jigsaw pieces work together – The ‘Big 3’ Stress Solutions Puzzle...


If you’re thinking about moving abroad are you aware of what this entails and how your relationships will be impacted?


I’ve been living the Expat Life for 6 years in a few different countries and here’s my experience when I first moved to Singapore in 2012.

Some of us want to see and experience more than our own ‘backyard’ therefore we move abroad for an adventure seeking a very different life. I never realised just how stressful moving overseas was going to be, not only on a personal level but also on all my relationships. I’m talking about everyone from family to friends and your spouse. Trust me when I say ‘no one is off limits’.

Moving to Singapore gave me first-hand experience of how ‘real’ this all can be. And when I started discussing this with other Singapore Expat Wives, I soon realised a large majority of us felt this way.

During our ‘Ladies Night’ catch up sessions, copious amounts of alcohol would be drunk. All the negative feelings and experiences would be exposed regardless of ‘rank’ in the group, it all came out. This is when the ‘ugly side’ of being an Expat Wife would rear its ugly head with no holds barred! Don’t you just love alcohol the ‘truth serum!’…

Moving abroad will test even the strongest relationships. It won’t take long before you’ll start to find where the weakness are which might have been masked before. I’m not only talking about your spouse, I’m also referring to family and friends. During this time, you’ll soon find out if your life and what you perceived to be true might all come crashing down around you….


Here are 8 reasons why moving abroad can test your relationships


1. No support causes emotional stress


Spouse: Your partner will expect you to get on with your day to day life just like you did back home. We had just moved to Singapore, I didn’t know the ‘lay of the land’, I was trying to get everything for the apartment to make it liveable. When you have no idea on where to go and how to get around, it can be very challenging. They don’t have time to help and you’re left to deal with it all. This can be the start of many arguments later on down the track if it’s not addressed earlier on.

For those who have families, everything will be different when it comes to running a family household especially in the country you end up in. This creates challenges when you’re left to take care of everything yourself with no support from our spouse. And because a majority of people have had family help them out ‘back home’, they soon learn the hardship of no support in a foreign country, which can take its toll.


Family/Friends: It becomes very apparent just how much your network means to you when you turn around and they’re not there. It’s so easily taken for granted when your family and friends live just down the road. Living abroad means there’s no face to face catch up where you can sit around, chat and drink. You’ll really start to miss your family/friends as you discover communicating via the internet or phone just it’s the same. Especially when you need a shoulder to cry on and they’re not there.



2. Expat Living can be very Lonely


Spouse: Due to the hours they work and the stress they’re under you will be alone a lot. My husband was constantly travelling leaving me alone in Singapore for weeks on end. I got lonely and missed my relationship with him. Other Singapore Expat Wives I know had this problem too!

Whilst they’re busy doing the job they came here to do, you might be left feeling a little alone, empty or resentful for moving away from your friends and family. They have their work mates and most are solely focused on their jobs, taking up a large majority of their time. Therefore, you’re on the ‘back burner’ fending for yourself!


Family/Friends: To add to that stress, it gets lonely when you’re struggling to meet new people in a city you don’t know. You’ll soon realise how much you miss your friends! To top that it’s even more stressful in Singapore where the Expat Wives Club can be very challenging to deal with (not all but a large majority)!



3. Expat Life Can Cause you to Lose your identity


Spouse: Majority of us ended up feeling like we lost our identity, this leads us to question a lot about ourselves. We feel like we’ve given up everything for our partners. Then our partners start questioning who we’ve become?

Leaving your ‘Mother Land’ can jolt your confidence in the initial period because you’ve left your comfort zone. Some have left their jobs behind which shaped who they were and how they identified themselves, instead of now just being an ‘Expat Wife’.

This is the time when you ask yourself… Who am I? What do I like in life? What type of life do I want to lead? What makes me happy? These are all the questions you might start to ask yourself!


Family/Friends: When you’re faced with the challenge of ‘Who am I?’ the last thing you need is those close to you questioning your new personality. The reality of change is already confronting enough without the added pressure from those around you.

Through the loss of our identity we find things out about ourselves we didn’t realise. This is the time to take note of how we feel about things and what is important to us.

Family and friends who are used to you being a certain way can make judgements or comments because of the fact you’re a slightly different person to who they know. They’ll point out the new changes in you, and if they are not open minded…. YOU’RE GOING TO HEAR ALL ABOUT IT!

I’ve actually ended a few relationships with both family and friends since I left Australia back in 2012, I never realised just how judgemental and jealous some people can be!



4. Moving Abroad will throw you many Challenges


Spouse: Your relationship will find its challenges happening from the very beginning especially when living in multiple countries out of suitcases. You have to work together and mindful of the amount of support you’ll need from each other. I’ll give you a great example of how we started out in our Expat life.

Prior to my husband’s commencement date, we’d just done a 2-month holiday around Europe living out of suitcases travelling from one country to another. We got back to Australia for a week, then went to Singapore for 2 weeks then onto the USA for 3 months.  This was so my husband could work with his boss in the USA office. We were living in New Jersey in a hotel when Super Storm Sandy hit! That was a challenge within itself.

We learned to lean on each other but at the same time, due to the amount of stress, we weren’t there for each other like we would have been if we were back in Australia. This is due to a foreign environment and EVERYONE around you is stressed! You have no home, no car and nowhere to go. You’ve got your entire life in a few suitcases. This is a major challenge! That’s just an example…

Regardless of how you start out, it’s inevitable there will be arguments. Your spouse will see a different side to you like you’ll see a different side of them. We have to adapt and evolve to fit into our current surroundings. This can be a challenge therefore strong, effective communication skills are required in order to survive.


Family/Friends: No matter what challenges you’re having to deal with it’s not going to be recognised by your family and friends. Only those who’ve lived abroad can understand how difficult it can be at times. You’ll be challenged by the fact your family and friends don’t understand why you’re ‘challenged’ at times. Therefore, explaining your life, what you’re enduring and how you feel can be ‘challenging’ to say the least, so be prepared for that one too. I feel like I’ve used the word ‘challenge’ a lot in this paragraph!



5. People don’t understand your new Expat life


Family/Friends: It was a major transition moving to Asia however we were in limbo living in the USA for 3 months before setting up in Singapore. It’s hard for people to understand your life and how much stress living out of a suitcase can cause. Majority of people I know have made an assumption about my life (not accurately I might add). This can encounter problems when they have no idea what you’re going through.

Be prepared when you reach out for emotional support and it gets thrown back in your face. I’ve had ‘you chose this life’ or ‘suck it up people do this every day’ spewed back at me! Which I find quite insulting coming from those who have never moved overseas (or even interstate)! Or better yet? The comments on why your ‘Home Land’ is so much better, why would you move?  AND we can’t forget the jealousy card too… ‘Not everyone has this opportunity, you have no idea how easy your life is and how lucky you are!’…

There will be times when you want to scream and pull your hair out because some people just don’t understand and if you try to explain it, you can be perceived as some who is ‘out of touch with reality’. When truth be told on the odd occasion it’s the judgemental ones who could do with a reality check themselves…

In my personal opinion if you’re going to make comments or judgments based on something you’ve not experienced please be mindful of the fact you’ve not lived it yourself. Therefore, being adamant about something isn’t always helpful to the person reaching out for help!



6. Expat Life comes with Resentment in many different forms


Spouse: After a while, if your partner is constantly working and not engaged when they come home, you start to get a little resentful. You’ve made the move abroad to be supportive of them and if you’re not get anything in return, you start to question why am I here? It’s imperative the person who has the job realises that their partner has given up a lot to be supportive, therefore it can’t be all about them! 


Family/Friends: In Singapore, I wasn’t able to work as I was on a dependant past attached to my husband visa/work permit. The resentment I got from some people because I wasn’t working soon became apparent. The comments on ‘how easy it is to have my life where you don’t have to work’ started flowing my way. Then because I was traveling a lot that only added fuel to the fire.  Some only see that aspect of my life, not the day to day challenges I face. Therefore, at times I resent the fact they have all their personal belongings, comforts and support network around them which I don’t have.



7. Living Abroad will give you Cultural Challenges


Some countries will mean you’re going to encounter cultural challenges. Singapore is probably the easiest of all the Asia countries because most of the people speak English. But there’s Singlish and other variable language barriers which you will encounter, the list goes on and on. When you try to explain this to some people they get their back up, they simply don’t understand.

An example, I had a person stay with me and constantly whinge about how different (in a bad way) Singapore was compared to Australia. Why would I live here etc etc etc… 

I’ve adapted to my surroundings and become a different person… Unless you’ve experienced living in Asia then how do you know what my life is like and how many challenges I face?

Trying to make the best of my situation and getting negative feedback constantly on ‘how I am’ in my country of residency (Singapore) was infuriating.  Yes, I’m different to the way I am back in Australia, I have to be to survive!

Then I’m been told HOW to behave. Yes, you read that correctly I was being TOLD how to behave?!? It was pointed out ‘HOW’ I’ve changed and they didn’t like it… to me that’s unacceptable and it’s not helping me either! I wanted to scream at them “You try living here without changing who you are”… I know they couldn’t do it!

Living in Australia is different to living in Singapore, just like it’s different to London, the USA or Netherlands (other countries I’ve lived in)… Culture challenges present themselves and you need to adapt to your surrounds, be respectful, and mindful of the country and its culture where you reside.



8. The Emotional Stress of Expat Life Can lead to Affairs


I’ve seen both sides of the fence here when it comes to affairs. We all know when relationships are under pressure, communication is limited and other feelings can come into play. This is amplified when living abroad because you’re relying on each other for support which can be challenging at the best of times.

Men want to let off some steam and just go and have some fun! They’re working long hours, under a huge amount of stress and because they are not coping they turn to a quick fling to reduce their stress levels.

Women I know have felt resentful and upset by the lack of affection and support from their husbands so they’ve have turned to a man (or two) looking for a thrill or to fill that emotional void of feeling wanted and needed.

Irrespective of what is going on in your relationship - In my book cheating is a hard line no no!  No exceptions…. ever and I mean ever! Once that trust is broken you can never rebuild your relationship. Think of it like a glass that’s broken. You can glue it back together but the cracks will always be there indefinitely.



So what does the ‘Big 3’ Stress Solutions Puzzle look like when it comes to 8 Reasons Why Expat Living Causes Stress and Strains Your Relationships?


Assumptions are made about Expat life and what that means. Some think that it’s no different to living their lives the way they do now because they simply can’t make the connection between two different worlds.

And to be fair if you haven’t ever lived anywhere else other than the same city or country you grew up in, then I can see how it must be hard for others to understand. However, when I’ve tried to explain how hard and taxing it can be on my emotional stress levels, I’ve had some people say some pretty rude and nasty things, why? I don’t know.

When it comes to Expat living be prepared for the lack of support you might receive. Your life is definitely going to change and when it comes to your family and friends, some will not understand.

In some aspect living in Singapore brought out the worst in me. One or two bad life experiences from my past which I thought I’d dealt with resurfaced again. Sometimes that led me down a path of negative thinking and a bad headspace. That’s what I’ve discovered can happen if you’re living in an environment away from your support network with a partner who works 24-7. All these factors combined have major relationship stress factors in the making.

Even though I’ve stated some of the worst things above, I still to this day wouldn’t change a thing! I love being an Expat and living abroad! It’s allowed me to expand my horizons and make friends around the world.

Confronting as it is, I’ve learned more about myself that I could possibly imagine. I now know WHO I AM, who my true friends are and what others think about me. In a way, I find it liberating to finally learn about myself. I’ve learned to push through the hard times and just get on with it! Now I’m so much stronger than I ever was before and that’s because of these experiences.

Remember my motto for positive change is ‘Little Puzzle Pieces Create a Big Picture’… If you’re going to make the move abroad be mindful and aware of what I’ve said. It’s imperative you know the warning signs. This will allow you to be proactive in your relationships and mindful of what might happen. Most things can be resolved with effective communication and willingness from both parties!

Moving abroad is life changing and I’m so grateful for the experience. You only have one life and you’ll never know unless you go… so go and do it!

Until next time be thoughtful, be mindful, be present. This is Character 32 doing her best to help you!


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