Article by Karen Arango

Relationships have their ups and downs regardless of where the couple lives, or whether they live together or apart. Having some issues in a relationship is unavoidable. In fact, it is just another aspect of a long-term commitment. However, a healthy and happy relationship can always be built through love and mutual understanding. There are two types of relationships that expats can have: Geographically-Close Relationships (GCRs) and Long Distance Relationships (LDRs).


Some couples move abroad looking for a new start, better opportunities and hoping old relationship problems could be resolved, but moving to a new location doesn’t mean problems will suddenly disappear. Furthermore, the stress generated during the adaptation process could create new problems and old, hidden conflicts would eventually come up. This is a real relationship test and is the right time to work in the real change both need, become stronger as a couple and forgive and support each other in the ups and downs of this process. There are two main types of migration as a couple:

Proactive migration

This describes couples who have made the decision to move abroad together; they are couples who decided to live a new adventure, create a better future and/or learn a new language and culture.

Adaptive migration

This describes the scenario of one partner getting the job or study opportunity. People, in general, tend to see this person as someone with a new job opportunity that has a lot of professional growth potential, while the other half will have to adapt, leaving his/her family, friends and profession behind. At the beginning, he/she will find more difficulties to get over the cultural shock, because in the adaptation process, he/she must build a new life, a new role and strengthen self-esteem.


  1. Talk openly about your feelings, fears, and decisions: Feeling misunderstood and lonely are universal experiences, we all go through them. As an expat or in your own country, communication is the most important tool in your relationship. Listen with your heart, be empathetic with the other and try to understand his/her feelings.
  2. Appreciate and value each other: life goes fast; you have the opportunity right now to express your love, to say thank you for the little things, to appreciate and recognize all the beauty in your partner. If you are positive in your comments the environment at home will change.
  3. Spend time together: being an expat is a good opportunity for personal and professional growth, but this experience can be full of responsibilities and obligations. Make sure to spend some quality time as a couple, even if it is just one or two hours a week; explore the city, cook together, play games, watch movies, try new restaurants, exercise, etc.
  4. Spend time alone: Men and women need time alone and with friends. When you arrive at home it’s a good idea to take 10 minutes for a “transition routine” before sharing your daily experiences; just relax, take a shower, take off the office stress and be ready to enjoy the family time. It’s healthy to have “me time” to hang out with friends, practice a sport, and do some activities just for yourself.
  5. Don’t be afraid to go home: If one or both of you want to return to his/her country and both feel life abroad isn’t working, it’s important to accept it and move on. Build a new life plan together, talk about the pros and cons of the decision and go live a new adventure.


LDRs are stereotyped as less happy and more fragile relationships when compared to GRCs. But successful LDRs do exist. Personal and collective agreements, necessities, confidence, honesty, and style all strongly contribute to the success of an LDR. There are some reasons for taking an LDR:

-One of the partners has an important personal project at home (work, study, family needs) and he/she doesn’t want to leave it.

-28/28 rotation job (28 days working abroad and 28 days off)

-The contract or the scholarship doesn’t have any legal and economic benefits for the partner and it is not possible to emigrate together.

-The opportunity is in another city or country and is temporary. The partner has the intention to return after a specified period of time, not longer than two years.

-One of the partners leaves first to open the way for the other in the new country.
-Internet relationship or online relationship.

-Meet each other in the new country and one of the partners job/work contract finishes and s/he decides to leave, or, both travel to different countries respectively and continue the relationship in the distance.


  1. See the distance as an opportunity: it gives the opportunity to the couple to look the relationship from a new point of view. Distance can help you to appreciate and value yourselves as a couple.
  2. Express feelings and establish couple agreements: All relationships have different agreements about sexuality, communication, fidelity and loyalty. The most important thing is to create a communication space and express feelings and expectations; establish rules, compromises and be honest to what extent both people can be flexible.
  3. Have a specified period of time to meet or live together: This is a very important in keeping an LDR alive and generate satisfaction for both. It also creates commitment and certainty about being together for a specified period of time. Couples that don’t have this point clear easily lose interest and the relationship does not generate an emotional stability.
  4. Meet each other’s needs: When one feels sad all the time, and always worries about what the other is doing, when physical intimacy is highly required it is very difficult to have a LDR. Then it is crucial for both sides to make an effort to meet and talk about the issue and resolve the problems.
  5. Get help: When problems persist, therapy is a good option if the physical distance is the reason or something is broken in the relationship.

Karen is a psychologist, she has eight years of experience in the different psychological areas: health, education, social and business in hospitals, schools, universities and private practice. If you are interested in a consultancy or would like to contact Karen for any other reason you can reach her at or WeChat: karenito1