The thing to remember is that not every day is easy and not every day is hard. There are grays and there are opposites. There are all kinds of days. As a couple living abroad, we not only have to deal with our own personal days but each other’s days. Our lives are both separate and interconnected.
As an expat couple, not only are you each adjusting to the demands and the lifestyle of a new country, but you are also adjusting to the relationship and how it fits into this new culture. Bradley and I have gone through the roughest times together while living in Mexico City. Times we are working through and living through every day. We are taking each moment as it comes, and also nourishing the relationship with our own strengths and communication.
Our story began as a summer romance in the North of Spain while working at a summer camp. Not only were we together from 8 am until past midnight, every day for a month. We were also having meaningful conversations that revealed intimate parts of each other. Though there were jokes and there was laughter, there was also every sort of deep and taboo conversation. From the story of how my dad died to what we thought was the secret to happiness, and even diving into what can possibly be the most controversial word of all: God. Is there one and do you believe in it? This is how we first built our intimacy, and the foundation of what has become a long term relationship.
We moved to Mexico City full of hopes and dreams. It was a new culture for both of us. He is from England. I am from Venezuela (born) and the United States (raised). He grew up in a military school, where he woke up before the sun to shine his shoes. I grew up memorizing Britney Spears’ music videos and writing poetry in my room.
As we settled into this new country, reality got farther and farther away from what we had dreamt about. Our neighborhood was not nice or safe. Money was tight. The commute was difficult. And the most crushing thing of all, I could no longer travel the way I had in Europe. All these things and more made up for the perfect downwave in our relationship.
Things have been better since then. Now, as our second year in Mexico City is in full swing, we live in a far better neighborhood ( This is home, for now. ). We are also more prosperous, and our jobs have improved. We still have had to learn to work through things. At the end of the day, we are both living flight hours away from family and friends. So we are even more “forced” to face our relationship challenges and work through them.
Being an expat couple has ironically revealed my own character traits more than being a single expat. The way I react in difficult situations, the way I communicate when we disagree, the way I handle culture shock and stress. All these things are even more exposed with another person intertwined into every situation I go through. I’m afraid I have little advice for newly expat couples. There is not much I can say to match the singularities of you, your partner, and the country you have decided to take on together.
There is one thing, however, I have now understood clearly and maybe you will notice it too in your adventure. Who you are as an individual has a bigger effect on the relationship than anything else will. More than the environment, more than the amount of money, more than the health, more than the food you are eating and the friends you are making…The person you choose to be when you wake up in the morning. The person you choose to be when your visa does not come through, or when you are down to the last few coins in your pocket. The person you choose to be when you disagree on things like house chores…That person has all the power. It is not about the way you start out or end up. It is about the way you behave in the middle.
More than ever, I have begun to work on myself. Having a gratitude journal and starting my own business have helped me work on my own shortcomings and dreams. Who I am now, who I want to be as time goes on, and the things I stand for are all a fundamental part of being an expat couple. Work on yourself. Invest in your strengths. Cultivate those good habits that you know will not just make you happy, but will also add a tremendous contribution to your partner. Being an expat couple has its pros and challenges. Why not make sure you are one of the strengths?