The Wall Street Journal ran an article last week in their Expat Life column that detailed the “Marital Strain of a Life Abroad”. (Thanks to Expat Focus Blog for the original reference!). It reviewed the various strains that a couple face when taking an overseas assignment, and the coping strategies that they might use to adapt. It drew heavily from the author’s own experiences on assignment with his spouse in China, and his reflections on their 15-year anniversary.
Perhaps because of this (and perhaps because of the conservative bent of the Journal), I thought that the article disproportionately focused on the temptations of expatriate life “reeling into the darker corners”. Adultery was discussed three separate times as a major risk, once noting the easy availability of young, attractive girls and of cultures open to infidelity. In my view, this simply plays to reader’s prejudices of a corrupt world beyond US shores: it doesn’t echo any reality I’ve encountered, anywhere.
The article does note the way that workloads and office hours ratchet up dramatically, which certainly fits well with my own experiences. I know that expectations are high, and that all of the rewards are aligned to promote overperformance in return for the substantial investment in supporting me as an expatriate. I also think that many factors that help to maintain a sane work / not-work life balance, such as friendships outside of work, community group memberships, and work around the house and garden, are all missing. This is the greatest peril, not a sudden rush of expatriate hormones.
Cross-cultural stress, absence due to travel, and the resultant fatigue are also cited as issues that strain couples when they are together. Agreed: I know that there are days that I really welcome the space and quiet when I come home. I’m not sure how quickly I could slip into a partnering role where I was open, communicating, and supportive.
The author wisely reinforces the five basics of any relationship in his remedies: Communication (consultation), mutual respect (support), equality, trust, and love. Not surprisingly, he concludes that with these virtues firmly in place, couples can survive (and, yes, thrive) in their expatriate setting.
Picture credit emofaces.com