So you’re gearing up for a life abroad with your soulmate. If you’re like me, you’re currently romanticizing how a simple life with your love will be. To paraphrase Hemingway, you’re looking forward to eating well and cheaply and drinking well and cheaply and sleeping warm and well with each other.
That’s cute. You should keep believing that. But also believe me when I tell you that no matter how shmoopy you are, you’ll have these four fights when you move abroad together.
1. Who is going to handle what
In your home country, you’ve probably established norms and fallen into patterns you don’t even know exist. You don’t think twice about who’s going to talk to the waiter, or who’s going to call the cable guy.
But in a new country—especially if it involves learning a new language—neither of you know anything. You don’t know the etiquette, nor the customs, and unless you talk about it, you’re both going to have very different ideas about who is going to handle situations that were once mundane and rote.
As sure as hell, at some point, either you or your partner will feel embarrassed, stupid, awkward, or all of the above at the same time, and you’ll take it out on each other. But y’all are a team, and have to function as such to survive.
My advice: Be more open with your communication than you ever thought necessary. Understand that your partner won’t magically know how to set up the Internet in a foreign country. Be patient, and when something goes wrong, talk about how it could go better the next time.
2. Making big joint decisions
Making decisions together can always be a point of contention, but in a foreign country where you’re already stressed, choices take on new gravity. Here’s a quick story.
When finding our first apartment in Spain, Lauren and I were crunched for time. We were living in a hostel, our jobs were starting soon, and we needed an address before we could proceed with our residency paperwork. Bearing this weight, I insisted on one apartment Lauren resolutely disliked. Rather than making the decision together, I tried to explain why I thought it was a good idea for us. Really, it was more a good idea to me.
You may be incredibly compatible, but these decisions are often packed with emotion and are thus ripe for conflict.
In the end, we took the apartment and it was sufficient for a year. But I’ll never forget the night we moved in; Lauren couldn’t hide her disappointment and I felt like a monster. We could have done better.
My advice: Emotions and tension are already running high when travelling or living abroad. Be honest and open about what you want and need during any decision-making process—whether it’s which kebab place to go to or where to live for a year. If you’re honest, you can trust your partner is too, and you can make the right decision for both of you.
3. How to spend your time and money
Similar to decision-making, but a different beast entirely; finding a balance between how each of you wants to spend your time and money.
You may be incredibly compatible, but these decisions are often packed with emotion and are thus ripe for conflict. Here are a few situations that have led to standoffish Sunday afternoons in this household:
1. Do we take on extra work to pay for big trips around Europe later, or work less (and earn less), spending more time appreciating the experience and traveling locally?
2. Do we delve into our savings from our banks in America to make a certain trip extra special? If yes, how often should we do this? How much is too much?
3. What price is too high to fly home to see our own and each other’s families? For a friend’s wedding?
4. Is it better to pursue personal interests we never had time for back home (personal writing, trying new sports, cooking everything from scratch, etc.) or spend that time taking advantage of our local, foreign town?
5. What tangible items are worth buying for our apartment, knowing most of it won’t be coming back home with us?
My advice: You and your partner should answer these questions, where applicable, right now, individually. Share your answers. If they’re different, figure it out. If you can’t, better to have the argument now than in the middle of Trafalgar Square in London.
4. On returning home
The what, when, how, where, and why of returning home has become an issue as our time in Spain comes to an end. This is something that never feels real until it does, and even that sentiment has been a point of contention. When should we start focusing less on learning, practicing and absorbing Spanish and Spanish culture, and more on what jobs we’ll look for when we get home? Where will we live when we get back? How have we grown, what have we learned, and was it all worth it?
In a way, these have been the hardest arguments to have. In addition to finding resolution, we’re forced to confront the realities of what life after living abroad means, and that can be a terrifying prospect.
My advice: Still experiencing and learning. I’ll get back to you.
I don’t mean to scare you away from jet-setting off with your partner. In fact, I’ll tell you the opposite. Living abroad together has helped us develop a strong, oh-so-fun and matured relationship for which I wouldn’t trade a thing. But as with anything when living in a new country, don’t expect it to be easy.Add this article to your reading list