How relocating made one relationship stronger
February 12, 2018
This Valentine’s Day we’ll be exploring the intersection between relocation and romance.
Long-distance relationships, though increasingly popular, are often viewed as proverbial time-bombs. The suggestion that being apart from a partner invariably leads to a breakup is given some credence by a survey of American adults. Can such difficulties be overcome though?
This was the situation James, a London IT professional, found himself in after his long-term partner, Zarine, was relocated to Tokyo as part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Although he accompanied her for her initial scouting visit, upon his return they spent the remainder of the year separated.
“There was an understanding from the beginning that I’d move as soon as I could, but there were difficulties,” James said referring to competing work commitments “I needed to sort these out before I left, so I couldn’t actually take the FCO’s spousal relocation offer immediately.”
Relocation through a younger lens
More and more, relocation and travel are seen as desirable career-outcomes. While this may not be surprising to younger readers, it represents a shift away from the attitudes of older generations.
These groups, primarily generation X-ers and baby boomers, weren’t necessarily attracted by the concept of working overseas itself so much as they were the “expat packages” of high salaries and low income-tax. Significantly more often than millennials, this generations relocated with a family in tow, so there were competing concerns there, too.
James is very much a part of this new age-cohort, who see overseas experiences as opportunities to be grasped. “Tokyo is immediately both very different and very similar. It’s a developed city with a infrastructure that’s among the best, if not the best in the world; but at the same time, Japan is a very different place. Take the social protocol for example.”
Indeed, Japan’s system of etiquette, right down to fine-level gradations in addressing people above or below you in terms of hierarchy, is so alien that it has become the stuff of legend among expatriates in the land of the rising sun. False stories of bows that were slightly too high, or incorrect honorifics ruining chances of promotion are numerous.
Differences are themselves part of the appeal, as James says “there’s a distinctiveness to Japan that I haven’t really found anywhere else. It’s an experience that throws you out of your comfort zone, but being able to depend on Zarine made the process of acclimatizing that much more comfortable, since we were both experiencing it together.”
Sharing the load
Returning to our main theme, you probably wouldn’t expect relocation to support a relationship, but it’s something that comes up often in our discussions with couples. The sense of isolation often aroused by being a long way from home acts as a stimulus to rely more on each other.
James is no stranger to this, “these trying experiences show how important it is to support each other. And it's a great shared experience, knowing that you've overcome some difficult hurdles together - even if it just going to the supermarket for the first time - it might sound like an exaggeration, but it's the sort of thing that makes you think ‘if we can do this, what else can we achieve?’”
The ability to more effectively deal with potentially embarrassing culture-clashes with a partner is a common thread. James also focuses on how their relationship benefitted from their distance to social circles back home, further reinforcing the need for inter-dependence between him and Zarine. This relates to our earlier piece about difficulties single people can encounter when moving overseas on their own, and suggests couples can overcome these problems more effectively.
Advice to relocating couples
In recent years, companies who provide long-term assignments have reported a significant uptick in partners requesting partner-support services. James’s situation reflects a growing trend of young people who are relocating with a partner.
Drawing upon his experience, James underscores the importance of ascertaining from the outset what both you and your partner want in life, and to what degree you can achieve this from the relocation, “if you can confidently answer this, then you can focus your attention on these things when you arrive in your destination. For me, it's been things like finding a gym and cooking local food. Having my girlfriend there every day, especially after all that time apart, is something I’m genuinely thankful for.”