How to keep your relationship strong when you move to Mexico is a frequent question asked by aspiring expats. The truth is, the stress of moving to another country can affect any relationship. Age, location, job, language and even attitude can put stress on a relationship and magnify existing underlying problems. How can you manage the stress and help mitigate the impact your move may have on your relationship?
We asked Laura Rodriguez, a Texas-based licensed professional counselor, and Dhyan Summers, a licensed marriage and family therapist who lives in Ashland, Oregon, to help us better understand the stresses and strains on relationships that can be heightened during a move to Mexico, or any other country.
“It is important to talk about each other’s expectations about the move and living in Mexico,” Rodriguez said. “Those expectations might affect your mood if things don’t work out the way you want. How will you handle that? Remember, a relationship means two, which means both parties have to work together to keep the relationship strong. Try to set a time to talk about how the adjustment to Mexico is going. Take time to explore together the new city you will be living in and spend time together doing an activity, if possible.”
She also said that empowering and encouraging each other to do individual activities separately can be helpful. If you or your partner had a routine back in your home country, try to see if you can continue, if not start a new one. While new and exciting, adjusting to a new environment is challenging no matter how young or mature you are.
Summers said it is often easier for younger expats to cope with the stress that comes with moving abroad.
“It’s just easier for young people because they are more resilient and adapt to change more easily,” Summers said. “Older expats may have more trouble immersing themselves in social activities and adapting to change.”
Summers also said expats and their spouses, or partners, who move to Mexico for work are especially susceptible to loneliness and depression, particularly if one spouse stays at home.
“Typically, the person at home is often the woman,” Summers said. “The stay-at-home spouse or partner may feel isolated because very often they simply are not able to form a social network because of cultural and language barriers.”
While one spouse or partner may be experiencing isolation at home, the worker in the relationship has his/her own stress from working, often at high-demand jobs. Summers emphasized that the work environment in Mexico may itself be a challenge for expats.
“They have to communicate well, often in Spanish, and have to deal with local staffs who may not share the same work ethics or values that they do,” Summers said. “Many may have to report back to their home country managers who may not understand the realities on the ground. They find themselves between a rock and a hard place.”
For spouses and partners, the absence of the support system they had in their home country plays a large role in feelings of isolation and loneliness.
“Friends, families, all the usual support structures are left behind and they’re going to Mexico without that system built-in,” Summers said. “That can’t be overstated because it’s really important. A couple will tend to invest all their energy into each other and just look to the other one as a source of support.”
Summers said it is not a bad thing to have positive fantasies and high expectations about moving abroad, but expats should focus on realistic preparations, like learning the local language. She offered this advice for expats trying to learn Spanish or just about any other activity:
“Do it with other people,” she said. “Find something you feel passionate about and just do it. That can be working for an NGO (non-governmental organization), orphanage, language classes, or something the person always wanted to do but never did. These are ways initially to make friends and socialize.”
Stress is unavoidable and exists in the forms of depression, anxiousness and fatigue. But there are important routines, Summers said, that should be considered to relieve stress.
“Exercise routines are a huge stress reliever for expats who have just moved to Mexico,” Summers said. “Take a class, join a gym, and be around other people. Every activity that you do should be to ensure that you are around other people. Exercise not only keeps you fit, but helps forge bonds with the people you work out with.”
Summers cautioned that the “trailing spouse or partner” in the relationship needs to consent to the move. Without mutual consent, problems may arise quickly and cracks may appear in the relationship.
“When both partners sit down and talk about their choices and both agree to the move, the transition becomes much smoother and is overall a more positive experience for the relationship,” Summers said. “If somebody is telling their spouse or partner what to do, the ‘trailer’ tends to feel left out and sets up a negative environment to begin with.”
So, what can couples do to prepare for the move to Mexico that will help lower stress? Summers said researching the potential move as thoroughly as possible is most helpful, as well as talking to others who have moved to another country for their perspective.
“Research will help widen your view and prepare both of you for what to expect,” Summers said.
She offered this final piece of advice for expat couples:
“A person’s sense of self basically is based on whether they see the glass half-full or half-empty. It’s a huge factor in determining if the move is successful and relatively stress-free. If a person has less than a satisfying relationship before the move, they might see the glass as half-empty. But if that person is successful in his/her work or other important areas of their life, the glass is half-full. The areas in which you see the glass as half-full or half-empty can be very big factors for couples and individuals in determining stress levels.”