If you’re packing up your treasured possessions in preparation for a move, it’s wise to think about how to protect your marriage from getting damaged too.
Married and committed couples don’t always think about the fact that their relationship is also being shipped to a new neighborhood – or even a new country. The impact of pressures and shocks on your partnership can take a heavy toll, one that sometimes ends in divorce court.
One researcher who focused on the impact of moving on couples found that nearly half had not given their relationship a lot of thought when planning their relocation. Maybe it’s the focus on external factors – such as choosing a new home, what schools the kids will attend, or where to find resources such as a new dentist or doctor. This can cause partners to forget the internal challenges that determine how well a relationship will weather the transition long after the moving boxes have been put away.
RECHARTERING YOUR RELATIONSHIP WHEN YOU MOVE
Couples therapists say that partners need to renegotiate the terms of their relationship when making a major move, especially if the transition is being made for a new job. This means creating a clear and explicit understanding the role each partner will play in the relocation and later, in building a new life together.
When one partner is fully immersed in a new career, the pressure on the other spouse may go unnoticed. The challenges of finding the best route to the post office or meeting with a child’s new teachers may seem trivial, but they can reflect feelings of disorientation and isolation that should never be ignored.
A “trailing spouse” – the one who agrees to move to support a partner’s career or family needs – may experience strong feelings related to loss of control and power. The spouse who spearheaded the move may feel impatient in listening to the experiences of the other. S/he may be struggling with hidden stress, too, since the pressures of adjusting to a new job or family role can be huge.
The difficulties for both partners may be magnified if this is the first time the couple has relocated, since they don’t have a base of experience to draw on in supporting each other. Both may feel misunderstood and confused, unaware of what they are feeling and what the other one is experiencing. Yet a transition like this can’t simply be “managed” like a work project; adjusting to change takes time, openness and sensitivity all the way around.
Here are some essential tips to keep your marriage on track before, during and after a move.
THINK LIKE A TEAM
A team sticks together through thick and thin. Sit down with your partner to discuss individual goals and set common objectives. Listening to each other’s hopes and dreams can be a positive experience if you create a sense that you’re both working towards the same end and want to support the other in reaching for important goals.
TALK AT THE END OF EACH DAY
Setting aside time for a warm, open conversation at the close of the day helps partners feel close to each other. Pick a time that’s suitable for your family, and don’t let other priorities steal this time from you. Often, relocating couples aren’t aware that an emotional disconnect is developing until it becomes painfully clear. Daily conversations are one way you can watch for warning signs and share the burdens and stresses you both are facing.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF MOVING
Recognize the fact that relocating isn’t all about bubble pack, paint colors and cable TV appointments. No matter how expertly you handle the physical details, your new home won’t feel like home for a long time – and when comfort and familiarity are disrupted, emotions are disrupted too. Both of you will miss friends, family and conveniences from your old neighborhood. The key is facing the ups and downs together to minimize the effects on what really matters: your relationship.
GETTING HELP FROM A COUPLES THERAPIST
Major life transitions can threaten the security within any marriage or committed relationship. There are times when sitting down with an experienced marriage counselor can help to ease tensions, reveal issues and create workable solutions.
Janae Munday, LCSW, is an expert in helping couples navigate change. If you’re struggling to communicate and find common ground, she is ready to work with you.