Caring for your relationship as you settle in a new country

Moving to a new country may be one of the biggest decisions you will make as a family. The excitement of finally landing in a new land can quickly wear off as days go by. It can be overwhelming and stressful for couples as they navigate and adjust to the new environment and are focused on finding a job, monitoring their finances and finding their place in the community. Culture shock experienced with different roles, values and expectations in the new culture can also create confusion, strain and conflict in relationships.

Here are some statements shared by newcomers about their marital relationships and mental health:

I can’t take it anymore. We are having fights all the time
Everything is very different now. He or she is not the same person
There is no respect anymore. We don’t talk much at all.  I don’t feel appreciated.
I think our marriage has ended. I want to go back to my country.
Protecting or saving your marriage can be an added stress while adjusting and adapting to a new country. Looking at it as a journey together and avoiding blaming each other for failures and disappointments can pave the way for a deeper understanding of each other and strengthen the bond.

Here are three things that couples can do to care for their relationship as they are settling in a new country:
1. Anticipate and accept that there will be changes to the relationship after the move and be prepared for it: All the things that defined your relationship in your home country, such as family support, your identities, familiar working conditions and routines no longer exist in the new culture making it view the relationship as a new beginning for many. When you are faced with unfamiliar situations, people behave differently and sometimes are not even aware of it. It is important to recognize that this can be temporary and they may need time to adjust. An example would be being so preoccupied with job search that they no longer appreciate the food you cook or if the spouse is alone at home all day, she stops asking about your day. It does not mean that they have changed and they no longer care for you.

2. Communicate with compassion, openness and honesty with one another: Settling down in a new country requires a lot of decision-making for which effective communication skills are critical. Being supportive and open to one another is important as it is not a time to evaluate each other’s ability to read minds or have high expectations of each other. Be compassionate about your partner’s emotional needs. Explain your feelings in an honest manner and take a problem-solving approach to differences of opinion.

3. Be open to new supports: It can be overwhelming for partners to be the sole source of support in the absence of other supports, such as family or a friends circle, that existed in your home county. Listening to your frustrations, feelings and struggles all the time and not knowing how to support may be hard for them. Access support from professionals and others you trust such as colleagues, family doctors, or newcomer support groups to vent and share your emotions. This will help you see that others share similar experiences and you are not alone. Tips and strategies learnt can help you develop a positive outlook that things get better when your lives become more stable.

The pandemic has strained marital relationships for many and it can complicate situations for newcomer families struggling with other enormous socio-economic problems. Recognize that these are unprecedented times and find ways to support one another. However, if the situation is unbearable, is impacting your mental health and there is violence, abuse or neglect, prioritize your safety and well-being, don’t let the fear of unknown or stigma of marital breakdowns force you to continue dangerous or dysfunctional relationships. Help is available, reach out!

– Canadian Immigrant

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