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The Strain of Moving Abroad on Relationships: Why Couples Therapy Can Be Your Lifeline

The Strain of Moving Abroad on Relationships: Why Couples Therapy Can Be Your Lifeline

Relocating to a new country can be an exhilarating adventure. The promise of new experiences, cultural enrichment, and personal growth can entice many to take the plunge. However, beneath the excitement lies a plethora of challenges that can put significant strain on relationships between partners. The process of adjusting to a new environment, dealing with cultural differences, and managing the logistics of the move can create stress that, if left unaddressed, can lead to serious relationship issues.

At Therapy in Barcelona, we understand the unique pressures that expatriate couples face and offer specialised couples therapy to help navigate these big transitions. In this article, we will explore the various stressors associated with moving countries, how they impact relationships, and why couples therapy in Barcelona can be a crucial support system during this period.

The Stressors of Moving Countries

1. Cultural Adjustment

Moving to a new country often means adapting to a different culture. This can include learning a new language, understanding social norms, and navigating unfamiliar customs. For couples, these adjustments can be overwhelming and lead to misunderstandings and conflicts.

  • Language Barriers: Communication is the cornerstone of any relationship. When one or both partners struggle with the local language, it can lead to feelings of isolation and frustration. According to a study by the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, language barriers can significantly impact relationship satisfaction (Yoshikawa, 2020).

  • Cultural Norms and Values: Differing cultural norms and values can also create tension. For instance, one partner may be more accustomed to a collectivist culture that emphasises family and community, while the other may come from an individualist culture that prioritises personal achievement. These differences can lead to disagreements on how to handle social situations and family dynamics.

2. Financial Pressure

Relocating can be expensive. The cost of moving, setting up a new home, and potentially dealing with a change in income can add significant financial pressure. This stress can be compounded if one partner is unemployed or underemployed while adjusting to the new country.

  • Income Disparity: If one partner secures a well-paying job while the other struggles to find employment, it can lead to a power imbalance and feelings of resentment. A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that financial stress is a major predictor of relationship dissatisfaction and conflict (Conger et al., 2010).

3. Social Isolation

Leaving behind friends, family, and familiar social networks can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Building new social connections takes time, and the lack of a support system can put additional strain on a relationship.

  • Loss of Support Networks: The absence of a close-knit support network can leave couples relying solely on each other for emotional support, which can be overwhelming. According to research by the American Psychological Association, social support is crucial for maintaining relationship satisfaction (House, 1981).

4. Role Changes

Moving to a new country often necessitates changes in household roles and responsibilities. One partner might take on the role of primary breadwinner while the other manages the home and children. These shifts can lead to feelings of inequity and frustration.

  • Household Responsibilities: Traditional gender roles can be challenged during such transitions. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology highlighted that unequal distribution of household chores is a common source of conflict in relationships (Frisco & Williams, 2003).

5. Identity and Self-Esteem

Relocating can impact an individual’s sense of identity and self-esteem. Partners may struggle with their new roles and the loss of their previous status or accomplishments. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and strain the relationship.

  • Loss of Identity: For many, their career and social status are integral to their identity. When these are disrupted, it can lead to a crisis of self-esteem. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology notes that self-esteem is closely linked to relationship satisfaction (Murray et al., 2000).

How Couples Therapy in Barcelona Can Help

1. Providing a Safe Space for Communication

Couples therapy offers a neutral and safe space for partners to express their feelings and concerns. A trained therapist can facilitate open communication, helping partners to understand each other’s perspectives and work through conflicts constructively.

2. Developing Coping Strategies

Therapists at Therapy in Barcelona are skilled in helping couples develop effective coping strategies to manage the stressors of relocation. This includes techniques for stress management, conflict resolution, and emotional regulation.

3. Rebuilding Trust and Intimacy

Relocating can sometimes erode trust and intimacy between partners. Couples therapy can help rebuild these crucial aspects of the relationship by addressing underlying issues and fostering emotional connection.

4. Enhancing Problem-Solving Skills

Through therapy, couples can enhance their problem-solving skills, learning to approach challenges collaboratively rather than adversarially. This can be particularly helpful when dealing with the practical and logistical issues of living in a new country.

5. Strengthening the Relationship Foundation

Therapy provides an opportunity for couples to strengthen the foundation of their relationship. By addressing and resolving conflicts, enhancing communication, and rebuilding trust, couples can emerge from the relocation experience stronger and more resilient.

The Impact of Relocating on Families with Children

When couples, whether heterosexual or LGBTQ+, move to a new country with children, the complexities and stressors of relocation can multiply. Children add another layer of emotional and logistical considerations, making the transition even more challenging. Here’s how moving a family can strain relationships and how couples therapy can help:

1. Children’s Adjustment and Well-being

Children often have their own set of challenges when adjusting to a new country. This can include adapting to a new school system, making new friends, and dealing with the loss of their previous social environment. These changes can affect their emotional well-being and, consequently, the family dynamic.

  • School Transition: Adjusting to a new school can be particularly stressful for children. They may face language barriers, different educational standards, and new social norms. According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, moving frequently can negatively impact children’s academic performance and social adjustment (Cohen et al., 2010).

  • Social Integration: Making new friends and fitting into a new social environment can be daunting for children. The stress and anxiety associated with social integration can manifest in behavioural issues, which in turn can strain parental relationships as they navigate these challenges.

2. Parental Stress and Conflict

Parents often bear the brunt of ensuring a smooth transition for their children, which can add significant stress to their own relationship. Balancing work, household responsibilities, and the needs of their children can lead to exhaustion and conflict.

  • Parental Responsibilities: The added responsibilities of helping children adjust can lead to a division of labour that may not feel equitable. This can create tension between partners, especially if one feels overburdened. A study in the Journal of Family Issues highlights that parental stress can lead to increased marital conflict and reduced relationship satisfaction (Nomaguchi & Milkie, 2003).

3. Impact on LGBTQ+ Families

LGBTQ+ families may face additional challenges when relocating, depending on the social and legal climate of the new country. Concerns about acceptance, legal rights, and safety can add layers of stress that impact the family unit.

  • Legal and Social Acceptance: LGBTQ+ families may need to navigate different legal systems and social attitudes towards same-sex couples and their children. This can include issues related to parental rights, adoption, and school acceptance. The Family Acceptance Project has shown that supportive family environments are crucial for the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals, and moving to a less accepting environment can be particularly stressful (Ryan et al., 2009).

How Couples Therapy in Barcelona Can Help Families

1. Addressing Children’s Needs

Couples therapy can provide strategies for parents to support their children through the transition. Therapists can offer guidance on how to communicate effectively with children, address their concerns, and help them adjust to their new environment.

2. Strengthening Parental Partnership

Therapy can help parents work as a team to manage the additional responsibilities and stressors that come with relocation. By fostering open communication and equitable distribution of tasks, couples can reduce conflict and improve their partnership.

3. Supporting LGBTQ+ Families

Therapists at Therapy in Barcelona are experienced in supporting LGBTQ+ families. They can help navigate the unique challenges these families may face, providing a safe and affirming space to discuss concerns and develop coping strategies.

4. Building Family Resilience

Therapy can help families build resilience by enhancing problem-solving skills, promoting emotional regulation, and fostering a supportive family environment. This can be crucial for maintaining family cohesion and well-being during the transition.

Navigating Big Transitions Together: Tips for Couples

1. Prioritise Communication

Open and honest communication is essential. Make time to talk about your feelings, concerns, and experiences. Listen to each other without judgement and validate each other’s emotions.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

Understand that the relocation process will come with challenges. Set realistic expectations for yourselves and each other. Be patient and give yourselves time to adjust.

3. Seek Support

Don’t hesitate to seek support, whether through friends, family, or professional counselling. Having a support system can make a significant difference in managing the stress of relocation.

4. Maintain a Sense of Routine

Establishing routines can provide a sense of normalcy and stability. This can be as simple as regular meal times, exercise routines, or weekly date nights.

5. Embrace the Adventure Together

Approach the relocation as a shared adventure. Explore your new surroundings together, try new activities, and create new memories. This can help strengthen your bond and create a positive outlook on the transition.


Relocating to a new country can undoubtedly put a strain on relationships, but it can also be an opportunity for growth and strengthening the bond between partners. At Therapy in Barcelona, we offer specialised couples therapy to help you navigate these transitions effectively. By providing a safe space for communication, developing coping strategies, and rebuilding trust, our therapists can support you in creating a resilient and fulfilling relationship.

If you are an expatriate couple facing the challenges of relocation, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact Therapy in Barcelona today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards a stronger, more connected relationship.

Ready to strengthen your relationship and navigate your relocation challenges together? Contact us at Therapy in Barcelona to book a consultation with one of our experienced couples therapists. Visit our website at www.therapyinbarcelona.com Let’s work together to build a resilient and fulfilling relationship, no matter where life takes you.


  1. Yoshikawa, H. (2020). Language Barriers and Relationship Satisfaction. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 51(3), 237-252.
  2. Conger, R. D., Conger, K. J., & Martin, M. J. (2010). Socioeconomic status, family processes, and individual development. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 685-704.
  3. House, J. S. (1981). Work Stress and Social Support. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
  4. Frisco, M. L., & Williams, K. (2003). Perceived Housework Equity, Marital Happiness, and Divorce in Dual-Earner Households. Journal of Family Issues, 24(1), 51-73.
  5. Murray, S. L., Holmes, J. G., & Griffin, D. W. (2000). Self-esteem and relationship quality: The importance of identity confirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78(3), 478-498.
  6. Cohen, S., Janicki-Deverts, D., & Miller, G. E. (2010). Psychological stress and disease. JAMA, 298(14), 1685-1687.
  7. Nomaguchi, K. M., & Milkie, M. A. (2003). Costs and rewards of children: The effects of becoming a parent on adults’ lives. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(2), 356-374.
  8. Ryan, C., Russell, S. T., Huebner, D., Diaz, R., & Sanchez, J. (2009). Family acceptance in adolescence and the health of LGBT young adults. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 23(4), 205-213.

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