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Updated 9 Nov 2010

Moving overseas and embracing the expat life can often be a stressful experience. It's difficult enough to keep your emotions in check as a newly arrived individual, but when you relocate as a couple, you also need to take into account the fact that your partner may have a completely different perspective and may be ordering different priorities than yourself.

Even if you do see eye to eye on many things, chances that you'll be creating the exact same experience are slim to none. It's vital to maintain open lines of communication and to actively discuss the struggles and successes of day-to-day life in your new location.

Otherwise, the domestic side of things can often lead to unexpected distance and relationship turmoil at a point when partners need to rely on each other more than ever.

Staying connected

How do you stay connected with your partner when your experiences and the way you process them are so different?

One way is to become aware of and to use the ‘Love Languages’.

Dr. Gary Chapman discovered that every person has a ‘love language’ that they use to best communicate ‘you are loved’ to their partner. Just as people have trouble communicating when using different spoken languages, people who really do love each other can find it hard to communicate and ‘hear’ that love, especially when the environment is new, different and stressful.

Here are the five languages of love Dr. Chapman identifies:

Words of affirmation

This is when you say how nice your spouse looks, how much you appreciate what he or she does, or how valuable your partner’s contribution is to your life is. These words also help build self-image and confidence.

Quality time

Some people believe that being together, doing things together and focusing in on one another is the best way to show love. If this is your partner's love language, make the effort to give him or her some undivided attention.


Gifts don't have to be expensive to send a powerful message of love. A well-chosen gift – on special occasions or ‘just because’ - speaks volumes to a partner whose love language is gifts.

Acts of service

Discovering how you can best do something for your spouse will require time and creativity. These acts of service like vacuuming, hanging a bird feeder, planting a garden, etc., need to be done with joy – and should be unsolicited in order to be perceived as a gift of love.

Physical contact

Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder, or face, outside of the bedroom - can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.

Once you have discovered each other’s love languages, you can communicate your love for each other clearly and meaningfully. There is no better way to stay connected (or reconnect) with your partner than to hear, feel and experience his or her love, especially when you are both adjusting to a new environment.

Putting it into practice

  • To get started, share this article with your partner, and make the decision to assess which Love Language works best for each of you

  • Plan a date night together, and share what you have learned about your personal languages of love

  • Then make the effort to speak your love for your partner using his or her top love language(s)

Norman Viss Our Expat Expert

Husband, father, grandfather. Location: Living in the Netherlands, born in the USA. Norman has many years of international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures. To sign up for a teleseminar on ‘Staying connected with your partner’, click here.

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