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The Unique Challenges Facing the Expat Supporting Partner

Updated: May 16

Embarking on an adventure as a couple and navigating new territories together - sounds like a dream, right? But let's pause for a moment and acknowledge a perspective often overlooked: challenges facing the supporting partner. As we settle into our new lives abroad, it's crucial to recognise the unique challenges faced by those who step - or find themselves pushed - into this role.

Identity Crises: Understanding the Journey

Picture this: you've just moved to Dubai with your partner, ready to embrace the change. Yet, as days pass, you start feeling a gnawing sense of loss and displacement. While your partner seamlessly integrates into the social fabric of their new environment, you find yourself grappling with loneliness and a lack of direction. The disparity becomes glaringly apparent when simple activities like going for lunch stir up feelings of resentment and jealousy.

In that moment of realisation, you understand the stark contrast in experiences. It's not about failing; it's about recognising the hurdles unique to your journey. Instead of blaming your partner, you extend compassion towards yourself. This shift in perspective is pivotal. It empowers you to take charge of your narrative and seek proactive solutions.

Woman looking for her lost identity

When I first emigrated to Dubai, I went through a challenging time. I felt lonely and many important elements of my routine had been lost. I noticed this even more in the summer - I love to walk and enjoy nature, but this was impossible because of the heat. I started to experience feelings of depression and a debilitating loss of identity and purpose, leaving me lacking energy and generally down-in-the-dumps.

Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

Identifying the disparities is the first step. Now, let's delve into actionable strategies to navigate through these challenges:

1. Natural Social Interaction: While your partner immerses themself in a work environment conducive to forming connections, your interactions are sporadic and often fleeting. So, try seeking out regular activities or classes aligned with your interests. Even trying something new can be just as empowering - you never know, you might just find your calling! 

Pro tip - Choose classes and courses that have a group format. This prompts consistent interactions with the same people each session, increasing the likelihood of making meaningful connections.

Group of women supporting each other

2. Purpose and Identity: Transitioning from a career-driven life to one seemingly centred on domesticity can be disorienting and even degrading. Many women I have spoken to are horrified to see the role of “housewife” as their occupation on their visa. Well, let's flip this on its head: instead of seeing this as a slight against your intelligence, embrace the opportunity for reinvention. Explore avenues aligned with your passions, whether it's volunteering, freelancing, or pursuing long-held dreams. Remember, your identity isn't confined to a job title; it's a canvas awaiting your creativity.

Pro tip - Check out the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai to find your true calling. 

Ikigai book

3. Independence: Financial dependency and a loss of autonomy can breed discomfort. Initiate open conversations with your partner about financial expectations and establish a mutual agreement about how you (having sacrificed your income to follow their opportunity) can maintain financial security and freedom in your own right. Get familiar with financial management to assert your independence confidently and be a part of every important financial decision. 

Pro tip - While we were getting ready to leave the UK, I had already quit my job so I could focus on making the arrangements needed for our move. Discomfort ensued, so I started charging my husband an hourly rate for all the tasks that were related to the household and emigration. This helped me to transition into a non-working life, while ensuring that my partner didn’t take me for granted. It also highlighted all the behind the scenes tasks I had been doing for years.

Strong relationship couple smiling

4. Skill Acquisition and Achievement: Your contributions, though often overlooked, encompass a diverse skill set. Acknowledge the value you bring to the table. Engage in activities that stimulate growth and instil a sense of accomplishment. Whether it's learning a new skill or nurturing existing talents, every achievement bolsters your self-esteem. This could be attending a seminar on an interesting topic, or taking a course or reading a book to learn something that adds to your existing knowledge base. 

Pro tip - This doesn’t have to be costly. There are tons of free webinars you can access online. There are also networking events and book clubs, which are a great way to meet new people, while also using your brain.

woman reading to gain new skills and knowledge

These are all steps that you can take to push back against the more dispiriting aspects of relocating here. But sometimes it takes more to overcome the struggles you’re having. Happily, help is at hand…

Seeking Professional Support

Navigating these challenges alone can be daunting. A coach provides a safe space to explore your concerns, set meaningful goals, and devise actionable plans. Through personalised guidance, you'll embark on a journey of self-discovery, emerging with renewed clarity and purpose. Having someone to talk to about what you’re going through is also something many people find invaluable - especially when that person has been through a similar experience themselves.

Feeling inspired? Take the first step towards your transformation with a free starter session. Together, we'll chart a course towards a fulfilling expat experience tailored to your aspirations, values and priorities.

Remember, your journey as an expat supporting partner is not a solitary one. By embracing your unique perspective and proactively addressing challenges, you pave the way for a fulfilling and enriching new chapter of your life.


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