Moving and the effect on your relationship

Moving countries can increase the challenges you face as a couple, and might cause a strain in your relationship. Take some time to address the issues and settle well in to the new country together.

When you move countries as a couple – or as a family – the challenges you may face increase. After all, there are more people to please. However, you also have more to work with; you have each other for support.  So, working together, you can all settle well in to the new country.

Also, when you move as a couple, you may both go through an emotional settlement process, but it may not be at the same time, or in the same way. However good your relationship is, big changes like this can put it under strain.

Stages of settling in

Strain in your relationship

Who do you call on when your new life is not as good as you imagined it would be? Your move means family and close friends are likely to be far away. So your partner is the obvious person to turn to. But being a good partner is already a big role. When you ask them to be family and best friend as well, you may be overloading your best supporter.

[image] couple having dinner

Supporting your partner as you settle in can be difficult

Many couples do not anticipate how vulnerable you may feel without your family and friends. Some situations really emphasize this. Having children often brings this out, so do serious health issues, losing a job or struggling with financial stress.

If both of you feel depressed or disappointed about your move, being supportive might be quite hard work. You might find that you are not being supportive to your partner, and instead bringing them more stress.

When your move is working well for one of you, but not the other, it may mean that you pull in different directions which can cause conflict or disagreements between you.

Relationship stress

One of the common ways stress shows in a relationship is in how much conflict you have, and how you deal with that. Some conflict is completely normal in relationships. How much conflict and how fierce it is tends to increase when you are stressed. So if your move is getting to you, you may find you are arguing more often and more intensely.

Some signs that your level and style of conflict could be a problem include:

  • Bickering, criticising and blaming more often than you are kind and complimentary.
  • Sneering, coldness, and silence are common ways of dealing with each other.
  • Focusing on small points and proving you are right is more important than sorting things out and ending the argument.
  • The relationship feels like it is full of problems, so you stop talking.

What to do about strain in your relationship

Taking care of your relationship under pressure takes some work, but it is possible. You need to think about acting like a team, and remember that you are together in this new place with its new challenges. Your aim is for a life that works for both of you.

So your conversations could focus on ‘what we need to do to make this new life work for us’. Make space for both of you in the conversation. Try ‘I would like this, what would you like?’

Listen to what your partner is telling you. Explore their idea instead of arguing with it. Find out what makes it important to them. Really think about how you could fit in with it.

Take a deep breath. Do not tell them what to do, or offer advice unless they ask you for your ideas. Remember you are their partner. Think supportive, encouraging team mate, rather than parent or teacher or boss.

If they feel miserable in your new home, your job is to listen, understand why and sympathise. If they are happy and you are not, appreciate their enjoyment. Let them encourage you rather than you making them upset.

Feeling good about each other is a good basis for feeling good about your move. These tips describe what a relationship that is working well looks like:

  • You like each other and you say so. You keep your friendship warm and lively.
  • Compliments and encouragement are plentiful. Criticism is not what you are there for.
  • You give each other credit when things go well.
  • If it matters to one of you, it matters in the relationship. You make room for each other’s views even when you disagree.
  • You spend more time looking at your own part in a problem than in blaming your partner for their part.
  • When you say or do something that hurts your partner, you say sorry and mean it.
  • You keep connected with each other. You know the detail of each other’s lives and hopes. You tell each other what you really feel, even if it is hard.

Try these out. Being good companions to each other is your best cure to feeling sad about missing home.

You might also find that seeing a counsellor will help to get this working.

Taking care of your relationship under pressure takes some work, but it is possible. You need to think about acting like a team, and remember that you are together in this new place with its new challenges. 


Separating a long way from home

There is no way to make ending a marriage or relationship easy, but you can make it less difficult – especially for your kids.

When your relationship ends, it is tough – whether you choose it, or simply have to live with your partner’s choice. And it can be particularly hard if you are a long way from home.

However well you have settled in to a new country, you are less likely to have life-long friends and family to call on. If your connections with people are not quite so long-standing it might feel harder to ask for help – or to accept help when it is offered.

Counselling can help

Counselling may be an option to help you deal with your situation. You can use this to help in a range of situations such as:

  • To see if you can improve your relationship, so you do not need to separate.
  • If you cannot improve your relationship, then counselling can help you to accept and live  with your separation.
  • If you are separating and have children, counselling can help you to agree on a plan about how both of you will be involved in their care and their lives after you separate.
  • If you have serious disagreements about how to raise your children, the counselling can help you to resolve them. This might include things like where they go to school or what religion they should follow.


If you separate and you have children, you will still need to work with each other. Your children will look to both of you for love and support.

It is important to create as much stability and certainty for your children as you can. This works best when you and your ex- partner co-operate with each other.

Agree on a Parenting Plan to spell out what will happen with the children. This might cover where they live, when they spend time with each of you, and how you will jointly make important decisions for them. You can get resources from the Ministry of Justice to help you do this. Parenting Plans can be very different, depending on the particular needs of your children.

Parenting plan | Ministry of Justice

Taking the children out of New Zealand

When you have come from another country to live in New Zealand and you separate, you may find that one of you wants to go home. That can be a real difficulty if you have children. They are the ones that will miss out. There is not a simple answer about what will be best for children in this situation, so you need to think about it very carefully.

Counselling may help you work this out. You may also consider the Family Dispute Resolution service (FDR) if you cannot reach agreement, or if you think your partner will take your children overseas without your agreement.

If you have a Parenting Order, or are applying for one, then neither parent can take the children out of the country without the agreement of the other parent.

If one of you does take the children overseas without consent from the other parent, it is a serious offence. Action can be taken under New Zealand law to stop someone taking the children. If they have already left the country then action is possible under the Hague Convention to get the children back.

If you do decide to live in different countries, make arrangements for the children to have as much contact with both parents as possible. Phone calls, emails, letters and visits will all help to keep the relationship alive, so the children know both parents love them.

Family Dispute Resolution Service | FDRC

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