Living and loving abroad has always come with its fair share of extra relationship pressures: from limited work opportunities for one partner, to foreign bureaucratic hurdles to manage, to periods of long-term distance love, to fewer long-term local friends to call upon in tough times.
Academic research conducted back in 2011 found that, at the time, living abroad as a couple can be as stressful as having a child.
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Fast forward to almost a decade later with a global pandemic and a local lock-down added to the mix, and it’s normal if you and your partner may have had some extra struggles lately while living in Germany.
Below are some possible stressful scenarios you may have faced during lock-down, and some practical tools that may help you reconnect with partner amidst continuing uncertainty.
How can we handle conflict, when we have nowhere else to go?
What may help you, first of all, is to know that upsets, tension and moments of doubt are a normal part of any long-term romantic relationship. They’re an inescapable part of growing out of the dreamy, idealistic romantic stage of our relationship, and moving into the more resilient, conscious and mature stage of our relationship.
While knowing this may help you feel less alone, it doesn’t necessarily make moments of tension any easier. The following guidelines may, however, help you to feel less disconnected from yourself, next time it happens, and easier for both of you to reconnect with one another in the aftermath.
New traffic lights with couples are displayed in Hanover on May 28th. Photo: DPA
- When triggered or upset, it’s easy to want to blame or freeze out those we feel most vulnerable with in an attempt by our brain to protect ourselves. Instead, I encourage you to try take a breath, and gently let your partner into your inner world, by saying :”I feel…. “ (rather than “You are…!”). This makes it easier for your partner to listen, and easier for you to stay connected to the one person who can most easily soothe you right now.
- When tension, anger or upset starts to become too high, it’s best to take a breather by going to a different room for a little bit, or a short walk outside. It is normal for our emotions to be triggered the most by the person closest to us – and yet, it’s more difficult to stay kind and not slip into hurtful behaviour or comments when emotions get high. When this happens, simply take a pause and soothe yourself, by spending some time by yourself for as long as you need – while allowing your partner to do the same. As soon as you start to feel calmer, try to imagine how your partner may be feeling in this moment, and what they may help them right now. When you’re ready to do so, try offering this to them – and they most likely may offer you the same in return.
How do we spark romance, when we’re spending 24 hours a day together?
Around 25 percent of Germans have been working from home during the lockdown, an increase from 12 percent before the strict measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 were put into place. That means a lot of couples are probably seeing much more of each other.
It is normal for romance or physical intimacy to slow down in long-term relationship, as the initial excitement of being together wears off. With increased existential fears, less down-time and less time apart, it’s normal for romance to slip down the list of automatic priorities.
And yet, it may help to rethink of romance as being built on small everyday caring gestures that help you feel close to one another (whether it’s a hug, a walk together or a thoughtful small gift), rather than a scorecard marking the frequency and length of what happens between the sheets. Below are some ways to reflect on what helps you feel cared for and close to one another.
- What easy and fun experiences can you do together from home or close by outside this week – whether a picnic, dance in the living room or 10-minute cuddle session? What specific things make your partner feel loved? Whereas you may appreciate gifts, they may not care about those at all and prefer help with domestic chores! Be curious and learn more about your partner. By feeling more relaxed, appreciated by and at ease in each other’s presence, you’ll naturally feel more close and physically attracted to one another.
- What does your partner most need when they feel anxious, depressed or worried? When one of you is struggling on the inside, it automatically affects the two of you. The quickest way to move through this – is to be and offer the kind of support your partner most needs in this moment, even if it goes against what you may have grown up with. Whereas you may be like to talk about it, they may just need a hug and some private time. Can you ask your partner what they most need right now, to support them through this?
How do we stay connected when we’re in a long-distance relationship and don’t know when we’ll see each other?
While long distance relationship have never been easy, current travel restrictions and personal worries may make your long-distance relationship more challenging than ever before. For those of you currently living in Germany, with your partner based elsewhere, the following list of ideas may help you to stay connected in this in-between stage.
- Learn more (new things) about each other. Long-lasting love is built on many parts, with emotional intimacy a foundational one. When all you have right now is presence, rather than touch, why not focus on building greater emotional closeness to one another? One tool you might like to use are these 36 questions to fall in love.
- The 36 questions were developed by psychologist Arthur Aaron in an attempt to create a close rapport between people who’d just met. They were then successfully applied (and written about) in a NY Times column on Modern Love. Intended to last about an hour, you can go through them in one go in the shape of a candlelit online date, or include a few of them in your regular video calls with one another.
- What are some fun things you can do together, virtually? Any relationship is bolstered by positive experiences with one another – whether you’re in the same physical space or many miles apart. If you both enjoy Netflix-and-chilling, you may like to watch a series together, while video-calling at the same time. If you both enjoy cooking, you may like to cook the same recipe one day and eat it together, on a virtual date. Or maybe you’d like to play an online board game, Charades…whichever other fun activity you can both share across the ether!
For more support
The above is far from an exhaustive list of experiences you and your partner may have had this lock-down – or may be facing still.
If you find that the above don’t work, or you’re at a deeper impasse or crisis in your relationship abroad right now, it may help to talk to a couples counsellor. Having a third person observe your current struggle with one another may provide some relief, in a time that’s already difficult enough without further relationship stress.
Danielle van de Kemenade is a counsellor for couples and individuals, working both online and in her office in Frankfurt. You can find more tips or contact her through her website at: daniellevandekemenade.com