It's all sunshine and lollipops...
It’s all sunshine and lollipops until…

No matter how much you love each other, living with your partner can be pretty difficult. Add to that a foreign country and extenuating circumstances and it could be the beginning of the end.

For Tom and I, it almost was.

This post was originally going to be called “How to Survive Living with your Boyfriend Abroad,” but I realized, that’s not at all what happened. We almost didn’t survive, so calling it that wouldn’t be authentic at all.

I did, however, piss him off – and vice versa – a lot. Here’s how you can follow suit, or better yet, learn from our mistakes if you’re thinking about moving abroad for or with your partner:

Gardening in Martinique
We actually only had the ground floor

Move in together for practicality’s sake.

This was our first error. Obviously we cared about each other and all the rest of that sappy stuff, but we just weren’t ready. We were moving abroad to a place we knew to live on a decent salary, but we wanted to save on rent and get a nicer place than we could afford alone.

Every shelf on the book tells you not to do that. Don’t move in with your partner for financial reasons or because you think “it’s time”. And if you think it will be “just like when you went on holiday together” or that “it’s not much different than sleeping over,” you’re wrong.

You will be unprepared for what you learn about your partner and you will be confused about the peculiarities they display.

If you really want to make this test of your relationship even more difficult, follow the next step…

Get out of my face
Get out of my face

Set no ground rules or fail discuss expectations.

Tom is very particular. He refuses to have anyone touch his laundry and adamantly believes that items strewn across the floor is organization, as long as he knows where everything is. Also, you should never get in the way when he’s taking poached eggs out of the pot. Mission: Critical.

I am very particular. I believe that there is a certain order the bathroom items must be cleaned in and I prefer to buy groceries as needed rather than in bulk, resulting in 3-4 shopping trips a week.

Were there clashes of opinion? Hell yes. Could they have been avoided? Not all of them, but there were petty and unnecessary arguments between us that wouldn’t have happened if we had just asked each other questions about what we like and don’t like. Essentially, you are room mates and no amount of love is going to stop you from being pissed off when he consistently fails to soak a pot that you then have to scrub for weeks, no big deal.

TAPIF and British Council Assistants in Martinique
Get your own friends

Live in a small one-bedroom; share one car and only mutual friends.

Tom and I worked 12 hours a week. We had two week vacations about every six weeks. We were living in the Caribbean, so we should have been hiking mountains, basking in the sun and frolicking in the sand, holding hands, doing that lovey-dovey stuff, right?

Nope. I mean, we did those things, but sometimes it was too much. We shared a car, so if I went out, Tom was stranded at home and vice versa. We were together all the time. It doesn’t help that making friends is hard when travelling as a couple.

Those cute idiosyncrasies Tom had when I would visit on the weekend started seeming more like obsessive-compulsions; the adorable facial expressions I used instead of words started looking like crazy facial tics and mockery.

Get a hobby, find different friends, and don’t sacrifice space for more money. It’s tempting to try to save money by finding somewhere ‘big enough for the two of you,’ but you will want to have an extra room or space where you can pretend to get away.

Surfing in Martinique
One of Tom’s hobbies

Get annoyed that you don’t have your own lives. Then get irritated any time he does stuff without you.

To be honest, we both did this. I couldn’t go for an ice cream alone without a “Well, why can’t I come?” and if he stayed our surfing too long I would be like “Why don’t you love me?!”

I’m not the jealous type. Really I’m not. Tom and I are actually very independent people, but we were so reliant on each other those seven months, I think we both lost a bit of ourselves. As an effect of the last point, we needed time apart but couldn’t always have it, which led us to be overly dependent on each other.

Normal couples live together but have real jobs. They work 40 hour weeks so they generally spend more time at work than they do with each other – and you actually appreciate the time spent together more.

I know that braving a new world with the support of your partner is an attractive idea, but be aware that relying on each other for all socialization will put pressure on you and your relationship.

The moral is don’t rely on each other so much that you come to resent not being able to get away.

Vacation in Martinique
“Oh Alyssa, what have you done?!” – Trouble in paradise

Believe that you can ‘take a break’ or break up whilst still sharing a house and bed.

I don’t even think this needs explaining… But just don’t waste your breath. Either find a new place to live or stick it out.

***

At the end of the 7 months in Martinique, we weren’t sure if we could continue. I was emotionally drained, Tom was confused about whether this was a normal experience for a couple. We really did love each other after all.

It wasn’t normal. The situation wasn’t normal, that is. After some time apart in the summer, we were able to step back from the entire situation. It wasn’t our relationship that was crap – it was living on a small island, in a small (but nice) apartment, sharing a small car that was crap.

The two of us, however, had survived. In making all of these mistakes, we learned to fight fairly and communicate before tensions arise. I’m not going to say that cliché line about adversity strengthening our relationship – it didn’t. It just about destroyed it, actually.

Tom and I didn’t just have occasional conflict – we lived in it.

What going through this experience did is teach us that if we’re willing to fight for our relationship, we can overcome any obstacle.

We learned to share household tasks, how to tell the other when we need space – and not to be upset when one asks for it.

Every time I hear someone, or a couple, saying “We never fight,” I used to say “That’s awesome, I wish Tom and I were like that!” And I believed it.

Now I can’t help but think that the person who says that is lying to me or one (or both) of them is lying to the other. I wonder what that couple will do when, inevitably, conflict arises.

If you are that couple that never fights or has arguments and has lived together, I would love to hear from you. Tell me your secrets.

***

Climbing Gellert Hill
Valentine’s day/my birthday weekend in Budapest

Curious about how Tom and I are doing now?

Not too bad! I’m living and working in his hometown of London. We have our own lives but still spend plenty of time together and go through the typical ups and downs of a relationship – it’s like we’re normal or something…

 

22 thoughts on “How to Piss Off Your Partner While Living Abroad Together”

  1. This is an awesome post, Alyssa – so honest and so helpful. I definitely could have used this advice in the past! I’m glad that you and Tom have overcome the stress of living abroad together.

  2. I could definitely have used this in the past! Living together abroad is stressful! Moving to another country together is stressful! Unfortunately I did go through a breakup while I was travelling but, y’know, single life for me is kind of awesome too 🙂

    Thanks for the tips, hopefully I’ll get to use them in the future!

  3. We’ve been together 8 years living together for 6-7 and we still clash. I wouldn’t say we fight (although while we were abroad last year for 6 months we definitely fought) but at home, it’s more the little everyday frustrations that I think will always be a problem for us. Usually it’s about chores – we have very different standards for housekeeping.

    1. Hey NZ,

      Thanks for commenting! Well, I’m pleased to know that at least things won’t get worse! Besides his “side” of the bedroom, we’re actually on the same page about housekeeping elsewhere. Small victories, right?!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this Alyssa. My husband and I have been traveling together for about a year and a half now, and though we lived together for a few years before heading off on our adventures, life on the road is a completely different kettle of fish! I think having your own interests and passions is very important. You need to be able to make yourself happy in order to bring happiness to the relationship. Quality time apart is just as important as quality time together.

    We’ve learnt a lot about each other during our travels, and have survived the ups and the downs. Am happy to say we’ll be celebrating our 10 year anniversary this Tuesday!

    1. I don’t know how Tom and I would do with long-term travelling together! I don’t think either of us could do the nomadic backpacking thing anyway – as much as we love travel, we also appreciate stability. Congratulations on your anniversary!

  5. Hey Alyssa,

    Nice post! You and I seem to have kinda similar stories (well, similar as in I’m a Canadian who met a Brit and moved in with him sooner than I probably would have if we weren’t on the road).

    Our situation was a bit different in that after we met, we went our separate ways for a bit (though we emailed or spoke almost every day!) and THEN moved in together. So technically we had gotten to know each other a bit before moving in, even though it wasn’t face to face. Plus, although we were living together, we were also sharing our flat with four other people, so there was less pressure on us as a couple because the six of us would frequently hang out as a group. That probably made it a little easier. (But there were still times when I struggled with not having my own space!)

    This was the first time that either of us had lived with a partner before so we weren’t really sure what to expect, but we’ve been living together for over a year now and it’s worked out really well for us. In fact, when we move to the UK (assuming I get my visa, that is!) we have decided that rather than rent a room in a flat with other travellers, it’s time for us to rent our own place (assuming we can afford it – we won’t be in London which should make it more do-able). Sure we have the occasional argument but we get along far more than we don’t, and at the end of the day he’s who I want by my side when I’m off traveling, adventuring or just doing whatever, and I think that’s what matters most!

    Anyway, glad you guys are making it work in London! I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog (found it while I was looking up UK visa tips by the way!)

    xx
    Alex

    1. Hi Alex,

      That was probably a good move! I think the one thing you really have to focus on is balance. No matter how much you love a person, you don’t necessarily want to see their mug all day everyday!

      Thanks for commenting and good luck with your visa!

  6. Thank you Alyssa this was really helpful even though my boyfriend and I have been living together abroad for a year now. But I must say that the more we learnt to accept each other the easier it became to continue living with each other. I work 50 hours a week which was hard in the beginning but it made us appreciate the time we did get to spend together and make every minute memorable..

    1. Hi Stacey, I’m glad it was helpful! It’s essential to find that balance but really, it’s all about quality time over quantity of time — Martinique definitely taught us that!

  7. Hello! I really appreciate you posting this. I’m going through something somewhat similar, moving abroad, but for me I moved to his home country, the Netherlands. At first it was as great as it sounded, moving to a new country and getting to be/live with him- finally ending/conquering the long distance. And like you, we moved to a small apartment, share the same car, mutual friends. After 8 months all the once extraordinary things soon became bleek and I had the most extreme yearning for all things that were familiar. Familiarity is somerhing I took for granted before moving here. We fight about how I knew what I was getting myself into by moving here. And its true. I need to suck it up or move on. I appraise you for overcoming your difficulties. I’m still trying to find my way here..

    1. Hi Lora! It all takes time and you just have to find something you love in the Netherlands, something for yourself. What kind of hobbies did you do back home? Is there any way you can do them in the Netherlands? Perhaps there’s something new you’ve always wanted to try, why not do it now? If you do come back to the blog, I hope you read this one: http://alyssawrites.com/moving-abroad-for-love/
      Best of luck!

  8. Wow, you have no idea how recognizable this is. My boyfriend and I have been together for 1,5 years. We moved to a small island in Europe 7 months ago and we started a business here together with his brother. Let’s say it has been quite challenging. You get to know each other in a different way, you have no friends and family around to support you or give you some perspective when needed (no, unfortunately Skype isn’t the same. The occasional visit of your parents or a friend isn’t either).

    The part about the living together because that seemed like a good idea financially is very recognizable, as well as the small island, crappy car and relying on each other too much. We haven’t done everything we can to make new friends. It’s true, you don’t make friends easily as a couple. In your home country, your friends are just there and all you have to do is pick up the phone and give them a call to meet up. When abroad, you have to make time to find new friends, but that doesn’t happen so easily because you’re a couple and you’re used to doing ‘couple things’. The shitty thing is you don’t realize until you’re completely rock bottom.

    The truth is you never know what it will be like until you’re right in the middle of it. And when things get tough, you tend to overreact and get frustrated more easily because you don’t have ‘your people’ around you. When I had a conflict with my boyfriend in the past, I took my car and went to my sister’s. She knows exactly how to make me smile and how to see things in perspective. All perspective is gone here at the moment. It’s difficult to be the same person abroad, because it changes a person massively. Wether you want it or not. It’s a process and one can’t possibly fix things overnight. You both have to learn to live another life and not cling to each other too much. It inevitably causes frustration and anger and before you know it you’re relationship is heavily damaged.

    A lot has happened since we got here and I’m afraid this could be the end of our relationship. It doesn’t have to be, look at you guys.. But things will have to change. We would both have to get out there and meet new people, find a hobby and do FUN things together instead of being frustrated with each other all the time.

    My only hope is that it’s not too late for us. I know we can make this work but I’m afraid my boyfriend has a different opinion and too much has happened. I know I’m challenging at times and he doesn’t deserve it. But I’m not doing this on purpose and I would do anything to fix us.

    You’re post means a lot to me and I wish I’d come across it earlier. I’m happy things worked out for you. Thank you for this great post!

    1. “The shitty thing is you don’t realize until you’re completely rock bottom.” — Yes, this resonated so much with me. The first thing to do is just talk, talk, talk – and maybe take some time away to think about it. Talk some more. The one thing I can say about Tom and I is that were forced to deal with the problems together. I couldn’t just run away and gripe about it to my friends instead. We really had to work to see each other’s perspective. The strongest relationships aren’t the ones that never have challenges – they’re the ones that faced challenges and came out alive. Best of luck!

  9. It’s nice to see such HONESTLY about this subject ! It’s absolutely KEY to have your own lives and live within walking distance to amenities or have two cars ( for us anyway ) ! We are in that beginning phase of travel where we are finally down to a few bags after a condo full of stuff and I’m already seeing the issues you posted about coming up if we don’t PROACTIVELY get a handle on it ! 🙂
    I actually created my own ” work hours ” about 10a.m. – 4:30p.m. 5 times a week where I’m just GONE from the house and that’s helped us a lot . It’s a HUGE shift from living normal ” 9 -5 ” life to living more nomadically and I found that keeping my hours similar has been a huge help! I’m saving the article for us ! Thanks!

  10. This is great! You have a very easy-to-read writing style. My bf and I go through very similar things and still are figuring it all out. The space apart makes a lot of sense but not sure how to incorporate it yet since he works so much. It’s not like he has much time to go out or has time for himself in the first place at the moment. I moved to Australia to be with him a year ago. I probably should have read your post about moving for love before doing this haha.

    1. Ha, thanks! It’s all a learning curve…you’ll get there eventually. Make some friends, have a favourite coffeeshop (or something), get a hobby (I started doing dance classes like 4 days a week when we were in London), and let him do the same. Enjoy time together on holidays when everyone feels relaxed! Good luck 🙂

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