It is not uncommon for an expatriate to be completely separated from their entire family for a period of time. That could be due to their partner not wanting to leave their job to accompany them or the children not being able to leave school or college at a crucial point in their studies. But now, hundreds of thousands of people are having to cope with being an expat during COVID and it is putting a strain on couples. So how can couples survive?  

For families posted in Asia, this has become a very common situation and every member of the family is having to endure the hard test of an extended separation. 

As this situation is most often inflicted on people rather than being chosen, it can be especially hard to navigate.  And as the French saying goes: “loin des yeux, loin du coeur” (out of sight, out of mind) which is not what any expat wants. 

So it is important to work on ways for couples and families to stay connected – to be separated but still  together.

Tips to survive being an expat during Covid

1. Voice your mutual trust: Often taken for granted, it goes without saying but.. it’s actually important that both sides actually do say it. Speak to each other about the fact that you trust each other and that you expect your partner to be trustworthy.  

2. Prioritise voice and video calls: With so many technology platforms available — WhatsApp, Facetime, Zoom and more – you need to make time when you are BOTH physically and emotionally available to connect via voice and/or video, rather than just email. 

If you call your partner, who stayed home with three young children, at dinner time because that is ‘a good time for you’ but it is actually their most stressful part of the day with homework, dinner and then bath time for the kids, you won’t get the interaction you are hoping for.

3. Keep it positive on email: Stay connected via email but use it for sharing positive feelings and gratitude, as well as just arrangements! Especially when the time difference is huge a few positive, loving words to read from your loved one is a great way to start or end the day – on both sides.  

4. Be sensitive to the other person’s mood before sharing:  If the baby is sick at home, it might not be the right time to tell your partner what a great rugby game and after party with the guys you just had.  This could be the time to listen, rather than talk. 

5. Agree on rules of engagement:  Work out the language that works for you both. For example, URGENT really means a life or death emergency and “I will leave whatever meeting I am in to speak to you”.  IMPORTANT could be “I need to speak with you, but it can wait”. 

Also, check-in with each other when you start your conversation. I’m tired, I’m in a good place, now is not the time and then you can decide on what and how you want to communicate.   

6. Ask questions: You might not know anyone your partner is talking about in person, as they live 9000 kms away, but show interest and ask questions so you can provide encouragement and support from afar. 

7. Know your limits and how to feel better: There might be times when you feel so lonely, you are tempted to call an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend who lives three blocks away. Think about the alternatives. Make arrangements to see friends, phone your parents, take a walk (not to the place that is 3 blocks away..), dance in your living room and have some fun.

Learn from experience about what makes you feel good and use it, even if at times it’s comfort food or binging on TV. Just make sure you incorporate some healthy self-care habits too. 

8. Be yourself: You don’t have to be perfect and upbeat all the times, the  good soldier, and a role-model for courage.  Actually, being vulnerable is another trait of courage.  Tell things as they are both to your partner abroad and those close to you at home who most probably have no idea what you are really going through.

9. Keep the children connected: Make sure the children stay connected with their parent abroad. Ensure they have their own ‘special’ time with their absent parent and build-in similar rules about the  right time to speak when the children are not too tired or stressed, so it can be as happy an experience as possible. 

And above all avoid the tempting: “Ah, if your father/mother was here’. That doesn’t help anyone! 

10. Practice gratitude: Even if it sucks at times to be separated from your loved one, even if you feel lonely, isolated and it’s too much to take…remember the good things in your life right now, in this moment.

Remember the positive reasons why you choose to be separated for a while. And in the case of Covid, remember that this separation might be completely out of your control, so complaining is not going to change the situation.  

If you are struggling with a temporary separation from your partner or family, reach out to one of our professionals. We’d love to help support you and help you thrive!