What is a “supportive/support network”, or “social support”?

Having a “support network” means having friends and individuals; including spouses, children and the extended family, to turn to in times of need or crisis. This support network provides a broader perspective on issues and improves someone’s self-image/self-esteem. Having social support enhances an individual’s personal well-being, quality of life and the ability to cope with adverse life events. Why is this important, particularly for expats and their spouse?

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Moving abroad to a new country, rebuilding a new life, especially one that is located in a place where they do not speak the language can be extremely challenging, frustrating and lonely. By someone uprooting themselves and their family from their comfort zone to a new country entirely, they effectively cut themselves off from their existing supportive network. These people often find themselves missing their acquaintances, or even strangers that they met during a simple trip to the nearby supermarket. In a strange new land, individuals have no one to turn to when they encounter problems, not even someone to hang out with to get a drink – life becomes surprisingly lonely and isolated. This can happen, despite the fact that someone has a spouse with them on their new adventure.

In a strange new land, individuals have no one to turn to when they encounter problems, not even someone to hang out with to get a drink – life becomes surprisingly lonely and isolated.

According to research about social isolation, having a small social network, infrequent participation in social activities and feeling of loneliness, poses real and substantial health risks. The lack of a robust support network contributes to a noticeable cognitive decline, emotional instability and even clinical depression. The result is a significant reduction in the overall quality of life. Constant irritability, depressive mood swing, reduced interests in activities (along with withdrawal from any further activities that help integration into the new society), as well as significant weight loss/gain can also occur.

The lack of a robust support network contributes to a noticeable cognitive decline, emotional instability and even clinical depression.

The lack of social belonging will eventually sap the remaining energy in someone, and as a result, the effects left are constant fatigue, plummeting self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, excessive/inappropriate guilt, and a loss of focus and decision-making capabilities will follow suit. If either party as a couple falls into this psychological spiral, the relationship will definitely be at risk. Quarrels and fights will become frequent, and communication between the couple will become lesser or stop completely – which will exacerbate the health/mental issue of one or both partners. The expat dream will inevitably end. One or both of the people will want to return home as the relationship will worsen. The working expat career will take a step backwards as the overseas assignment will end in failure.

How to avoid this scenario?

It is imperative that those who are moving into a new job overseas quickly build a social life around new colleagues, make new friends and to also include the trailing spouse in new social circles.

Create a supportive network, such as meeting neighbours, hanging out with new colleagues of the working spouse, joining an expat or interest group in order to meet people who share things in common and even engaging in volunteer activities. Most importantly, it is good to offer sensitivity, understanding and supportiveness for a trailing spouse (as the working spouse can usually settle down much easier and faster, as they immediately start off with a working social circle).

If you need help in the relocation of your spouse to settle into a new country, we are here to give you that support. Get in touch with us.

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