Experiencing conflicts in family and friends as an expat? Moving abroad is one of the biggest steps you will ever take in your life. Building a life abroad in a new country is equal parts exhilarating and scary.
Exhilarating because you’re going on an adventure and will be living a life full of opportunities to experience new things and meet new people. But it’s also scary since you are leaving a life behind, a life that was tied to your friends, family, and ex-colleagues. There is uncertainty about how exactly the adventure abroad will unfold.
This move is especially difficult for those who will be living far away from their aging parents.
Even if you are young, the thought of being away from your loved ones is going to weigh on you.
Once you do move abroad and start living your life, you’ll face many ups and downs. That is simply a fact of life that cannot be denied.
As you become occupied with your work, family, and relationships in the new country, the distance between you and your old relationships might grow.
This could lead to friction and conflicts in family and friends. Today I’m going to talk about how you can learn to manage these conflicts better, what makes a genuine apology, and why forgiveness is important. But first, let’s talk about why these conflicts arise.
How the Distance Can Create Conflicts in Your Old Friendships and Relationships
Whatever your reason was for moving away, whether it was because you were changing jobs or just wanted to experience a different culture, it’s bound to create a significant impact on your relationships.
The transition will have an effect on you as well and you may not have realized just how hard it would be to live in a totally new place, far from home. Our families and our friends make up our support system. Whenever we’re facing any problems or issues in our life, we can lean on them and ask for their help.
But when we are living as an expat, being away from this support system can make that experience quite tough. We might begin to feel alone and isolated, especially in the first few months.
Similarly, our family and friends at home would deeply feel our absence.
The frustration building up on both sides can lead to conflicts in family and friends.
Depending on how far you moved away, the difference in time zones can also make it hard to stay in touch. Since both you and your loved ones are living separate lives, it can be hard to find the time to communicate regularly. There might be other stresses, like stress from a job, that is keeping us occupied.
Then there are things that might make it difficult for you to visit home. You may have to miss big events and that can cause your loved ones to feel unimportant and hurt. Sometimes the circumstances simply aren’t in our control, like the global pandemic due to which massive lockdowns had to be put in place.
These are a few ways in which the distance might lead to conflicts in your relationships at home.
Remember, moving overseas was a life-changing decision, and conflicts in family and friends are normal. What matters is how we resolve conflicts and move forward.
How to Resolve Conflicts With Your Loved Ones
We are all fallible human beings. We make mistakes and we sometimes unintentionally hurt our loved ones. As an expat, you need to be aware that the distance may compound the disagreements and conflicts you have with your family and friends back at home. Working out how to deal with family conflicts and friendship conflicts can strengthen them.
The good news is that you can learn to manage and resolve these conflicts in a way that strengthens your relationships.
Let’s begin by taking an example. Suppose your best friend has been wanting to share an important piece of news with you. However, you’ve been terribly busy with your work and not getting a chance to talk even though you really want to. Now you can imagine that this would hurt your best friend. To make matters worse, you once forgot to show up for a video call that you’d promised them. Now, your best friend is angry at you for not making time for them and you feel bad that your friend isn’t understanding or empathizing with your situation.
The intensity of this conflict is magnified by the fact that you don’t see each other.
You cannot simply hang out with them and talk face-to-face.
When expats find themselves in a conflict like the above, it’s crucial to remember that communication is paramount in conflict resolution.
How can you resolve a conflict if you aren’t even talking about it?
I know just how difficult confrontation is for most people. So, what do they do? Nothing! They just hope the problem will resolve itself, but of course, that’s not what happens. Burying an issue is an unhealthy approach.
Before you communicate with someone to resolve a conflict, you first need to empathize with them and see things from their perspective. Taking the above example, you can try to see how your friend must be feeling about not being able to talk to you about an important event in their life.
Your actions have an impact on your loved ones, learn to recognize those effects.
And when you’re in the wrong, apologize. Genuinely.
How to Apologize the Right Way
When a conflict arises between two people, it usually starts with a misunderstanding and rarely is it only one person’s fault.
Even if you played only a little part, it’s good practice to take accountability for your actions and apologize. Many people, however, don’t mean it when they say “I’m sorry.”
Dr. Harriet Lerner, a relationship expert and the author of numerous bestselling books, says in an interview, “A heartfelt apology means accepting responsibility for our mistakes without a hint of excuse-making or evasion, even if the other person can’t do the same.” When we sincerely apologize to someone, it doesn’t include any blaming, making excuses, or ‘buts.’ It’s not about what they did, it’s about how we acted.
She adds, “It’s not the words “I’m sorry” that soothes the other person and allows them to feel safe in the relationship again. More than anything, the hurt party wants us to listen carefully to their feelings, to validate their reality, to feel genuine regret and remorse, to carry some of the pain we’ve caused, and to make reparations as needed.”
Continuing with our example, this might mean listening to your best friend’s perspective and saying “I’m sorry that I didn’t show up for the call. I care about you and understand how you feel. I’d like to make it right. Do you think we can talk sometime this week?”
A true apology requires you to listen, understand, and take corrective action. It doesn’t end with you uttering two words.
The Importance of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is an important part of conflict resolution. We unwittingly cause hurt to our loved ones and they do too. Any long-lasting relationship or friendship involves multiple instances where mistakes are made, and forgiven. When people reconcile, their bond deepens.
On the other hand, resentment will only lead to a slow death of a relationship.
The physical distance when you’re living abroad can make it easier to not forgive.
You may ignore calls and messages from a loved one you’re in conflict with.
This would only lead to a further divide.
Give the other person a chance to apologize and make things right with you.
While forgiveness may not be possible in every case, it’s a healthy way to move forward.
Forgiveness will allow you to release the negative emotions, repair your relationship, and promote healing.
Life abroad comes with its own set of challenges. Living away from family and friends is a difficult experience and conflicts happen. Communication, empathy, a genuine apology, and forgiveness all play a key role in the resolution of these conflicts in family and friends.
Sometimes it can be hard to navigate a conflict alone and talking to a professional can be of immense help. As an expat psychologist, I understand the problems expats face in their relationships. I can teach you research-backed strategies about how to successfully resolve and manage conflicts, and as a result, strengthen your most important relationships.
Book a 30-minute FREE consultation with me and let’s work together to reduce and prevent conflicts from cropping up in your relationships with your loved ones.
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By your side,
If you are an expat woman who wants to live a joyful, successful and fulfilled international life, Gabriela is the Licensed Psychologist and Mentor you need.
She helps you reclaim your self-confidence back and design your expat life in your own terms. Gabriela has more than 20 years of professional experience, speaks 3 languages (sometimes in one sentence, like you!) and has supported more than 350 expats overcome anxiety and burnout, build meaningful relationships and enjoy their international lives, wherever they are, wherever they are heading.
Gabriela offers counseling to expat women in Spanish, English and German.