Making a Relationship Work after Relocation
Moving to Sweden in order to be with a Swedish spouse or sambo is an example of a life event that can awaken childhood relationship dynamics. In life, our ability to navigate through and succeed in adult relationships develops out of experiences we had as children in our relationships with our parents.
In infancy, there is no distinction between self and other. As one passes through the years of childhood, self and other become differentiated and we develop a separate identity of our own. This process does not occur turbulence-free, however. Between infancy and mature independence lie emotional extremes. Think of the temper tantrums of a toddler or the rebellion of a teenager. Both of these stages illustrate the turmoil that can go along with the process of attaining individuality and ultimately ones own identity.
Making the transition to another country even under the most positive circumstances is in and of itself a major life stressor, but it is particularly challenging to find your identity as a non-Swede. One of the biggest challenges in this process is the experience of dependency and helplessness. The inability to communicate and being subject to the rules and regulations of the Swedish bureaucracy are experiences that can catapult us back to a childlike state. It is easy to forget that we have adult competencies without the practical skills to succeed in Swedish culture.
Many couples find themselves in crisis when the expectations connected with parent-child relationship patterns become superimposed upon the here-and-now adult relationship. Much like the frustrated child or teen, the non-Swede is prone to enlist a number of unhealthy tactics in an attempt to salvage a feeling of independence.
These include: manipulation, and blame (you are responsible for my unhappiness, "I moved all the way over here to be with you and you can't even..."); pseudo-independent rebellion (lying, secrets, unfaithfulness); sadness and worry (suspicious fantasies and accusations, feeling forgotten, unimportant, or invisible), and/or avoidance (passivity, helplessness, withdrawal).
It is vital that couples be aware of the normal, but temporary change in relational dynamics in order to tolerate the stress that is put on the relationship. The ability to identify and accept feelings of dependency and helplessness, without trying to combat them with short-lived solutions, is crucial for a couple's stability. If it is the first time the couple is faced with these dynamics, tolerance of these emotions will ultimately contribute to a deeper, more intimate relationship in the long run.