Dr. Julie S. Lundgren

English Speaking Psychologist in Gothenburg, Sweden

More Tips for Couples

Several readers responded to the article, Making a Relationship Work after Relocation, with questions about how to deal with feelings of helplessness and dependency that often emerge as a result of the transition. This has to do with the experience of regression: a temporary psychological shift from a higher mode of functioning to a developmentally earlier one as a result of stress.

The ability to regress is often necessary to give the mind a rest and a chance to refuel. It can be very healthy. But regression can lead to destructive behavior. When we can’t tolerate feeling less competent than we would like, we are prone to find unhealthy short-lived solutions, as outlined in the above-mentioned article.

A relationship has a life-cycle just as individuals do. It can progress and regress depending on the strains the couple encounters. When we are in a regressed state, we are prone to distort our image of our significant others. We relate to them based on what we need them to be rather than who they are in the here-and-now reality. Our partner can come to represent a figure from our past, such as a depriving parent or a competitive sibling. The challenge, and the best case scenario, is to see each other for who you are in reality. Define and accept which needs your mate can satisfy and which are your responsibility.

We may unfairly place too much responsibility for our happiness, or unhappiness, onto our significant other. This often leads to a repeated experience of frustration, blame and failure. No matter what the circumstances of your move or your feelings about being here, a critical aspect of adjustment for your relationship is that you take responsibility for your life in the present. Your partner can not be expected to make up for what you have sacrificed by moving, but he or she can support your efforts to build a satisfying life for yourself in Sweden.

Ask yourself, have you done the things within your power to take control over your situation? Have you, for example, learned the language, figured out how to get around town independently, made an effort to build a social network or looked for work? These are healthy ways to combat feeling helpless and dependent, that, while cumbersome in the short term, lead to better long term adjustment and a reclaiming of your independence.

No matter what type of conflict you are dealing with, maintaining fair and open communication is crucial. Separate the problem from the person. Use “I”-statements when communicating (“I feel…” versus “You make me feel…”).  Use reflective listening to demonstrate that you understand each others points-of-view without passing judgment (“I hear you saying that you feel…”). Whether it is because of relocation or another stressor, incorporating these basic communication tools into your relationship will help strengthen mutual respect and accountability and contribute to more positive and productive conflict resolution in the future.