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Maintaining Relationships Abroad

Emotional

By Bobby Kuechenmeister, UWEC Junior

Being separated in a relationship is difficult physically due to the lack of being close to one another, but it is also mentally difficult due to the possible emotions experienced by the partner left behind. Some of the most common are: loneliness, depression, anxiety, and jealousy.

Loneliness

Combating the feeling of loneliness may seem like a lone battle, and it is. No matter how close a network of friends is, those people are not always around, which forces partners to find alternative methods of dealing with that emotion. Looking forward to being reunited and becoming involved with clubs and social organizations also helps to overcome this emotion.

An effective alternative is becoming involved (or re-involved) with hobbies. During the course of a relationship, it is possible for partners to find less time to devote to hobbies (determined by the amount of dependency), but the interest in them never extinguishes. It also helps partners pass the time until they are reunited rather than concentrate on their loneliness.

Depression

One of the most common emotions experienced by both partners is depression. From the traveler's perspective, overcoming this emotion is less difficult because he or she becomes immersed in the host culture, but for the person left behind there are additional supports.

Having a network of close friends is helpful because it provides the companionship a relationship lacks during a study abroad experience. It also provides necessary support for partners to express their feelings in a healthy way, knowing they can do so freely without worry of being judged by people or society.

Anxiety

Unlike loneliness and depression, anxiety is not an emotion that can be dealt with successfully alone. Both partners need to be open and honest with each other about issues this emotion raises which includes exclusivity.

Discussing and making mutual agreements, or setting boundaries about exclusivity, is a way of alleviating the effects of anxiety (fear and paranoia). Boundaries include how far an interest in a guy or girl is allowed to go, acceptable behavior with opposite sex friends, and whether or not to see other people. However, the boundaries created must be upheld and respected, which happens when partners build a strong foundation of trust.

Although discussion and creation of mutual agreements alleviates initial fears and worries, it is important for partners to revisit these problems associated with anxiety together, in order to provide reassurances and support when needed.

Jealousy

The result of partners who fail to deal with anxiety properly is jealousy, which leaves one or both partners to misunderstand different situations they may find themselves in, but this is an issue partners can work through if both people are willing to put forth the time and energy.

During the time apart, it is only natural for both partners to make new friends, possibly of the opposite sex. Acceptance of that initial fact is a step toward overcoming the negative emotional destruction jealousy causes.

Something that helps free a partner from the negative and damaging effects of jealousy is reassurances from the other that their misunderstanding is simply that. Doing so reinforces trust in the partner's mind and slowly forces him or her to evaluate the situation in a more rational sense. Once that happens, the partner overcomes anxiety, and the feeling of jealousy leaves him or her.