Part 2: An Australian in New York – psychological challenges of an expat in New York

Following on from the first part on An Australian in NY. So you’re settled into your new apartment, even found a decent grocery store. But settling in to NYC can take an emotional toll.

This move is stressing my relationship

Moving with a partner can be wonderful, as it means that you can make decisions together and shake your collective fists at all the ways this city can frustrate you. However, a drastic change of environment can change relationship dynamic, cause over-reliance on each other for support or put other stressors on a relationship. It’s can also happen where one or both partners become aware of differences in values as their familiar surrounds peel away. 

Moving overseas together often means making a whole new friendship group and connecting to a new community of people very different to the joint friendship circles at home. Existing problems in communication can be highlighted or even exacerbated by these changes.

This means some couples grow much closer as they are encouraged to learn to communicate their needs in different ways and set up life together as a unit. However, if you are feeling the sting, it is beneficial to look objectively if communication strategies can improve. See this wonderful clip from the Gottman institute that describes main obstacles to good communication. There are several wonderful books by relationship researcher and expert John Gottman that are worth reading (The Relationship Cure and A Couple's Guide to Communication). Try to make time for each other without distractions or work. Treat each other with compassion and patience.


*Note for Partners

This can be especially difficult when the move is motivated by work opportunities for one partner. While one partner is at work all day, the other can be left to forge a new path. Patience and compassion goes a long way here. Be considerate about the loss of identity, difficulties in finding work and making new friends. Looking for volunteer work, book clubs and community groups can help bridge that loneliness until you find a foothold of your own.


Beyond adjustment difficulties: Dealing with existing mental health issues

So there’s a point where annoyances and adjustments can spill over into emotional distress. You may have had an existing mental health challenge or the stressors of being away from home are depleting your reserves. Either way, please do not struggle through this alone.

Navigating the American mental health services can be daunting, but support is available. Depending on your health insurance status, you can have access to world-class clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists in the city. While many therapists charge “out of network”, this simply means you have to pay up front and receive a reimbursement later. If this is out of your price range, as it can be for many, there are college counseling services (if you are studying) or sliding scale services. See my previous article about seeking therapy with a very limited budget. If you are seeking support for life challenges, please consider Life Therapy NYC (*where I am).

New Yorkers are known to be open about their therapists. With so many high achievers packed into one big competitive city, you can see why.

Stay tuned for Part 3. We'll be delving into issues such as grieving as an expat.