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A Tale of 2 Countries - Marriage & Living In 2 Places, Can It Be Done? - Relationship Advice

Updated on August 10, 2010

Hello Veronica,

I have been looking for some advice online that pertains to the situation that my fiancée and I are in. I haven't really found anything that fits but I thought your responses were thoughtful and rational and you might have some thoughts.

I am engaged to someone from a different country. We met while abroad and over a period of several years have gotten through long distance relationshp periods and now live together in my country. The decision to get married was definitely driven by our love for one another and our desire to spend our lives together. However as time passes the challenges of the reality of our situation, both current and future become more apparent. We are both close to our families, and both enjoy spending time with them. The question of which country we will live in is constantly on our minds. The current idea is 4 year increments, switching countries back and forth and while living in one spending as much vacation time in the other as possible. Admittedly this seems exhausting at some times, possible at others, we are asking ourselves if it is even feasible? especially when we factor our careers into the mix. We have already both sacrificed our career goals to be together and have comprimised as best we can in our current situation. However, the biggest concern now is how can we maintain the stability of our situation through life, kids, changes in our families, etc. I worry that the pressures of our life together: the desire to spend time with our families, to live in our own country, to pursue our dreams - are too great and over time will wear us down to the point where it will fall apart. I also have a lot of anxiety over what I would actually do career-wise in her country. I was wondering if you have hea rd of people in similar situations and how they may have dealt with it. Also if you have any thoughts on how we can approach defining our common goals, dreams, strategies etc.

At times I think about how hard it is going to be and wonder if it's worth it, at others I am so overwhelmed but the sadness of being without her that I can't handle the thought of it. I would really like the comfort of an ongoing "approach" that could at least provide a way for us to handle these challenges. We aren't the best communicators so that's obviously something we need to deal with.

Anyway, looking forward to hearing any thoughts you may have.

Much appreciated,


Dear John,

The clever title "Tale of 2 Countries" was John's email title, and I want to be sure to give him credit on that.

John, yes, I do know people that are doing what you and your fiancé are planning. 

I will tell you about a couple of them and then go through the things you've said.

On one of our many visits to Alaska, we met a wonderful couple. He was our helicopter pilot on a glacier tour. We wound up really hitting it off with him and going to dinner with him and his wife. 

He is originally from Oregon state. He became a helicopter pilot and worked there with the forest rangers or state park rangers until about 20 years ago when he moved to Alaska. He simply loves it there, and works all summer season giving tours of the glaciers.

He met his wife, who was from Chile, on one of these tours. 

She was teaching in Mexico when they met. So, not only do you have 2 different homes, you have to add in 2 different places of origin with family, and all of this spanning 3 countries. 

They were so relaxed and full of love & life as they held hands and drank wine with us and told us about how they went completely up and down the west coast of the Americas for the last 15 years together. For the majority of it, he worked as a helicopter pilot. They would live in Alaska from around end of May until beginning of September, where she would teach Spanish and give Spanish lessons through different means. Private lessons, and some of the summer school programs or adult education programs. Then I believe they spent the remainder of September with his family in Oregon. 

Then it was down to Mexico where she had made her home for October through April. In the warmer climate there, he was able to continue work as a helicopter tour guide pilot, and she was able to keep her teaching job. And then I believe they spent the first part of May with her family in Chile, before returning to Alaska for their summer.

They spoke as if they were two worldly wise people, in love with their lives. When they decided to have children, she cut back on her teaching jobs, and she home schooled. The kids grew up traveling, safe & loved, returning to the same areas every year, able to build long lasting friendships. They knew their entire families, and they sounded well adjusted. She told us she continued private Spanish lessons, and some seminars and things that worked out with their schedules. She also began to take small jobs doing book translations from English to Spanish, or Spanish to English. She could do this from home.

They told us that they were just about to eliminate Mexico from their yearly plans. The area they were living in 6 or 7 months out of the year there just wasn't appealing to them in the same way anymore. They were in the process of selling their home there. We asked what they would do with that time of the year, would they spend it in Alaska? Oregon? Chile? And she said she had applied for a teaching job in San Diego. If she got it she would have to be there for their school year, so they were working out the logistics. Neither seemed nervous or phased. They said they'd most likely be apart a few weeks before the season and after the season in Alaska, but that they were sure that wouldn't be a big deal. 

They were so charming, John. They were clearly in love, and passionate about their lives and their families. They ran up and down the globe all year and never made it sound exhausting. They said they had very modest small homes in Alaska and Mexico, and stayed with family in Oregon and Chile. They spoke frankly about their incomes, that they did fine and didn't worry about things, but that they couldn't afford large homes with the way they travelled all year. They did not seem at all sad about that.

The other couple we know are both musicians. He is from New York and she is from Hong Kong. I don't think they own any homes or property. They keep an apartment outside of NYC in an affordable area. They explained that they can't afford to do that with Hong Kong, and that each visit there even if it's twice a year and they stay for 2 months at a time, they rent something new. They are rather like vagabonds in a bohemian sense. They both love to travel, and take different session work, and touring jobs. Whenever we get an email from one or the other, we have no idea where it might be coming from. I think they plan their schedules on their own and then work out where they can meet. 2 weeks together in London while she's on tour, 2 months together in Texas while he plays with the Houston Symphony on an 8 week contract. We always manage to see them when they are in NY, but that's probably only about once or twice a year. They agreed a long time ago that their lifestyle was not conducive to children, and they do not have any. That alone gives them an incredible amount of freedom to pursue their musical aspirations and focus on their marriage. They've been married about 10 years now. He's about to turn 50, and she's in her 30's. They are that couple that out of nowhere decides to go to Africa to study percussion for 5 months and barely remember to tell anyone, or shows up Christmas Eve with arms full of exotic gifts and says they are staying for a few days if that's OK. We absolutely love them.

John, it sounds like you and your fiancé have already broken through all the hardest obstacles. I see no real reason why this can't work. Your love for each other and your resolve to the relationship is really all you need.

The only thing you said that bothered me, is: "We have already both sacrificed our career goals to be together."

As with our friends from Alaska, I hope that isn't the case. I hope that you've refocused your career paths, or changed your specific goals for others that were less rigid. If you really feel you've sacrificed solid goals, there is going to be a big problem.

Really all it takes is to be less rigid about what it is you want to do. Take teaching for example. Maybe her original dream was to one day be a professor at a University. With as much time as she travels that dream changed. I'm sure she wouldn't say sacrificed, I'm sure she would say morphed, or grew, or developed into something different. Teaching all up and down the entire west coast of two continents is quite an accomplishment. Home schooling is no easy task. Translating literature, writing on her own, teaching seminars and adult education... she has certainly not surrendered her dream of teaching. She's just managed it into her dream of spending her life with the man she loves, having children with him, knowing his family, supporting his career, and staying close with her family. 

It is amazing what you can see once you take the blinders off. 

I can give you rational tips, like that if either of you is multilingual, there will always be work you can find, and I'm sure you can create an entire career path doing something  you truly care about with adjustments to working remotely or independently. But you are obviously extremely intelligent and worldly. You do not need my logistics. But you did ask me for an ongoing approach, and here it is. 

Don't feel like any plan has to be set in stone. Trying out the 4 year rotations is an option. But don't attach yourself to it. Be open to reassessing all the time, and implement changes as you feel you should. Change does not mean the first plan failed. It simply means the first plan had room for improvement, or that the first plan worked, and now something else needs to work. There is always a way. Just be open to change, and embrace your unique life. Don't try to force it into a societal cookie-cutter idea. Be willing to try new things so you can discover new ways of making things work. 

The two things you really need to think through are children and finances. In both the couples I know personally these were ideas that were handled very differently. I believe that as long as you are open and honest with each other, you will be able to decide what is best for you two together. Remove the idea path of "sacrifice" for an open minded view forward. Instead of thinking about what you could have had or what you gave up, think about what new way you can find to experience career work you enjoy. Think about the options you hadn't considered, the living arrangements that would be easy on the family. Don't think in terms of sacrifice, think in terms of possibilities. Think about all that you gain when you stay true to your heart. Namaste.


Submit a Comment
  • Veronica profile imageAUTHOR


    10 years ago from NY


    Thanks so much for your comment. Maybe it isn't too late to implement some changes to the design of your lives if that's what you want.


    I'm so glad you commented. Yes, the mindset and vision of seeing "possibilities" and opportunities instead of sacrifices is the big success ingredient here. There really are so many different things to try if you can be open. My advice is to hold off doing things that will be hard to un-do, until you're sure. If you could for example, start out by renting an apartment here and there, that's easily something you can get out of if it doesn't work out. Whereas, buying a big house is not going to be quite as easy to step away from if you decide to try something else. There is no rush. My husband just mentioned all the people we know who are serving in the armed forces. Getting married, starting families, moving from base to base, keeping an apartment in her home town or a guest room at his parents, etc. Different states, different countries, different continents. This is absolutely something do-able, John. Just experiment and enjoy the diversity your unique life together will offer to both of you.


  • profile image


    10 years ago

    Veronica, thank you so much for your thoughtful response. It is very reassuring to hear about other couples who are going through this experience as well and how they have approached it. I really do like the approach of looking at "possibilities" vs. sacrifices. The big shift there is to alter a vision of the future we may have had before we met. The big house with lots of kids vision as touched upon by "Another" is a vision that we need to disuss to see if it is something we can do or if there is something else that will work for us.

    Once again, thanks so much for your advice.

    Sincerely, John

  • profile image


    10 years ago

    I love your articles Veronica. You are really in touch with what needs to be said and how to say it. I am someone who is in a marriage with with a partner from a different country. We weren't this open to commuting and changing. I wish we had been. We are still together and we love each other. But I regret how we handled things. We thought we had to stay in one place and have a big house with lots of kids. If I had it to do again, I would pick the same partner but I would do it all differently so that we could both be happy. Good luck John.


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