At Nomad Mom Life, I’m a mom (obviously) and a wife. We travel all over the world, but no matter how cool life seems, we still have regular people ‘life stuff’ to manage, like marriage and kids. No matter whether you’re living in the same small town you grew up in or you’re halfway across the world in a strange country, marriage is rough. After over 8 years of digital nomad travel AND marriage, here are 8 marriage lessons for digital nomad couples.
Here’s one caveat: We’re not experts. We’ve just been down many dark paths and had to climb our way back up and thought sharing some of our lessons may help other couples on their own journey.
Before I go into the nomad marriage lessons, I’m just going to add that being a digital nomad (for us) means we literally pack up our lives and move every two to three years. In fact, over the last 8 years, we’ve lived in 5 different countries (for periods ranging from 9 months to 3 years) and moved 8 separate times. For more than half of that time, add two kiddos to mix. So, there’s a lot of explaining when it comes to something as simple as where we live. I need you to understand that.
At any given point, there is a significant amount of stress in the mix. Got it? Awesome. So, given that context, let’s go into the nomad marriage lessons.
Lesson 1. Divide and conquer.
There are passports and visas that need renewing, work deadlines, kid stuff, house stuff, family stuff back home, bills to pay, money to save, etc. At any given time, there are a ton of things outstanding that desperately need our attention. Since both of us would lose our sh*t if we had do all of this on our own, we’ve had to learn to share the load. After years of burnout and frustration, we learned to divide and conquer our family administrative duties.
Does one person some times get the short stick and have WAY too many things to handle? Yes, that occasionally still happens. The cool thing now is that when we see one of us is struggling, the other one picks up the slack. We redistribute.
There’s much more of a partnership going on these days, and it leaves both of us feeling seen and appreciated, which is great for a marriage (even if there’s a tornado of chaos waiting for us). We know we can depend on each other in times of crisis (of which there are many) and we’re both willing to shoulder it; so neither of us has to do it alone.
Lesson 2. Define your end goals
You know, this may sound trite to many of you because of course, we all know couples need goals. But maybe we’re slow (and maybe others are too) because we didn’t implement this understanding for a long time. Knowing something and taking action are two different skill sets, and it literally took us years YEARS to sit down and create shared goals.
Sure, it’s cool to want to travel to Ghana or Spain. It’s awesome to want to hang out in Thailand, AND it’s important to know what goals you’re working toward as a couple and as individuals.
Like it or not, your individual goals are tied to your goals as a couple. Both of you are growing individually just as you’re growing as a couple. So, having saving goals, retirement goals, and even college saving goals puts your travel goals (the fun ones) into a different context and allows you to plan a little bit more thoroughly. When you start prioritizing your different goals—like debt reduction over some travel plans—BAM! life changes.
And sure, may be you don’t want to think this practical in a new relationship (it’s way more fun to take a weekend excursion to Morocco or Ghana) but if you want that new relationship to become a mature relationship (one that’s weathered a few tornados), define and align your goals.
Lesson 3. Accept your partner for who they are.
Alright ya’ll. Let’s get real. When you’re traveling with your spouse, you see ALL of them. There’s no hiding. After all, until you get settled in a new country, your spouse is the only person you know in the whole country — the whole country ya’ll.
So, you’re going to see some things. You’re going to get to know what your spouse is like when they’ve been traveling next to your screaming infant and busy toddler for 28 hours across 12 timezones in Economy….
Let that set in.
Economy with a screaming infant and busy (increasingly frustrated) toddler.
Your spouse is not living their best life. They are not pretty, and [look in a mirror] neither are you.
Settled in your new home? You may see your spouse meltdown if they can’t find gainful employment after years of having reliable work.
Ever spend $2oo on a pair of shoes when you only wanted to spend $30? Oops! Blame it on the exchange rate and your spouse’s accidental math error.
If none of these scenarios resonate with you, try this one on for size.
Living in a new country for 9 months with a toddler and your spouse only to get pregnant and spend all day puking. Then, imagine your spouse tears some important ligaments in his leg and needs surgery (in country) while you singlehandedly try to take care of the toddler and the bedridden spouse (for 6-weeks) while simultaneously hunched over the toilet puking your heart out, in a country where you don’t know more than 100 words in the local language.
Unfortunately, this is not a fictional story. It really happened.
In those situations, you learn who you spouse is. They learn who you are. You recognize their buttons and you become increasingly aware of your own shortcomings and learn to forgive their mistakes because you see your own.
Lesson 4. Never shutdown conversation
Life is never boring and there will always be things to do, but a relationship is not a culmination of tasks that you do together.
A relationship is about connection, and part of that connection is conversation.
There will be things that piss you off and when you’re not running after an airplane or trying to pack for four people a few short hours before your 4am flight the next morning, it’s important to talk.
Talk about how you feel. Share what makes you want to pull your hair out. Consult with each other and determine what processes or structures you need to create to make life easier for each other.
Above all, never stop talking. When you stop talking, you stop connecting and being emotionally disconnected from the only person you may know in the whole country is draining and depressing.
Lesson 5. Say what you mean…
And mean what you say. When you open your mouth and say something to your partner (or to anyone for that matter) be ready and able to follow through in action on the words that come out of you mouth.
Live a life of integrity with your partner. If you say you’re going to do something, be ready to do. If you’re all bark and no bite, it’s hard to take you seriously.
This especially becomes important during discussions on finances and during arguments (which coincidentally often occur because of finances). So, if you make an ultimatum (and I don’t recommend it), be ready to follow through.
At the end of the day, saying what you mean and meaning what you say has everything to do with integrity and trust. These are basic virtues, but when life gets complicated (as it is want to do as a nomad), it’s of the utmost importance that you trust your spouse (and they trust you) to have each others’ backs.
Lesson 6. Everyone plays a role
Often, digital nomad couples have one spouse with traditional employment and the other is a trailing (or a tandem) spouse, accompanying the traditionally employed spouse from place to place.
In our marriage, I’m the tandem spouse and while I can often find (or make) work for myself sometimes I can’t. But my husband, from the beginning, refers to me as a professional. He knows my professional capabilities and he’s grateful that I’ve chosen to forego many of the professional accolades I could have pursued in the US to support his career and our family.
In his words, “We’re equal. We just play different roles. My role is no more important than yours and your role is no more important than mine. Together, we makes things work.”
And it’s true. When he’s home, he’s home and just as involved in household responsibilities as I am and when I’m working or have an obligation he supports me. When he’s working or he has work travel (even as a digital nomad he travels more for work), he knows I can handle our home and family.
Recognize the role your spouse plays to keep all the various parts of your life spinning. Know that just because a role isn’t traditionally seen as significant, doesn’t mean that it’s not important and valid.
Lesson 7. Be appreciative
Being a nomad couple isn’t easy. Whether you’ve got a traditional job, a remote job, a digital nomad business, or you’re a tandem spouse, this life of constant travel is a cycle of: packing, transit, move-in, unpacking, settling, friend making, move planning, and the packing starts all over again.
There will be tears, anger, fear, and huge amounts of discomfort.
Try to be appreciative of your spouse, because they’ve chosen to live this ‘break neck’ life with you. This also applies to them (appreciating) you.
There will be plenty of opportunities for negativity and it’s up to you to choose to appreciate and be supportive of your spouse. If you think this is true as a normal couple that NEVER moves, it’s even more important for the nomad couple, making a life on the move.
Appreciate the little things.
I remember being so angry with my spouse (for some random reason) and in that moment, I could appreciate that he was still here with me and willing to disagree. He was still sitting next to me willing to disagree and argue with me.
It’s not always fun, but knowing that you’ve got a partner willing to have difficult conversations is something to appreciate. Not every partner is willing. Find something, no matter how small to appreciate. The more you appreciate, the more you’ll find to appreciate. Coincidentally, the same is true for the stuff you complain about. Choose to focus on the things you appreciate.
Lesson 8. Own your choices
As with most relationship advice, lesson 8 is more about you than it is your relationship. But somehow maintaining a good sense of yourself positively supports your relationship.
When we talk about owning your choices, this can get deep.
As a tandem spouse, I went through long periods of resentment and frustration (which I directed) at my spouse because I wasn’t working and even though I was very busy with our little munckin kids, part of me missed being with adults and working on projects. Society doesn’t really put value in motherhood (which is crazy), and I started to feel “less than.”
You can imagine that this mindset isn’t too helpful inside a relationship. It creates conflict.
And it was only after this realization that I started looking at the choices that led me to the place of resentment and frustration where I found myself.
In my case, I had to own the following choices:
- I chose to leave my job.
- I chose to sell my house.
- I chose to become a nomad spouse
- I chose to move away from the US
- I chose to start a family
- I chose to stay home with my babies
- I chose to listen to society’s skewed priorities
- I chose to value income over the development of my kids
- I chose to feel less than
The reality was: I had an amazing husband, wonderful kids who I loved to see and spend time with every day. I had an amazing life, and an opportunity to create whatever the F*CK I wanted!
When I fully FULLY acknowledged MY choices, I realized I could choose to make different choices. Just like I chose resentment and frustration, I could choose to view my life through a different lens. The only thing limiting me was me.
Granted, this epiphany didn’t happen immediately. It took a while (months) for me to really see the full extent to which I limited myself, but once I did…WOW! I immediately had more appreciation for my spouse. My mood shifted. Our relationship shifted. We were able to have vulnerable conversations and plan for our individual and joint futures.
All this happened when I owned my choices.
All you nomad couples out there, whether you’re in the military crisscrossing the country or you’re working private sector and living out of the country, what lessons have you learned about marriage, maintain strong relationships, and navigating this digital nomad world with your spouse?