Let them vent, even if you have heard it all before.
Spike and I would sit down and talk it out regularly as I tried to figure out why I was struggling with our move to Japan. He patiently heard about it for weeks on end but he was always there when I needed to just let it all out — homesickness, work issues, you name it. Those futon vent sessions were life-savers.
Remind them why you both decided to be in this new place, together.
We moved abroad for two reasons: work and love. Neither of us could find well-paid stateside jobs in our chosen fields and the move also gave us the chance to live in the same city (compared to living in different time zones back home). So when we both were at our wit’s end, a reminder that at least we were together abroad versus separated back home REALLY put things in perspective.
Don’t forget the place they are missing.
One week when I was particularly homesick, I came home to find that Spiked had prepared me a “Friday Fish Fry,” a common Friday tradition back in Wisconsin where I grew up. Although the Japanese sesame-crusted salmon was nothing like the beer-battered cod fillets I usually enjoyed on Friday nights, the sentiment was incredibly thoughtful and it made me feel closer to the place that I was missing so much. The meal was such a success that we ended up making our version of “Friday Fish Fry” a regular occurrence in our home.
Make a point to interact with the culture.
I would have never gotten past my cultural woes if my partner hadn’t made a point of getting me out and interacting with Japan. Festivals in particular were a way for Spike to dive right into the excitement of being abroad while still being a place where I could safely observe my surroundings without being intimidated. I could people watch, eat the local food and try my elementary Japanese in a very informal setting; it was a great way to build positive experiences with the culture during my first couple months in Tokyo.
Be honest: you miss home too.
Girlfriend: Why am I so damn homesick? How is this so easy for you?
Boyfriend: I never said I wasn’t homesick. I miss being able to afford cheese, too.
Girlfriend: But you love it here!
Boyfriend: I still miss home like everyone else. It’s natural.
Start a new hobby or routine together.
On our days off and in the evenings, we would often go for walks in our neighborhood and give treats to the friendly stray cats in the area. It gave us a chance to unwind after the day and it reminded us of our pets back in the States. It wasn’t a fancy hobby, but we both have some really nice memories of walking among the rice paddies and dropping off treats for our kitten neighbors.
Let them come to their own conclusions.
Sometimes you both may not share the same appreciation for cultural experiences and that is perfectly ok! Spike loves going out for tsukemen (literally, dipping noodles). I, on the other hand, can’t understand why eating noodles should ever involve two steps. While he is dipping and slurping, I shrug, pour my broth over my noodles, and order another shochu.
Give them space when they need it.
When your apartment is the size of a closet, it really helps when your partner knows exactly when to run errands.
Special thanks to Spike Daeley, who contributed to this article.