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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - September 2013

It could be you ....


Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.  

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

The hidden side of being an ex-pat

In the last month I have been reminded of one of the unseen consequences of the ability to travel and settle in places far from home.

As well as having summer visits from ex-pats, someone has written to ask me what to do about their feelings of “not belonging, either where I live or back home.”

That question has brought to mind all those in our family or circle of friends who have moved to other countries to work, or to settle with their partner. Almost very one of them has expressed the feeling that, on returning to their home country to visit, after being away for some time, they no longer quite fit in.

Although welcomed back with open arms everything seems to have shifted and feels different to when they left. This of course is due in part to the fact that they have 'shifted', have changed since their departure, in order to fit into their new homeland, the new society, patterns of daily life and surroundings.

But things do change after someone leaves. Friends continue with their other friendships and have new experiences, families continue to develop, siblings might start a new relationship, have babies, parents will age and even buildings, once familiar, will change, or disappear.

When a person returns to their original home things will appear kind of the same, yet different in some way. Parents who miss their son or daughter and longs to have them home, will see changes when they visit and will respond to a different look, accent or attitude. That reaction will be noticed and will contribute to the sense of not quite fitting in.

The visitor will see that a parent is slowing, or looks older, or a friend now has different views where once they agreed. Living in a country that has a particular set of values will subtly shift how an incomer sees their world and when visiting their country of origin, that change will serve as a reminder of how they have adjusted.

It is true that if someone who has been away for a long time returns, then over a period the same process of adjustment will help them to find a new place in their old home country. They will fit again, eventually.

But what if that doesn't happen? There are many people who have never been able to find a way of fitting in, either in their new home country of in their original one if they return. True, the longer one is away the harder it is to shift back into the old way of being. Small things like the amount of traffic on the road, the taste of the beer or bread or the climate can underline the adjustments the person has made.

I have a friend who moved France over 25yrs ago and, whilst they speak fluent French, their accent is detected by native speakers, and yet when visiting this country their sentence construction is distinctly continental.

A family member who has settled in the US and is now a Citizen but  longs to be home, even after almost 20yrs, and has found it very hard to settle, yet in many ways has become American, and would find it equally hard to resettle without there being some major changes in commitments and finances. Another, also naturalized, finds it difficult to express views on politics, a life-long interest, as most folk around have very different views.

An elderly couple who returned to England after 30 yrs in New Zealand are torn by one's wish to go back and the other's wish to stay, each having never quite found it possible to make a change, yet an old college friend of mine left for NZ weeks after we graduated and never regretted it. On visiting last year he loved the countryside and seeing all who were close to him, but knew he could no longer cope with the lack of space, the weather and the pace of life on this busy island.

In retirement the temptation for some is to find 'a place in the sun', especially for those of us living in the UK! Our wish for a life of ease with warmth on our ageing joints is tempting. Yet there are plenty of couples who have retired to Spain, Portugal or southern France who have never managed to fit into their new culture, but have essentially burned their boats and cannot afford to return.

Little is mentioned of the possible effect of cutting ties to one's home country, perhaps because not everyone is affected, but there are significant numbers who feel the disconnect and this can make life miserable.  

  • Great care and consideration needs to be given to such a move wherever possible, especially as one gets older
  • It is good to have a financial reserve or fall-back plan if circumstances change and a return is necessary
  • Obviously that is less likely when a young person takes the decision to emigrate, but even so, there is still a need to be aware that fitting in takes time and will be at the expense of some of the original patterns of life back home
  • At whatever age a major move is made there must be a willingness to take time to understand how things are done where you are going, and an awareness that things will feel very different when you go home
  • If going home is permanent then that same process needs to be repeated. Take time to notice how things have changed...and how you have changed...since you left
  • Make an effort to fit in without telling all around you how much better things were 'over there', or ‘back home’
  • There will always be things one misses when moving from one place to another, and that is more obvious when a change of country is involved, so that needs to be accepted
  • Find things in your new area that might interest you. It is not necessary to join in everything going, but try several groups, clubs or activities and then focus on whichever you find most absorbing, that way you will make more lasting new friendships
  • Making new friends is a slow process, but is essential to bonding with your new home and learning, through others, how things are done there
  • Give yourself time, be interested, ask questions and listen well.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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