You have just spent a wonderful summer/semester/year overseas. You made new friends, you discovered new, delicious foods, and you learned about how not to offend people from a different culture. You might have picked up new lingo, slang, or an entirely new language. Your clothes might have changed, you might be interested in new hobbies, and your new favorite movie might not even be in your native tongue. You spent a successful period of time studying abroad by engaging with the local community, becoming more independent, and by stepping outside of your comfort zone. But now it’s over and you are faced with coming back home to your significant other. This is the person that you were with before you went abroad, and kept the relationship alive with despite the distance.
You both (hopefully!) shared similar interests and tastes, and had enough of a commonality in which to begin a relationship before you left. You also worked hard at keeping in touch, sharing your new experiences with them, and maybe even saw each other while you were abroad. Regardless of how long you've been dating and no matter how much you missed or love the other person, you might find that you grew apart.
It’s a hard feeling, but don’t panic just yet! Feeling this way is completely normal. It could be a rough transition back to being a couple in one location, so here are some tips for coming back to your significant other after studying abroad.
Embrace the Reintroduction
When you're first reunited, you might experience the honeymoon phase. While this usually happens during the beginning of a relationship, coming back together after a long distance relationship can feel like a new beginning. You will likely be so excited to see each other that you might end up glossing over any issues that you experienced during your separation.
Ride the wave of happiness as long as you can and remember why you guys decided to be together. But at the same time, make sure you keep a little rational voice at the back of your mind. Try to be realistic about your feelings and make sure to keep track of any of the frustrations that you had while separated. If you don't do this, you run the risk of pretending that everything is perfect and then blowing up when you inevitably run out of the honeymoon phase.
This might actually be a good time to bring up some of the issues you had while you were abroad, since you're both still in that blissful state that makes it easier to hash out the hard stuff.
Talk to Them about Reverse Culture Shock
After having gotten used to a completely different culture and society, you might find yourself struggling to readjust to more than just seeing your significant other again. Your whole life back home might feel weird and unusual. You might be missing the sights and sounds from your overseas home or you might feel out of place in gatherings since you missed the events of the last semester/year/etc. When you feel like this, it's really important that you talk to your significant other and let them know how you’re feeling.
Being less independent can be hard to get used to. Just take it slowly and always be open and honest with each other.
In fact, before you even come back, you'll want to let them know that there is a possibility that you will feel reverse culture shock. That way, they're aware of what might happen and can be ready to listen to you and be there for you. Even if your significant other hasn't studied abroad and can't fully share in this experience, they can (and should) be sympathetic. On the other hand, just as their job is to be open and overflowing with empathy, your job is to try not to get frustrated if they cannot exactly understand what it is you are missing.
Be patient and if you find yourself feeling like you can't talk to your significant other, try to speak with someone else from your program or one of the many friends you made while studying abroad. Your significant other should not be your entire world or the person that you depend on for everything. It's important you share some of this with them so they know what you are going through, but it is equally important that you can express your sadness or alienation with someone who can truly understand.
Learn How to Spend Time Together (in Person)
One of the hardest parts of reuniting with your significant other is relearning how to spend time together. Maybe you are one of those couples that did extraordinarily well with long distance. You were great with Skype calls or Whatsapp messages, and the separation never felt rough. Life together was easy lived through social media.
Now you have a completely different challenge. What if you forgot about that annoying habit that they have of picking their teeth in public? Or maybe you hate how long it takes them to get ready? Or maybe you find that you have just run out of things to say to each other since you are so used to storing up the entire day in for a one hour conversation.
If this is the case, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that your relationship is doomed and you no longer have anything in common. Instead, ease back into your relationship. Try going on date nights again and then spend the days apart. Work out a way that you can have a guys night or a girls night and then a night where your entire friend group hangs out together. Go on drives or little adventures and find ways to reconnect. Being less independent can be hard to get used to. Just take it slowly and always be open and honest with each other.
Be Careful with Comparisons
One of the most important skills that you will need to learn after studying abroad is how to share your experiences in a constructive way. You might be dating someone who travels a lot or you might be dating someone who has never left the state. Either way, it can be hard for them to hear about just how amazing and awesome and incomparable this other place was. When you first get back home, you might be tempted to make comparisons:
"Well, there's no way the enchiladas here compare to those in Mexico."
"In Paris, they would never have gone outside in sweatpants."
The list goes on. And though you may not be able to resist sharing how much better things were abroad than they are back home, these comments can be quite alienating for your partner. Try to refrain from phrasing your observations this way. It's not a matter of one place is better than the other. It's that each place is just different and those differences are interesting. If you really need to complain about being back home, again, talk to someone else on your program or a friend you made overseas.
When it comes to your significant other, share your experiences abroad by talking to them about something you already shared during your Skype conversations, or have it relate to them and their interests in some way. For example:
"Remember that cafe I loved in London? Well, this really reminds me of it, and I want to share it with you."
"You once said you'd love to try a cafe con leche like they had in Barcelona, well I found some nearby!"
Also, make sure that while you should be open to reminiscing and being nostalgic, don't let it dominate your side of the conversation. Remember that there's probably a lot that happened in their life as well, so be sure to share what you were up to, but also to ask about what you missed in their life as well!
When rekindling a romance, always try to find new hobbies and interests that you can both engage in. If you had an activity that you fell in love with while abroad, include your significant other and see if they are interested in participating with you. Remember that you always have to move forward in creating new memories and new experiences with each other.
Try not to let the end of long distance be the end of your relationship!
At the same time that you are rebuilding your relationship, don't let go of that independence that you found while separated. You should both feel secure in your relationship since you've been through the gauntlet of long distance. Make sure to keep having friends and activities that you are both comfortable with doing alone. You've survived the worst, so try not to let the end of long distance be the end of your relationship.