Dear Thelma: My wife is working overseas, and I feel so lonely

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Dear Thelma,

I am 32. Been married since 2017. My wife left to pursue her PhD study in South Korea right after we're married. I was OK because we had agreed to be in a long-distance relationship until she is finished with her studies., which was supposed to take five years.

Then Covid-19 happened. So she had to extend another year.

She was struggling to complete her thesis. I quit my job in mid-2023 to help her finish her thesis in South Korea. She managed to defend her thesis well and graduated with a PhD later that year. I thought finally we can settle down and start a family. We flew back to Malaysia for good in July 2023.

At this point, I already have a steady job in KL. But she seemed reluctant, saying that there are no jobs in Malaysia that suit her. So she applied for a one-year internship with a well-known organisation in Austria, was interviewed and accepted, with an idea to be absorbed as a permanent staff there.

Now she's away again, leaving me clueless about what I should do next. Her internship should last until September this year.

At this point in life, I really need a wife to be by my side. But she's away again.

I feel very lonely at night. I really don't know what to do. Can you give some advice?


For some people, long distance works well. Some couples, like those who work with the army or navy, are apart for months every year, for years on end, but they have a connection that thrives.

It is perfectly fine if you are not one of those people. Most of us need to be with our partners. If we are not, we are lonely and the connection fades.

Your wife has been away for some years. She studied abroad and is now abroad again to use her PhD.

I think the next step is to ask her point blank: Does she intend to come back and settle into a job in Malaysia, even if it’s not ideal? Or does she plan to follow career opportunities no matter where she finds them, even if it means living abroad?

You may have had that conversation before marriage, but that was seven years ago. People change their minds, especially when they have invested so much in their education, so it’s worth having it again.

If she is keen to move back, then you have a timeline. If she says she will be back in September, it seems sensible to wait for her. Lonely, yes, but it’s only a few more months.

If she is not keen, then you two need to talk. I would think along the following lines.

First, perhaps your wife can take responsibility for being the major wage earner, with you following her to whatever country and city her career takes her.

For this, you would need a portable job or work that can be done remotely. Ideally, she does all the visas, and you are her dependent. That can be tricky, but as your wife is a PhD, she is a senior person. Her employers will be used to that arrangement.

Long-term, you would need to figure out a retirement plan that includes EPF or an equivalent pension. Perhaps you end up in a country where you become permanent residents, or you may want to relocate back to Malaysia when you retire.

Also, as your career would be dependent on her, you two need to talk about what would happen if you split up in the future. Both of you need financial security.

Second, if you intend to have kids, would you want to raise them in Malaysia?

If yes, then the stint abroad will have a natural limit. You would have the same discussion as above, but you might plan your personal career path differently.

Third, if you have jobs that allow you some remote work, you can take it in turns to travel. That would mean a few months in Austria, a few months in Malaysia, and perhaps a few months apart.

This option can be quite intensive as being a digital nomad is stressful. It certainly isn’t for everyone but you can try it out.

Also, if your wife thinks that the lack of opportunity in Malaysia is temporary, such an arrangement can be a good bridging option.

Fourth, if your wife thinks Malaysia will not offer her enough career opportunity, the two of you might identify a country where both of you can work and build careers.

As you have weathered the lockdowns, a PhD and being separated, you have an excellent foundation of support and communication. I hope these ideas will help you kick off a fruitful conversation that will lead to a happy resolution for you both.

Good luck and know I’m thinking of you.

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