Dear Thelma: I'm happily married, but feeling miserable being so far away from family


By THELMA
Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Dear Thelma,

I currently reside with my husband in a neighbouring country due to the demands of his job. Our relocation followed our marriage approximately one year ago, and I've since secured employment myself. This marks my first experience living apart from my close-knit and loving family.

Please do not get me wrong, I am deeply in love with my husband and I am happy to have married him. He is a good person who takes good care of me. However, I find myself grappling with a sort of withdrawal syndrome – longing for my family's presence. Their absence weighs heavily on my mind, and I miss them terribly. I feel that I am missing out on a lot of family events such as get-togethers, birthdays and other events. Despite my efforts to stay positive, I can't shake the sadness that envelops me when I think of them.

Recently, my husband noticed that I am not as cheerful as I used to be and asked me about it. I broke down and told him that I find it very hard to be happy without my family’s presence.

While he initially brushed it off with a light-hearted remark, he tries his level best to make me happy. He arranges frequent trips for me to visit home and welcomes my family for visits whenever possible. However, each departure from my family leaves me tearful and uneasy.

I never anticipated that being away from them would affect me so deeply. Despite immersing myself in work, chores and hobbies, my thoughts invariably drift back to them. Though I engage in daily video calls, the distance still weighs heavily on my heart.

My family is aware of my struggle and has offered reassurance, urging me to find joy and gratitude in our new life abroad. While they miss me dearly, they believe that with time, I'll adjust and find contentment in our current circumstances.

Though I've considered the possibility of returning to Malaysia, my husband and I recognise the opportunities our current location offers. Despite my inner turmoil, I am committed to remaining by my husband's side and nurturing our happiness together. I refuse to let this challenge jeopardise our marriage or our future plans, including starting a family.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge the need to address my feelings and overcome this withdrawal syndrome. I am determined to reclaim my cheerful disposition and find fulfilment in our new life. However, I'm uncertain where to begin or how to motivate myself. What can I do to overcome this?

Melancholic Lady


With many Malaysians emigrating to work and study abroad, I think a lot of us will go through similar experiences. We’ll start with the basics and then address your particular situation.

International relocation is never easy, because it means a new home, new food, new people, and new customs and culture. This combines to create culture shock.

Seasoned expatriates know that the first month is typically fun, because everything is new and exciting, but by the third and fourth month, we ache for the familiar – our homes, families and friends.

The key to successful relocation is connection. We need expat friends from home to provide comfortable familiar and local friends so that we integrate.

You are missing your family, which is normal. However, the extent to which you miss them is unusual.

I can see several possibilities.

First, you may have normal culture shock. However, it has been extended because you keep going back and video calling every day. This prevents you from accepting and settling into your new home.

If this is so, then I suggest you stop going back. Also, cut back drastically on your family video calls and social media. Immerse yourself fully to living your new life. Commitment is key.

You have a job, which means you can socialise. Build a social life, make friends as described above.

Second, you may have an anxiety disorder. People with anxiety typically fixate on an issue believing that life would be perfect if only (and you can insert typical thoughts here) they were taller, thinner, from a different university, had a specific car – or living in a different place.

Look back and see if you have had this kind of thinking before. Did you ever fixate on an “if only” before? Or have you been an over-thinker before?

If that is so, then a visit to a psychiatrist for diagnosis is the first step, and then sessions with a counsellor or therapist will help you manage it.

Third, you may come from an enmeshed family. Being close to family is terrific, but in some families the bonds are too tight, and kids don’t learn to be individuals. As they see themselves only as part of the family, they don’t do well outside the family unit.

Children of enmeshed families typically don’t make friends easily, have trouble making decisions by themselves, and feel that they’re not complete when away from the family. There may also be a lack of boundaries.

It can be tricky separating a close family from an enmeshed one, and I hesitated to mention it as your family are encouraging you to step away and build a life. Also, you have a husband you’re happy with.

However, family dynamics can be tricky, so I think the key is looking at your teenage and early adult life. If you had lots of friends and enjoyed having your own time and social life, then it’s unlikely you have this issue.

If you think enmeshment is an issue, then you’ll need to reset. Lots of people go through this and come out of it fine, but it can be tricky, especially if you’re already suffering from culture shock.

Finally, given the sadness, you may have low mood or even depression. If so, that would colour your perspective and it can also have overlapping elements with anxiety or rumination. It’s not uncommon to see depression following relocation, and so it’s worth checking out.

Given these options, I recommend a few sessions with a mental health professional. Look for someone who works with anxiety, depression, relocation, and family dynamics. They should be able to help you sort out what’s going on, and plot the steps you need to take for effective change.

Whatever it is, you have a lovely husband and an exciting opportunity to build a wonderful future. So reach out for the happiness you deserve, OK?

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