Loved Ones Left Behind: Understanding their Emotions

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how selfish expats can be.

(Bear with me.)

Despite our best intentions and most often without realising, we can become so consumed with the changes going on in our own lives as we move abroad, that we completely forget to consider what the people we have left behind are going through.

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Recently, I’ve received a few emails from readers telling me that they are struggling with the reactions and attitudes of their loved ones after they move abroad. It is an extreme time of change and adjustment for all involved and I hold my hands up and say that I have realised as I have been writing this post that I haven’t really spent enough time supporting the people that miss me since I have left.

Instead, I have felt defensive that they aren’t more supportive of me.

I have got frustrated when they may show some resentment towards Canada or my boyfriend who ‘took me away’ to his home country.

It’s really a MINEFIELD of emotion. You can spend hours walking on eggshells.

SO I decided to approach my absolute best friend in the entire world, (who now lives 3,547 miles away from me) and asked her to tell me honestly how she has felt about the entire process…

Her responses were so beautiful and incredibly heart-breaking that I felt it was important to share with you all. All expats should take time to understand the emotions she describes. Here is what she said:

What emotions do you feel when someone you love moves abroad?

Worried that you will lose that person forever.

Unsettled because a part of your life has left and you have to adjust accordingly. It takes time. Little things every day remind you of that person and you can’t always speak to them whenever you want to due to time differences.

Sad (for selfish reasons.) It’s not like I can just come knocking when I need you or fancy a cuppa! I definitely cried a lot after you told me.

Resentful and Heartbroken. Why would you be leaving? Who is making you leave? How could you do this to me? What are we going to do? How are we going to adjust to this?

Denial. For a long time I didn’t think (want) it to be permanent and kept holding out for an ‘I’m returning’ announcement. I didn’t want to talk about it with you for a while and kept making comments like ‘oh it will only be a year then I will get you back.’

Acceptance. Happy for you and hopeful that you are going to find the life you want and deserve. I understand that you wouldn’t make such a big decision if you didn’t want to go or didn’t feel like it was right. So as a friend, I have to trust that your decisions are right for you and, ultimately, I’m happy to know that you’re happy!

What are your biggest worries for them?

  • Are you going to regret the decision?
  • How are you going to adjust without me to physically be there to help when needed?
  • WINTER – How are you going to cope?!
  • Are you going to like their food and culture?
  • Where will your home comforts be when you need to feel grounded and content when you feel homesick?
  • Is the country safe?
  • Are you going to have the best time ever and never ever return?!? (A selfish one again…)

What do you think the person moving could do to help those left behind adjust to the decision?

I’m not sure the person leaving can do anything specific to assist the adjustment… It’s a personal journey for all involved and feels a bit like grieving for the person left behind.

Each individual will have different grieving processes. Make sure that you take some time to understand and accept all of the emotions that they will be going through. Then, all you can do is explain to your loved ones that it’s what you want and that you are excited and happy about this new change in your life.

Consider scheduling lots of quality time with them before officially leaving as offering a ‘large dose’ of yourself beforehand helps soften the blow a little.

It is then also very important to continue regular contact with those back home and share updates with them about your new life once you get there.

What advice would you give to someone who is about to TELL someone they love that they are leaving the country?

Be prepared for ALL emotions, especially if it’s someone very close to you.

Allow them to feel resentful, upset, angry and all of the other negative emotions. Remember, as much as it is a massive adjustment for you, it will have a big impact on them too. You’re taking part of their home and home comforts away from them and it isn’t their choice.

This will be a massive test on friendship. True ones will eventually come around and be happy and supportive of your decision. They will always have that pang of sadness but only because you are such a massive part of their lives.

What could the person do to help once they have officially left?

Plan lots of visits both ways and if money is a hindrance, plan a once a month hour-long catch up via FaceTime or Skype. This kind of communication is really therapeutic for both sides involved.

What do you think a lot of people leaving do not realise about those left behind?

It’s not going to be an easy ride. Leaving your loved ones is one of the hardest things you will do and there are negative consequences of that action that affect not just you but the loved ones that stay behind. That person is happy with their life and having you nearby. By moving country, you are taking one of their comforts away from them and they feel powerless when faced with this unwanted change. Their resentment that ensues can therefore be frustrating and upsetting for the person moving away, however it is important to understand where they are coming from and treat them with kindness and consideration despite how negatively they react. Your friends and family ultimately want you to be happy and content. Humans are selfish and will only act a certain way because they will miss you in their day to day lives and don’t want you to leave; and it’s their right to feel that way.

Any other tips or thoughts?

Personally, I love you and know that you have made a very difficult and scary decision. I know that you struggle with homesickness on a daily basis. However, I think it was the perfect decision for you. You are with the love of your life and starting a new life in a beautiful country and I will always love you and support you. Yes, I did feel some of those negative emotions but I had to feel those in order to now be 100% supportive and happy for you. I still get pangs of jealousy and sadness when I miss you or wish you were around the corner from me, but as long as you are happy and excited still about your decision then so am I.

What would you do if your best friend moved abroad?
Has this changed how you see your loved ones reactions?

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  • Reply
    Tracy, the Cleland Clan
    July 25, 2018 at 11:48 am

    My daughter didn’t move abroad this summer, but she did move 2000+ miles away cross-country this summer with less than an hour’s notice. It’s hard. I had a lot of plans with my 3 year old grandson because they were living with us for the summer, and all of a sudden, everything changed. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll be home for Christmas.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 26, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Hi Tracy, oh I am sorry to hear that it was such short notice for you! I’m sure they will miss home and plan some visits to see Grandma soon xo

  • Reply
    Sophia Inza
    July 25, 2018 at 10:31 pm

    Ah, this topic! So touchy for some people, yet it is so hard for everyone! The one moving can be totally thrilled by the adventure, but still sad to be far from home. It is an emotional time, for sure!

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 26, 2018 at 9:22 am

      Absolutely – I always say it isn’t all rose-tinted fluffy happiness like Insta-travel accounts paint it to be!

  • Reply
    Pavan K
    July 25, 2018 at 10:44 pm

    My Best friend got deported when I was younger and he had to move back to India, it was quite unsettling! As he was someone who I hanged with all the time — I felt very lonely for a long period of time. I am sorry your friend felt that way!

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 26, 2018 at 9:24 am

      Hi Pavan – Wow thank you for sharing your experience, that must have been so hard for both you and your friend. Have you been able to see him again since? Yes, writing this really was eye-opening and I’m so grateful she could share her emotions so openly with me.

  • Reply
    July 26, 2018 at 12:53 am

    Being apart from your loved ones is hard. I tried moving out of my city once and I couldn’t do it. I just had to so my mom, grandma and my sisters all the time. I’m from the Philippines and families here are really close. It’s hard to be away from our family so we just stay together. My aunt live next door and other relatives are just a couple of blocks away.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 26, 2018 at 9:26 am

      Hey Thea – That sounds so lovely, you are very lucky to have that bond with your family and have them so close to you!! I would love to visit the Philippines one day xo

  • Reply
    July 26, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    I’ve have had one of the my best friends move hundreds of miles away, but not abroad. It has been tough because I would always hangout with her when I need to but we still text.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 27, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Distance is so tough. It’s so great that you are still in touch though – and at least you have somewhere new to visit and explore together!

  • Reply
    July 26, 2018 at 7:14 pm

    No an easy subject. I’m Canadian. My husband is Australian. We had our kids in England. Gahh! We are now back in Canada but it is an endless cycle of guilt really. We are trying to stay put, but we are always missing people somewhere. We kind of set ourselves up for it though…we can’t stop travelling!


    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 27, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Ahh I love your story Deb! I feel like my boyfriend and I are heading down the same path… I definitely feel restless pretty quick whenever I stay too long in one place. Where in Canada are you based at the moment?

  • Reply
    July 26, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    I am a military child and traveled a lot when I was younger. You dont have to tell someone goodbye. You eventually run into them again.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 27, 2018 at 10:48 am

      Hi Brie – LOVE this perspective! What a great positive shift of mindset. Going to remind myself of this whenever I miss people, thank you xo

  • Reply
    July 26, 2018 at 10:42 pm

    i am thinking about moving to Australia from florida.. so this topic is so important! I am nervous what family and friends will say but they can always visit! 🙂

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 27, 2018 at 10:50 am

      Absolutely, Kat! Australia is an incredible country and they’ll have somewhere to stay for free at your new place hehe Good luck with the move !!!

  • Reply
    July 27, 2018 at 5:54 am

    I definitely see how the move can have an emotional impact. I moved from Haiti to America years ago and I think I was an emotional wreck for at least 6 months.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      July 27, 2018 at 10:51 am

      Thanks for sharing that Mirlene – It is always so inspiring to hear that there are actually SO many of us that go through this emotional time!! Especially when you can feel so lonely when you’re going through it.

  • Reply
    July 27, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    I can completely relate to this! When we moved, everyone had their own reaction and I struggled to understand it all because I was hoping everyone would just support us. Sometimes we forget that our loved ones struggle to adjust too.

  • Reply
    November 4, 2019 at 5:03 am

    Well, i have wanted to move from TN to Hawaii for about fifteen years That said, Im now 51 and my parents are pushing 80. I am not wanting to move with the love of my life and start anew. I am wanting to retire there. My sister is married and lives in GA with her husband and they are fine. MY parents are very happy and do EVErything together. MY father has been a great savings person and have the money for both of them to move into step down housing as it is needed. they both have LTC and planned for my sister and me not to have to deal with any of that. I have paid for all our funerals and private cemetery estates. SO all my parents, sister, bro in law and his family have places to for their final resting place. I have never been in love and no one has ever loved me. EXCEPT i fell in love with the seawater mixed with the tradewinds in Pricneville, kauai, Hawaii. Leaving out most of the details I HATE where i live now . I have hated it for years but my sister left when she was 18 and never looked back. I didnt want my parents to feel i had done them the same way. THey were great parents, and by anyone who has known us standards, we had the most idyllic childhood. WHich is shy no one understood why either of us never wanted kids of a family of our own, which again, I ll spare you the details. Now im fifty one and cry every day for Kauai. I want to move and do NOT understand why people in general, think it’s okay for family members to move from NYC to LA but not from Nashville to hawaii. It’s like… how can you leave us like that??! I have been her for EVERY mothers day fathers day every birthday for every member of this family, every thanksgiving, christmas eve, christmas day, you name it, ive been here for it…for FIFTY ONE years. there have been times where christmas had so to be put off for months til my sister could make it in from LA. MONTHS. and we a l went with it. I just DO NOT get how she has been allowed to gallavent the world without one harsh word,,,, and when i want to move to Hawaii, Im abandoning my family. Dumbfounded.

    • Reply
      Kate -
      May 7, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Hi Tamara – Thanks for sharing your experience with this. It is such a minefield of emotion for everyone!! At the end of the day, I wholeheartedly believe that we must do what is right for us and our life. I always use the cliche of “I don’t want to be a little old lady on my deathbed full of regrets.” It seems like you have always put others first. I’m sure the time will come when you can finally put your dreams into practice – It sounds like you deserve it. Everyone deserves happiness. Good luck to you!

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