The Reluctant Spouse: What to Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Want to ...

We first met Laura and Joel (not their real names) a decade ago on the shores of Mexico’s Lake Chapala, where they were vacationing. He was retired and she was happily working as a network television sales executive. He wanted her to quit her job and move to Mexico with him and she was having none of it.

A few months later, Laura accepted a prestigious promotion and assignment in Hawaii. Joel supported her decision, but made it clear he would not be moving there. They would live apart while she worked for two years in Hawaii. Then, she promised, they would move together to Mexico. Secretly, she hoped he would give up this ‘crazy idea.’

Life doesn’t always work out the way you hope it will.

Joel returned to Mexico by himself and bought a house. Laura wasn’t happy that he was forcing her hand. But true to her promise, she joined him in Mexico when her assignment in Hawaii ended.

As you might imagine, moving from a fast-paced job to retirement in Mexico no less, where she knew no one… Laura was bored out of her mind. She didn’t like the house that Joel had bought so she set about remodeling it. A year later, she took a job selling real estate and found she was very good at that. One day she suddenly realized that despite her misgivings, she was in love with Mexico and her new life there.

Luckily for Laura and Joel, things worked out. But what happens when partners don’t want the same thing? You want to retire overseas, for instance…to that sublime stretch of beach or sun-dappled colonial village…but your significant other says “no way, Jose.” Whatever can you do?

You can leave copies of International Living magazines in strategic places, of course…like in your beloved’s briefcase or lunchbox, on the nightstand, in the bathroom…

You can talk up the excitement, the fun, the romance of it all. Explain (with graphs and charts if need be – and I’m only half kidding) how much farther your retirement nest egg will go if you move where the cost of living is lower. (A word of advice: taking your partner to an International Living event will definitely help overcome anxieties and plant seeds about the benefits of living overseas.)

From hard-won experience, here are a few pointers that may help persuade your reluctant spouse or partner to make your dreams their dreams:

Involve them in the planning

This is a big decision. And it deserves careful thought and planning by all involved. Talk, talk and talk some more about it. Make sure you’re both as informed as possible and involved in the decisions about where to move, how to live, and so on. Spend time together and separately perusing online forums and other resources. If your motivation is economic, make sure you both understand what’s going on with your financial situation.

Compromise with a ‘no strings attached’ test drive

Nothing is scarier than cutting the ties completely. If your partner is reluctant to do that, consider giving the new life a test drive. Before you sell your house or buy that one-way ticket, rent an apartment in the new locale for three months or more.

Don’t sugarcoat the challenges

Discuss the difficulties you’ll face along the way, and work together on solutions. For instance, you may want to take some foreign language classes before your move. Try out voice- and video-over-Internet (VOIP) technologies so you can easily stay in touch with family and friends. If you’re retiring, do some budget planning. There will still be unexpected challenges, but by working together, problem-solving can be part of the fun.

Help ease the transition

Once you’ve moved, take an active approach to learning as much about your new community as you can. Be sure your partner has an opportunity to meet other expats and locals with similar interests. These days, you can do this in advance of your move through online blogs, forums and websites. And keep busy--this is the perfect opportunity for you both to try something new.

Remember that attitude is everything

When challenges do arise, maintain your sense of humor and look on the bright side: this experience will likely strengthen your relationship. (And it will give you great stories to tell later.) So support one another and make a point to have as much fun as possible on this adventure.

As Joel told me not long ago, “I knew Laura would like it, I just had to help her overcome her objections.”

And if that hadn’t happened? If Laura hadn’t fallen in love with Mexico? As we’ve said in these pages many times, don’t think of your move as a one-way ride or as the last move you’ll ever make--if it doesn’t work out, you can always move on or go back home.

The Opportunity of a Lifetime – Grab It

If you or your partner are new retirees, having so much free time on your hands may be difficult. So get busy.

Some ideas to get you started:


Walk, run, work out, try yoga, play tennis or golf. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Take classes/take up a new hobby

You’ll find online classes for a wide range of subjects. Or find a friendly local who offers art or music lessons. Now’s your chance to do something you’ve always wanted to do.


There are many rewarding ways to give back to your new community.


Can’t give it up? Start a business your new community needs, get a job teaching English, or take on Internet-based work such as freelance writing, computer programming, or website development.