Can where you live ruin your marriage?


Photo: Jens Schott Knudsen

If my marriage fails it will be due to “irreconcilable geography”.

My wife and I have been together for 11 years, and she wants to set up home in Sydney. I want to move to London. It sounds simple on paper, something hundreds of couples must face. We have spent time in both cities, but as we get older we both gradually harden our stance – and short of some fictional globe-trotting job, one of us has to lose – or leave.

A good start, says Michael Carr-Gregg who believes compromise is key.  “You try and reach a compromise – three years in Italy and then three years in Australia ­– whatever allows each person to get a little of what they want and that way everyone feels like they have been heard and their needs met,” he says.

But people change, and people also don’t, which is how we find ourselves in our current conundrum.


We started off living in London then, when we moved back to Sydney, I referred to it as “her turn”. Her turn lasted seven years and I never felt settled, always restless for when “my turn” would start. When we were younger this idea of taking turns seemed fair, even a little romantic, but when one of you wants your turn to last forever, it is hard to feel at home in the other person’s city.

Carr-Gregg says that in this instance we should learn to control the things we can. “If in life you can't change something, you can always think about it differently,” he says “All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our wellbeing. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but in principle we can choose our own attitude to what happens.”

A friend recently ended her long-distance relationship based on the inability to find a common-ground home, but they were young and childless, which does not diminish the heartbreak but does reduce the complications.

We recently tried a compromise candidate and moved to Singapore, but neutral ground only served to highlight the things she missed about Sydney and the things I missed about London.

Yes, it’s all about compromise, but with something as concrete as where you want to put down roots, someone inevitably feels more compromised than the other person. Our choice of abode has also served as a metaphor for other key difference that have surfaced over the years.

Sydney – where I spent a large part of my life – is coming to represent quitting, the concept that all of life’s adventure is over. That I have returned to quietly put myself out to pasture.

To her, London represents my trying to recapture my carefree 20s where most of the weekend was spend in Soho basement bars, or catching low-cost flights to Europe.

She likes the heat and the beach, I like the cold and the Great Indoors. She likes space and I like bustle. She likes being near her family, I am ambivalent about being near her family, or mine, for that matter.

But I don’t think we are drifting emotionally, the truth is simpler and all the more difficult for it. I have moved around a lot and London is the first place I felt like home. Even on trips back to Australia to see relatives or friends arriving at Heathrow felt like the homecoming part. I loved it so much I went through the long and arduous process of becoming a UK citizen, my British passport is something I hold dear.

She feels the same about Sydney, to her it is home, no question.

I don’t think you can pick the city you love any more than you can the person you love. And if they don’t love each other you are just asking for trouble, even if you are the party that “wins”, you lose because you know your other half wants to be somewhere else.

If we did split, would I move back to the Old Dart? Not unless I could pack up my two sons and take them with me, and that would be over my wife’s dead body. So do we keep taking turns, or does one of us just accept they will see out their days in a home away from home?

Carr-Gregg admits that kids complicate, depending on their “sensitive to frequent transitions” but ultimately the only time to think about leaving is when you get no compromise from your other half then its time to “recognise that you shacked up with the wrong person”.

Oh well, let the turn-taking commence … for now.



  • I haven't been able to go back to my home country for almost 10 years and would love for my future children to live there for part of their childhood. But my husband doesn't really want to and seems to think that if we go there for a holiday, I'll get over it. It makes me so sad that he has so little interest in sharing my culture and having our future children experience it.
    It is not a big enough issue to break up our marriage but it still makes me sad. I have never felt quite at home in Australia, even though I am so assimilated (if that's the right way to put it) that nobody would think I wasn't Australian.

    Date and time
    May 12, 2014, 9:08AM
    • Marriages potentially and usually do face all manner of challenges. With a healthy level of commitment, compromise, sensitivity and self-awareness you get through - if not the marriage is over no matter how you try to frame it.

      Happy Budgie
      Date and time
      May 12, 2014, 9:27AM
      • Sounds like a tough situation Paul and there doesn't seem to be an easy solution to the problem. I odn't think that going for a compromise like Singapore is going to work, it requires both people giving up being in their preferred place and you're still a long flight away from either Sydney or London. Nobody wins and both parties are worse off.

        Unfortunately I think you're stuck with being in Sydney given that your wife wants to stay there and as you've said you wouldn't move back to London unless you could take your children with you, and frankly there is almost no chance of that happening given your wife's stance and the fact that in a divorce custody would almost certainly go to her.

        It doesn't sound like there are any problems in the relationship apart from the issue of where you live, in which case as much as it may be frustrating it's best just to suck it up and make the most of things. There is always compromise in relationships and as big as not living where you would like to is, Sydney isn't exactly terrrible. There's great weather, plenty of outdoor space, decent public school education, houses bigger than a shoebox and a whole variety of ways in which it is actually better than London (I haven't actually lived in Sydney but I spent 8 years in London) and if you focus on those pluses rather than the perceived minuses then you'll be happier. I'm curious as to what it actually is about London apart from cold (I hated it) and bustle (which Sydney kinda has anyway) that you like so much? The rain, dark and inconsiderate people drove me to move to Hong Kong!

        Date and time
        May 12, 2014, 10:00AM
        • If you cannot agree on where to live and a city means more to either one than being together, then sorry to say folks, this relationship was not meant for the long haul!

          I have followed my partner to the ends of the world, been in cities where I knew no-one, had no job, because my partner had to be there for work. Our kids have been enriched by new experiences, new cities, countries and friends who speak different languages. 2 years back we moved back to Melbourne, because my partner wanted to support me in my quest to set up a new business and to be close to my family....a relationship is about supporting each other, not missing a geographical location!

          Date and time
          May 12, 2014, 10:27AM
          • Though I am probably quite a fair bit younger than you are judging by the two kids and what seems like you being further down the timeline life experience wise than myself, but similar to you, I feel that the author seems to not value his marriage enough with his wife enough to consider a place more valuable than a marriage. Ties to any place is certainly important and to be treasured, but it is people who forge the memories, not the place. To consider a divorce over a long-drawn disagreement over time and place seems to be a deeper rift in the marriage than just 'place' - 'place' is just a tangible reason and excuse to victimise oneself into helplessness. From there I feel the willingness to go to the idea of divorce speaks volumes of our tendency in relationships today to go straight to the easiest option (i.e. escape). I feel the author perhaps is weary of the love that has faded but not revived.
            Having travelled to many countries, and nursing a willingness to travel to each ends of the world with my significant other to forge new beginnings, continue new chapters and create or build new memories, home is to me, where I create those memories with him. And he would do the same for me!
            Yes, occasionally, I miss my childhood home, as does he, but perhaps maturity and life experience has taught us that we seek comfort in memories forged in various places and truly, what we seek is in the past, a past which no longer exists. Enjoying the present and working for a bright future together creates greater happiness than chasing ghosts and memories of the past.

            Green Tea
            Date and time
            May 12, 2014, 11:57AM
        • Totally understand where you are coming from. My hubby and I moved to Australia 15+ years ago, for the children, for better employment opportunities, for the climate:)) But as we near retirement age I just want to go home, I miss my roots, my extended family, sacred childhood places which I want to show my grandchildren. I just miss home. Hubby is completely opposite, loves Australia and refuses to even consider returning home, now or in the future.

          I go back for quick trips, always on my own. It just reinforces that I currently live in the wrong country, Australia is where my hubby is, but NZ is where I call home.

          I dont have an answer either:)) Have considered divorce, seems a bit drastic to me.

          Date and time
          May 12, 2014, 10:43AM
          • Same situation with my wife and I (and young son). Basically, we are both happy to move anywhere, as long as it is the right move career-wise. I lived in her country for 10 years, now back in Australia for 4 years. I am not settled but I definitely see the good points of living her in regards to work-life balance, raising a child, etc.
            But, like you, I want the excitement of living abroad again. My wife is getting that now, and honestly has no problems moving back to her country or a third country. But career/work is the biggest hurdle as providing for my family is the most important thing.

            Date and time
            May 12, 2014, 11:34AM
            • It's not just the BIG international moves that cause this kind of problem. We moved from the city to the coast 20 years ago with every intention of returning with a deposit in hand for our own inner city terrace. But my husband fell in love with the surf at his doorstep, the easy lifestyle and so on. I've always wanted to return to the city. Now we have kids in school it seems further away than ever. But it is all relative, and "wherever you go, there you are" applies: a location is just a location, it's the living you do that matters.

              Date and time
              May 12, 2014, 11:37AM
              • For a change, talk about sacrifice instead of compromise and include the children in your discussion. From experience, the difficult choice which have to be made would become clearer when you consider the needs of your children and the practical issues of raising a family. The difficult question - to ask yourself and not your wife - is do you love your family enough to make the sacrifice when required?

                Date and time
                May 12, 2014, 12:24PM
                • This has been a regular topic of late for my group of friends after watching one guy trying to make the agonising decision of whether to move to Perth for love – a city he hates and desperately doesn’t want to live in.

                  What I have found fascinating to observe over the years is that it appears (in my experience anyway) that it is nearly always the male who make the compromise in this situation because despite the fact that this story talks about compromise on both sides – where both parties want to live in different cities, only one person ends up making the ultimate sacrifice.

                  Date and time
                  May 12, 2014, 1:09PM

                  More comments

                  Comments are now closed