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Some Observations on the Experience of Moving and Relocating your Home: Part 1

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Have you ever moved? Have you ever moved across the continent? If the answers to these questions are “yes” then you have some idea of the predicaments presented by moving. Here are some lessons I learned by the recent experiences of moving cross country twice in four years:

For the second time in four years my wife and I have moved our residence across the United States. The first move was from New York, where we had lived for most of our lives and from the house we lived and raised our children in for thirty years. The second move was from New York to Colorado where we lived for four years. Now, we completed a move from Colorado to Florida. The focus of this posting is not why the move but the emotional impact and meaning that arises as a result of relocating.

I believe, based on what we have been through as a result of these two major moves, that there are stages that people go through from start to finish. Here is my way of looking at moving:

Stage 1. The decision to move: When people have lived in a place for a long time there is a long time period that lapses between when the topic of moving comes up to when it is actually completed. Of course, both people in a relationship must be supportive of the concept of relocating. Despite many discussions about moving there needs to be enough time for a couple or a family to process just what is meant and implied by moving. Even if it sounds like a fun idea at first, there are liable to be strong feeling about leaving long standing friends and places to which it is easy to become attached after many years.

Stage 2. Risk taking: At least one of the members of a marriage must be something of a risk taker in order to start the process of relocation. A voluntary decision to relocate to another part of the country and a new community requires recognition of the fact that there are many questions that will go unanswered until to move is completed. For example, will I make friends, will I like the climate, will I like the geography, what will the cost of living be like, how will I fit in and adjust to a new place where there are strangers, and other types of questions? The partner who is more of the risk taker will have to fulfill the role of the non risk taking partner by being reassuring to the one who is less secure. After all, there is nothing wrong with being a non risk taker. Most of us like to feel secure and familiar in the places they call home.

Stage 3. Emotional turmoil: Once the decision to move is made, a home buyer is found in the home community and a new home selected in the target destination, the process of packing begins. You may not believe that packing can be emotional but it is. The reason is that in pouring over a myriad of papers, children toys, drawings and other items that had been stowed away for decades, there arises a storm of emotions as the past is reawakened and memories come flooding in. Now, it is important to understand that this does not imply anything negative. In fact, I would suggest that this forced review is emotionally helpful in the process of saying goodby to the old place and in reliving warm and happy times. Some of the findings may be passed on to the now adult children who usually revel and laugh at perusing their school essays, drawings and teenage photographs.

Stage 4. Farewells: One of the interesting phenomena accompanying any long distance move is that neighbors will say farewell. In fact, that can almost too rewarding and make one pause and think about whether or not they are about to make a mistake by moving. However, it is similar to leaving a job or getting a promotion at work. In these instances, too, people wish the best and recall the fun times. I guess some people can make a habit of this by regularly leaving jobs as a way of getting this positive feedback. That is silly, of course, but it does give one pause to think about why people do not show more affection during a relationship rather than when it is about to end.

Stage 5. Losses:  One of the things that becomes apparent after the move is completed is that there are many gains in the form of excitement, new people, a new environment and the thrill of discovery. However, there are also losses. All the old and familiar faces are gone. Also gone are all the old familiar haunts, whether they are the local barber shop, coffee place, book store and other familiar and friendly meeting places. Of course, some of these can be replaced in the new location. However, it soon becomes clear that some are gone for good. Like all of life there is this balance sheet. The idea is to be ready for the fact that there will be gains but losses as well.

Stage 5. Adjusting to the new place: OK, so, you are finally there and now must adjust to a new way of life. Regardless of the fact that you have moved from one local to another within the same nation, there are still huge adjustments to be made. For example, the time zones are different. When we moved from New York to Colorado, we went from Eastern Standard Time to Mountain Time, a difference of two hours. That difference put us out of synch with friends, family, news and television programs. I recall that someone called me from New York with a request for a recommendation for a job in a New York mental health agency. It wouldn’t have been so bad but the time I received the phone call was 7 AM, Rocky Mountain Time.

Believe it or not, one of the strangest things I had to adjust to was the friendliness of the people in Colorado. People there smile and greet you with unguarded openness and friendliness. Having lived in New York City for most of my life, this was a new experience that I first reacted to with in typical New York fashion: I was suspicious. This was not a thought about reaction but automatic or reflexive. Well, now that I am in Florida where New York influence is heavy, I am having to readjust to more of the New York style of being more guarded. It is not that Florida is unfriendly but not as friendly in Colorado.

Some reflections: This has given me pause to think about men and women like my grandparents who came to America as immigrants during the early part of the 20th century. I no longer take for granted how difficult an adjustment it must have been for them coming from Czarist Russia to New York City at that time. They truly must have felt as though they landed on “Mars” if my experience of moving within the United States is challenging.

This has also given me pause to think about the experience of our latest immigrants, whether legal or illegal, and what it must be like for them to leave their homes and come here to a new country and culture.

The next posting will contain some observations about our nations as a result of driving cross country.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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