Where you go, I go? Tips for the Relocating “Trailing Spouse”
Being the accompanying spouse/partner on an international relocation comes with its own unique challenges. Many of our clients are trailing spouses and we work to help them rediscover their identity and definition of happiness. Of course, this is a huge topic! Today we share some starter tips to help make your relocation easier.
Follow me there…
To truly trust in your life with another person and follow him/her away from your home country takes great courage. Because it is not at all easy to leave your life as you know it, to follow your significant other; to have to start all over again, often without a job or a sense of where you belong in the new/current scene.
Trailing spouse, accompanying spouse, love-expat, lovepat (our favourite!)… no matter what you call it, no matter whether you have kids or not, and no matter your gender, those who relocate due to their partner’s career opportunities often experience unique difficulties in adapting. These difficulties may come as a surprise, or even go unacknowledged.
This can have consequences for the success of the relocation, too: one study reports a 6% failure rate for international assignments, with 65% of these failures due to spouse/partner dissatisfaction with the new location.
Many stay-at-home expat partners tell us they they feel depressed and helpless, particularly when they become the “house spouse” – whether due to choice (e.g. to manage the move and/or support the family), or necessity (e.g. visa obstacles, lack of employment opportunities in their field). Whatever the set-up, many expat partners grieve the (hidden) losses of their relocation.
There are layers of loss, too: the loss of career, through having to either start over or not being able to reclaim your professional life; the loss of friends and community; loss of status; loss of all that is familiar and comfortable; loss of financial independence if you were used to earning an income – and much more.
The novelty of the new location wears off relatively quickly and they may miss a sense of direction, spend a lot of time alone at home, and feel abandoned by their partner. In many cases, there is a language barrier in the new country, which prevents them from making new friends quickly, and perhaps from taking up work.
On top of all this is the tension that any big transition can bring to a couple and/or family. Children go through their ups and downs, and the relationship between partners can become strained, especially if there is a lot of pressure on the working spouse as sole breadwinner, or to perform well in their new position. The accompanying partner may also feel disempowered; that he/she is no longer “equal” in the relationship. Disagreements may escalate due to the move and become an ongoing source of tension.
Tips to create a happier life in your new location
Use expat-focused resources
Many organisations offer support to families and couples undergoing work-related relocation – help such as managing expectations as you anticipate the move, assisting in the job search for the accompanying spouse and, if you have children, finding suitable schools. Removal companies can even help you pack up your home. These kinds of services can help to alleviate anxiety and make the transition less stressful.
Talk about it
Many couples struggle to reestablish their routine after a move. As a result, it might be hard to stay connected as a couple. Communication is fundamental to keeping a relationship healthy. Schedule regular “meetings” with your spouse to catch up and plan. Check that the other person is adjusting well; schedule time together (something as simple as a weekly dinner); talk about what is bothering you and allow space to vent. Simple actions like these may be a great source of comfort..
Finding new ways to engage in your new location (e.g. through sports and social groups), can help lessen feelings of loneliness or disconnection and make you feel more at home. (See these great tips on making friends in your new location.) Be sure also to keep in touch with friends back home so there is continuity between your ‘lives’.
Take charge to feel in control again
Begin to create your own opportunities, so that you feel more in charge of your destiny and grow your confidence. Options to consider include volunteering; taking language lessons; studying further; offering a service that is lacking in the new location; starting your own business; or training in skills that are more easily transferred between countries. If this feels overwhelming, or you don’t know where to start – start small!
Here’s an opportunity to experiment and explore your new identity. You now have a fresh canvas and the potential to discover unknown aspects of your life or personality. You get to choose the meaning you want to give to your new life, and this relocation may brings gifts you’d never dreamed of…
Get professional help
If you or your partner is struggling, it can help to speak to a professional therapist. The way you feel right now doesn’t have to be this way! There are many things you can do to feel better and stronger, and we can help. Expat Nest offers online therapy specialising in issues that are specific to expats, and in a range of different languages. You don’t even need to leave your home to get support: we are just a click away.
With thanks to Josefine Nunne for her contribution to this article.
If you’re an accompanying spouse, what tips have worked for you? Please share your ideas below. Many people come to our website for inspiration and you may have the answers they’re looking for. Keen to get regular tips from us on expat life? Subscribe to our fortnightly newsletter.