The term Trailing Spouse is commonly applied to someone who joins their partner in a move abroad without having secured suitable employment in the new location. Expats frequently refer to “Trailing Spouse Syndrome”, which is a state of stress and discontent that can occur when the trailing spouse feels unfulfilled and lacking in direction. Whilst some individuals may feel excited at the prospect of swapping busy, successful careers for a relaxing life in the sun, many of them find that the reality is somewhat different, and they can begin to feel bored and withdrawn. Below are common problems experienced expat partners who move abroad, together with some advice concerning how you can avoid them from becoming a significant issue.
While culture shock will undoubtedly effect you both at some point or another, it is often even more difficult for the trailing spouse, who may be left to navigate a new city in order to complete day-to-day activities while their partner is at work. This can be very daunting and stressful. One way in which you can help each other to adjust is to ensure that there is a sufficient period before arriving in the expat destination and starting work, so that you can both explore the new destination together and find your way around. By having some familiarity with where they live and how they can shop, get money and travel throughout the city, the chances of culture shock negatively impacting your partner will be much lower.
Reluctance to move abroad
When it comes to international relocation, it is usually a joint decision between husband and wife. Sometimes however, a job will take one partner across the world when the other is reluctant to move. If you force your partner to move with you there is a risk that you could create feelings of resentment, which could ultimately cause major problems in your relationship. The decision to move needs to be thought out carefully and if there are any compromises that can be made, they should be agreed upon. If the only option is for you both to move, then significant time and effort should be spent in helping your partner to settle in and meet new friends. Where possible plans should be made in advance of leaving your home country so that the trailing spouse has something to occupy him/herself with as soon as they arrive in the new destination. It could present an opportunity for your partner to try something in life that they have always wanted to do but always found excuses not to.
Homesickness and loneliness
It is completely natural to feel lonely and homesick when you reach a new country – it is all part of the settling in process. You will be missing family and friends, not to mention certain items from home that you once took for granted. However, as a couple, you need to support each other and help one another to get through the first few months, which are often very tough. The phase of homesickness will pass and it will not be long before you are both looking forward instead of looking back. One way to minimize the effect of feeling separated from your family is to arrange regular catch-ups and to talk via the phone or Internet as frequently as possible. Today’s technology means that you no longer have to pay significant amounts of money to speak to someone who is in another country, and by having regular contact you can maintain a strong relationship with your family and friends back home. See our free section on keeping in touch for more hints and tips on staying in regular contact with your loved ones.
In many counties the trailing spouse is permitted a dependent visa that does not allow them to work. You should always check what your visa will permit them to do in advance and make appropriate plans. Each Expat Info Desk destination specific relocation guide contains comprehensive information about the types of visa available in popular expat destinations, what each visa will permit you to do and how you can attempt to gain a visa that is suitable for your own situation and aspirations.
Lack of focus
If your partner is giving up work to be with you, they may lose the focus in their life. This can be very distressing, especially for someone who is used to being active. If your partner is giving up work completely, it will be very important for them to take up some new hobbies in order to keep active and meet new friends. If however, they are only giving up work temporarily, they should start looking for work as soon as your move is confirmed as this can help them to maintain direction.
For many trailing spouses a move abroad offers them an opportunity to start again and pursue a career or activity that previously had been unavailable to them. Many spouses, for example, opt to return to college or university to study. Many overseas universities offer programs and degrees in a wide range of subjects. It could also be possible for your spouse to study for a Masters in a subject that they are truly interested in. If your spouse is not looking for anything so demanding, there will be courses available in a range of subjects that last any length of time from one day to a few months. The opportunities for study are literally endless.
Volunteering is another very satisfying way to spend time and meet people. There are always a number of projects that need people. Work ranges from administrative tasks to fundraising and there is also the possibility to get more hands on. You will not find it hard to locate the different NGOs and charities that are active in your city.
Other options to keep your spouse busy include Internet-based work such as freelance writing, online PA work or computer programming and website development jobs. They could also set up an Internet based export business or even look to teach English as a foreign language for a few hours each week.
The key is to encourage your spouse to focus positively on the opportunities that are available in the new country as opposed to mourning those they left behind in the old. There is always something out there as long as your attitude is positive and you recognize the need to make your own opportunities. It is advisable to take a look at our international relocation guides. By reading through the various clubs, activities and social networks on offer in your chosen destination you may find inspiration for something new to try.