The Trailing Spouse: To Be or Not To Be??


Posted on December 5th, by Tamkara Adun in Career Transitions, On My Mind. 2 comments

The Trailing Spouse: To Be or Not To Be??

The Wikipedia describes a Trailing Spouse as “a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment.”

It goes further to explain that the life of The Trailing Spouse is fraught with many challenges that may impact on their personal and professional lives. Challenges such as:

Professional Sacrifice

Family issues

Barriers to mobility

Work/life issues

Loss of identity

These are all very real and pertinent issues that Trailing Spouses face as their new reality and I can identify to some degree with some of them. However, I have often wondered at the adjective “Trailing”.  I feel a certain degree of discomfort referring to an individual or a spouse as “Trailing.”

Synonyms for trailing include: rambling, lagging, tailing, dragging….all less than savory adjectives for the word spouse.  In my mind’s eye, “trailing” paints a picture of forced followership, reluctant relocation.

It reminds me of little people on a leash, compelled to follow their care givers whether they would like to or not.

It signifies to me a lack of choice or say in the matter and I do not think it adequately describes or does justice to the spouses who have boldly taken up the challenge to leave the comfort and security of the familiar and move to a new location, experience new cultures, and thrive in their new environment, all the while supporting their spouses and oftentimes children in order to make for a smooth transition to their new way of life. That to me looks a lot more like Trail Blazing and not just “Trailing”.

Moving to a new location with no security of a ready source of income can be a stressful time, and a time of uncertainty… but it can also be an exciting time, an opportunity to use this block of time and do that which you might otherwise not have done. The possibilities are endless.

This is a call for spouses who have chosen to accompany their partners to pursue their careers abroad to have greater expectations for their expatriate experience. As you plan your upcoming move, there are 4 tips that might help make the transition a little bit easier. Please feel free to add more in the comments below.

Plan: It’s advisable to have a plan before you leave your home country of what personal goals that you would like to achieve during your time in your new location. You are not on exile so you are allowed to have fun with the whole expatriation process. It could be to learn a new language, look for a job within your field of expertise  (or even in another field of expertise), further your education, write a book or start a blog, or even take a leave of absence to spend more time with your family. As I mentioned earlier,The possibilities are endless.

Position yourself: If you would like to work in your new location, start your job search as early as you can. Look for opportunities within your network, take a class, learn the local language, do some research, and get informed. Do whatever is necessary to get you one step closer to your goal.

Persist: maintain a positive outlook, don’t give up easily…even when things seem to be happening not as fast as you envisaged. Also stay open to change and be flexible to opportunities that at first glance may not seem to align with your core competencies.

Pay it forward: Help someone else succeed. Offer the support you wish you got. Share your experiences and your new knowledge with others who need your expertise.

The key is to exploit the situation that you find yourself in and use it to enrich your life’s story.  Moving to a new country with all the excitement is a great time to reinvent yourself because no one has any preconceived notions about you.  This means you have a chance to start afresh and try to be that which you always wished.

Who knows what you would have achieved at the end of your expatriation in terms of self development, new knowledge of different cultures, and new relationships built that you would otherwise not have been exposed to.

Besides, why be a trailing spouse when you could be a Blazing Spouse or better yet a Trail Blazer?

 

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About the Author: Tamkara currently lives in The Hague and is currently taking time off from her day job in Procurement and Sourcing to pursue an MBA. She will be spending the next few months studying, blogging and learning Dutch. You can connect with her on twitter @tamkara  or find out what she’s up to at www.naijaexpatinholland.com.





2 thoughts on “The Trailing Spouse: To Be or Not To Be??

  1. Yes Melissa the whole experience is definitely not as negative as the word “trailing” might imply.
    I agree when you say, both parties have to be patient and it does help the settling down process for all involved when there is mutual support.
    Thanks for your comment!

  2. Although I haven’t “trailed” a spouse to an international location I have trailed a spouse out of state. It has its ups and downs but I don’t think it is as negative as the word “trailing” implies.

    An important thing to keep in mind is that both spouses need to be patient about the trail blazing spouse finding employment. A lot of moves mike look like a serial job hopper when in fact it isn’t a result of the circumstances.

    The advice you offer is helpful regardless if it is a domestic or international relocation. It is great to see an article focusing on the family members of employees.

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