The term ‘trailing spouse’ is often used to describe the accompanying partner in a relocation-for-work situation. I must admit, I have always found this phrase a little problematic. It’s as if the trailing spouse is an afterthought, someone who just happened to tag along. The term doesn’t give justice to the process that goes into making the decision to give up ‘life as you know it’ in order to join your partner. The term doesn’t shed light on the idea that as a trailing spouse you want to maintain your status as an equal partner, even though you are quite literally giving up some of the very things that make you an equal partner, such as your career.
There is no doubt that moving to a new place can be exhilarating and exciting. There is so much upside: you’ll have the opportunity to experience and see new things, maybe learn a new language and make new friends. Often you get so caught up in the planning and execution of the relocation that you forget to consider the impact of the move on your everyday life. And this is not so strange — it’s pretty hard to imagine beforehand what life will be like in a foreign place, with a new set of parameters defining your everyday life.
How will you as an individual deal with the loss of your career? How will you as a couple handle the change in the relationship dynamic? Will money become a problem? What about the language, will you feel comfortable enough to venture out and connect with people even if you don’t speak the language fluently? How will you keep in touch with friends and family back home?
For many, these questions don’t seriously enter the conversation until the actual relocation has taken place. But by then you are often a little overwhelmed and it’s hard to know how to approach them. You’re already out of your comfort zone and you are missing your traditional support network. You may feel embarrassed admitting that you are missing your old life and that you long for the familiar faces of friends and family. You may not even know how to reach out to friends and family back home, because in their eyes you are supposed to be on an adventure and what could possibly be so difficult with that!
This is why it’s so important to think about these issues before moving. The goal isn’t to come up with all the answers. No, the idea is that a deeper awareness coupled with careful preparation will go a long way when it comes to handling problems as they occur. So, spend some time thinking through what this kind of move would mean for you and make sure to discuss your thoughts with others – your partner as well as with friends and family.
The good news is that there are many sources from which you can pick up tips and get information. There are whole websites dedicated to subjects such as culture shock and adaptation, living and working overseas, etc. There are numerous books, blogs and articles to read and even podcasts to listen to. A relocation coach can be helpful if you are feeling a little lost. Not only can a professional coach help decipher local cultural tendencies, a coach can also help make plans for what steps you need to take in order to achieve your goals.
Regardless of what term you use to describe yourself – be it accompanying partner, trailing spouse, or something else – it’s important to know that your happiness and fulfillment are integral components to the overall success of your relocation.