The first time I heard the term ‘trailing spouse’ was one month before I was set to move abroad with my husband. A trailing spouse is described by Expatriate Connection as:
“the partner following his/her spouse on assignment abroad…[t]he “trailing spouse” is the anchor in a successful relocation process. It’s the central element around which everything falls into place. While the working employee goes to work, the trailing spouse is in charge of all the “non-corporate” aspects of life for ALL family members: the children of course but the working partner and herself as well.”
I have to admit, the term is a little degrading and implies I’m a lost puppy following my partner around wherever he wishes to go. But it also captures exactly how lost I felt at the time before our move.
I did feel as if I was just trailing along at times. And don’t get me wrong, being able to live in another country is incredible but having to give up your career, your dreams and leave family and friends behind to start a new life somewhere can be incredibly daunting.
Moving abroad can cause you to have a bit of an identity crisis especially when coupled with culture shock.
If you are a trailing spouse or are about to become a trailing spouse, these next tips are going to help you learn to navigate this challenging, but very exciting, time in your life.
Tip 1: Negotiate Yourself into the Contract
As a trailing spouse, make sure you know what you are signing up for, and that the contract your partner signs for work is beneficial to you both.
Things you may want to ask to be included into the contract are language courses for yourself (so you are able to meet locals), a working visa (if applicable), health care, your flights and your luggage for the move (the company may only cover your partner, this is very unlikely but you still need to make sure they are planning to cover the cost for you to move as well), a vehicle and/or transit passes, and anything else you might need.
You also might want to ask if the company will pay for you to fly home a couple of times per year to visit your own family. I know of many expat wives who negotiate this into their husband’s arrangements!
My opinion is, if you don’t ask for it you’ll never get it. If there is anything that would make you feel more at home, ask the company. They may be able to provide it for you.
Remember, you are giving up a lot to make the move. I’m not saying you should have a laundry list of demands for yourself, but have a reasonable list of some things you may wish to negotiate into the contract.
Tip 2: Maintain Your Relationships
These days it is so easy to stay connected with your loved ones back home. Set aside time to speak with those you love. Here are a few ideas:
- Skype yourself in during holidays and family gatherings (or weekly phone conversations)
- Watch a movie together (log onto Netflix and hit play at the same time)
- Read the same book
- Write each other letters to be delivered by snail mail
- Send flowers to let your family know you are thinking of them
The little things help remind you that you are not alone even though you may feel completely disconnected from your community back home.
Tip 3: Develop Skills You Can Contract Out
My husband plays hockey, meaning that we are only living abroad for the duration of the hockey season. During the off-season, we come back home to Canada and then at the end of July we have to move again.
This leaves me with almost zero possibility of finding a stable job.
I decided to learn skills that could help me start my own business, so I took up web and graphic design and have been contracting out my skills ever since.
I recommend trying to find something you enjoy doing to occupy your time! Being a trailing spouse is an excellent time to learn something new.
Tip 4: Volunteer
Maybe you are unable to work due to visa specifications, in which case freelancing would be out of the question.
Volunteering in your new community is an excellent way to get to know some locals. You can make new friends and give your new life abroad purpose through volunteering.
Many organizations also need virtual volunteers such as the United Nations Volunteers Programme.
Virtually volunteering is incredible as you can work on projects from all over the world without having to physically go anywhere. This is great for those who can’t speak the language where they are living.
Tip 5: Find Expat Communities
Facebook is a great place to start looking for local expat communities within your new home.
Also, check out www.reddit.com/r/YOUR-NEW-HOME (replace YOUR-NEW-HOME with the name of your city) to bring up discussion boards from where you will be living. Reddit can be a good place to meet locals and ask questions.
Another great group is InterNations which allows you to connect with other expats in your city.
Before we move to a new place, I always head onto Facebook to see if there are expat groups specific to the city or country we will be moving to.
Groups are a really nice way to find out about events and meet other expats in your area.
Tip 6: Use Support Services Aimed Towards Trailing Spouses
Talk with your spouse’s company and see if they provide any support for trailing spouses.
Tip 7: Stay Busy
Has there been something you’ve always wanted to do? When we moved to Denmark, I looked into joining a choir, joining dance classes and taking a public speaking class. I scoured the entire town for little groups I could join.
I also took advantage of all the free online courses you can find online. You can find many free educational resources to learn graphic design in my blog post about how I learned graphic design without going to school.
If graphic design isn’t something you are interested in, no need to worry. There are a ton of free online resources to find a class to take.
Tip 8: Find a Hobby
For my hobby, I chose to blog. Eventually, my blog and my business merged together as I realized that you can actually earn a full-time income just from blogging.
Check out my detailed guide on how to start a profitable blog if you’d like to start your own!
Tip 9: Stay Positive
Easier said than done, but staying positive is key.
Over the last few years, we’ve lived in many different places and with each season comes a new set of challenges.
As a trailing spouse, I’ve learned to appreciate the small things and have worked very hard at maintaining a positive outlook.
One thing that has been incredibly helpful to me has been the practice of meditation and yoga for those days where I just feel like something is missing.
Life as a trailing spouse might appear glamorous from the outside, but those of us who live it know that it can be tough at times! Which is why I love settling into meditation and yoga to ground myself and maintain a positive mindset.
Tip 10: Listen to Your Feelings
It’s not uncommon to suffer from depression and anxiety. When we first found out we’d be living abroad, I never thought I’d go through some dark moments and feel completely alone.
If you are feeling this way, you need to know that it’s ok to seek out help. Living abroad is challenging and your mental health can really be tested and affected.
One of the difficult moments for me personally was finding a therapist to speak with while abroad. It’s hard enough to find help when you are in the comfort of your own home country, but being away made it feel like a mountain of a task.
If you are feeling this way, please speak with someone you trust and ask them to help you find help.
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