Are you a “trailing spouse”? Or is your partner one?
I hate that term.
It’s misleading about what it takes to be an expat partner. And it is a misrepresentation about what is necessary for a successful expatriation.
You’re not Cabin Luggage
I do not consider myself a trailing anything. I opted in to this life as much as my husband when he signed the contract. Of course, it is not always easy, but I am not some kind of accessory, not a piece of hand luggage that is taken overseas. And neither are you.
Successful expatriation is about partnership, equal partnership. It may not be the same type of partnership you had back home, when you both had a career and no kids. Where you both shared the household responsibilities and the bills. Expatriation is not a 1 man (or woman) show, where the working spouse gets all the credit.
You living abroad, holding the fort, being there, is vital to your partner’s and family’s wellbeing.
In fact, the number one reason for an executive’s failure to “complete an assignment in another country is the negative reaction of the spouse,” according to INSEAD Business School.
Appreciating each other’s contribution
One of the important ways in which you can strengthen your partnership with your spouse is by appreciating each other for the contribution you make to the family. I’ve been lucky with a husband that has always appreciated my being by his side, and I appreciate his hard work to provide for our family. Contributions can be made in so many ways by working, by not working, by working part-time, by caring for the kids, by managing the household, by volunteering in the community, by maintaining relations with family and friends et cetera.
By showing your appreciation consciously and regularly, you will strengthen the bond between you. You can do it with words, with gifts, with acts of kindness, there are many options.
Appreciating your own contribution
It is also important to recognise your own contribution to the success of expatriation. If you do not value your own role, why would someone else? Too many expat spouses have a hard time seeing the important role they play in their families’ overseas wellbeing. You can also thank yourself for being there and giving the gift of expat life to your family.
Be kind to yourself if you have a rough day and enjoy the opportunities you have abroad.
Evaluating the Win Win situation
When you are in a partnership, it is important to create a Win-Win situation. Just because one partner gets a career opportunity, doesn’t mean the other partner is sacrificing or losing out. What is your win-win situation?
It is equally important to regularly evaluate your Win Win situation. Because people change, situations change, kids and parents grow older, ambitions change. The Win you identified at the beginning of an expat posting may not feel like a win anymore halfway, or at the end of a posting.
Appreciating each other and regularly evaluating whether you are still in a win-win situation is crucial to the happiness of both expat partners.
3 Tips for Appreciation
1. Acknowledge Each Other
Acknowledge the big and small contributions each partner makes to the family. Do not start taking it for granted. Be positive and appreciative to each other.
2. Use Your Partner’s Love Language
The 5 Love Languages identifies 5 different ways in which people express and receive love. Some people need to hear words of affirmation, others prefer a gift or flowers, yet other want quality time. Vary the ways in which you express your appreciation, and take into account your partner’s love language.
3. Think Like a Team
What is your team’s win-win situation? Is it still the same as it was when you got on the road together? Are they having doubts? What are deal breakers about living abroad for each of the partners? Are you respecting them?