5 ways to avoid Trailing Spouse Syndrome

November 20, 2018

Trailing spouse syndrome is a number of symptoms which partners of expats can experience during their first year living abroad. They usually centre around feelings of regret and doubt about the decision to move.

 Some of the most common feelings were identified in a study by Caroline Kjelsmark:

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of direction
  • Loss of identity
  • Relationship problems
  • Gap between expectation and reality

If left unchecked feelings can deteriorate into expat depression.

The good news is, the same study found in most cases trailing spouses grew to appreciate their decision and the opportunities it provided. That doesn’t mean getting there is easy, it takes time to adjust and find your way while your partner is at work.

Pre-assignment training/counselling for the whole family is a must when you uproot your life to live abroad. If you didn’t receive it before you left, have your partner ask their employer to provide training in situ. Covering the basics like healthcare, education and cultural norms can make a big difference when you are settling in.
Having a basic grasp of the language will make life easier, especially if you need to call the electricity company, arrange the wi-fi or pay the bills. While an app or online course might work initially, there is nothing like a classroom course to get to grips with the language. It is especially useful when you can leave the classroom and practice in a local shop or café.
If you are feeling a little overwhelmed on arrival it could be worthwhile doing some more research into local culture on- and offline. Small but significant things like chopstick etiquette or how to greet those you meet can make a difference when it comes to avoiding trailing spouse syndrome.
Isolation and disappointment around pausing your own career so your other half can pursue theirs is one of the leading causes of trailing spouse syndrome. If you are unable to secure a work permit in your new home, consider volunteering. Look at how you can use your skills to help a not-for-profit company. Are you a strategist, accountant, marketer or operations manager who could help a non-profit grow at either local or international level?
If you do have a work permit, consider becoming a ‘global entrepreneur’. That is, setting up a business you can work on from anywhere in the world. A business like this overcomes a lot of the barriers to setting up a traditional company including a lack of network. It also bypasses the problem of not speaking the local language and if you need to move again you are already set up. The digital economy opens a world of possibility and it’s a place where your soft skills could really succeed.
Remember, your health and well-being is just as important as that of your spouse when working abroad. Ensure your family are covered by International Health Insurance that covers your physical and mental health.