Trailing Spouses

What Is A Trailing Spouse?

A trailing spouse is anyone who chooses to move with their partner/spouse to a new – usually overseas- location because of a work assignment. Life as a trailing spouse can appear glamorous on social media. But, the reality can be very different.

Common Mental Health Issues for Trailing Spouses

  • Loss of Purpose and/or Identity – It’s not uncommon for a trailing spouse to deal with feelings of emptiness and lack of purpose. Many give up successful careers in their home country to move with their spouse or partner. And while they may not regret the decision entirely,  there may be moments of resentment and regret. You may even wonder, “What did I just do to my life?” The sightseeing, novelty of not working and “lunching with the ladies” wears off rather quickly. So then what? A large portion of personal identity is tied to work, and then without it, you may wonder, “Who am I?”
  • Grief – The expat lifestyle is filled with many different types of loss; people, places, things, routines, identities, jobs, etc.
  • Change = Exhaustion + Isolation  Every spouse living an international lifestyle experiences the challenges of having to start over – again and again. It can be exhausting and isolating. It often happens that you just start to hit your stride in one country when your spouse is assignment somewhere else and you have to start all over again. You are back to square one. Every time you move, you reinvent yourself. The language, culture, expectations, the community… everything changes! And change is hard.  To make matters more stressful, times of change also amplify relationship problems. This pulls you and your partner further and further apart. 
  • Trailing spouse depression happens for many reasons.  The list of contributing factors is long.  However, some common factors are:
    • isolation
    • lack of identity
    • carrying children’s emotional load
    • frequent reinvention of yourself
    •  cultural incongruence
    • lack of compassion from your spouse/partner
    • loss of control
    • pre-existing depression

The term trailing spouse is somewhat outdated.

This term has become somewhat outdated and may carry some negative connotations as it implies a secondary status for the person accompanying their partner. Here are some newer terms:

  • accompanying partner
  • relocating partner
  • partner in transition
  • expat partner
  • global spouse
  • mobile partner
  • international partner
  • expat spouse
Trailing spouse isolation can cause depression.

These trailing spouse issues definitely resonate with me, but...

There’s nothing specifically wrong with me.  I don’t need an online therapist. Getting online therapy doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with you. And, it doesn’t mean that an issue exists that needs to be diagnosed. Many people find it helpful to simply have an unbiased ear—someone who will listen without judgment. Wouldn’t it be nice to talk and not have to filter your words? In our counseling sessions, our online therapists encourage people to speak freely. Let’s have a raw, honest conversation about what’s really happening in your life. Our therapeutic work can allow you to become a well-adapted, flourishing expat spouse.

Talking to an online therapist means that I’m failing at being a supportive trailing spouse. The difficulties of being an unemployed spouse are usually kept quiet in expat communities. As you work with your online therapist, you can let go of the façade of the perfect expat lifestyle. Yes, this is an enviable and seemingly glamorous opportunity. And in many ways, you and your family are lucky. But, it’s OK to admit it’s also challenging! Reaching out to a therapist is not failing…it’s the first step to thriving.

Find fulfillment and a sense of ease in your international lifestyle. Reinvent yourself with confidence and enthusiasm.