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*the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination

As a trailing spouse (the person who trails the primary income earner to a new career destination) there will be a number of adjustments that you have to make, regardless of whether you are a male or female trailer.

These adjustments will depend on your personal circumstances but for me, the adjustments that come to mind over the course of a number of postings were:
  1. You will have to adjust to not being the prime income earner. You may also have to adjust to being a non-income earner. Meeting someone who discounts you automatically because you are not working can be a blow to your ego. Think about a stock answer that you can pull out but don't apologise for your decision. I met many people who would say, "Oh, I am doing nothing," they would stammer and mutter apologetically. State it proudly. This is not a decision that you need to be ashamed of. This has been a joint decision for you as a couple or a family and you have nothing to apologise about; on the contrary you are a rather adventurous and accommodating person willing to give someone else (your partner) a chance at improving their corporate standing.
  2. You may have to adjust to doing more things on your own. When your partner is away travelling, you may have to pick up and manage more of the home/family duties than previously. I found that a lot of the time my husband's work situation was constantly changing. Extended travel meant that often I was the sole parent attending school functions, plays and parent teacher evenings. Sometimes it would have been nice to have the solidarity of the two of us being present but, because most of my friends were in similar situations, it meant that we could empathise with each other and also support each other. Expatriate friends would often pick up and assume the role that family would have taken back home. Because none of us had cousins or sisters or grandparents to help we tended to help and support each other in the same way and I can honestly say that my friends in Asia are the closest friends that I have ever made.
  3. You may have to do things that you have never done before. I had to pick up a lot of different skills that I didn't have before and, in many ways, I like this. It broadened me as an adult and made me more self-sufficient. Things as varied as simply coping in a country where everyone speaks a different language and learning how to manage in an unfamiliar situation without someone backing you up, teaches you a degree of independence and autonomy that can be empowering.
  4. You may have to socialise on your own. Because my husband travelled a lot and was expected to attend corporate diners and functions while away, by the time he returned home he was usually exhausted and just wanted to stay in. On the other hand, I had been on my own and wanted to get out of the apartment and do something. It made for a tense time. We managed by changing the dynamics of our social life. If he was travelling I made a point of getting out and socialising with friends. Additionally, this idea that one can only socialise as part of a couple is not necessarily the norm in other countries. In Hong Kong, social activities and functions were often comprised of eclectic groups of people depending on who was around at any given point in time. By socialising independently, we appreciated the time together when he did return and we both had things to talk about as well as enjoying the chance to stay at home - together!
  5. You may have different experiences about the place. You may love the place; they may not. Or vice versa. I saw many people who managed a move and, after the initial glow of living overseas had worn off, one partner became unhappy. Usually, it was the trailing spouse. Make sure that you establish support networks where you are living. You can't rely on your partner to fulfil all of your needs - they simply can't do this and they probably didn't in your home country either. Join clubs, attend functions and make the effort to get out. People won't come knocking on your door asking to be your friend - you have to get out there and work at it. Take the opportunity to do something that you may have always wanted to do but make sure it is not an isolating experience. If you plan on writing that novel, then join a writers group or book club so at least you do get the chance to form friendships. If you plan on getting fit, think about a team sport to balance your solo gym sessions.

Amanda O has been a trailing spouse for seven years.

Trailing spouse? Prime income earner? We'll help you make most of your new life living and working abroad. Contact HSBC Bank International Limited at www.offshore.hsbc.com or
http://www.offshore.hsbc.com/1/2/international/how-can-we-help-you for information about the financial side of living abroad.

Posted 21Aug05