Dual Career Couples: Are Trailing Spouses Given Enough Attention?

With unhappy spouses and family being a top reason why international assignees eventually decide to return to their home country, companies in the Global Mobility industry may wish to offer further spousal support. Programs to spur social integration are well established such as providing classes to learn and adjust to the local culture and language, as well as providing contacts within the domestic expat networks, could also be beneficial for the trailing spouse.

Go to the profile of Tim Burgess
Sep 07, 2016
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The term “trailing spouse” was invented by a Wall Street Journal writer in the early eighties, during a wave of globalisation when businesses were expanding overseas. The term describes a spouse who accompanies their partner to another country on their overseas job assignment. In those days the worker was usually a male executive and the trailing spouse was female. The perception was that the trailing spouse would assume a “supporting” role such as being a primary care giver. The main focus then for Global Mobility programs was to keep the primary care giver happy in a new country.

Today, the trailing spouse phenomenon is compelling for several reasons. Firstly trailing spouses are now recognised to have a much wider range of circumstances and needs. In particular there has been a growing awareness of male trailing spouses.

Employment opportunities for both partners can appeal to an expat couple for numerous factors. While a new country may be exciting for the trailing spouse at first, the passage of time, particularly for long drawn job assignments, kills the initial thrill of living in a foreign city. Having a job can help to mitigate feelings of loneliness, boredom or even helplessness. Duncan Macintosh, a male trailing spouse who holds a full time job, said, “You need something to occupy yourself and you also need to make at least a token effort to learn the language.”

Having a job, he explains, could also help one to acclimatise to local culture and feel included. A dual income has also been made more accessible with the advent of technology – for example, writers or programmers could choose to work from home as long as he or she has access to a computer. For Duncan, who works remotely, maintaining a full time job despite his wife’s relocations is possible as the nature of his work is not tied to an office or location...Read more

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Go to the profile of Tim Burgess

Tim Burgess

Director, Shield GEO Services Ltd

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