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The dream life in a foreign land.

An overseas assignment could be the perfect opportunity for you to build a dream life together with your trailing spouse. With a new good paying job, new exotic city/country to explore, a blank slate to design your new life together – its like having an extended honeymoon all over again. The myriad of possibilities, a fresh start in an exotic new place. Just like a honeymoon, you and your spouse get to explore the exciting new land, immerse yourself in a different culture and entertain envious friends who look forward to being hosted by a “local” while on vacation at your new location.

However, moving aboard as a couple can be deceptively glamorous. The reality is actually a lot more frustrating, difficult and outright lonesome. The amount of planning, arrangement and changes that you will face is astounding. And while you are finally settling into a new work environment, working with new colleagues and perhaps a new work culture, you may not notice that your spouse is facing an entirely different set of challenges. Do not underestimate the enormity of the difficulty your spouse may face to settle down in following you along on this new adventure. Whether they can settle down well will dictate whether the new life together is going to be a dream, or a disaster.

So, of all the challenges, what is the most important thing to do when you move?

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Create your New Supportive Network!

What is a “supportive/support network”, or “social support”?

Having a “support network” means having friends and individuals; including spouses, children and the extended family, to turn to in times of need or crisis. This support network provides a broader perspective on issues and improves someone’s self-image/self-esteem. Having social support enhances an individual’s personal well-being, quality of life and the ability to cope with adverse life events. Why is this important, particularly for expats and their spouse?

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Moving abroad to a new country, rebuilding a new life, especially one that is located in a place where they do not speak the language can be extremely challenging, frustrating and lonely. By someone uprooting themselves and their family from their comfort zone to a new country entirely, they effectively cut themselves off from their existing supportive network. These people often find themselves missing their acquaintances, or even strangers that they met during a simple trip to the nearby supermarket. In a strange new land, individuals have no one to turn to when they encounter problems, not even someone to hang out with to get a drink – life becomes surprisingly lonely and isolated. This can happen, despite the fact that someone has a spouse with them on their new adventure.

In a strange new land, individuals have no one to turn to when they encounter problems, not even someone to hang out with to get a drink – life becomes surprisingly lonely and isolated.

According to research about social isolation, having a small social network, infrequent participation in social activities and feeling of loneliness, poses real and substantial health risks. The lack of a robust support network contributes to a noticeable cognitive decline, emotional instability and even clinical depression. The result is a significant reduction in the overall quality of life. Constant irritability, depressive mood swing, reduced interests in activities (along with withdrawal from any further activities that help integration into the new society), as well as significant weight loss/gain can also occur.

The lack of a robust support network contributes to a noticeable cognitive decline, emotional instability and even clinical depression.

The lack of social belonging will eventually sap the remaining energy in someone, and as a result, the effects left are constant fatigue, plummeting self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, excessive/inappropriate guilt, and a loss of focus and decision-making capabilities will follow suit. If either party as a couple falls into this psychological spiral, the relationship will definitely be at risk. Quarrels and fights will become frequent, and communication between the couple will become lesser or stop completely – which will exacerbate the health/mental issue of one or both partners. The expat dream will inevitably end. One or both of the people will want to return home as the relationship will worsen. The working expat career will take a step backwards as the overseas assignment will end in failure.

How to avoid this scenario?

It is imperative that those who are moving into a new job overseas quickly build a social life around new colleagues, make new friends and to also include the trailing spouse in new social circles.

Create a supportive network, such as meeting neighbours, hanging out with new colleagues of the working spouse, joining an expat or interest group in order to meet people who share things in common and even engaging in volunteer activities. Most importantly, it is good to offer sensitivity, understanding and supportiveness for a trailing spouse (as the working spouse can usually settle down much easier and faster, as they immediately start off with a working social circle).

If you need help in the relocation of your spouse to settle into a new country, we are here to give you that support. Get in touch with us.

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Untold Struggles of the Trailing Spouse

Expat lives are often portrayed as an exciting and glamorous affair. Beautiful exotic locales, delicious food, interesting people… And more often than not the role of the trailing spouse that followed the expat executive to new lands are largely envied and lyrically waxed upon. Thrilling opportunities to live and experience life in a new land, no working pressure, an ability for someone to do anything they desire, and the prospect of an extended honeymoon of sort.
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However, reality is often not as beautiful as it seems.

The excitement of a brand new experience in life can be quickly dampened by the difficulty to accomplish even the simplest things like the frustration of finding one’s way around time. Culture shock and language can be another limitation. Settling into a new city is a lot harder than most people think. While the working spouse has an advantage of going to work daily, having benefits such as structured days, a social life at work (and after work) and the ability to maintain a professional identity, the trailing spouse will have to make do with being completely reliant – financially, socially and emotionally – on the working spouse.

…the trailing spouse will have to make do with being completely reliant – financially, socially and emotionally – on the working spouse.

The amount of time it takes to make new friends and feel comfortable in a new country is often underestimated. According to research, conducted by academics from Brigham Young University, “low social interaction has the equivalent lifespan impact as smoking 15 cigarettes daily or being a raging alcoholic. Cutting yourself off from others is worse, even, than in inactivity. And twice as bad as obesity.” In other words, trailing spouses immediately face hazardous situations upon settling into their new life. Social disconnectedness and isolation have distinct associations with worsening of one’s physical and mental health.

Without the right preparation and mindset before making a big move, the state of stress and discontent from feeling unfulfilled and lacking in direction from the trailing spouse, is detrimental to the success of the overseas placement of the working spouse.

Fortunately, with the right assistance and support, these issues can be managed.

Contact us today.