From Trailing Spouse to Trailblazing Spouse!

Today I am going to spill three “dirty secrets” of trailing spouses, and I suspect that many of you will be glad I did. I am talking about things that you or your fellow trailing spouse likely wouldn’t admit in public, but chances are, you can relate.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 1 Don’t worry: After the cat is out of the bag, I will share three proven steps to do less trailing and more living. This insight is based upon years of experience training and coaching trailing spouses from six continents – complimented by my own expatriate experiences in Switzerland and West Africa. Three “dirty secrets” most trailing spouses won’t admit in public:

1. “I am a bit lost.”

You would never guess it by talking to them at the school’s drop-off spot or over a cold drink on a Friday night. However, there are a significant number of women who, while confident on the outside, feel stuck. Self-doubt sits like a small but irritating weight on an otherwise happy heart.

Don´t get me wrong — these are strong, productive women. At the same time there is a part of them that feels lost, in doubt or simply down. Ironically, most are slow to even admit this to themselves. This somewhat subtle yet uncomfortable reality is a signal of an inner desire for change.

2. “It is not enough just to be with the kids.”

What mother in her right mind would admit this in public? We all agree children are a gift. Children can add depth and joy to our lives that is unparalleled. Yet, all too often there is an undertone of shame when women do anything but put their children’s wishes ahead of all else.

One of my workshop participants said it beautifully: It is like negotiating at a street market when you propose a price and the seller responds: C’est bon, mais n’est pas arrivé. It is good, but it’s not enough.

InterNations Expat Blog Trailblazing Spouse 3 The women who feel this way are amazing mothers. They are dedicated, available, measured in their discipline and generous with their love. They love being a mom. It is meaningful to them.

At the same time, these women are hungry for a purpose outside of motherhood and beyond supporting their partner. They are talented and eager to make a contribution to the world. They have underutilized skills and talents that are bursting at the seams to be shared.

3. “I want control.”

No, they don’t want to control others. They want some sense of control over their time and things that are meaningful for them.

A trailing spouse can easily have her day filled up for her with school and home obligations – especially in some countries where “getting things done” can be far more complex.

Ok, the truth is out. You can see these are actually not dirty secrets but pure realities for women who are hugely supportive of their children as well as their partners.

Business woman with the globeFor those of you who feel like I have just spoken to your soul – I invite you to begin the journey of going from trailing spouse to Trailblazing Spouse™.

By my definition, a Trailblazing Spouse™ comes clean of these “dirty secrets” by taking charge of her own life. Here is how she does it:

* She has projects that are fulfilling and in alignment with her future goals.

* She is happy – and when she is not, she can recognize it and has solid strategies to make things better.

* She has a community of like-minded individuals whom she can call upon for personal and professional support.

* She has resolved the identity dilemmas from the relocation.

* She has found balance between the needs of her family and her own.

A Trailblazing Spouse™ has found joy in her life abroad and is committed to making the best of it.

Here are three steps that will help you get there: up, back and forward.

1. What brings you up?

Get crystal clear on what lights you up. Name two things you know you´ve always wanted to do or experience. Make a commitment to get started on one of these within the next three weeks.

2. What holds you back?

Make a list of the excuses you tell yourself. Name what scares you most about doing the things that bring you joy. Lonely girl with suitcase at country road.

3. What is so appealing that it will move you forward?

Identify one small step forward on your trail. Bribe yourself with something so amazing that it is irresistible to take the first step. Celebrate this accomplishment and repeat liberally.

Just get started today. Your adventure is waiting.

The author, Sundae Schneider-Bean, is an experienced coach and intercultural specialist who helps trailing spouses transform their lives. She offers programs and coaching for trailing spouses to live in better alignment with their passions and skills.

(Image credit: iStockphoto.com)

8 Responses to “From Trailing Spouse to Trailblazing Spouse!”

  1. Hi Sundae – This is a great article about something that doesn’t get discussed often, thanks for sharing. I work mostly with the “non-trailing” spouse (or those who are single) and think that both can benefit from this kind of coaching support. I visited your http://www.sundaebean.com and will be sure to refer trailing spouses to you!

  2. Hi Catarina – Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. I am so motivated to support trailing spouses because there is often an immense amount of untapped potential. I simply want support others in living in closer alignment with the life they want – full of passion, sharing their natural or learned skills. And enjoying the adventure!

  3. Sundae-What a great post! I’m in fitness and often work with trailing spouses. I know they can all relate with these tips here. My husband works in oil and gas and although we haven’t been moved yet, I’ve set my business up to be location independent as a way to prevent myself from dealing with some of these issues one day. It’s truly amazing how many businesses can be location independent and I often encourage my clients to look into the options. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Catherine – Thank you! Your point about location independence is so important! I find this especially true for those who know they are going to be abroad for more than an 18-month assignment or for those living in fragile contexts. When faced with the possibility to have to leave “last minute” it certainly is helpful to know that you can take what you have built with you.

  5. Hi Sundae,

    It existes not only trailing spouses but also trailing husbands. We have 2 good examples in Dushanbe / Tajikistan

  6. Hi Alain! I totally agree with you about male trailing spouses. The tough part for many male trailing spouses is that they have additional challenges of integrating into a community with the ease a “stay at home mom” might in an international school setting, for example. Although male trailing spouses are still a minority – their numbers are growing. It’s also important to emphasize the critical role they play in supporting women’s careers in areas that were traditionally dominated by men. That is something to celebrate!

  7. I think all three ‘secrets’ are relevant to everyone everywhere whether expatriate or not.
    I also think too often we, as accompanying spouses/partners lean too often on the “if I were ‘at home’ I’d be doing …..” when really, if we are entirely honest with ourselves, we have actually packed our ‘issues’ along with our shipment.
    An excellent source for expatriates is “A Career in my Suitcase”, and of course (!) my book, Expat Life Slice by Slice.

  8. Apple – I totally agree. When people are in a mode of “If I were at home, then…” we are simply resisting what is. When we start accepting what is, and dig deep down to where our power and control is in the situation, we start finding creative solutions and finding new ways to be happy and live in closer alignment with our needs, interests, and goals.

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