This article was written to answer to these questions: When a professional is sent on a foreign assignment on behalf of an American company, that expatriate's wife or husband is known as the trailing spouse if the spouse joins the expatriate at his/her foreign location. Why have problems involving the trailing spouses of expatriate professionals become more numerous in recent years? What are some companies doing to solve those problems? What are other suggestions you can provide to mitigate these problems?
There are many reasons that problems occur when a husband or wife is sent on a foreign assignment and their spouse relocates with them. Modern culture is one of the main reasons for this tension. In most marriages both spouses have full time jobs/careers. When one spouse is offered to relocate, it obviously means that if the other spouse goes along, he/she will need to leave his/her current position. This can be a very difficult decision to make since it would mean starting entirely new somewhere else. Sure, the trailing spouse has experience, but they would have to sacrifice their seniority in a position which could hamper their own personal success in their career. This kind of tension is not just damaging in a professional career, but also within the marriage. It’s natural to feel a little resentment when you need to start over again due to your spouse having to relocate.
The problem of the trailing spouse also became more of an issue when it became real that men would be the trailing spouse. More and more women are being asked to re-locate abroad, and since they may be earning more than their husband, the husband could find himself trailing his wife. This is contrary to our traditional culture, but times have changed. However, I think the male is apt to resent trailing his wife more than the other way around simply due to the fact of our traditional culture. The problem is the same; one of the spouses will have to sacrifice their current position and start new somewhere else. How that particular spouse views the problem can be a result of culture, personal goals, or emotion. Either way, it has become very difficult when one spouse is offered to relocate because they usually both have careers and career goals; the move will automatically put an obstacle to the advancement of the trailing spouse.
Many companies are offering assistance to families where a spouse has been offered to relocate. This includes coaching to assist with the difficulties that relocating presents, paying for the family to visit the intended location, and offering the family information or help as to schools, jobs, etc. to help the trailing spouse and family transfer comfortably. I would recommend companies also offering help with learning a new language if the spouse is relocating to a different country. They should also assist the trailing spouse in finding a new job in the new location since the company probably can use their professional networking expertise to help a trailing spouse find a new job in a different location. The company really needs to offer as much assistance as possible to families that have trailing spouses. They need to realize that they aren’t just investing in the employee but in that employee’s family. If the family isn’t happy, neither will the employee be and success will be difficult to achieve.