How to avoid the "trailing spouse syndrome".
We all know the traditional expat wife portrayed in social media; as a superficial, shopping mad, gym visitor, fuelled by champagne lunches and endless cocktail parties. This image might to some extent ring true for some people. However, there’s also another side to the story.
In recent years, there has been a shift to an increase in men and same sex partners following their significant others on work assignments abroad. Nowadays, so-called “dependants” often have plenty of work experience from their previous postings/home countries and obtained high education levels. Spending time overseas creates plenty of positive experiences. However, it is also common with less talked about feelings, such as solitude, loss of identity, bitterness, decreased self-esteem and low mood.
A job placement abroad, whether it's for a couple of years or longer, can be perceived as a perfect opportunity to stop and pause in life, and identify if you are on the correct path. Below follows some suggestions on how to make the most of your time as an expat.
This is a no-brainer; if you are feeling low, try to not push these emotions aside or the feelings might accumulate and cause distress. It’s far more constructive to open up and speak with your partner, friends or a psychology professional. Plan out how you can support each other to cope more productively. Try to keep in touch with family and old friends as well. Acknowledge that it is perfectly ok to miss them.
2. Clear out your diary to just chill
Working in Asia can be demanding and frequently means excessive travelling and long working hours. This is partly due to the local work culture, but also because you might have to work across time zones. Recognise that these challenges can take its toll on both partners.
Give each other space to just chill out, avoid booking in to many trips, visitors, kids weekend activities, etc. I’m guilty of filling the weekends with children’s activities, so am actively trying to keep at least one day per weekend free and prioritise family dinners to reconnect.
3. Establish your own friendship base
Discover and build relations with your own friends. Hong Kong is a great city for making connections, as many are in the same situation and open to connect. Enroll to membership or local clubs, join courses, volunteer, try out a new sport, e.g. hiking, dragon boating, martial arts, etc. For more suggestions, please read my take on relationship building at: https://www.levacounselling.com/blog/developing-adult-friendships-www-levacounselling-com
4. Find a creative outlet
Try out a new hobby and discover a new passion, e.g. pottery, photography, Asian cooking, urban gardening, etc. Think about what you used to love doing as a child, teenager or young adult, tweak it or take it up in the same format again.
5. Identify your values and a purpose
What would you like to get out of your time overseas? What values resonate with you? Take time to sit down and identify realistic sustainable goals, plan it out with smaller objectives dotted along a reasonable time line.
Perhaps you could take the opportunity to further your education, pick up a new language, volunteer, part time/project work or join a company’s "going back to work” program. Alternatively, Hong Kong is a perfect place to initiate a start up, as it’s relatively little bureaucracy to set up and plenty of co-working spaces to avoid hefty office fees. Being your own boss and making the most out of internet based businesses, can be both empowering and flexible. It is easy to bring the business with you for possible future relocations.
To conclude, in order to counter negative emotions experienced as a "trailing spouse", open up to people close to you or professionals, create new exciting experiences, establish friendships and try to identify an authentic purpose to fill your time in this vibrant city.
Volunteering opportunities in Hong Kong
Flexible working arrangements:
Going back to work