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  • Writer's pictureMalin Rignéus

How to avoid the "trailing spouse syndrome".

Updated: Feb 26

The moving dust has barely settled. Kids and partner have adjusted to new routines, when the “now what” question pops into your head. The trailing spouse syndrome is not a diagnosable illness. However, many dependants struggle with feelings of overwhelm and low mood.

An international career posting abroad whether it’s for a couple of years or a lifetime, can be an exciting prospect bringing positive experiences. Sadly, the potential difficulties the life change bring is not readily discussed.

Married woman holding cup stating the adventure begins
Photo credit: Luke Porter via Unsplash

Obstacles dependants face

Media tends to portray dependants as women in financial dependency without goals in life. Reality is substantially more nuanced. This group often consist of highly educated men and women or same sex partners, frequently with substantial amount of work experience behind them. They might have given up or put their own careers on hold to support their partners and family’s time abroad. Common issues faced are the non-acceptance of professional qualifications, language barriers and not being granted work permits.

This situation can make you feel vulnerable. Simmering feelings such as loneliness, isolation, bitterness, loss of identity, low self-esteem and depression can bubble up to the surface and take hold. The issues are often caused by difficulties adjusting to a different culture, being away from your social support and a lack of professional fulfilment. However, the establishment period in your new home can also represent a possibility to pause in life and question if you’re living in line with your values.

Build a new community around shared interests

The absence of a solid social network in a new country can be a demanding situation many people struggle with. It can be difficult and take time to build up new relationships. Remember that many people in your new “home” country are in the same seat as you. Try to build new friendships through staying open minded. It’s perfectly acceptable to show your more sensitive and vulnerable side to develop a deeper bond.

"Identify what you used to love doing earlier on in life"

Investigate if similar hobbies or new activities you always wanted to try out are offered in the new country. Examples could be physical activities such as hiking, yoga, dance or creative outlets like photography, cooking, handicrafts, etc. Join local or international social networks such as Internations, Facebook groups, volunteering organisations or test friendship apps like Bumble BFF, Hey!, VINA or Meetup.

Clarify your values and find purpose

Put some time aside to really think through and define what you ideally would like to get out of your new life situation. Avoid over identifying with your previous title or work role. We are so much more than an employment description. Identify what values are vital to you at this point in your life. How would you like people to remember you? Identify realistic goals, half-way goals and a reasonable timeline. Perhaps this period of time is the perfect opportunity to do something you never had time to engage in previously, e.g. write a book, start your own company, study, spend time with the children, start a new exciting project or simply taking a break.

Open up and seek assistance

Many dependants feel they ”should” be happy because they have been provided with an opportunity to experience living abroad. They might push away unpleasant feelings and shoulder on. Sometimes this can lead to behaviours that make the situation worse. If you feel low, try to open up to trusted people, e.g. your partner, friends or seek confidential assistance from a mental health professional.


To conclude, lower the bar on the demands and ideals you and the environment puts on you. Take time to pause, identify and live more in line with what is really important to you. Focus on building and maintaining a supportive community around you. Through creating new exciting experiences, establishing friendships and finding purpose you get more out of your time abroad. Remember that it’s ok to not feel ok. If needed, please don't hesitate to reach out for assistance.

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