The world is increasingly becoming a more multicultural place. The advancement of technology and the Internet has made it simpler for companies to expand and take advantage of a global market. This, coupled with more affordable and frequent flights, means that it’s become possible to work competently all over the world.
As such, there has been a marked increase in the number of companies that employ expats to run their businesses overseas. Over the years, the expat lifestyle has been painted in a glamorous light: a life of travel, of high salaries and exotic destinations. However glamorous some of these expat jobs may be, they certainly aren’t all painted with the same extravagant brush.
What many people don’t consider is the extra strain that is placed on relationships and marriages in an expatriate lifestyle. In fact, of the 50% of expat assignments that fail, 30% of these failures are attributed to family issues in their new country.
The life of an expat wife, or trailing spouse is certainly not all it’s cracked up to be.
If you are an expat about to move abroad with your family, or perhaps you are already there – the best ways to deal with the undoubted strains that will come with the move, is knowing what they are. By identifying the main causes of problems within expatriate marriage, you know what to expect and can prepare to meet them head on.
More often than not, the move to a foreign country is a result of following an excellent career opportunity for one partner. The partner that follows is referred to as a “trailing partner”. Many foreign countries have strict work permit regulations, and in places such as Saudi Arabia, it’s almost impossible for women to have the right to work.
This often leads to feelings of frustration that stem from a loss of purpose and identity on the part of the trailing partner, especially if they were career driven in their home country. This loss of identity places heavy pressure on the relationship, and resentment is often the way in which these emotions present themselves.
Some moves for expats are easier than others; moving to a country with a totally different language, culture, lifestyle and climate is incredibly difficult. The excitement of moving to a new, foreign land often wears off in about the second month, as the reality of the permanency of the situation sets in.
Families that don’t make the effort to immerse themselves in the culture or learn the language seem to struggle the most. Couples with kids also face extra strain if their children struggle to fit into their new school environment and find it difficult to make friends.
Moving to a foreign country means leaving behind the familiarity of home, and the support of friends and family. This is a big strain on expat relationships, as partners find themselves isolated and unable to confide in people that they trust and get the support that they need.
This is particularly relevant in countries that have a foreign language, as it can be hard to establish meaningful relationships with those around you if you feel different and struggle to understand each other.
The expat wife culture varies from country to country, with places in the UAE having a more rigid lifestyle. However, on a whole the expat lifestyle has a lot more freedom than that of the expats’ home countries. This is particularly relevant in places such as South East Asia, which have a much more lax way of life than many places in the world. There are increased rates of alcoholism and infidelity in these areas due to the party and ‘sex tourism’ lifestyle that is often encountered.
The expat lifestyle often involves a lot of travel, which leaves one partner (normally the trailing spouse) home alone often. This continual separation is more likely to lead to loneliness and infidelity, which is also more frequent if the working partner has incredibly long work hours.
These are just some of the strains that are placed on expat marriages, and what each couple experiences depends on the country they have moved to, their careers, whether they have children and the strength of their relationship before they make the move.
Knowing what to expect and preparing for it is the best way to handle the strain of having an expat marriage. Having open lines of communication is imperative to the success of your marriage, and offering each other extra support is important too.
Joining a social group with other expats can provide great mental support and stimulation. The option of getting advice from those who have been there and done that is an excellent idea.
If you are not enjoying the expat wife life, or feel you are at risk from trailing spouse depression be sure to speak to a professional sooner rather than later and potentially prevent relationship busting events from ever taking place.
Info Graphic research and artwork by Letitia C.