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Trailing Spouse – Why It’s Harder To Tell Your Truth

7:30 am – A typical morning in your expat family

‘Mum, where is my lunch box?’
    trailing spouse
‘Mum, I can’t find my soccer gear’

‘Mum, did you sign the form for our theatre excursion today?’ 

‘Mum, when is Dad coming back from his business trip?’


8:15 am – ‘Hurry up, kids. Time to go!’

9:00 am – You’re back home after school drop off.             

The flat is spacious. You’re lucky, you have a view on the lake.
To break the now deafening silence after the stormy morning, you put the TV on.

Breaking news: another terrorist attack – 52 killed.

You wince while images of blood, despair and destruction succeed each other.

‘Oh my God!’

You shake your head. You can’t even start to imagine what it would feel like to go through such a trauma.

In a glance, you look around and embrace the beautiful location, the pictures of your smiling children on the wall, your comfortable lifestyle.

No doubt. You’re privileged.

Your family is in good health, you have no money problems, food on the table and a roof above your head.

So how could you dare? How could you dare to tell your truth?

How could you dare to say that you’re hurting. 

That the pain is deep and excruciating at times.

That you’re anxious, lonely and frustrated.

That you can’t sleep.

The truth is : although you agreed to move here and to follow your partner, you’re highly stressed and ultimately unhappy!

This makes you feel ashamed and guilty.

It’s incredibly difficult to admit. First and foremost to yourself. Let alone to others!

That’s why you brush it off. You reason yourself out. You lie…

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A terrorist attack, an incurable illness, a divorce: those are recognized traumas.

Everybody understands. Everybody gets it. Straight away.

But in your life, there is no such thing: your partner only got a promotion abroad!

How could THIS be a trauma?  Isn’t that going overboard?

Trauma in our collective psyche tends to be something big like an earthquake, the loss of a loved one, even a redundancy.

But what we’re talking about here – moving abroad – is a blessing!

All your friends rave about the wonderful adventure you’ve embarked on and how lucky you are.

And you are indeed, but…Image result for paragraph separator

Let’s take a closer look at what trauma means.  

The Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines trauma as ‘an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent’ and as ‘a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury.’

Which means that the trauma is not defined by the event but the consequences it has on the person.

As mentioned in ‘Coping With Trauma’ a book by Dr Jon Allen combining years of research teaching and experience treating trauma survivors, trauma is ‘in the eye of the beholder’.

There are 2 parts to a traumatic experience: the objective part and the subjective part.

The objective part refers to the event itself that may cause death or serious injury to you or others. This is what we usually focus on (natural disasters, war scenes, murder, rape).

But it is the SUBJECTIVE experience of the OBJECTIVE event that constitutes the trauma.

Jon Allen

In other words, a trauma is defined by the effects it triggers in you.

As underlines Allen, ‘objectivity and subjectivity don’t always match. You can be traumatized by someone with a fake gun’.

Psychologically the bottom line of trauma is overwhelming emotion and a feeling of utter helplessness.

Jon Allen

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It’s ‘overwhelming emotion and a feeling of utter helplessness’ that you may experience when you move abroad.

Because you feel so awkward, so incompetent, so dumb not being able to communicate with the local people after three years living here.

Because you’re not contributing financially to your household. You’re officially considered as dependent. It’s written on your visa.

Because you feel so lonely. Even when you smile to random people in the street, you get cold looks making you feel like you really don’t belong.

Because you’re shocked that your partner doesn’t want to listen when you try to open up.  

Because you’ve been brutally stripped of a fundamental right: the ability to live in a place in your own right. If you were not in this relationship, you would be kicked out of the country.

Because nobody can pronounce your name properly.

Because you suffer from the change in climate.

Because it’s not what and how you thought it would be.

Because all of the above (and even more) is adding up, day after day and has a compounding effect.

The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing ; every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife … is bound to be noticed.

Soren Kierkegaard

The trauma is invisible. It comes from things you would never have imagined.

More often than not, as a trailing spouse or — more elegantly said — as an accompanying partner, you’re traumatized because you put yourself in that situation.  You think that you should take responsibility for it and you end up blaming yourself for not being happy.

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Ironically enough, the particularity of trauma is dissociation.

You want to avoid thinking about it. You want to forget about it.

But to heal, you need to acknowledge it. You need to face it. You need to be heard and validated.

Giving you permission to grieve, to vent, to complain, cringe and cry, that would bring relief.

I have created a safe space to do just that. Without fear of being judged or fixed. A safe place where you can be just as you are. Where you don’t need to pretend. A place to be yourself.

Will you join us? 

Find more details about this online support group program called ‘Unpack Your Bags‘. 

We look forward to welcoming you.


Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos

Expats and Olympic Games – Who Are You Rooting For?

The Olympic Games are in full swing.  Rio de Janeiro - Expats and Olympic Games

More than 11,000 athletes coming from 206 countries are competing during 17 days across 306 events featuring 28 sports. Whether it is for soccer, cycling, swimming, rowing, gymnastics, golf or athletics, more than 500 000 people travelled to attend in person while 3.6 billion people are expected to watch online or on TV.

Fans all around the world are passionately supporting their country, waving flags, painting themselves with national colours or simply stopping work to follow their favourite sports. At home or at the office, many huddle in front of their screens. Others are gathering in cafes or public places to experience ‘live’ the most important events.

In this frenzy of cross-cultural sports fever, beyond the exploits, there’s a question of national pride. It’s an opportunity for intense communion, the chance for a country to feel united.

In these moments, we forget the internal political disagreements, the economic crisis, the collapse of the ecosystems, our irascible neighbour and the gossip lady next door.

We’re all behind our athletes representing our country and by extension representing ourselves.
All united behind our country?

Well, in some families like the expat family, it’s a bit more complicated.

Who are you rooting for?
The country you were born in? The country you’re currently living in?
The country you have lived the longest in?
Your passport country? Your parents‘ passport country?

Let’s have a closer look at one family to see what it looks like.

Philippe, the dad, is French. Born and bred in France. The best — in all modesty.
He doesn’t have the slightest doubt in his mind. He’s supporting France. Of course.
He gets goosebumps when he listens to the ‘Marseillaise’.

What about the medals tally? He’s furious to be standing so far behind Great Britain and monitors closely his position with Germany.

Mary, the mum, is Canadian but her parents came from Belgium. They emigrated to Canada 2 years before Mary was born. She went to school to Vancouver and studied in Toronto.
Mary’s first choice is Canada but she also has a soft spot for Belgium. Two countries to cheer for!

What about the medals tally? Canada and Belgium are far behind, prompting some stinging comments from Philippe to Mary’s utter outrage.

Sarah, their daughter, was born in Germany and left when she was 15 years old. The family now lives in Australia. She favours Canada, a tad less France but she definitely supports Australia. She doesn’t want to stand out from her peers at school.
Secretly she also roots for Germany. She has kept contact with some friends over there. It was so hard to leave. But she can’t express herself out loud. Her father would have a fit.

Sarah has a double passport — French and Canadian — but she never lived in those countries.
She doesn’t know what it means to grow up in a place where you’re also a citizen.
While she has a good circle of friends, she always feels a bit weird, special, apart.
Belonging everywhere but belonging nowhere.

What about the medals tally? France and Australia won exactly the same number of gold medals. But most important, she smugly calculates, Germany is ahead of France if you look at the total number of gold medals rather than the total number of medals!

Emilie, the little one, loves gymnastics. None of her family’s countries has a real chance of winning. Besides, she hates conflict and there’s enough arguing already with mum and dad.

So she picked her team: the US women! At least, she’s sure to win something.

After two weeks of tension, Mary is tired. Her family doesn’t need more stress around identity. That’s not what the Olympic Games should be about. But this whole event triggered interesting questions.

So she has an idea. Last evening at the dinner table, she suggested

‘Let’s do something special for the closing ceremony.

We’ll invite a couple of friends and ask them to show up in the colours of an Olympic team and to bring a plate of food from that country.

Girls, can you think of funny games to play?

I’ll prepare a quiz. No doubt that there’ll be questions about athletes that are expatriates themselves representing another country.

We’ll award our winners and distribute our own medals. How does it sound?’

The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.
Pierre de Coubertin – Founder of the International Olympic Committee

So now, over to you: what will your closing ceremony look like?


Big thanks to Carmen and Pamela for their inputs.

Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos

Divorce Abroad – 3 Essential Things You Need To Know For Your Kids

Stella is anxious. Her mum, Janet, is not the same any more. Since last week, she has lost her smile. Her eyes are red and swollen, her face is bleak. She often withdraws in her room. What’s happening? She doesn’t want to talk. Dad is avoiding them, leaving early and coming back late, when Stella’s […]

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Six Disturbing Experiences When Going Back Home For A Holiday

It’s been a while since you’ve set foot in your home country but this year, you’re going back. For a holiday. Three weeks of jam packed program trying to optimize everything and please everyone: spending an equal number of days in each family, organizing a big party with your friends and sprinkling visits to some […]

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Losing A Home – The Impact On Your Third Culture Kid (And How To Handle It)

Ben was 8 years old when he left the country where he’d spent all his childhood.   ‘Daddy’s got a promotion overseas and says he can’t refuse it’, explained Ben to his teacher when he got the news. Originally the family was supposed to live abroad for 3 years and come back. The move was […]

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Emotional Abuse In Expat Couples – 4 Essential Steps To Deal With It

Sophie sits on the couch, her empty gaze staring at the salon table in front of her. Jack, her husband arrived from work and they’ve just had an argument. It’s become more and more frequent since they moved to this new country, a year ago. Sophie left her job to follow Jack when he got a promotion… […]

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Repatriation With Children – How To Be Sure You’re Doing The Right Thing

“Going back ‘home’? Are you serious?” Jonathan’s eyes bulge out of his head. He’s 13. When his family moved abroad, he was 8. “I don’t want to leave my friends! I don’t know anyone back there. Why are we going? Why don’t we stay?” “My job ends next month. We have to leave,” says his […]

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Repatriation – Easier Than Another Expat Assignment?

‘Honey, pack your suitcase. We’re going back home!’ shouts your partner as he walks through the front door. ‘Whaaaat? Really?’ Your jaw drops. Whether you longed for this moment — without ever believing it would happen so soon — or you’re heartbroken to leave your host country (perhaps even resenting the idea to go back) one […]

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The Biggest Challenge of Repatriation – What You Thought You’d Never Need To Know

If you’re planning to go back to your home country after living abroad for any length of time, I bet you’re not madly skimming the Internet for information on how to make the most of your transition. Why should you? You’re going back ‘home’! No need for a language course. No need for a cross-cultural training. […]

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Expats – Your Body Aches But You Don’t Listen (And What To Do Instead)

‘I’ve got a terrible headache. And it’s not the first time.   My vision is blurry. When the pain strikes I can’t even stand up. I’m feeling dizzy. At first I didn’t worry too much. I thought it was due to the move and the changing environmental conditions: jet lag, humid climate, food. But after […]

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