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Expat Husband And Orphan Spouse – The Untold Story

This post is the second in a series of three articles on orphan spouses. Last time, we walked in the shoes of the accompanying spouse (a woman in this case). Today, we’re putting ourselves then in the footsteps of the leading spouse (a man) before concluding in the third article on THE major challenge of this situation. Ready to know more? Without further ado…

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Let’s face it: you convinced your family to move abroad because of your job, and you’re never home.

Your work is very demanding: you’re probably stuck in the office for long hours, including nights and week-ends, and/or you’re required to travel frequently.                                                        Expat Husband and Orphan Spouse
You hardly see your family, let alone spend valuable time with them.
Without knowing it, you’ve become an orphan spouse.

You’re now like a single man, responsible nonetheless for providing for several additional people. You’re so often absent from home that you feel like an alien in your own family, and you’re in a country where, if you lose your job, you might have to pack up and leave with your wife and children within 28 days.

Expat husband and orphan spouse: if this doesn’t put pressure on you, what will?

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Today, we’re looking at the situation of the expatriate working partner, a perspective that is rarely acknowledged for two reasons:

  • First, in many cases, the financial situation of the working expat is comfortable, so it’s assumed that they don’t have any issues to contend with, or at least that they only have ‘luxury problems’ (where to spend their next holidays, how to optimise their tax return). And if they do struggle, they shouldn’t complain because they’re privileged anyway, right?
  • Second, this position of working partner within the couple is still mostly held by men, who are less likely to express their emotions publicly. Under stress, many take refuge in overwork, alcohol or other addictions such as to electronic devices.

‘An experience makes its appearance only when it’s being said. And unless it’s said, it is, so to speak, non-existent.’
Hannah Arendt – German philosopher

In this situation, we mustn’t forget that both partners are orphans.

They’re both affected in extreme and opposite ways.

When one has too much, the other has too little. Whether it’s about time with the children, money or social contact. Just to name a few.
Free pictures SEPARATOR - 29 images foundWhat does it look like in real life?

Your daughter is playing in the school musical, and she’s looking forward to performing in front of the whole family. She made sure long in advance that you had put the date in your diary, so that you could attend this special evening.

Unfortunately, at the last minute, a client requires you for a strategic meeting. Sound familiar?

You’re torn between a sense of professional duty and your role as a supporting father.

What will get priority?

Preparing for the meeting with your client and alone in your hotel room, you order a cold platter. You put the TV on and open the minibar. You don’t want to think too much.

While the stay-at-home parent is tied to the house, the working partner is tied to a job.

Your life is dedicated to the requirements of your work.
A job abroad doesn’t only offer an income, but also a visa to remain in the country, and eventually other perks (schooling for the children, housing and company cars). As the single bread winner, losing your job would have drastic consequences.

This job has also become a very important part of your identity. What first started as a challenge for a self-driven employee has become an all-consuming activity. You want to live up to the image of a committed and competent professional. You may even be told ‘Only you can do it!’ by a management that wants to massage your ego.

The first casualty in this situation is the family, but this situation takes a toll on all relationships.
Building local friendships and participating in community life are seriously impaired, preventing you from developing other support networks and aspects of your identity.
Free pictures SEPARATOR - 29 images foundYour wife complains about your son.

‘He wants to spend all his spare time on his phone. I put restrictions on him, so he’s constantly nagging me. It’s exhausting! He now wants to be on social media. He’s blaming us for the fact he’s not like his friends because we don’t allow him to have a Snapchat account. Every day is a struggle. I can’t deal with it any more. You need to do something about it.’

You’re reluctant to intervene. Most of the time, you’re absent. How tricky is it to speak about matters you haven’t witnessed in person?

You wonder:
‘What’s the point of me telling him off? I’ll spoil all the joy of seeing him. He’ll dread me coming back. Moreover, he knows that I’m not able to follow through if he breaks the rules. I’m so often away from home. What kind of relationship can we build together?’

A lack of intervention on your part inevitably triggers an argument with your wife, and you fear that scolding your son is damaging your relationship with him.

You’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

While the stay-at-home parent needs to assume the dual role of mum and dad, the orphan spouse away from home struggles to fulfil their role of parent.

When you come home, you want to have a good time, creating pleasant memories of your time with the kids to compensate for all you’ve missed.

Being constantly away, you’ve lost the sense of a shared reality.

Who is their teacher and what does she look like?
What are your kids’ friends’ names?
What do they have for lunch?
When is soccer training?

So many details you don’t know, because this is at odds with your regular day.

You live out of a suitcase, eat in restaurants, sleep in hotels.

Grocery shopping, cooking, washing dishes and vacuum cleaning are tasks you never have to perform.

Organising birthday parties, attending parent-teacher meetings and volunteering to coach the soccer team are activities you can never take part in.

Coming home is like being on another planet or in another country. You can’t relate to this way of life, and you don’t try to engage with it – you’ll be off again shortly. This could be called the Visitor Syndrome! *

You want to relax. You’re under a lot of pressure all day long, with multiple demands from your organisation and numerous time constraints (planes, meetings, opening hours of restaurants, hotels…).

You want to make up for the time you missed with the kids and the family.

Now that you’re here, they have to cancel everything: a friend’s birthday party, the chores given to the kids by your partner, the routines established in your absence. It’s holiday mode.*

As you can imagine, this situation will create conflict and confusion.

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However, there is hope. As engineer Charles Kettering famously mentioned ‘A problem well stated is a problem half solved.’

What’s your take on dealing with this kind of situation?

I’d love to hear from you.


* Both terms (Visitor Syndrome and Holiday Mode) were coined by my dear friend Pamela Leach.

Credit music the Piano Society credit pictures Depositphotos


Expat Wife And Orphan Spouse – Double Whammy!

This post is the first in a series of three articles on orphan spouses. We’ll first walk in the shoes of the accompanying spouse (a woman in this case) then in the footsteps of the leading spouse before concluding on THE major challenge of this situation. Ready to know more? Without further ado…


So, you moved abroad because of your partner’s job and he’s never home.

He travels frequently, always between 2 planes or he has impossible working hours including nights and week-ends.

Without knowing it, you’ve become an orphan spouse.

You’re now like a single mum, with no income, no right of your own to live here if it wasn’t for your relationship – at present with… a ‘ghost’.

You’re in a country where you don’t know the rules, can’t speak the language and have no support network.

Expat wife and orphan spouse: if this is not stepping out of your comfort zone, what is?


Today, we’re taking a closer look at this particular type of couple relationship because it’s a topic rarely discussed, even though it happens more and more often.

‘An experience makes its appearance only when it’s being said. And unless it’s said, it is, so to speak, non-existent.’
Hannah Arendt – German philosopher

Naming and acknowledging the peculiarities of such a situation is important because it helps validate and normalize the feelings that arise from it.

It’s easy to dismiss your reaction by belittling your anxiety, despair and unhappiness.

But when you understand that you’re not alone and there’s nothing wrong with you, you feel empowered to find your own solutions.


You signed up weeks ago for a school parent evening about cyberbullying. You were looking forward to this informative event when your husband told you he had to be away for the whole week.

It’s the third time since the beginning of the year that you have planned something and you need to cancel because you can’t leave the children alone at night.

In this new country, you don’t know anyone that you can trust to step in for a few hours.

Because your whole family depends on this income – and it’s not only income but also visa, housing, schooling for the children – the demands of your husband’s job always get priority.

It hurts.

It was painful enough to resign from your job and leave your professional identity behind. You realize that in embracing the role of supporting partner and dedicated mother, your needs systematically take the back seat.

Another double whammy!

Who wouldn’t feel frustrated, resentful or angry?

As an orphan spouse, the stay-at-home parent literally becomes homebound.

You lose your freedom of movement, burdened by household tasks and the demands of child-rearing.

You didn’t know anyone when you came to this new place. Lacking time and someone to pick up the slack, you have even less opportunities to network: a sure recipe for isolation.


Your teenage son is glued to his computer. He spends hours playing on his device. He neglects his homework, can’t get out of bed in the morning and locks himself up in his room.

You’ve tried to negotiate clear rules, explaining the benefits of a good night sleep and the effects of screens on his brain. To no avail.

You’ve threatened without any success.  You will now enforce a wifi blackout after 9 pm.

You wish you’d have your partner’s support. But that’s easier said than done.

When you start to talk about your concerns, he downplays your worries because he doesn’t see the reality of the situation. Of course, he’s never home!

When he decides to go to the frontline and opens the conversation: ‘Your mum told me you’re always on your computer’, the effect can be even more disastrous.

Not only is your son angry at you for reporting his actions but he knows that dad is away the next day. So guess what?

It’ll be up to you to enforce the rules and stand your ground.

You have now to play the role of both: mum and dad.

Parenting has become totally unbalanced, reflecting the couple situation. This puts a lot of pressure on all relationships in the family.


It was supposed to be just a normal day.

At 10 am, you receive a phone call: your youngest child fell at recess. He needs to be picked up. His arm is swollen. It’s probably worth a visit to the doctor.

You drop everything.

At 11:30 am, the doctor refers you to a radiologist for an X-Ray.

2 pm is the appointment, 3 pm the diagnosis: a broken arm.

In the meantime, your eldest daughter needs to be picked up at school. You rush to collect her. Tonight it’s music lesson.

You cancel the soccer training for the wounded child and drive to the piano teacher.

Your youngest is in pain. It’s hard to drag him along. He wants to rest. Every bump on the road is excruciating for his arm. But there’s nobody home and you can’t be at two places at the same time.

Your husband left at 4 am this morning for the airport. You had a quick chat with him when he was in the taxi from the airport to his first customer. It was 9 am. You had just dropped off the kids at school.

It’s a big day for him. He has numerous meetings back to back.

You text him at 4 pm. ‘Call me when you can’.

You didn’t say more. He can’t do anything anyway.

At 6 pm, while you’re in the car on your way back home, the phone rings. You inform him briefly about what happened but there’s no time and privacy to vent your feelings.

The kids are hungry and tired. He has dinner with clients in 10 min anyway.

You feel overwhelmed, exhausted and … lonely.

From the moment you become an orphan spouse, two things go out the window: a shared reality and effective communication. 

This void, this vacuum is like a black hole: it attracts all kinds of projections.

‘He said he would call back this evening. What is he doing now? Why do I always get his answering machine?’

If you feel resentful for the lack of social contacts and relaxing time:

‘He’s probably having fun with his colleagues at the bar or watching TV!’

If you’re suspicious:

‘What if he was having dinner with his new colleague? She’s supposedly so smart and classy. Not like me, in leggings and T-shirt, grumpy all day long.’ 

If you try to put yourself in his shoes:

‘He must be sleeping now. He was so tired when he left this morning at 4 am. I know I would if it was me.’


Because you’re isolated, you have time to think.

Too much time to think and too many things to think about.

Now what would you add?


Stay tuned for the 2nd article in this trilogy!


Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos


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