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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


Seven Unexpected Benefits Of Being An Expat

I have often been reluctant to speak about the benefits of the expat life because they seem so obvious.  Benefits of being an expat

Discovering a new culture, speaking another language, experiencing the wonder of iconic places brings you one step closer to embracing the reality and complexity of our world. A priceless gift toward living a full life.

Living abroad evokes the breeze of adventure, the sound of mystery, the myth (and the reality sometimes!) of a luxury life.

Beside those perks, here are some hidden benefits of living abroad

1. Getting to know your unique way of grieving

Every change brings with it some gains but inevitably some losses. Changing country is no exception.

Whether you long for the rain (in Dubai), a crusty baguette (pretty much everywhere outside of France) or sharing a meal with your friends, you’ll notice this heart twinge or – when it’s more serious – an acute feeling of sadness, guilt or anger.

When you move abroad, you experience different types of loss: definitive loss (like the loss of your car if you had to sell it) and ambiguous loss (like the loss of attending a family reunion). This is what I call expat grief because those losses aren’t linked to the death of a loved one.

Each loss – as small as it may be – needs to be grieved. This is the healthy process to avoid more complex reactions, sometimes decades after the loss. Both adults and children have to mourn their losses even if children don’t seem to be so much affected.

Each person grieves differently. So getting to know sooner rather than later how you process loss in a healthy way is extremely useful. You can then apply what you’ve learned about yourself to other life situations.

2. Stimulating your brain agility

Need to figure out how much costs this T-shirt? The price tag is in a different currency. You have to make a quick mental conversion.

Need to phone your parents or your brother back home? You have to make a quick appraisal of the time difference.

Need to go out? You have to switch language to address people in the street.

Need to drive on the other side of the road? You have to be extra-focused because your brain can’t be on auto pilot.

Think about your children coming back from school after a full day of lessons in a foreign language. The mere effort to answer your question ‘How was your day?’ will trigger a headache!

You have to be much more active and alert than if you hadn’t changed environment.

Does this mean it helps you prevent an early onset of dementia? We’d love to believe it!

3. Having more expat friends!

You’ve decided to live abroad and you want to experience as much as possible the local culture, language and people.
You refrain from joining expat clubs or organisations from your own nationality because you want to blend in. But interestingly, the people you connect deepest with, are somehow people who are not from here.

Whether they’re from another region or state, coming from the countryside or from another city, or downright foreigners, you’re drawn to those people who also have an experience of being uprooted.

Breaking into another culture at the deepest levels, understanding its sense of humour, being able to grasp the innuendos, puns and wordplay takes years, even decades. If it’s at all possible.

So even if you have no idea about the beliefs, language or customs of another expat who’s living in your host country, you may relate much more to this person because you are both far away from your family, struggling with the local language, meeting the same restrictions to find work and lacking network.

Chances are, you’ll end up having more ‘foreign’ friends.

4. Becoming more aware of what you, your home country, your culture are about

In leaving your home country, you not only get to see other ways of doing things but you also discover how others perceive your country and your culture.

Both sources of information enable you to extract yourself and take some distance from your country of origin. In taking a few steps back, a new picture of your home country and of your relationships (with your family, your friends back there) starts to emerge.

It’s like looking at yourself in a mirror. When you’re immersed in your home country, you have your nose glued to the glass. When you move abroad, you take a few steps back and you can see the bigger picture.

5. Shaping up a UNIQUE family culture – A Third Culture

Your expatriation story is unique. The countries you will be living in, the length of your stay, the way you’ll have experienced the local conditions, the relationships you make, the traditions you give up or decide to adopt: this set of circumstances will make you shape a unique family culture.

It’ll be different from the culture of your home country. It’ll be different from the culture(s) of your host country(ies) too. It’ll be a unique third culture. Isn’t it amazing?

6. Freeing yourself from expectations in your own society

If you’ve never changed surroundings since your childhood then people know where you went to school, the occupation of your parents, the social class you belong to. There are implicit and explicit expectations about the kind of studies you’re going to follow, the partner you’ll choose, the job you’ll take.

When you change country, nobody knows who you are, where you come from or what your family heritage is. Norms and customs are different. School systems can hardly be compared.

Let’s take a simple example : your parents’ expectations about your children’s academic performance.

Had you remained in the same country and – even more – in the same town as your parents, your children would have regular contacts with their grandparents and get frequent questions.

‘How well did you do at your maths test last week?’

Your dad would figure out quickly whether it was a success or not. And chances are, his judgement – positive or negative – would be quick to follow. ‘I thought you could do better. When I was young, we used to …’

And then turning to you: ‘Did you hear that the Jones put all their grandchildren in private schools? They really care about their education.’

You’d have felt the blow of a thinly veiled reproach. The Jones are close friends with your parents. They see each other frequently. Grandchildren are for sure a topic of conversation. Comparisons are made, judgements are expressed. You know that your parents would suffer from your choices that they consider reflecting on them and their ability to pass down their values, hence the pressure that is put on you and the grandchildren.

But this is now off the table: you’re living abroad!

Who knows how the school system works over there? The distance makes it difficult for anyone to relate, grandparents and friends included.

7. Opportunity to be born several times in your lifetime

Moving abroad means that you’ll get a new name.


Because nobody will be able to pronounce it exactly like at home. The tonal accent will be displaced or missing, the sounds will be distorted, the spelling will be changed.

Moreover, you’ll change surroundings and living conditions: climate, house, language.
This is typically what happens during the natural birthing process.

Living abroad is like being born anew!

When this change happens in adulthood, you have the unique opportunity to consciously experience it and to remember it.

Who ever thought they’d go through such a drastic new beginning?

Now over to you: what’s the hidden benefit you treasure in your expat adventure?


Credit music Free Music Archive credit pictures Depositphotos

Expat Wife – A Redefinition Of Couple Relationship That You Never Expected

‘Push… once more’, said the midwife. Vickie, in pain, winced, gasped for air and braced for the effort. Suddenly, she felt a release, the first in eight hours of labour. A cry and the midwife held the baby in the air. ‘Here it is, she announced triumphantly. A beautiful girl!’ What are you going to name […]

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Parenting Teenagers Abroad – Two Extra Challenges You’d Happily Do Without

Alison is bewildered. Josh, her 15 year-old son, has changed dramatically. While he used to be such a social kid, always a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes, he now spends hours alone in his room on his computer. He hardly talks. There’s no grin on his face anymore. He looks […]

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2016 – A Year In Expatland

As is now the tradition, in the last days of the year, I’m taking you on a journey: the story of an expat woman, Susan, through a compilation of all the articles published on the blog in 2016. Disclaimer: Not all characters appearing in this work are fictitious. In fact, they’re all either clearly identified or […]

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3 Things Your Teenager Can’t Tell You When Moving Abroad

It’s no secret: handling a teenager as a parent is tricky. To say the least. But moving abroad adds another layer of complexity. Understanding what’s going on in your teenager’s head helps you be more supportive of them. You can lend a listening ear knowing that it’s not all your fault if they’re struggling. You […]

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Ageing Abroad – Can You Trust Someone To Care For Your Parents?

Sandy moved to France two years ago. Her mom and dad reside in Texas. She tries to visit her aging parents twice a year but sometimes she can’t make it because of her kids’ commitments and the price of the tickets. It started during her last visit, four months ago. Her mom let the pots […]

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Ageing Abroad – Retiring, Yes But Where?

Ageing abroad is a series created to celebrate Seniors Week in Tasmania. It aims at underlining the challenges and rewards faced by people living abroad as they get older. All the individuals featured in this series are fictitious but their stories are inspired by true people. I wish to thank Hans Schmid and Margaret Eldridge for […]

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Ageing Abroad – When The Past Bites Back

Ageing abroad is a series created to celebrate Seniors Week in Tasmania. It aims at underlining the challenges and rewards faced by people living abroad as they get older. All the individuals featured in this series are fictitious but their stories are inspired by true people. I wish to thank Hans Schmid and Margaret Eldridge for […]

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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?’      ‘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 […]

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