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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