Expat Spouses/Partners

The Male "Trailing Spouse"

Despite more and more husbands leaving their jobs behind to accompany their wife going abroad, there still seems to be some kind of ignorance-based silence around the topic of the male trailing spouse or accompanying partner.

male trailing spouse
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

We are still used to talking about the women who give up their jobs so they can follow their husband abroad, where then they stay home with the kids and take care of the household. This, however is also the situation for men more often than what the media suggests. And besides the well-known and discussed issues related to the trailing spouse topic, the case of “the male trailing spouse” raises a whole new set of questions.

The Only Man At The Playground

We know, talking about gender roles is a risky business nowadays. But the husbands whose articles and blog posts I’ve read have all mentioned that a big part of their difficulties was related to the fact that the man being the accompanying spouse is not the usual scenario. I remember one of them writing about how challenging it was at first to be the only man at the playground. He felt that the women in the park were addressing him with pity, or suspicion even: why doesn’t he have a job? Because a man taking the kids to the playground in the middle of the day is something odd, and it can only mean that he is in some sort of transition period, maybe he has trouble finding a job, maybe something else, who knows. But it does evoke a suspicion which the sight of a woman in the park with the kids in the middle of the day doesn’t. And the fact that the life of a male accompanying partner is less talked about, makes it even harder for those living it. Spouse support most often focuses on women, and this silence in itself is a problem for accompanying husbands.

So the first step if you are the only male at the playground, is acknowledging that despite this silence, you are not the odd one, and there are lots of husbands out there in the same situation. Nothing proves this more, than the existence of accompanying husband groups which can be found in more and more countries.

Spouse support

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Groups

STUDS, for example. This group was formed in the middle of the 90s (!), with the intention of giving trailing husbands around Brussels the chance to meet up. The name of the group stands for “Spouses Trailing Under Duress Successfully”. But this is only one example. There are other trailing husband groups around the world, in Shanghai and Zurich for example. And today with social media, you can find groups for basically anything anywhere, so this is something you should definitely try. No matter what you are going through, it’s always of great help to know that many others are going through the same thing, and talking to them already takes away some of the weight. The only downside to this can be that these groups isolate you from the rest of the world. Finding the right balance between socializing with the ones in the same situation as you, and the rest of the world is key.

What Do You Identify Yourself With

The new scenario might be even more difficult, if having a job was part of your identity. In this case the best thing you can do is re-evaluate things. I don’t mean to make it too spiritual, but these changes are always a good opportunity to start something from scratch.

You identified yourself (partly) by having a job? Well look at you, not working, and still existing! This must mean it wasn’t truly something that made you who you are, which also means that you can try something-anything else. Seeing new situations as opportunities and beginnings rather than endings is always a good idea, and a state of mind that people who have been there and done that, swear by. Of course there are still plenty of things to do, but having this in mind can go a long way.

Having An Answer To “What Do You Do?”

This is something rather practical to carry with you in your everyday life as a trailing husband. It can be really difficult when you get asked “and what do you do?” by someone in your building for example. The question can take you by surprise and get your morals down when you find yourself searching for an answer, trying to explain yourself, talking about the kids and the household while your wife is at work, etc. So by having a prepared answer to this question, with which you can easily end the topic if you want to, can be of great help, especially at the beginning.

And The Advantages

There are some. In this strange world of ours, even though you might raise suspicion on the playground, we still have the stereotype that a woman following her husband abroad is old-fashioned, while if a man does it, he is modern and brave.

And then there is the “superwoman” syndrome, which – for obvious reasons – doesn’t affect men. While from modern women more often than not it is expected to be a good partner and mother, take care of the household, and excel at their job as well, men usually “have to” do only part of these.

As you can see, most of this article focuses on what others might say, and how society views the male trailing spouse. This is because these are the pressing issues that can make a difficult situation even more difficult. I just wanted to highlight the fact that many of the things that can and probably will give you a headache every now and then, are in fact, not related to your family life and your decision. If you have come to this decision, then you had your reasons. Consider these as tips, and if you have any specific questions in mind, don’t hesitate to contact one of our coaches

Eszter Szűcs-Imre

Key Takeaways

  • The fact that the life of a male accompanying partner is less talked about, makes it even harder for those living it.
  • It’s always of great help to know that many others are going through the same thing, and talking to them already takes away some of the weight.
  • Seeing new situations as opportunities and beginnings rather than endings is always a good idea, and a state of mind that people who have been there and done that, swear by.

  • Many of the things that can and probably will give you a headache every now and then, are in fact, not related to your family life and your decision.
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