Today, expat coach, Louise, looks at 7 guilty secrets common to trailing spouses. If you recognize yourself in any of them, never fear, you aren’t alone.
Being a trailing spouse can be a challenging affair, for many obvious reasons. You have to adapt to a new country, a new way of living, speaking, and acting, all without your usual network of friends and family to help you trough. On top of that, there is paper work, household, integration, and networking.
But there are other reasons why many trailing spouses struggle with their expat life. These reasons are not less obvious, but are much less talked about. They are our guilty secrets.
1. You are not finding fulfillment in your children alone
No matter how wonderful, amazing and loveable your children are, they are not fulfilling all of your needs. While a few of you might feel you are put on earth to serve your children, the majority of us have other purposes in life too. However, many trailing spouses accept the expat adventure specifically to have more time with the family, i.e. with the children. The realization you are not being fulfilled as mother makes you feel ashamed that you can’t find everything you need in your children.
2. You envy your husband’s life
He, who is realizing his ambitions; is having a rich social life with his colleagues; is earning good money; is gaining relevant professional experience, etc, etc. You are envying him all of these things but have learned that jealousy is a bad thing. So you keep it to yourself.
3. You feel second to the rest of the family
You are the one getting the children to and from school and activities. You are the one taking care of the household. You are the one doing the groceries and the cooking. You are the one taking care of all the administrative work. You feel like a servant for the rest of the family. You think: Hey, what about my life? But resign by rationalizing: It was part of the agreement!
4. You feel ungrateful for your privileged life
‘A life with economic freedom, time on your own, based in the capital of Europe – Wow, life in the front seat!’ is what most people back home or unfamiliar with the situation think about your life. And you know it. It is a privileged life and you do not want to be perceived as ungrateful. So officially, everything is fine. Non-officially, it sucks!
5. You fantasize about going home
This so-called privileged situation, on the sunny side of life, simply is not what you dreamt of. The language is a barrier; the Belgian bureaucracy is driving you crazy; your landlord is an old, arrogant man; you have difficulties finding friends; the traffic is chaotic: you miss your job, your colleagues, your friends, your family. You dream of going home and having your old life back. But what a failure it would be to give up, you think! So you stay.
6. You’re frustrated about the gap in your CV
Perhaps you were dreaming of a part time job, the perfect combination of career and family life while living abroad. Then you could keep your career up to date, get local acquaintances, use a bit of French, and still have more time with your family. But the job you dreamt of does not exist. Or you do not speak Dutch. Or the proposed time schedule does not fit. Or your education is not applicable on the Belgian job market. Or you might not even want to work. Then what? What about the gap in your CV? You are reassuring yourself and others you are taking French classes, after all.
7. You don’t know what you want
When people ask what you want to do, you do not have the answer. You feel your time in Brussels should be so much more joyful, exiting and sparkling, not the boring, lonely or frustrating life you are experiencing. But you simply cannot find the thing, you want to do. So you rationalize. It is probably just me. Or time will tell. Everybody else seems to know where they are heading – it will come to me too. So you wait – in vain!
If you are recognizing yourself in any of the above mentioned scenarios, know that everything is fine. It is quite normal. You are quite normal. I hear those secrets or variations of them daily.
The problem with secrets is they conflict with the image we have of ourselves and therefore drain our energy, or steal our integrity. For example: You want to be a good wife and a good mother but being jealous of your husband or your children doesn’t fit with this image. You feel out of integrity. Often we stick to the secrets because we are afraid we will be less loved if the truth is known!
2014 is only a few weeks old. We are still in the jet stream of our new year´s resolutions.
May I suggest, whatever resolution you are working on, start your process by revealing your secrets. You cannot move ahead, towards another and better future, before you have accepted your present situation. To accept your situation, you need to put all the cards on the table.
What am I unsatisfied with in my current life?
What am I hiding from others – or myself?
You don´t need to reveal your work to anyone if you don´t want to. The act of revealing your guilty little secrets (even just to yourself) and accepting your situation will help clear the way for whatever change you hope for.
Happy (Trailing) New Year!
Looking for more resources for trailing spouses? Check out our Expat Resources page.