The 7 Guilty Secrets of Trailing Spouses

By - January 28, 2014 (Updated: February 24, 2015)

7 Guilty Secrets of Trailing Spouses

Are you keeping any of these 7 guilty secrets of trailing spouses?

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!

Accepting your secrets and admitting them (if only to yourself) is the first step to fulfillment

Accepting your secrets and admitting them (if only to yourself) is the first step to fulfillment

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.

Ask yourself:

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.

If you like this, you might like:



Passion & Career Coach at
Former trailing spouse in Brussels, Louise is living permanently in Belgium today. She is an independant expat coach and freelance floral decorator - two passionate activities her expat experience allowed her to discover, now the heart of her professional life. If you speak Danish, check out where she offers career coaching and help for trailing spouses looking to find their passion and rebuild their identity.


  1. Comment by Brittany Ruth


    Brittany Ruth January 28, 2014 at 10:11

    What great article. I can definitely identify with some of these.

  2. Comment by Louise


    Louise January 28, 2014 at 10:25

    Thank you Brittany. Hopefully you also get to deal with the secrets you identify with. I wish you good luck, in that case.

  3. Comment by Andrea


    Andrea January 28, 2014 at 18:28

    I think these days there is no excuse for doing whatever you want when you’re the trailing spouse. The internet is a wonderful tool for keeping your hand in your career as a consultant or for launching a new venture, taking some courses online or whatever. I am a trailing spouse who has never felt left behind!

  4. Comment by Louise


    Louise January 28, 2014 at 20:43

    I agree, Andrea, that the Internet makes it easy to have a long-distance career or to keep your skills up to date. The problem is when you don’t know what you want. And that is a big challenge for many trailing spouses. However, it is good to hear, that you are obviously not one of those 🙂

    • Comment by Louise


      Louise January 29, 2014 at 11:13

      Mindy, I know how you feel. So did I. And I didn’t say it out loud. Just yesterday, my husband asked me, after having seen my post: Did you envy my life back then? “Hell yes, I did”, I answered. “But I wasn’t proud of it, that’s why I didn’t talk about it”. But the thing is, that if we do not speak out our secrets (at least to ourselves), if we do recognize our life as it is, we cannot access the future. Our secrets will keep coming back on us and prevent us from moving ahead. When I coach people on this, I always say: “This is the shitty part. Tears are allowed”. But it is necesaary to clear the way. So know that you are on the right track and stayed tuned for next week’s post.

  5. Comment by Mindy


    Mindy January 29, 2014 at 01:30

    I am literally crying tears as I read this. This is SPOT-ON! I read it out loud to my husband… and just started crying. I was embarrassed and asked him why I was crying… and he was right… It’s because this was speaking RIGHT to me!! Thank you for writing this… and now… I have to figure out what to DO about it 🙂

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 29, 2014 at 09:34

      Mindy I’m sorry to hear you’re having a hard time but I’m glad Louise’s post resonated with you. I was in that place for the first year or so of our time in Belgium and I know how difficult it is. Next week Louise has a post about the first steps you should take to figure out what to do about some of these issues and also check out her website at for more great info.

  6. Comment by Nico


    Nico January 29, 2014 at 16:38

    Thanks for the post. I’m soon to become a trailing wife and I’m slightly scared. Been thinking about how my life will change and what will I do, but of course it’s mostly unclear. But thanks for the early warning 🙂

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 29, 2014 at 16:42

      Nico, becoming an expat has been the most rewarding thing in my life but it wasn’t easy in the beginning. As long as you go into this big change with your eyes wide open and accepting that it may not always be sunshine and roses, you’ll be fine. Use this new time to figure out what it is you want for yourself and go for it!

    • Comment by Louise


      Louise January 29, 2014 at 18:45

      oh, I’m sorry Nico for having scared you. Let there be no doubt: becoming a trailing spouse and moving abroad is my best decision ever taken. But of course there has been bumps on the road. Just be prepared for that and everything will work out fine, I’m sure.

  7. Comment by Nico


    Nico January 29, 2014 at 18:51

    Thank you both! I am excited, it’s not the first time I move to a new country, but first time as an expat-trailing wife. I have a few ideas in mind, but not sure how I can emulate them to the new society I’ll be part of. Especially since it’s so so different from everything I’ve experienced so far. I’ll be following you both for tips 🙂

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 31, 2014 at 15:19

      Best of luck Nico and do keep us posted! I love to hear how trailing partners are coping around the world. It’s challenging but such a great opportunity to build an incredible life!

  8. Comment by Lauren


    Lauren January 29, 2014 at 22:14

    Very helpful article, I just wish it had not been only assuming the trailing spouse is female. My husband is the trailing spouse and there seem to be so few support sources when it is the husband who finds himself uprooted for his wife’s career.

    • Comment by Alison


      Alison January 30, 2014 at 12:53

      It’s true Lauren. I think more and more these days it’s becoming common for the man to be the accompanying partner. There is one resource for men I have heard of (but know little about) Might be worth a look.

  9. Comment by Alex


    Alex February 4, 2014 at 16:24

    The article speaks to some of the trailing spouses, yes, mostly women, who are lucky to live the privileged life taking care of kids while their partners are working away. What I don’t think the article doesn’t talk about is what I would say the “by accident trailing spouse”. All those who moved abroad for their partners and they knew it won’t be easy, and they were ready to take a break from their careers etc. but they hoped and assumed that after a while, months of French/Dutch classes they will be able to find employment and have their own life. What do you do then?

  10. Comment by Louise


    Louise February 5, 2014 at 08:44

    Alex, I think I understand what you are referring to as “by accident trailing spouse”. I guess I was one of them myself, as I didn’t even know the term trailing spouse before becoming one. I thought I was to find a job and continue a “normal” life just in another country. Anyway, the process is the same. You still need to figure out what it is that you want precisely. Once you have done that (and maybe you already have), you have to look at how you can live it out. If to you, the form to your “want” is a job, well then you have to find a job. I know this can be difficult, whether you speak the language or not, and I am not a career coach but maybe you have to look at your strategies for finding a job and eventually do things differently. Or start on your own. In any case, hang in there. And best luck!

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