Trailing Spouse is a term that I didn’t know existed until I became one in 2013 and it still affects me. Perhaps, you have heard the synonym: accompanying partner. It doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man. The reality is that even if we play a crucial role in the adaptation process for our families in Sweden, our efforts and contributions are not often recognized. And even worse, we are hard with ourselves. We can go from spousechilla to spousezilla in seconds.
Here are three initial recommendations to best manage the situation as a trailing spouse and to take advantage of your newfound role.
When my husband and I decided to move to Sweden in 2013, it was a deliberate decision. We both wanted to grow professionally and personally. What I didn’t know was that I was going to become a trailing spouse, that this would last almost four years of my career life and it was going to continue affecting me in the long term. According to different sources on the Internet, the term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows his/her partner to another country primarily because of work.
In 2013, I was excited to move to Sweden. It sounded exotic for me coming from a Latin American country. I read articles, blogs and official brochures that I found at the embassy and on the internet about this progressive country. During preparations for my new destination, the term “trailing spouse” didn’t cross my mind so I was naive to the fact that I might fall into the“trailing spouse” trap. Before our departure, I received two warnings. One of my friends living in Denmark told me: “I have met spouses that have spent more than five years waiting for an opportunity” and the second warning came from my mother: “Sweden sounds too good to be true.”
I kept saying to myself that this was not going to be my case. We packed our lives and moved to the north of Sweden, and the adjustment was not a piece of cake.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of Sweden, but as a foreign-born woman from outside the EU and now a mom, the adaptation process has hip-hip moments and shortcomings, but the most important thing to acknowledge is your attitude towards your new status.
Are you a spousezilla or a spousechilla? I have used these jargons inspired by the “bridezilla” concept because I find them adequate to use in this context. Living abroad is a complicated process and the people that surround you are affected by your attitude, especially your partner and your family that come with you. There is nothing wrong with these concepts. If I’m honest, I have been both because in this rollercoaster of living in Sweden either you make peace with being a trailing spouse it or you get sick and (worst case scenario) severely depressed.
The good news is that since 2013, the term integration has been present in different contexts. News outlets and debates locally and nationally offer new options. Groups, communities, initiatives and more have appeared to facilitate our adjustment process. However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and in Sweden, you are expected to adapt more on your own because of their individualistic way of living and thinking. Here are my first three basic recommendations to take the most advantage of being a trailing spouse. Do not forget that you are the backbone of your family and if you feel good, the adaptation process for the whole family is going to be brighter.
Talk to yourself
Maybe it sounds absurd, but it’s indispensable to do it. This is one of the most challenging conversations you are going to have, and it’s not going to be just once because over time your dreams, plans, and options will change. Nevertheless, the first thing you need to consider is honesty with yourself because the clearer you are the easier it gets for you, the people around you, and the resources you can explore.
What do you want to do? You are the only one who can answer this question. Don’t rush it, take as much time as you feel you need.
Understand your migration status and options
This one is also important because you have to understand what you can and can’t do in Sweden with your migration status. These fundamental questions are related to what you want to do? For example, if you’re going to :
- Work in Sweden. Can I work?
- Study?. Can I study?
- Learn Swedish. Can I study Swedish?
Consider your partner’s new job and benefits
Things are about to get messy. Your partner is working, and you don’t. Possibly, you have a lot of time in your hands, and he doesn’t. The first rule: don’t be mad if he doesn’t pick up the phone. It’s vital that you and your partner express how you both are feeling about the whole situation. They are human and with a lot of pressure in their hands. You need to understand how his schedule is going to be, the number and frequency of meetings, the department, the boss, the team, the colleagues, the workplace, the distance from home to work. Believe me, every detail counts. This information will help you to think of alternatives for different situations, prevent conflicts and to understand changes in his or her behavior.
Apart from the general knowledge about the job, it’s unusual to talk about the health or social benefits that come with the compensation package. But there is no harm in asking if there are benefits for the spouses, the kids or the family. Recently, I read about international events where spouses can join and meet other spouses or even create their own. Moreover, maybe you could spend a day at the workplace with the family or perhaps you could access shop discounts. Maybe you can find out about benefits you have never thought about before.
To sum up my dear trailing spouse, my intention is not to inundate you with concerns. Together we will continue to explore our options next time. Until then, remember that instead of letting the term “trailing spouse” hold you back, feel excluded and perhaps ashamed, I want you to embrace it and take advantage of your current status. Remember, you are not alone. There are plenty of exciting perspectives besides mine inside this website that can give you a hand, just shout.