Trailing spouses, supporting spouses, expat wives, expat spouses. These terms provoke similar responses from women on the treadmill of regular life back home. Conversations about expat spouses needing a ‘reality check’ or the prediction of these folk not coping when they return home as living ‘the high life’. I mean, these folk won the lottery and have escaped the rat race to live out a fantastical life of luxury and pampering, right?
While the expat life has many advantages and benefits to both the posted officer and their families, it does come at some expense; it’s not all smooth sailing. Most spouses have placed their career on hold to support their partner to further their career and many also experience difficulty securing work themselves due to visa requirements. This means financial dependence and feelings of mooching, not contributing to the household.
Further, dealing with the loss of routine, personal and professional identity, one’s support network of friends and family, and all things familiar from home become magnified. In my experience dealing with everyday situations can be a struggle due to cultural expectations (like requiring a husband’s approval to open a bank account), language barriers, loneliness and boredom. The facade of being Wonder Women naturally begins to crumble.
What I have also found is a peculiar culture of ‘everything is awesome’ permeating through the expat wives club. An expectation to sing the praises of the lifestyle and not let cracks appear is evident – don’t let the team down. Even when meeting other expat spouses we all ask ‘how are you?’ or ‘how are you settling in?’ and we have learned to cheerily answer ‘I love it here’, ‘coping well’ when working the crowd. Those not coping or needing to debrief do so in whispers in one on one conversations with trusted confidants. Lest they be the subject of gossip and labelled as someone not coping, not maintaining the party line. Publicly, remember, ‘everything is awesome’ and noone likes a Debbie Downer.
Blogs and social media pages are popping up everywhere as a tool for spouses to cope and reach out anonymously for support and an outlet for reflection. Posts have similar themes if you read carefully – isolation, loneliness, anxiety, depression and of course the Facebook highlight reel that reinforces the Wonder Woman facade. But don’t feel too much sympathy for these spouses, after all these folk won the lottery and escaped the rat race to enjoy a fantastical life of luxury and pampering, right?