Expat Wives

Much like army wives, expat wives often find themselves having to choose between a rock and a hard place. Moving every few years, relocating your sense of self and establishing new social circles are great fun and fantastic adventures if you have an outgoing, curious and flexible personality. If you're looking for stability on the other hand, your patience will be tested.

When it comes down to it, are you prepared to choose between your relationship and your livelihood?

When you began this relationship, did you know what you were getting yourself into? Of course you didn't, nobody really does, do they. (If you did, I want the name of your fortune teller.) An army wife may intellectually know that they may be stationed in dangerous places and that she may spend months at a time alone, but how that'll affect her emotionally can only be known in the moment.

Most people won't know whether international opportunities will come a-knocking, let alone if they'll still have a job in 6 months time in this economy. And yet, expat wives have been called needy, ungrateful and whiney when clearly the "why did you even sign up, you should have known better" argument doesn't work and isn't particularly helpful, either.

Imagine your partner presenting you with the fact that it's a 3-year stint in Malaysia, or bye-bye VP promotion. He really wants and needs to go, but he won't consider it if you're not on board.

Great! You're involved in the decision!

Now let's see: you have a great life, your family and friends live nearby, your parents are getting up there in age, you've a fantastic job, your kids adore their school, you love your house - and you love your spouse, too.

If you decide not to give up what you have, will he eventually resent you for it? Probably right around the time that other guy gets the promotion. If you decide to support him and move, effectively giving up your life as you know it, to a place where you cannot read grocery labels, your hairdresser doesn't understand you wanted blond not red highlights, and the culture is completely alien, will you resent him for it?

You might, your marriage may fail altogether, or both of you decide to return home early, costing the company a fortune in finding a replacement, and your hubby most likely some serious schmoozing to get back into good graces. Sometimes an assignment is impossible to see through to the end, only you guys can decide where the line is.

What you can also do, though, is adopt a positive attitude, find ways to fill your days with things you love but never had the chance to pursue, and do your best to be prepared for as much as you can prepare yourself for, ideally before you even decide to go.

I say, if you're an expat wife and you've been called needy, CONGRATULATIONS! That means you've done your part of the bargain and asked about everything you need clarification on. Preparing for an international assignment comes in many different shapes and sizes. Sometimes a bit of a Google search is sufficient, many times all out language classes are appropriate, I always recommend cross-cultural trainings - even and especially if you're moving to countries with the same language. And there may also be circumstances that warrant continuous coaching support.

Your company can only provide you with resources and support your relocation as best as they know how. They can't guess all your circumstances; every family is different, every relocation, job, host country, assignment and requirements are different, so you have to let them know what you need. Budgets will decide what can and cannot be done on company dime, but please, let's everyone remember what a tremendous life change you and your family will go through.

Expat wives and husbands deserve to receive outstanding support in their decision-making process and  throughout the duration of the assignment. Let me be clear that I'm not implying expats or their families are helpless individuals in any way. However, there are excellent service providers working hard around the globe to make your expatriate assignment smooth and enjoyable, and the internet puts information about your destinations at your fingertips.

In the end, your decision doesn't have to be "either - or", instead, a decision in favor of an international assignment can encompass experiences that lead to a broader range of (marketable!) skills and competencies for everyone involved, a stronger marriage and family bond, and memories ranging from anecdotes to moments of profound shifts in your being.


Image by Justin Lucarelli, Flickr, Creative Commons License.