Expat spouses 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?
The 2012 Brookfield Global Relocation Trends Study reports:
Although they are still in the majority, there are far fewer married international assignees than in the past. Given that the re-emergence of optimism in some segments of the economy is widely divergent and cautious at best, the desire of many families to preserve their two-income status is likely a strong factor in this result. In this year’s report, the percentage of international assignees that are married was 60%, the lowest in the last four years of the survey, and a full 7% under the historical average (67%). Furthermore, this year’s percentage is down 8% from last year’s report (68%) and 14% from the survey high of 74% that was reported 12 years ago. As economic realities continue to remain in flux for many employees with families, it is possible that companies’ current international assignment programs are not adequately meeting the needs of employees with spouses, causing them to decline international assignment opportunities. In any case, the identification of this as a longer term trend affords companies the opportunity to ensure their policies and benefits are aligned to meet the changing profiles of their assignees.
Imagine your partner presents 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 will turn it down 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?
Not unlikely. Hell, your marriage may fall apart altogether.
Still, the chances of you going abroad are a lot higher in this scenario than they would be if we swapped pronouns:
Imagine your partner presents you with the fact that it's a 3-year stint in Malaysia, or bye-bye VP promotion. SHE really wants and needs to go, but SHE will turn it down if you're not on board.
As it is, 80 % of expats are men, and only 20 % are women. Brookfield's data does not go into marital status detail by gender, or at least I haven't heard back from them about it. So the reality is, more often than not it's women who have to decide between love and their own careers.
Going back to yesterday's happiness formula, I recommend adopting a positive attitude. If you decide to go abroad, find ways to fill your days with things you love but never had the chance to pursue. Do your best to be prepared for as much as you can prepare yourself for, and maintain open and honest communication throughout the process. Your partner needs to hear how you feel so you can effectively support each other.
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.
The good news is, your decision doesn't have to be "either relationship, or career". International experiences can lead to a broader range of (marketable!) skills and competencies for everyone involved. They can strengthen a family bond, and you'll create memories ranging from anecdotes to moments of profound shifts in your being.