Moving your family and spouse repeatedly can be difficult on the entire #family – they have to keep packing, unpacking, finding new friends and community. They may miss their families and want to put down roots. Perhaps, they didn’t even really want to come in the first place. And yet, when you go overseas you experience all these incredible things and coming home might suddenly be much harder than you thought it would be. Alternatively, you hated your experience abroad and are more than ready to come home to “reality.” Supporting the spouse with a flexible career or who chooses a lifestyle that allows them to move with you is as important as their support to the relocating professional. Relocating professionals are often at the advantage with an office, where they have structured time and a built-in community. The professional also often has better resources at work to support the move. Spouses and families can sometimes feel left to pick up the rest – both literally packing and unpacking the household items and figuratively as they find a new emotional infrastructure in a new country, perhaps with limited local language skills.
When returning home, spouses and families might struggle with reconnecting to old friends and family – both due to the challenges of connection (see our tips on How to Talk to a Return Expat and How to Use Your Expat Experience to Get Over Reverse Culture Shock) and their own identity evolution.
Supporting your family through this transition can be a daunting challenge. Often a
professional is navigating their own professional adjustment and move as well. However, as the party responsible for the moves, the professional may also be called upon to support the family emotionally with the transition. For purposes of this article, I’ll be using the term “trailing spouse” for the member that is not the cause of the move. Consistent with the vast majority of moves today, this article assumes that one spouse was asked to move for work. It also assumes that while the other spouse agrees with the decision to move, they have less agency in the decision than the professional being asked to move. This half of a couple is also constantly having to find their identity in each new location, with a new community, and may lose or find new aspects before returning home - making those who knew you before wonder where that person went or be unwilling to accept a new version. Since this article is partially based off of a conversation that I had with a professional who has taken several moves, I am also thinking primarily about trailing spouses who were reluctant to leave the U.S., had an amazing time overseas, and are now reluctant to be back! I will briefly, however, discuss expectations management for those who are also anxious to return.
EXPECTATIONS MANAGEMENT: Many frustrations we face when we arrive in a familiar but different place is due to misaligned #expectations. Anticipating what home will be like and how wonderful it will be to see old friends, speak the local language, know the unwritten rules, have politeness (as we define it), get access to certain types of foods, can be a death knell to our curiosity to explore and our adaptability when we return. Knowing that we have changed, and home has changed while we were gone are critical exercises in our preparation to return. Especially for families this can be a critical preparation exercise. Talking through what you’re excited about returning to, what you expect, what might be different and how that will feel are critical to better preparing yourself. Articulating those expectations also gives you the space to bring them to the surface which allows disconnect to be more easily articulated when you return. Nextpat has a class on expectations management prior to your departure and can walk you through the exercises – reach out to us or sign up at our services page.
TYPES OF SUPPORT: Just like the Five Love Languages, we each need support in different ways. Some of us need to talk through things, some need to write in a structured way, some of us need to go for a run or kickboxing, and others need to cry it out. Understanding what your partner needs to receive from you is hugely helpful in supporting them through the return journey. Self-aware partners who can articulate their needs can ensure that the transition, difficult as it may be, is not compounded by marital strife as well!
A few suggestions from Nextpat:
--Don’t diminish or discount your spouse or family’s experience – explaining it away can be hurtful and dismissive.
--Do not compete or share your own similar experience.
--Do listen and acknowledge your partner or family members feelings and experiences. In this case, #empathy – a recognition of their experience, how that feels, and acknowledging that you understand those are critical.
--Only provide a solution if your partner specifically asks for a solution. In those cases, a conversation about potential avenues to resolve the issue are usually more productive than a “we can move back” – though that phrase could certainly help the person feel like there is potential recourse if being back doesn’t work out.
--Take time to understand your family or partner’s struggle and what structures might support that, including therapy or coaching, like what Nextpat provides.
SEEK OUT STRUCTURE:
--Find activities that you can do together to find a new #community back home.
--Revisit the list of things that you were excited about returning to and go explore those things.
--If there was an activity or interest that the partner or family missed while away that you can explore in a more structured way such as a class investigate doing that. Having more structured time can help our brain from going down spirals.
--Join a Nextpat workshop or class
--Develop routines that help you incorporate things from overseas – cooking a meal once a week from your former location or joining a speaking group.
These suggestions aren’t all encompassing, and every family’s relationships manifest in different ways. But approaching one another in a respectful and encouraging way can help us find our footing more quickly.