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Supporting your partner on an international assignment

If you haven’t lived abroad before, adjusting to a new language, climate and culture can be challenging emotionally. 

Those who re-locate for work can sometimes experience culture shock and loneliness during the first six to twelve months away, due to being isolated from family, friends and familiar surroundings.

Often ignored though are challenges faced by those who follow their partner to another city or country, whilst they’re on assignment.

In fact, moving abroad can affect the partners of assignment workers even more. The most common reason for an overseas work assignment failing and ending early is an inability to successfully integrate the trailing partner or family1. The reason for this can be that they don’t have a job of their own to keep them occupied throughout the week or they find it harder to look after their children in a foreign environment.

It’s common for a trailing partners to feel a loss of control and identity following a move, which can lead to low mood and confidence. Consequently, this can cause them to reject making a new support network or trying to settle in their new home. These issues can be worsened if the partner struggles to find a new job role for a long period.

Supporting your partner

There are a number of ways you can support a trailing partner.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that any person living in a new country goes through the same adaptation process, starting with excitement and ending with adjustment and acceptance. It’s natural during the in-between stage to feel withdrawn and low after the initial excitement phase has worn off. Your partner needs to acknowledge that how they feel is normal and trust that it will pass.

Trailing partners can also reach out to local expat communities to make friends that are in the same situations as themselves. Often expat communities have regular meet ups to socialise and make new friends, or share local tips and advice. Expat communities online are a good place to start, as you can find upcoming events, classes and resources on different parts of the world. These networks are also a great way of learning how to engage with your local community generally.

It can also be useful for you to introduce your partner to any new work colleagues. This will allow you to build a stronger relationship with your work friends, while also expanding your local network as a couple. If you work as a team in socialising and introducing each other to those that both of you meet separately, your network will grow faster and stronger.

Another way to support your partner can be to encourage them to embrace new experiences. Whether it be travelling and exploring your new country together, trying to pick up the local language or volunteering in the local community. Make opportunities to meet locals and sample different elements of the culture and you’ll both feel more settled in no time.

Lastly, if your partner is severely struggling to adapt to your new home, you could consider getting outside help. Counsellors and professional therapists can provide you and your partner with guidance and strategies to help you both navigate through the adaptation process as quickly and smoothly as possible. It’s worth checking to see whether your company offers an Expat or Employee Assistance Programme to staff, as you might be able to get help through that as well.

Enjoying the ride

Having your partner leave behind their friends, family and home to join you abroad is a huge gesture and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Your work is clearly important to you, but it’s also vital that you try to keep a work-life balance, so you and your spouse can make the most of your time away.

Whether you’re working for six months on assignment or have moved indefinitely, you and your partner will get out of the experience what you put in. While it might not feel like it during the adaptation period, once you’ve both settled in your new country and helped each other to overcome any emotional challenges, you could find that you prefer it in your new country that back home.

1 http://nolongernative.com/expat-assignment-failure/

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