Challenges of a trailing spouse

Nov 10 | 2016

The moment you get asked to help a family relocate you do your best to support them make that move as smooth as possible. In that process it is easy to forget, what challenges the trailing spouse is facing. Nicola Meier provides to guidance to help you help your assignees.

Here are three things you should know when trying to help your assignees:  

  • First did you consider that many times - even if the client said yes - the spouse has not made that decision to relocate? It might be the best decision for the family but the spouse has to make it work for themself as well.  That does not come automatically. The spouse had to give up their career, prepare the move and then ensure the settling of the family – nowhere is any priority on the one who is following. It is about the family and the executive with a job.  

  • Second: Did you think about what happens when the relocation service stops? After three months the settling in is more or less finished. The spouse knows the way around and has supported the kids to find their way too. Suddenly there is free time available, but no friends and no idea what possibilities lie ahead. This is a critical time that decides if this assignment will be successful or not. If there is no support in helping the spouse to make that essential mindshift of seeing the possibilities and taking charge, the danger is that they will stay in a mode of ‘no choice’. Then the spouse cannot support the executive and is unable to show the kids how to cope with change. And even if the mindshift is achieved it is hard to define the new direction of life without support.  

  • Third: Do not expect someone who has already moved several times to be different. Every move brings other circumstances and challenges.  

What should you do?  You should raise any concerns you have for the spouse with HR and offer additional support by a specialised coach for expatriates after the relocation service stops.  

  • The first step is to prepare your clients for this time. Tell them about the key questions that may arise in the next months. Point out the importance of them managing the turnaround to be able to support their children in the process. If the parents are not coping well how will they be able to be a role model for their kids?  

  • Then give them two options:  

  1. Either start right now with a coach you provide as an additional service. This coach can help them define their new direction and help align their steps accordingly right from the start. The spouse loses no time and is left after three months with a feeling of success and progress instead of feeling lost. 

  1. Offer to be there for them when they face the first downsides - leaving them already with the information about a programme and steps they can take. The assignee will be aware of potential setbacks and know where to go for help.  

By pointing out the challenges in advance and already preparing a solution for your assignees you can extend your relationship with them, gain credibility and leave them with a positive feeling and not one of being overwhelmed.   

The biggest challenge in this process is to shift the mindset from someone who has no choice to someone who is in charge of life and can give it direction. Coaching is doing that by giving the assignee the confidence that they can do it – helping them to find their own way.  

To find out more about Nicola’s 7–Step Re-Start Process, email her on:

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