Trailing spouse

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The term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment. The term is often associated with people involved in an expatriate assignment but is also used by academia on domestic assignments.

The earliest citation of the term trailing spouse is attributed to Mary Bralove in the Wall Street Journal (July 15, 1981) in an article titled "Problems of Two-Career Families Start Forcing Businesses to Adapt" p. 29:

Another personnel man remembers the promising executive he lost because her husband was a dentist who couldn't find a good practice to join in the area. To cope with this problem, some 150 northern New Jersey employers participate in an employer job bank. The bank is designed to provide job leads for "the trailing spouse" of a newly hired or transferred executive.

The phenomena of expat trailing spouses is most apparent in the military, diplomatic, and other government communities as well as the private sector where the employer regularly reassigns their employees to new locations. In each case, the trailing spouse is required to relocate and as a result faces a range of issues that impact their personal and working lives.


  • Professional Sacrifice – It is not uncommon for a trailing spouse to sacrifice their professional / career goals during their trailing period.[1]
  • Family issues – Stresses caused by social, financial and cultural strains placed on the family relationships as a result of the assignment.
  • Barriers to mobility – The willingness or otherwise of the trailing spouse or other family members to relocate. Lack of support by the sponsoring employer to address the needs of the trailing spouse.
  • Work/life challenges – Difficulties associated with finding and maintaining meaningful work or other sense of worth while on assignments.
  • Loss of identity – Difficulties associated with loss of identity and the subsequent period of reshape and remodelling that ensues in the new environment.[2]
  • Gender – Experiences and issues facing male trailing spouse vary from those faced by females.[3]

Resources for trailing spouses[edit]

Being an expat trailing spouse can take toll on the relationships and marriage of those involved. The following articles offer guidance and tips for trailing spouses.


  1. ^ Knežević, A (April 2013). "I've lost my identity, what have i gained?" (Print). Expatriates Magazine. Paris. pp. 22–23.
  2. ^ "The Trailing Spouse No Longer Need Be Such A Drag".
  3. ^ "Adaptation of Trailing Spouses: Does Gender Matter?". Anne M. Braseby - Florida International University.

External links[edit]

  • Expatriates Magazine Free Printed Expatriate Publication in France distributed in Embassies and Corporations covering topics such as Trailing Spouse and 3rd Culture Children