SERIES: Following Spouses on International Assignments, article 1 of 5

“Trailing Spouses” is often used to describe women and men who follow their spouses on international assignments. For some this is an ideal situation, for others it is a forced choice… In this new series of articles we explore the world of trailing spouses and invite our readers to connect with us by sharing their stories.

For Kelly, a dynamic, vibrant 34 years old marketing executive from New York City, leaving the Big Apple proved harder than she envisioned.

She said good-bye to family and friends and put on hold her professional ambitions to follow Peter. In NYC she had been the breadwinner while her newly wed husband was completing his MBA at Columbia University. When he was offered a great position in Geneva, Switzerland they decided to move to Europe. It felt like a fantastic opportunity, the irresistible great adventure of a lifetime. She still remembered the evening when they celebrated Peter’s new job.

Their hopes, their excitement and their enthusiasm were bubblier and more sparkling than the champagne they were toasting with. About two months later, once their furniture was placed and every box unpacked, a new reality settled in: Peter was off to work early and was in the office until very late or he was travelling; Kelly was home alone staring at the view of the Mont-Blanc from their little flat in a small French village.

She was trying very hard to convince herself that she was now enjoying the peace and the beauty of country life, but to no avail. Kelly and I met for coffee one morning in Geneva. With great excitement she was rehearsing every step, move and place she would be touring with her mother who was about to visit. This little planning project had brought her back to life, filling her with energy and hope! She had something to look forward to and you could see from the sparkle in her eyes how much that really meant to her. Her perfect two weeks plan glittered in contrast with the fuzzy, dull plan of her life as an expatriate spouse.

She could not make her mind on what to do during her time in Europe and she was becoming more and more restless and disillusioned. To make matters worse she was starting to resent the fact that she was now financially dependent on her husband.

Kelly is not alone: many professional women and men follow their spouses on international assignments. They are the wives and husbands of diplomats, corporate executives, army officers, missionaries other bright and accomplished business people who put their own career ambitions on hold to allow their partners to advance in their own international career. For some this is an ideal situation because they love having time off and often they are young parents who take delight in being home with their children. For others it is a forced choice, a choice of courage and love to maintain their family integrity they later come to regret. In the weeks to come we will explore some of the issues pertaining the challenges of following a loved one on assignment and what can be done to turn a potentially traumatic experience in a positive and nourishing adventure.

Please share your experience with us by commenting below.


  1. But the same thing can happen in just moving in the same country, no?  I don’t think it’s just international assignments…

    1. You are right, Tanya! On international assignments the situation is generally magnified and made harder by factors such as not speaking the language, not having the right to be employed and being ill at ease with the local customs. This can happen cross country too, hopefully to a lesser degree.

  2. Ooo I’m excited to read the rest of your series! I love the personal account of moving to Geneva and it’s interesting to see a topic that I would never think about.

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