Empowering Expat Partners: Navigating Trailing Spouse Syndrome

Empowering Expat Partners: Navigating Trailing Spouse Syndrome

In the realm of corporate relocations, the human element often takes center stage. A successful relocation is not solely about the logistics of moving employees from one place to another; it's about understanding the intricate emotional challenges that come with such a significant life transition. Expat partners, often referred to as trailing spouses, face a unique set of obstacles that can impact their well-being and, consequently, the overall success of the relocation. Let’s delve into the concept of trailing spouse syndrome and explore how you can support these individuals for smoother, more fulfilling relocations.

Understanding Trailing Spouse Syndrome

Trailing spouse syndrome, as coined by Mary Bralove in 1981, describes the complex emotional journey of partners, who accompany their significant others on international journeys or job transfers (Worldwide ERC). These partners leave behind established careers, friendships, and familiar surroundings, which can lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and a loss of identity. While the employee is focused on their new job and responsibilities, the trailing spouse is often left on their own to grapple with culture shock, linguistic barriers, restricted professional opportunities, and the burden of visa regulations.

The emotional struggles faced by expat partners resonate deeply within relationships and households. The partner's journey is often fraught with regret, resentment, and even expat depression, affecting their overall well-being.

Impact on Relocation Success

Trailing spouse syndrome is not just a personal challenge; it can directly affect the success of a relocation by straining the bond with the relocating employee. The employee's performance and well-being can be compromised if their partner is struggling emotionally. With more women recognizing the importance of their careers, the traditional gender dynamic is evolving, and both men and women now face these emotional hurdles.

The ripple effects of trailing spouse syndrome extend beyond the individual to the entire household. A strained home environment can directly impact the relocating employee's focus, productivity, and performance, affecting the company's bottom line. According to this 2023 EY survey, between 70-80% of employees, who do not accept an international assignment, state a partner’s unwillingness to move due to career concerns as the leading reason for declining the position.

Supporting Trailing Spouses: Strategies for Success

To address the emotional challenges faced by expat partners, global mobility departments can implement several strategies to ensure smoother relocations by considering conversations and policies that support the following areas:

  1. Pre-Assignment Family Counseling: Offering counseling services before the relocation can help individuals anticipate challenges and develop coping strategies, fostering a sense of preparedness.
  2. Open Communication: Encouraging open communication between the relocating employee and their partner helps both parties understand and address concerns, strengthening their support system.
  3. Shared Activities: Engaging in shared activities, language lessons, and community involvement helps partners establish independence, communicate effectively, and build relationships, mitigating feelings of isolation.
  4. Mental Health Support: Recognizing the emotional toll of relocation, global mobility departments can provide access to mental health resources, including therapy and counseling, to address emotional well-being.
  5. Spousal Accommodation: For high-ranking individuals, spousal accommodation—recruiting a qualified spouse—can contribute to the success of the relocation by minimizing professional sacrifices for the trailing spouse.

The NuCompass Touch

At NuCompass, we offer Spouse/Partner Career and Family Integration Services with dedicated career coaches, expedited job searches, and comprehensive aid for families. These services include best-in-practice strategies, expert coaching, and resources. Beyond the professional aspects, the program addresses family integration by offering seamless transition plans, which focus on adjusting to new routines and identifying local resources for a smooth journey, which allows your employee and their family to start off on the right foot.


In the relocation landscape, the well-being of the relocating employee's partner cannot be overlooked. Trailing spouse syndrome's impact on relationships and households resonates deeply, underscoring the need for comprehensive support. Global mobility departments and RMCs play a pivotal role in nurturing the emotional well-being of expat partners, thereby enhancing the overall success of relocations. By fostering open communication, offering mental health resources, and exploring innovative solutions like spousal accommodation, companies can empower expat partners to overcome challenges and thrive in their new environments. As we all continue to refine our approach to employee relocations, acknowledging and addressing the emotional journey of trailing spouses is essential for building a brighter, more fulfilling future for everyone involved.