Why I HATE being called a trailing spouse.....
Updated: Mar 30, 2022
'Trailing spouse’ is a commonly used term to describe someone who has moved internationally with their partner for their partner’s job – the idea being that they are ‘trailing behind’ their working spouse.
I cringe when I am referred to as a ‘trailing spouse’. It makes me feel small, and that no one expects much of me, or holds me capable of anything. I find this term condescending and frankly disrespectful when used to describe an incredible group of people who are competent, resilient, brave, and adaptable. For me, being called a ‘trailing spouse’ is the opposite of empowering!
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times that I absolutely feel like I am ‘trailing’. After moving internationally and leaving behind a career and a community, I’ve felt lost, uncertain, anxious, like I’m failing and flailing. But to label me a ‘trailing spouse’ is an un-inspiring and incomplete descriptor of my experience.
In the 1980s and 1990s when international relocation was becoming more common, multi-national companies and academic researchers started using the term ‘trailing spouse’ to classify the people who moved internationally with their spouse.
Starting around the 2000s people started to use the more neutral phrase ‘accompanying spouse’ or ‘accompanying partner’. This is a term I can get behind. It makes me feel like both partners are, well, partners, on equal footing. You are accompanying rather than trailing your spouse on an international relocation.
‘Accompanying partner’ or ‘accompanying spouse’ are neutral, inclusive, widely accepted terms used by leaders in HR and the global mobility/relocation industries.
In my opinion, if you are a member of the group you are referring to, and you want to call *yourself a trailing spouse, cool, no judgement, you do you. But if you’re an employer; working in the relocation industry; or if you work in media, please consider the words you use. Words have power. Please choose your words with care.
Liz Parsons has been an accompanying spouse since 2017, through 2 international relocations. She is a certified coach with 10+ years experience, a Master of Education degree, and the Founder of Comfort Challenge Coaching. Liz helps accompanying spouses and partners feel like themselves again after an international move.