Tag Archives: dual career couples

Going on an international assignment is often a relationship challenge. Even if you have already been married for a long time moving abroad can bring out the best and worst in the relationship to your spouse and / or life partner.

Gone are the days of the “expat wife” sitting in the expat country club, playing tennis or painting her fingernails at the pool while an armada of staff was taking care of driving, children, household and cooking. Today, life partners and spouses are of all backgrounds and all colors. My observation is that more and more male spouses are joining female expats. We also see more same sex couples going on assignments together. Some couples plan to have a family while on assignment, others have children living at boarding school in different countries. My advice here is mainly for dual career couples. If you have children, you might face other challenges but usually there is more support around finding schooling by companies than helping with spouse adjustment.

Consider some of my tips here and feel free to comment:

1) Technical issues:

Make sure you have understood the legal obligations in case you are not legally married. Is your life partner allowed to reside in the country? How hard or easy is it to receive a work permit? Did you consider adequate health, accident and life insurance coverage? Work permit legislation can be tricky even for married couples. Make sure you understand the implications of your work permit type for your spouse / life partner.

2) Finding a job:

Try to find out how to build up a network in the host location fast. Speak to agencies and headhunters about job opportunities. Understand the role of agencies / headhunters in the process before you contact them.

3) Applying for a job:

Understand the cultural differences in how to write an application and how a resume typically looks in the host country. What are the usual ways of getting a job? How important are personal introductions? Who should sponsor your spouse?

4) Support from your company:

Utilize the resources of the company you work for. Request help. Some companies offer spouse career coaching or job coaching.

5) Networking:

Build on- and offline networks to find a job. Help others too so that you will be considered when it is your spouse’s turn to look for a job.

6) Coaching:

If you have a chance get coaching for your spouse. The transition into a new country is stressful. Sitting at home without a real task can trigger depressions or feeling of loneliness.

7) Fall back option:

In case your spouse cannot find a job in the host location, come up with a fall back option and value work even if it does not generate family income. Examples include volunteer work, social engagement, university degree, freelance work or building up a company.

8) Be there and listen to concerns:

Sometimes I have observed that expatriates are so busy with starting a new job and a new life that they forget to listen and support their partners. This might be more important than anything else.

9) Make friends and plan common activities:

Getting a social life and making friends together will help in the transition into the new culture. Try to make time for events so that your spouse feels that you are in this adventure together.

10) Be prepared to take turns in advancing your careers:

I have seen couples who agree that they take turns in advancing their career. After this assignment your spouse should be able to pick the next role or location first.

I find it critical for a couple to live together (or close to each other) during an international assignment. Commuting creates separation and your live(s) will diverge. Also consider that even though your career step might be important it does not mean your life. So once in a while you might be better off turning down an international assignment to save the relationship.