How to Help Your Spouse Adjust to the Host Country – Five Key Principles

Help Spouse Adjust

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 with 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 the staff was taking care of the 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, while others have children living at boarding schools in different countries. My advice here is mainly for dual-career couples. If you have children, you might face other challenges, but usually, companies provide more support around finding schooling than help with spouse adjustment.

Here are five principles you can use to help your spouse adjust to the host country faster.

1) Ensure you understand all legal obligations when applying for a residence and work permit.

Ensure you understand 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. Ensure you understand the implications of your work permit type for your spouse/life partner.

2) Help your spouse with the job search by quickly building your network in the host country.

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

3) Get intercultural training to understand the cultural differences.

Understand the cultural differences in how to write an application and how a resume typically looks for the host country. What are the usual ways of getting a job? How critical are personal introductions? Who should sponsor your spouse? Having a social life and making friends together will help you transition into the new culture. Try to make time for events so that your spouse feels that you are on this adventure together.

4) Utilize support offered by your company.

Utilize the resources of the company you work for. Ask your employer for spouse career support. The transition into a new country is stressful. Sitting at home without a real task can trigger depression or a feeling of loneliness.

5) Discuss a fallback option with your spouse.

If your spouse cannot find a job in the host location, devise a fallback 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. Sometimes, expatriates are so busy starting a new job and life that they forget to listen and support their partners. Supporting your partner by having their back (not by breathing down their neck) might be more important than anything else. 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.

A couple must live together (or close to each other) during an international assignment or at least see the light at the end of the tunnel (a maximum of two years of separated lives). Commuting creates separation, and your life will diverge. Also, consider that even though your career step might be important, it does not mean your life. So, occasionally, you might be better off turning down an international assignment to save the relationship.

If you want to discuss your or your spouse’s situation with me, kindly email for an appointment.



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