Being an American expatriate, with a family on assignment, can be a rewarding personal and professional experience. For us, it definitely was. As exotic as it sounds, living abroad doesn’t come without a significant amount of sacrifice. Sacrifice of time. Sacrifice of heath. Sacrifice of relationships with friends and family. In almost all instances, the topic (for me) focuses on the job itself, and not acknowledging the living part of the experience. And most certainly not, the sacrifice of the supporting spouse, or the trailing spouse as my wife likes to call it. As an executive, expatriate for 5 years, hundreds of thousands of flight miles, hundreds of nights in hotels, there is no way I could have accomplished what I did without my wife supporting me — there, I said it. It really isn’t that hard to say (or write), as it is completely true…just with all the craziness of the gig, it doesn’t get said enough, it doesn’t get acknowledged enough…or maybe at all.
But this isn’t a message only for expatriates or those living abroad. Us workaholic types are everywhere. We are always on, all the time. That means the spouse gets to hear about every detail that is happening. It means a constant tempo of beeps and chirps on the mobile. It means e-mails between bites at dinner. It means the movie that we have been waiting to watch all week may suddenly go on pause for an incoming phone call. Lucky for me, I have an “all-in spouse” who actively engages every time I bring up a topic I need (or want) to discuss. Or a topic that was on my mind. She knows my team personally, many of their families, all of the drama that goes on in the office. She is up to date on our largest deals and could deliver a forecast on my behalf. She is always there for me, to play this part, to do whatever she can to give me support, despite whatever is going on in her world. After all, whatever is my crisis of the day, is the most important topic to discuss — right??
There are times in everyone’s career, where everything is working all the time. There are also the times where nothing works and everything around you feels like it is crumbling. No matter which it is, the supporting role is equally thankless and unacknowledged. They get left behind in the good times, and carry the weight on the bad.
When I look at all that I have accomplished, the moment I start to believe this is purely of my doing, is the exact moment I am completely and totally wrong.
So the real question is — who supports the supporting spouse? Who listens to them? Who gives them all the valuable support structure they need? When do they get a break from raising the kids? Do they need any less because they don’t have a big job? My advice, find the person who supports you; spouse or otherwise. Acknowledge what they do for you. Be specific. Be authentic. Be the “all-in spouse” for them. After all, the supporting role provided by an “all-in spouse” is the most important job in any family.
Don’t forget it.