Why I Call Myself a “Trailing Spouse”

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I’ve noticed that in the world of trailing spouses, “trailing” has become a bad word.  People, books, websites, and companies often use the euphemism “accompanying,” or just flat out don’t mention the spouse who comes along for the ride.

I think it’s nonsense.

According to the wikipedia dictionary:

“the term ‘trailing spouse’ is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to a new city because of a work assignment.”

That’s exactly what I did, and I want some credit for it.

I hate euphemisms in general, and to me, the term “accompanying” waters down my experience.  Whether or not me, my husband, his workplace, or our acquaintances wish to admit it, I am trailing in multiple ways.  I am often defined in relation to him (so my identity therefore trails behind his).  My retirement account and career goals trail behind too.  I most certainly trailed him on the way to Kenya; without his job and income, we would never be able to come here.

To me, the word “trailing” names part of my experience.  I can acknowledge it and move on.  A euphemism like “accompanying” erases the reality of my situation.

My husband disagrees.

“Trailing makes it feel like you’re being dragged,” he says.

But to me it doesn’t feel that way.  It feels more like a challenge.  I’m trailing.  Doesn’t that make me sort of like the underdog?  Everyone roots for the underdog.

What’s your opinion about the label “trailing spouse”?

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15 Responses to “Why I Call Myself a “Trailing Spouse””

  1. Bobbie Ezzell says:

    LOL! The name “home maker” fell out of favor so now they are called “stay at home moms.” People who have never been a “trailing spouse” have absolutely no concept of the term or it’s meaning. Wikipedia’s definition is naive in its simplicity. As a Trailing Spouse, I am responsible for packing up and moving our life from one place to another, across the country or around the world. Once there, I go about creating a new life, a new home, for our family in a new place. To use the word “accompany” reduces that to the equivalent of putting on my make-up and heels and going with my husband to a business luncheon. It’s not just about what it says in the dictionary. It’s about the reality of the situation.

    • Emily says:

      Haha, I love your definition of “accompany”. I do sometimes accompany my husband to a business luncheon, at which point I continue to trail because the conversation revolves exclusively around his work. I literally stare off into space until another conversational topic surfaces.

      • Bobbie Ezzell says:

        You’re funny. I must confess that I often look at the other people and make up little stories about them in my head.

  2. [...] a couple of days ago, I read a post by Emily, fellow blogger and trailing spouse, who explained that word “trailing” has gotten a [...]

  3. Jen says:

    I just found your blog because I was searching for expat Kenya blogs. My husband and I will be moving to Kenya in January for two years for his work. I struggle with “trailing” him. I’ve always been very independent and have lived overseas in three different countries as a single woman. I’m excited to be on a joint overseas venture, but it is definitely a very different experience to be going somewhere because of someone else’s job description and not really knowing what mine will be apart from “spouse”. I’m looking forward to reading through the rest of your blog! :-)

    • Emily says:

      Hey Jen, I’m in a similar position to you– I’ve spent plenty of time traveling and living abroad without my husband, and while it’s awesome to be in Kenya with him, it’s tough to not be working. I enjoyed reading through your blog, too. Good luck with the move to Kenya!

  4. I’m with you. To me, if either of the two words has a negative connotation, it’s accompanying. To me, trailing indicates that you’re actively involved while accompanying makes it sound like you’re someone’s +1 on a wedding invitation.

    That being said, I clearly don’t think there is anything negative about making the decision to focus on one person’s career over the other in a situation where that means moving to another country, so long as it was a decision you made together. Because of that I don’t think that a label placed on the spouse who has agreed to play the supportive role can be negative. It just is what it is.

    • Emily says:

      I think you’re right on all accounts here. I just need to get better at not caring about what other people think, then the labels REALLY won’t matter. :)

  5. An interesting post on the (loathesome to me) label ‘trailing spouse’, Emily. I especially love how people see words and labels so differently. Whereas you see ‘accompanying’ as weak and negative, I see it as reflecting partnership – I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming, I was a part of the decision, chose to move overseas and am vested in the result. For me, ‘trailing’ smacks of victimhood. I’m not a vine and I’ve never trailed anything in my life. (I wrote about this 18 months ago in Expat Bougainvillea http://wp.me/p1iIk2-6u ). But to each his own, which was my final point. Regardless of where we are or what we prefer to be called, we’re all experiencing similar aspects of a life spent living across cultures. All hail Trailing Spouse!

    • Emily says:

      Thanks so much for commenting. My husband totally agrees with you about the label “trailing spouse,” and it’s nice to hear where you (and he) are coming from.

      And yes, to each her own… Looking forward to reading your post and checking out your blog.

  6. Lauren says:

    I have not thought about this much, but appreciate the Wikipedia definition in that it makes reference to a partner rather than a spouse. I am chose to relocate to Europe to join my significant other when he was transferered here for work for a few years. We had not been dating long enough to feel ready to marry nor did we want to have a long distance relationahip across continents. My choice to quit my job and move with him to see where this goes was one of the most terrifying decisions I have ever made. Because I am not his spouse there are many benefits for which I am not eligible and several bureaucratic hurrdles to overcome. Otherwise, my experience mirrors what many of you have described. Wonderful and terrifying, supportive and explorative, etc. I am happy with either term-trailing or accompanying-as long as we all continue to ensure it captures those who are not married and that we tell the story and own it and the deciaion as ours and as one we made willingly. I have appreciated that my boyfriend’s employer regularly acknowledges the contributions of spouses (partners) in his work and appreciate all of the comments here that illustrate the ins and outs and ups and downs of our respective situations! I have developed a new and great respect for the many who choose to be either a trailing or accompanying spouse.

    • Emily says:

      It’s lovely to hear that your boyfriend’s employer is so supportive of you and other partners. I also think it was so brave of you to leave your job, family, friends, and home country when your relationship was still new. I think I was only able to do this because my husband and I had been together for almost 5 years (married for 2) and I knew that no matter what, he was my biggest supporter.

      Yeah, even though we’re married, his company doesn’t “recognize” me in Kenya. I mean, his immediate supervisors are kind and helpful, but the company doesn’t always include me in events, nor did they help me with a visa or any of the other paperwork required for moving. So in some ways, I can picture the additional hoops you have to jump through as an unmarried couple.

  7. Lauren says:

    Wow Emily, I give you so much credit for figuring it out without an employer helping out-in Kenya especially! Congratulations to you and your husband and thank you for the nice compliment. It has been an adventure!

  8. Kate Hall says:

    I agree with you. It’s like the challenge of hiking the Appalachian Trail. TALU

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