Being a trailing spouse - by Aditi Patil

What being a Trailing Spouse Taught Me About Life.

When I first heard the term trailing spouse, I had just moved to the United States. I was in a meeting with other people like me, and the word “trailing spouse” was discussed to describe women/men who followed their spouse’s career.

It was not our first move, and we had lived in Malaysia and Singapore prior to that. But I had never thought of myself as a trailing spouse. Since then, I have heard many different versions of the word such as Accompanying Spouse, or Trailblazing Spouse.

The essence however remains the same. This is how Wikipedia describes it. The term trailing spouse is used to describe a person who follows his or her life partner to another city because of a work assignment. The term is often associated with people involved in an expatriate assignment but is also used by academia on domestic assignments.

As I looked back on the last 5 years of my journey being a trailing/accompanying spouse, I cannot help but think of how much I have grown, and learnt about life.

Lesson # 1: Be Here Now; As cliched as it sounds, this became my mantra. At one point I had this taped on my laptop to look at everyday. As serial relocaters , we never knew how long we would stay in a place. As a result we were always focused on the present moment. We were always reminding ourself as a family, that where we are today matters most. I think that is true about life as well. Where you are today matters so much more than where we have been and where we want to be.

Lesson # 2: Get out of the box to think out of the box; I heard this quote in a Ted talk and it really resonated with me. I grew up in India, and lived there for the first 30+ years of my life. I was comfortable, had never lived outside my country, and my world view was somewhat narrow. Living in so many countries forced me to get out of the box. I interacted with people from diverse nationalities, and broadened my worldview. In the last 5 years, getting out of the box empowered me to work for the United Nations High commission for Refugees , inspired me to write a book, and have experiences that I never would have had. There is no box that I put myself in, because there is none that can truly fit all the wonderful experiences I have had. Life can be like that if we choose to.

Lesson # 3 A rubber ball bounces back as hard as it is thrown; There were many difficult moments in these years as a trailing spouse, where I faced challenges , failure, and difficulties. This quote by my father in law always inspired me. Back in India, most kids would play with a small ball made out of rubber. It was the size of a tennis ball, but bounced further & higher. The harder you threw it, the higher it rose. Failures are like that. The harder you fall, and life throws you down, the higher you can bounce. I remind myself of that on days when I face setbacks. I’m rising not falling, I tell myself.

Life comes full circle, and ironically ( or not) my job is working with extraordinary individuals who are courageously embracing the journey of a trailing spouse. I empower them to achieve career clarity, and create their unique life path. Every session, I come away inspired by them. Which other job allows you to work with a space engineer, a conservation ecologist, a grammy award winner, all in one day?

More importantly, I come away with a deep appreciation for this journey that I embarked on myself, and remind myself of how much I’ve grown. The first time I heard the word Trailing Spouse , I inwardly cringed a bit. But today knowing what it truly means, I can own it, and celebrate all the things that come with it.

Trailing, Accompanying, Trailblazing, Whatever you choose to call it. I am all that and more.

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