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The Labels We Give 'Expat Spouses' Are Super Lame and Need to Change

by Jen Legra Dec 9, 2014

EXPAT WIVES. Trailing spouse. Accompanying spouse. Accompanying partner, STARS (Spouses Trailing and Relocating Successfully). I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to these labels we place on women (or men) who courageously decide to put their jobs or lives on hold to support their spouse’s work assignment in a different city and I’ve gotta be honest, I think they all suck. I can say that because I am one.

The lameness of all of these labels doesn’t do any bit of justice for the actuality of what WE spouses do.

Many times we relocate to a place with strange faces and foreign languages. Many times we are packing lives and children into a handful of bags and trying to unpack a home from those suitcases. Many times we are the cushion — NO — the boxing bag that absorbs the blow for everyone else. We navigate, we explore, we dive into discomfort because the other option is to sink and while we come out stronger for it, labeling us as people who follow or tag along diminishes what we are. Why, you ask? Good question…

Expat Wife

Am I on a TV show about a spy-spouse living abroad as a homemaker that is ironically titled The Expat Wife starring Julianna Margulies? Nope. And just like The Good Wife is intended to be an absurd title for Alicia Lockhart’s character who is a major badass and much more than just a good wife, this too is an absurd title. Besides first being a woman, I’m a mother, a writer, a daughter, a friend, a college graduate, a teacher, an event planner, an expat, an organizer — and yeah — also a good wife.

Trailing Spouse

For some reason, when I hear this term I imagine myself as orphaned Oliver asking for “some mo’, sir.” Hanging my head, shuffling my feet behind spouse, falling behind. Believe me…I’m not the type. I don’t trail. I lead. And I’m sure many “trailing spouses” head the pack, lead the way, command the charge — you get it. Many of us have degrees and Masters and PhDs. Many of us left jobs behind to support our spouse, not to trail them. Many of us would leave you trailing in the dust.

Accompanying Partner / Spouse

Here’s the definition for accompanying:


1. go somewhere with (someone) as a companion or escort.
“the two sisters were to accompany us to New York”
synonyms: go with, travel with, keep someone company, tag along with, hang out with…

2. be present or occur at the same time as (something else).
“the illness is often accompanied by nausea”
synonyms: occur with, co-occur with, coexist with, go with, go together with, go hand in hand with, appear with, be attended by…

While, of all of these labels, this is the best of the worst, I am not a companion (which makes me sound like a pet) or an escort (which makes me sound, well…I won’t go there). I also resent being compared to someone that is just present at the same time as my spouse. And while I’m on it, would the non-accompanying spouse really like this one either? Husband walks into a party and someone says, “Oh, I see you brought your escort.” Does he need someone to bring him to the dance? Does he need an escort? He doesn’t. I take it back — this one is just as worst of the worst as the rest.

STARS (Spouses that are Trailing and Relocating Successfully)

Oh Gawd. This one just made me throw up. Besides the über, gooey, cheesiness of this…it’s also patronizing. Do I also get a gold sticker with this title because I’m A-OK? Because I’m doing a super job? How about a pat on the head? That was sarcasm. Don’t even think about patting my head if you want your hand back and while we’re at it, lose the STAR talk too.

Relocation Family Manager

Seriously?! I won’t even go there…

So What Should I Call You?

Here’s the simple answer. I don’t know. I think it makes me quite courageous to not attach what I do with who I am, to not hide behind titles or labels or office desks. So call me that if you want — Courageous Spouse. Does it matter if I’m not working in the traditional sense or that my job of cushioning blows and navigating new territory is free of charge? Ok, then call me Blow Cushioner in Charge of Navigating New Territory Spouse. But really, the bigger question is, why do I need to be called anything other than what I am? Like my spouse, I also moved abroad. If he is an expat, I am an expat. Not trailing, not accompanying. Just an expat. Try calling me that.

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