Trailing Partner??? I think not…

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Supporting Partner

Written for the November 2014 issue of Parenting Pages – from the Basel Children’s Trust

Do you know those pivotal moments in life? Where you remember exactly where you were when it happened? I had a moment like that when my husband called me and said, “What about Switzerland?” No context, just a question hanging in the air. And I replied, “Let’s go.” No interviews had taken place, no contracts had been signed, but it was as if it had already happened. He called his “would be employer” who was also a friend and told him that I was already packing our bags.

And so we moved abroad with his job. Not for his job, but with his job. I am a stickler about language, because I believe when we speak unconsciously we sometimes reinforce thoughts that don’t serve us. If we moved for his job, then the job is in charge, in control, if you will. But we moved with his job, we went with the process because we wanted to – and that makes a big difference in how we approach the whole experience.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. Does the term trailing partner or trailing spouse support how I approach my life? Well…NO! It is a commonly used term among expats. It is descriptive; if I am a trailing partner, we moved abroad not with my work, but with my partner’s work. The thing is, for me, the word trailing comes with baggage. It sounds like he made the decision and I am following (trailing) behind, doing what, picking up the crumbs like Hansel and Gretel? First of all, he didn’t decide, we decided it together. We are partners and we share our lives and consequently our decisions. We wouldn’t have come unless it worked for us both.

It wasn’t easy. There are times we totally question our choices and ourselves. Are we victims of this experience, of our circumstances? No, we are not. And we don’t want our language to imply that we are victims. We chose this life abroad – the whole package as fabulous and frustrating, exciting and exasperating as it may be. We wanted to take this step in our lives, and so we did. We gave up a lot to come here, and we have gained so much.

Just semantics? Maybe. However, I know that language, the way I speak, can empower or enslave me. I want it to empower me, empower us as a couple, us as a family. We all have hard times. How we choose to respond to those tough times is up to us. And language supports us in those choices. Think about the difference between these two sentences:

I had to move abroad because my partner got a job in another country.

We got to move abroad because my partner got a job in another country.

The first sentence puts my partner or my partner’s job in charge. The second puts me, or us as a couple in charge.

Now sometimes my ego prefers the first sentence, because then my ego can complain, blame, and have my life situation out of my control. The first sentence allows me to point the finger at someone else for my problems! Wow is that ever tempting. I get to blame and whine, and wait for them or for the situation to change so I can be happy. In the end though it feels pretty yucky and powerless.

If I go with sentence number two, I may still be unhappy about some things in my life, but since I chose this situation, I am also the one who can change it. I can change my reaction to it, and I can choose a different response. I can take steps to change my situation myself. I still feel sad or frustrated sometimes, but instead of blaming and feeling out of control, I recognize my role in my own life, in what I did to get here and what I can do to change it. Much more powerful!

Trailing partner didn’t fit for me when we were moving here, nor does it fit for me now that we are here and settled. I am not trailing my partner, or anyone for that matter. I am blazing a new trail for my family and myself! I led the way in getting us all settled and well adjusted in our new home. Trailing partner – no; trail blazer, yes!

An alternative could be accompanying partner…but no, that isn’t quite it for me. What I am is a supporting partner. Almost 18 years ago, my husband and I danced at our wedding to the song “True Companion,” and that says so much. We are true companions, making life decisions together, supporting each other through it all.

Supporting partner is more true to how we live, to what we have created in our relationship. We support each other in everything. Instead of being the one following behind my husband and his career, I am supporting the one I love in his life endeavors, as he does mine. We are walking together on this amazing planet, in this crazy ride of life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What about you? Do you, like one of these terms or have you come up with another that fits you better? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below or drop me an email.


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