Trailing spouse – there is hope for you

Moving is hard, but things will get better

About a year after we moved halfway across the country for my husband’s job from DC to the Chicago area, I was having coffee with my real estate agent in our newly remodeled kitchen. We were discussing the move and how hard it was for me, and how I was still completely focused on helping my kids adjust and very busy getting our house remodeled.  I confessed I was still struggling to find my purpose here and lamented that it was difficult to make kindred-spirit friendships.  In a moment of self-pity, I said the following:

“I feel like there is nothing in this move for me.”  

I waited, wondering if she would come back with a corrective/judgmental  comment. Instead, she looked at me with sympathy in her eyes and said the following:

“Yes, it’s always harder for the trailing spouse.”

“What – or who – is the trailing spouse?” I asked her, not realizing that someone in my shoes had an official title.

She explained it this way: “Well, it’s usually the wife, to be honest.  And she is trailing after her spouse.  Usually she moves because her husband got a new job in a new area.  And after they move into the new home she is socially isolated and has no real friends.  And she is trying super hard to help her kids adjust and be a cheerleader for her husband, and to handle all the details of the move and potential remodeling and everything else, but she ignores her own needs to support her family. It’s very hard for her, but she keeps it hidden.  She is still grieving the loss of the move, and there are many losses.” 

Her statement was spot-on for me.

The trailing spouse is defined this way from an article I found: 

Trailing spouses, usually women, end up doing a vast amount of emotional labour, not just for their households and their children, if they have them (helping teenagers adapt to new countries or dealing with toddler jet-lag), but for themselves. In the rest of my life, I’m used to being independent, interesting. I have hobbies. This trip, I’m the addendum, the afterthought.

So yes, moving can be very hard for the trailing spouse, especially if she didn’t want to move in the first place (like me). However, there are many benefits to moving, and my goal for this post is to give hope to those who are faced with an upcoming move, or have recently relocated and are still hating it. In order to write a better post, I read one really good book on moving, conducted some internet research, and consulted with two of my very best friends, Ragan and Sandie, who themselves have moved several times and have experienced the pros and cons of moving, many times over.

I also need to add a qualifier, because not every move is an unwanted move. Many people may be excited to move because they are….

  • Moving to a better home in the same general area,
  • Moving to be closer to loved ones (family, friends), 
  • Moving to a warmer weather climate from a colder one,
  • Moving to a welcoming built-in community (think church, military, or school community with casseroles and deep friendships upon arrival)
  • Moving as a person who loves new adventures or thrives on change

And one more qualifier: I realize that trailing spouses can also be men, and there are a lot of single men and women who also may face an unwanted move. Although I wrote this article for wives who are trailing after their husband’s jobs, please hang with me as I believe there will be something in this blog post for you, too.

So let’s dig into the why…why moving is it so hard for the trailing spouse (and for everyone else, frankly), and then we will discuss the eventual benefits of moving.  

Ah, this moment…when the moving truck arrived. It all suddenly felt very real.

I am going to highlight just three bullet points on the difficulties related to moving, as there is already much written on the topic of why moving is so hard for everyone on the planet.  

First, moving is one of the most stressful life events, on par with divorce:

From the decluttering to the packing to often being a single parent for months before the move (as in our case), you will feel like it’s all on you,  because honestly and sadly, much of it is.  You will have to hold down the fort at your current home, pack it up, put it on the market and keep it perfect, all while you look frantically on-line for a new one. 

One article had this to say:

“Research has shown that moving is more stressful than divorce. Personally, as someone who has moved 17 times in 15 years, I can agree with this 100 percent. Studies have consistently reported that moving is one of the most stressful life events because the amount of tiny details involved in moving to a new home makes a lot of people feel hella bajiggity. British energy company E.ON conducted a survey of 2,000 people, and six out of 10 people cited moving as the most stressful life event with divorce or a break up coming in second.” (source: https://www.bustle.com/p/moving-is-one-of-the-most-stressful-life-events-a-new-study-says-but-here-are-7-ways-to-make-it-suck-less-11832166)

While I am not here to debate the stress level of moving vs. divorce, let’s just agree that moving is incredibly stressful.  

Second, moving is a grieving process with many external and internal losses:

For starters, there is saying goodbye to your family, friends, home, and your neighborhood. It’s also the loss of identity and potential job for the trailing spouse,  loss of a beloved church or house of worship, and loss of all familiar things. It’s like walking away from the warmth and comfort of a warm blanket into a blinding blizzard without a coat.  It’s dealing with fear and anxiety but lacking the regular resources and comforts of coping that you are familiar with.

And this brings me to grieving. Our American society is not very good at this, but in order to effectively move, and then restart your life in a new area, grieving is an important component of our human development and eventual healing. There are five stages, and all of them need to be felt and dealt with properly (and not stuffed deep inside, because you are strong).

Thirdly, moving  is overwhelming (before, during, and after the move):

From Sandie, as she discusses just one aspect of her to-do list: Every state has its own set of rules and protocols, visits to the DMV, driver’s license renewals, and in some cases professional license renewals.  To continue my teaching career, I had to apply for licensure in each state. It took time, money, classes, and patience.  It can be a daunting task to reestablish yourself professionally.  Not to mention navigating where to shop and find the best deals near you.  

Although moving is super stressful, hard, and expensive, there is always a silver lining to every dark cloud.  Below are just a few of the upsides of moving that I have discovered over the last almost two years:

Moving is a clean-slate for your schedule:

I honestly enjoyed this small benefit right away: after the boxes were unpacked, I had almost nothing to do except drive my kids around and figure out design choices with respect to our remodeling projects. I enjoyed not having the usual demands on my time and decided to be very careful and deliberate about what commitments I added back in.

From Sandie: We live in busy times.  Life’s demands pull for our time and our attention.  Usually we have too many commitments on our schedule to manage, but moving gives us a chance to reprioritize. Without restraints on our time, it allows us to be in the moment, to slow down to savor that cup of coffee, read that book, or just take time in the solitude to mediate.  Busyness can rob us of joy.  A clean slate allows us to choose our paths of joy.  Tired of having to run somewhere every night of the week to a commitment? Then don’t, just say no.  I’m reminded that saying no to the good things allows you to say yes to the best things.

Time will go slower because everything is brand new:

Did you know that time moves more slowly when your brain is trying to figure out new things like a new area or a new job?  It sure does.  That’s because your brain encodes new experiences only, not boring and routine ones, and over-represents new experiences, thus making them seem longer.  In essence, when you move, everything is brand new and time slows down.  Here is a post I wrote about this topic.

I strangely enjoyed not having everything figured out already, and I savored all of the many new experiences, sights, smells, and tastes of our new home and area.

It’s a clean slate for your friendships:

After you move away, that change alone will clarify your true friendships and weed out the ones who were not meant for you long-term. As far as making new friends, I was able to decide who I wanted to be friends with in my new area. I was forced to go out of my comfort zone and pursue and invite women into my life, which I have definitely tried to do, as I am a very relational person.

Another blogger summed up another angle of friendships and moving this way: “Focus on the reality that you are not leaving friends and neighbors behind, merely extending your friendship group as you meet new people and develop new relationships in the community.”  (source: https://www.movingmindsets.com.au/emotional-impact-moving-sarah-godfrey/)

And technology helps tremendously with keeping in touch with old friends, and especially for my teen girls who can very easily keep in touch with all of their old friends from DC.

You may find better career (or ministry) options in your new area:

Sometimes moving gives you career options that you never would have where you currently live. As for me, I have always been interested in a career in law enforcement but went another direction in college. After we moved, I started to re-imagine my career as a Private Investigator.  A few months ago, I was connected with a wonderful Christian PI who helped me to navigate the complexity of breaking into the PI world. A couple of months ago, I was able to get a part-time entry level job in the PI field (with his help), conducting residency checks and surveillance for local school districts. I don’t think I could have done this work in the DC area.  In addition, running for Congress or another government position has always been in the back of mind.  DC is saturated with go-getter-government-types, and I believe it would be very hard to win a government seat in that area.

Moving builds character and personal development in many areas:

Moving forces you to broaden new horizons, face fears, be a pursuer, wait patiently, soul-search, look at the agenda going on inside of yourself, mourn losses, deal with loneliness, reach out to new people, and heal.  Moving is much like a much-needed workout.  It might be painful in some ways, and you hate doing it, but it’s super good for you in the long-run.  

And it’s true; I have definitely grown as a person after this move.

Moving builds spiritual development:

Again, this is much needed for most of us. An excellent book on the topic of moving had this to say:

What is God trying to teach me through all of this?

Security does not come from a house (or any other thing, for that matter).

Real security comes only from trusting God.

To grow as a person, you need to move beyond your comfort zone.

Spiritual growth comes in learning to depend on God to meet your needs.

People, places, and things should not be held too tightly. They can keep you from embracing what God has planned for you.

(Source: After the Boxes are Unpacked, Susan Miller, page 17.)

I would say that for me the above rang true, and I would add: moving strips me of things I find security in and helps me to focus more on the two most important relationships in my life: God, and my family. Every single time I moved, much good has come from it, both personally, and professionally.

And spiritually!

Moving is good for your kids:

Dear mama, this will be one of the hardest parts of the move and therefore I will not even attempt to sugarcoat it.  Here is my advice to you: as hard as it is, try to stay calm and positive and point your kids in the direction of “seeing the good” in the move.  Tell them you will go back and let them visit their old friends (and then do it!).  Tell them they will be able to keep in close touch with their friends through technology.  You can be honest with them and let them know that you understand how hard this is for them, but try to keep your kids on the same team as your husband and you.  

I know it’s very hard to watch your kids struggle and face difficulties during the move, but like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, your kids need some difficulties in life to develop them in well-rounded ways. Moving teaches them (and you, mom) how to make new friends, be flexible, learn new social skills, embrace change, and be open to new adventures. I know that some kids really struggle with moving, and I encourage you to dig into ways you can help your kids to adjust to a new home, school, and life. Technology is a huge help! Our kids regularly keep in touch with many of their old friends through various Apps and video games, and my kids are all doing much better almost two years into this move.

You get to explore a brand new area:

Lastly, you will (most-likely, unless you are moving to Siberia) greatly enjoy exploring your new area. We have loved visiting the Ocean (Lake Michigan), and Chicago is an amazing city with so much to do! Wisconsin (within driving distance) has lots of lakes and, believe it or not, boasts the Water Park Capital of the World (or at least the US).

Chicago has an amazing aquarium!!
My parents came to visit us last fall! We did the famous architectural boat tour (highly recommend).

I want to close this post with two current challenges (for me).

First, I am still struggling with the move in the area of making deep friendships.  Yes, I have made a couple of good friends, but I am praying and hoping to make more.  Second, I am still working on being content, joyful (happy) and grateful for moving and in every area of my life.  The move has forced me to turn to the Lord and develop a deeper relationship with Him and my family.  God has tested me in the area of contentment and trust.  I am clinging to Romans 8:28, where God promises to work “all things together for the good” in my own life, and for His glory. “All things” includes this move. God allowed it and He will work it for my good.

In closing, I am happy to report that almost two years into the move, things are going much better and my “winter of discontent” is now over. I am starting to “see the good” in the move, both for me and my family and especially my husband, as his former company (the one we left and moved away from) is now completely dismantled. There are many good things about the Chicago area (sans the weather) and all of us have made a few friends and are enjoying the area and all it has to offer. I definitely have less commitments so therefore I have more time, and I love my new PI job that I never would have been able to land in the DC area.

I will end this post with some advice given to me from my dear friend Ragan, a military spouse, who has moved eight times in 15 years:

There is no doubt that moving is a pain (and honestly, I hope I have many years to come before I have to do it again), but I also know that attitude and perspective are critical. The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps is Semper Fidelis meaning “always faithful.” The motto of the U.S. Marine Corps spouse is Semper Gumby—“always flexible.” We have no choice but to be flexible as we know we are “likely” posted in a duty station for two to three years. I try to jump in with both feet immediately. Our first goal was always to find a church and get involved as quickly as possible rather than visit several over periods of months to find the “perfect” one.  I went to events and did my best to connect with other wives in my husband’s command.

I made memories, and most importantly, I made life-long friendships. I toured other countries, hosted many friends and family members, and lived as if I were going to be there forever. Sometimes we can be short-sighted or feel sadness at always having to uproot and so we guard and protect our hearts. I trust there is a time for this, and I know that it is natural for us to do so as well. But I also know the joy of going all in and reaping the benefits of vulnerability and effort.

As Heather shared, I too am a trailing spouse, and I never trail alone. I bring family with me. I bring friends with me. And most of all, God is with me. I hope to keep growing in maturity all the time, and the pressure cooker of a move sure is a good way to test that.

Amen! May we all (including myself) grow in the area of flexibility, being deeply rooted no matter what, being open to change and adventure, and being content and joyful in every area of life, including a move!

So trailing spouse, there is hope for you!

Because you never trail alone.

_______________________________________________________

PS: Below, check out the pics of all the wonderful friends and family (in no particular order) who have come to visit us since we have moved (including my parents pictured above)!

Our great friends Erin and Caleb and their kiddos came to visit! Chicago is such a great city!!
One of my very best friends Ragan and her son came to visit! I have known Ragan for 21 years!!
My awesome sister Jessie came to visit!! It was so great to have her!
My wonderful friends Amy, Amy, and Jonalee came for a visit! Check out the Ocean View in the background!!
We have enjoyed having a few neighborhood friends over and have actually become good friends with the ones pictured! Great peeps in our new hood!
Erik’s family came to visit us for Thanksgiving!!
Erik’s (my husband’s) brother Ed was our very first visitor!!!
We have really enjoyed our new kitchen and have been able to do a bunch of orphan hosting in our new house cuz we have lots of room!
My two nieces (Lauren and Kristen!) came to visit, plus some other good friends for Erik’s surprise birthday party!
As soon as we moved, we checked out the new area. Here we are up in Kenosha, WI, enjoying the awesome view. Moving meant a lot of good, quality time with my kids.
We went to our very first CUBS game with some new friends! Ryan was the contractor who remodeled our kitchen and basement. He saw me every morning – gross and without make-up -for a year!! So we naturally became friends with him. 🙂

For further reading: https://www.mymovingreviews.com/move/why-moving-is-hard/

Excellent book on this topic: After the Boxes are Unpacked by Susan Miller. Here is an amazon link (just a link; not an affiliate link): https://www.amazon.com/After-Boxes-Unpacked-Susan-Miller-ebook/dp/B012P62Z5Y/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1ZWJ0YIPZGCTJ&dchild=1&keywords=after+the+boxes+are+unpacked+by+susan+miller&qid=1587505536&sprefix=After+the+Boxes+are+u%2Caps%2C318&sr=8-1

5 thoughts on “Trailing spouse – there is hope for you

  1. Susan Spink

    I had such a hard time for a year and a half. I had then finally found a job and made friends. Now we’ve been here for ten years and I’m grateful to have been able to contribute to some ease for at least two other women who come to mind, both of whom “trailed” here from another country! One even referred to me as “American Laura” (Laura is her best friend in her home country). She has said she is so grateful for our friendship, as am I. The “silver-est lining” of all is being a friend to people who are now experiencing some of the struggles of “trailing.”
    p.s. I’m so grateful for James taking the longest nap he has taken in months so I could read your blog in peace and compose a comment. As usual, I am impressed. You are so good.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tammy Almond

    Hi Heather,
    Thanks so much for emailing this blog to me & sharing. I miss seeing pictures of everyone since I have closed my FB acct. I’ve wondered about you & your family quite often.

    Have a Blessed Lord’s day & keep in touch❣️
    Bill & Tammy <

    Like

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