How to avoid the trailing spouse syndrome?

As already seen in our previous article, the formalities to bring your partner to Luxembourg can be simple or more complicated. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. After having completed all the formalities required, the hardest part for your other half is making Luxembourg his (her) new home.

Relocating in a new country, whilst exciting, can be very challenging and you should never underestimate the emotional impact that it can have on your partner. Very often, travelling partner can’t pursue their career while abroad and have to quit their job. They may experience some restrictions on their personal freedom and face identity crisis, due to the loss of their independence and status. In addition, unlike their working partner, they don’t have a job to distract them from culture shock. The language barrier can also be a problem. Even if English is largely used as a lingua franca in Luxembourg, that’s not the case in the other parts of the country. So, how to avoid what is often called “the trailing spouse syndrome”, a state of stress and discontent that can occur when the trailing spouse feels unfulfilled and lacking in direction? 

Relocating must be a joint decision

First of all, your international relocation must be a joint decision between you and your partner. If you force him (her) to move with you, there is a risk that you could create resentment, which could ultimately cause major problems in your relationship. The decision to move abroad deserves careful thought and planning by all involved. Make sure that you are both as informed as possible. Through online blogs, expat forums and other websites such as or, take an active approach to learn as much about our new community as you can. Prepare plans in advance so that your trailing spouse has something to occupy him(her)self with as soon as you arrive in Luxembourg. It could be an opportunity for your partner to try something in life that he (she) always wanted to do but always found excuses not to.

Reducing the negative impact of culture shock

While culture shock will undoubtedly effect you both at some point or another, it is often even more difficult for the trailing spouse. Being left to navigate a new country in order to complete day-to-day activities while their partner is at work can be very daunting and stressful. One way to help each other to adjust is to ensure that there is a sufficient period before arriving in Luxembourg and starting work, so that you can both explore the Grand-Duchy together and find your way round. By becoming familiar with where you live and how you can shop, get money and travel throughout the country, the chances of culture shock negatively impacting your partner will be much lower.    

Keeping in touch with family and friends

The first months of relocation are often tough, especially for the trailing spouse. He (she) feels lonely and homesick and misses his (her) family and friends. As a couple, you need to help one another to get through this difficult phase that will pass with the time. One way to minimize the effect of homesickness and loneliness is to maintain a strong relationship with family and friends back home by having regular contact via multiple ways such as phone calls, voice over Internet calls, emails and Facebook messages.    

Focusing positively on the opportunities

By giving up work to be with you, your partner may lose the focus in his (her) life. This can be distressing, especially for someone who is used to be very active. The key is to encourage your partner to focus positively on the opportunities that are available in the new country. If your partner is giving up work completely, it will be very important for him (her) to take up some new hobbies in order to keep active and meet new friends. There are a lot of clubs, associations and social groups for expats, newcomers and foreign residents living in Luxembourg. If your partner is only giving up work temporarily, he (she) could start looking for a job as soon as he (she) meets the conditions to work in Luxembourg (see our previous article).

While abroad, many trailing spouses start again and pursue a career of activity that previously had been unavailable in their home country. They opt to return to college or university, study for an online Masters or attend courses – online or not - available in a range of subjects that last any length of time from one day to a few months.

Volunteering is another option. There are a number of projects that need people: from administrative tasks to fundraising. The Volunteering Agency (Agence du Bénévolat), supported by the Ministry of Family, Integration and to the Greater Region, provides information about associations looking for volunteers at the following address (in French and German only):

Your partner can also look for an Internet-based work such as freelance writing, computer programming or website development jobs. He (she) could set up an Internet based export business or even teach his (her) native language as a foreign language for a few hours each week.

There is always something to do in Luxembourg as long as your attitude is positive. Remember the Monthy Python’s song: Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

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