A Woman’s Role as a Trailing Spouse?

Since we are celebrating women’s month this March, us, trailing spouses will share our take on what it means to be a woman given our unique experiences. Has being a trailing spouse raised questions about womanhood? Has it made us better, stronger women? How has it shaped our perspectives about being a woman, citizen of the world? Or, for the boys, how has their trailing journey affected their women partners?

When I gave up my teaching job to move abroad as a trailing spouse, I did so happily. I was feeling burnt out and ready for a change, and starting again in a new country sounded like an adventure. And it was. It was also something which took a lot of adjusting to, even though I thought I was prepared for it. What I struggled with the most was what my new role was and even now, three and a half years on, I’m not sure I’ve fully worked it out.

Getting a new job was never much of an option for me. It is very difficult for spouses to get a work permit in Brunei and the secondary schools are all up at the other end of the country – a long and not very safe commute. I am also luckily in the position of not having to work to support myself financially for the first time in my life.

So, after the initial honeymoon period of relaxing in the sun and doing some of the things I didn’t have time for when I worked, I was left wondering – who am I?

I’ve already spoken about my dislike of the term housewife, but this is the role I placed myself into first. When both my husband and I worked, we split the housework and cooking between us. But now that he was working full time and I wasn’t, I thought that this task fell to me to manage. It wasn’t long before I realised I was unhappy doing this, I know that some people love doing housework but I am not one of them, I find it boring and repetitive and when I found myself snapping about socks left on the floor I knew I needed to make a change. So, we did as the locals did and hired a part time amah to take care of the boring stuff.

But this didn’t solve the problem. Now I was a housewife who didn’t do any housework. I also struggled with the fact that I was no longer an independent woman, both financially and mentally I was dependent on someone else and it felt strange. I had always worked and felt as though I had supported myself since I had left home, and although I had voluntarily given up my job I felt a little lost without it.

It’s not that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing at this time – I really enjoyed all of my volunteering and was far less stressed than when I worked – but I had to come to terms with who I now was. I think that modern culture is partly to blame; my idea of a strong woman was someone who was independent and supported herself financially but now I have come to realise that what I do is still of value and doesn’t make me any less strong. In fact, I think it has made me stronger in throwing off my ideas of what I think I should be doing and actually doing what I want to. Just because a woman stays at home does not make her a downtrodden housewife; quite the opposite as many women, including myself, are forced to reinvent themselves. Becoming a trailing spouse has made me realise that it takes strength to let go of everything that you thought made you who you are, but it makes you stronger.


Read and explore other stories of fellow trailing spouses in the links below:


  • Didi of D for Deliciousshares how the trailing spouse journey has unearthed a lot of questions of what it is to be a modern Filipino woman
  • Elizabeth’s story on how she came to terms on what it means to be a woman as a trailing spouse on The Secrets of a Trailing Spouse
  • Clara, in the spirit of equality this women’s month, also honors all trailing male expat partners on Expat Partner Survival
  • On her blog, Tala Ocamposhares how she became a woman in her 1st leg as a trailing spouse in Sri Lanka
  • Yuliya of Tiny Expatson how being strong was easier by having someone else to be strong with



16 thoughts on “A Woman’s Role as a Trailing Spouse?

  1. This is so true. I am starting to see a theme, and it is forming into a future blog post in my mind, that we need to stop judging achievement by financial gain. When we follow our partners overseas (and often when we stop work because of childcare commitments as well), we almost always eventually find something to do that fulfills us and enriches us – but how are we judged? If it’s not making money, or if it’s not making much money. we play it down. It’s “just” a part-time job, or I “only” blog….achievement should be judged in so many ways. not just financial.

    1. It took a while before I stopped playing down what I did when people asked, and I’m sure that many people assume I sit around all day drinking. Well, maybe not now I have a baby but that stereotype still exists. There are so many worthwhile things that spouses out here do.

  2. Liza this hits the nail on the head: “Becoming a trailing spouse has made me realise that it takes strength to let go of everything that you thought made you who you are, but it makes you stronger.”

  3. Liz this hits the nail on the head: “Becoming a trailing spouse has made me realise that it takes strength to let go of everything that you thought made you who you are, but it makes you stronger.”

  4. Clara knocked the nail on the head by saying that it’s time to stop judging achievement by financial gain. It’s a shame that the general perception is it’s just ‘being a housewife’ and I hate, hate HATE it when you are at a social gathering and not one person asks anything about you or just assumes you stay at home doing nothing……but don’t get me started!

  5. Oh Liz! I share the same sentiments. Moving out of the country somehow came at an opportune time when I was burnt out (getting sick all the time) because of work. Maybe I stressed myself out too much.

    But that’s a different story.

    Yes, modern ideals are partly to blame. Doing housework doesn’t make me any less of a woman, nor a person (taking into account house-bands). It still is work, as many don’t realize. No shame in doing something that is honorable and seriously just part of everyday life.

  6. I somehow never had a big problem with a term ‘housewife’. My mom stopped working after having my sister at 34 and was taking care of the family since then.
    I was fine just taking care of my home and kids at first, but then I felt like I need something else as well, to bring some variety into my life, hence my blog. I might get back to work, when kids get older, but for now I’m pretty happy about the current situation 🙂

    1. It is good to keep up other interests even though it can be hard to find the time, I started blogging for the same reason and I really enjoy having something to do just for myself – even though I’m having to type this one handed with a sleeping baby on my arm!

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