They go with the job

Flic Everett investigates the world of 'trailing spouses': the women (it's hardly ever men) who give up everything to follow their husbands overseas

"EXPATRIATE WIFE" suggests two types of woman - the ambassador's consort with wrought-iron hair, planning canapes like a military campaign, or the English rose wilting in the heat among the rioting natives. Both views, however, are decidedly inappropriate.

"A lot of employees are sent abroad now, particularly in Europe," explains Professor Chris Brewster of Cranfield School of Management. "It's assumed that partners will go uncomplainingly, but of course, most have jobs of their own." Most still go, however - because an average of three years apart from their partner seems a worse price to pay than a halted career and an upended life. A new book, They Only Laughed Later, edited by Carol Allen and Richard Hill, collects the accounts of female expats, and illustrates the loneliness, upheaval and sheer weirdness of their lives. Several of the contributors are married to men from the Foreign Office, an organisation that's particularly concerned about the welfare of its "trailing spouses" - over 1,000 wives and 300 or so husbands - and encourages them to learn a language, and retrain for a portable career.

"We've started a scheme in which partners can learn aromatherapy, TEFL, even plumbing; skills they can take up anywhere," says Elizabeth Nixon, chairwoman of the FO's Development Services Overseas. For a woman forced to abandon her lucrative and fulfilling career, however, a crash course in essential oils is unlikely to help. And, with the growth of the global market, some international companies realise it's time to offer working spouses more than a parasol and a list of menu suggestions - companies like Unilever. "We try to find the partner a dual role within the company. If that's not possible, we can offer up to pounds 2,000 to help them study or start a small business. Obviously, there are some countries where working is less feasible, but we try to offer advice and provide local contacts."

Other organisations believe that assimilation is a "private matter". ITN, which has long-term foreign correspondents based in Moscow, Washington and South Africa, is content to stay out of marital dramas. "Whether the partner goes is a personal decision for the couple - all our jobs are applied for so it's their own choice - no one's forced to go abroad. Usually, also, the postings are in areas where it's not difficult for a partner to get work. We do offer foreign-language training."

Sibella Laing is married to the director of a Central European aid fund. "Stuart's been in the FO for 25 years, and I realised early on that I couldn't have a British-based career. Initially, I learned Arabic, so I could teach in the Middle East. In the 1980s we went to Prague and I got a marvellous job at the university - then Stuart was sent to Saudi Arabia, and I considered staying on. But you couldn't even telephone between the two countries then, and the marriage would have suffered too much."

Suzy Tucker, also married to a Foreign Office employee, had no intention of handing round Ferrero Rochers, either. "In '93, we were moved to Bratislava in Slovakia from Prague, where I'd just had our daughter by emergency caesarean - I could barely walk across the flat, never mind move house. Bratislava was an emerging economy, and there was no work for me, whereas in Prague I'd worked on a newspaper. Luckily, we're a close couple, and I made friends - but there is a high divorce rate in the FO, like the army, because the partner often can't fulfil their potential. And if you're not interested in entertaining, it's fairly limiting."

It seems that the only way for an expat wife to be happy is to wind the clock back 30 years, and accept childcare, a diverting little job and unstinting support of her husband as her raison d'etre the moment the plane leaves British air space. But, sometimes, the sacrifice isn't worth making. Annie Taylor is married to a TV foreign correspondent. He is posted in Washington, while she's in London with two-year-old Alex. "He'd been away before for limited periods. But then he was offered Washington, indefinitely. My mother was very ill. Then I got a job and pregnant in a short space of time, and decided I couldn't face being a 'Washington Wife'. John's bosses think I'm some mad feminist, because I don't want to go and join a wives' reading circle.

"He and Alex miss each other terribly. And we both feel guilty about our choices, although we see each other every few weeks. I knew when I met him he was obsessive about work, and I'm very proud of him. So in theory I'd move - but in practice, I'd be leaving friends, family, a job I love - and it's hard to give all that up."

The decision to give things up is made easier when there are simple replacements at the other end. Michelle Briere is married to the Marketing Director of Meridien Hotels, and has recently moved from Paris to London. "The only thing I really miss is French food and our dog. It's not so different, though. I didn't leave a career behind because I look after my children, and we brought them with us. I just need two or three months to get to know new ways, and then I can make friends somewhere else."

The career problem can often be worked around by adapting or deferring - and the moving becomes just a weary matter of tea-chests and newspaper every three years. The worst problem for trailing spouses is isolation. Clare Lumsden, 27, moved to Osnabruck in Germany with her army officer husband, Peter, a week after marriage. "My main worry was loneliness. But army life is incredibly sociable - and all the wives are in the same boat. When I had Daniel, I was inundated with offers of help.

"It was different when we went to Cyprus two years later, though. There are fewer young women with children there, and I used to long for just one friend I could talk to easily. Despite it being seen as a brilliant posting, Cyprus has never been enjoyable, for that reason."

A further problem is the growing children, and whether to dispatch them to boarding school or haul them through inadequate local schools. "They went to school where we lived when they were little," Sibella explains. "Then we had to send them to boarding school because there was no senior education available. They'd rather be here - but it would have been worse to move them every three years"

"The boarding schools of England were built on expatriation," Chris Brewster elaborates. It's no longer taken as read, though, that children will be neatly labelled and packed off to England at seven. "Parent's views have changed," he agrees. "Women don't want to be abroad, jobless and childless as well. Because it is still the men who are generally posted - although women have proved better at international management. Sadly, I think it's unlikely we'll see a change in companies' attitudes to expat spouses , until more of them are men."

Until that time, the attitude remains that a man thinks "job then family", and a woman thinks "family then job" - so many companies are still reluctant to post women with families abroad. But when they are the family, paradoxically, it's okay.

The rise in British expats is likely to continue growing as Europe's boundaries become increasingly flexible. And if the divorce rate in the expat community is to reduce, big businesses need to devote a lot more time to understanding the problems of "trailing spouses", who aren't necessarily prepared to trade their career for their husband's, or their personal happiness for an aromatherapy certificate.

'They Only Laughed Later' by Carol Allen and Richard Hill, Europublications, pounds 10.99, contact: kminke@europublic.com

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
peopleManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Arts and Entertainment
'Deep Breath' is Peter Capaldi's first full-length adventure as the twelfth Doctor
TVFirst episode of new series has ended up on the internet
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Dynamics CRM Developer (C#, .NET, Dynamics CRM 2011/2013)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Dynamics CRM D...

    Web Developer (C#, ASP.NET, AJAX, JavaScript, MVC, HTML)

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Web Developer ...

    C# R&D .NET Developer-Algorithms, WCF, WPF, Agile, ASP.NET,MVC

    £50000 - £67000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# R&D .NE...

    C# Developer (Web, HTML5, CSS3, ASP.NET, JS, Visual Studios)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?