Relocating Partners: Calculating ROI

By Gabriela O’Malley


Although changing in gender, women continue to lead in numbers the unpaid workforce of expatriate assignments as in domestic relocations in general.


In a place where language and culture are confounding, the spouse/partner kicks-off her role in between raising her children and directing all the minutiae of the relocation. She does so, unpredicting how leaving behind a big portion of what she’s built for herself over the years to figure out who’s the ME in the new life she’s crafting, will impact her overall experience.


Early stages in relocation are packed with things to do, learn and adapt to, it’s hard to impossible assessing in-depth, how certain critical challenges affect the journey to figure out the ME.


Critical Challenges

A fragile social network, with continuous rotation of friends and only few family visits. Withdrawals from losing the identity and reassurance your career was feeding you with. Realizing that carrying the burden of the household - mostly as a single parent, with your partner gone traveling or working long hours, wasn’t what you planned in College. Last but not least, absorbing the impact of a career transition, going back to the start line, to figure out how to stand up from the crowd in a new market, and all of what comes with it: job searching and networking; work permits and possibly learning a new language.


For Relocating Partners, these critical challenges in relocation are a big deal. They don’t arrive alone, but tagged with labels you’ll be identified with - the unemployed, the dependent, the trailing spouse; or the internationally well-known, stay at home mom.


Labels hurt us. The paradox is, that in our global society, no one is nearly excited to be associated with any of them - relocating partner or not. These stereotypes are disempowering and uninspiring. First, they put you in a box, then throw you to second-row.



Welcome Package

The disenchantment with this welcome package often triggers stress, anxiety or depression - all common causes of health problems, insomnia and/or emotional disequilibrium. They can also take a toll in our relationships and are enough to put anyone in bed for weeks or at the psychoanalyst chair. The problem is real. I’ve been there. I hear it from my clients, and it’s also a conversation women return to frequently in online expat forums, where they share their discouragement and frustrations.


I keep coming across a great number of posts of so many women - some writing anonymously; typing away their pain, venting about feeling lost, lonely, unachieved, unfulfilled, or burnedout taken for granted by their partners. Annoyed by the labels they’ve been given - millennials and middle-age women, all yearn for answers. Hoping or praying perhaps, there’s someone ‘out there’ who can comfort them with -‘you’re not alone’.

The replies they get reassure them they’re not alone. I so understand their sadness and frustrations, and I feel disappointed that we continue to wrestle with the same puzzle present-day. We can go back ten years in time, and find articles addressing this same issues.


Work is work - paid or not. Unpaid work – like caregiving, raising children, household work or volunteering; mostly gendered, have social value, but miss to grant the status that paid work has. In the real world, for those who have to care for their family and carry whatever they must, recognition and salary are not included in their deal.


The Guardian’s Identity

What’s interesting is, that while riding those years in the unpaid workforce, with young children in one hand and holding the fort at home in the other, as we bounce around from one territory to another, we’re not shy to place everyone ahead of us; so much, it goes without notice even by ourselves. Until one day, we’re at the cocktail party and someone asks - what do you do?


If that question has ever made you feel uncomfortable, then you’d agree with me, it sounds more like – how good enough are you, for doing what you do?. You’d agree, the first thing that comes to mind is - geez, where would you want me to start?


But we don’t answer. We choke, fire back with another question to change the subject or fly the scene pretending someone is calling for us, would you excuse me? Yet, there you are, wearing your new labels like necklaces, surrounded by what seems to be an eclectic international group of people; clueless about your future and navigating the room hoping you won’t bump into the person with the what do you do? question again.

It’s overwhelming and mentally exhausting.


How can we answer what do you do? away from stereotypes that misrepresent us, but with a well-deserving and respectable title that’d describe everything we get done in a day? When we live inside a culture that appraises value via a transaction system - tagging a price to what we do, what we create, how we look, what ideas get us invited to the table, and what words validate us - it’s hard.

Our identity, experience of achievement, meaning and sense of worthiness and value are attached to what we do with our lives and what we are creating. But the low-ranked labels imposed by societal standards along with our culture transaction system offer nothing but disempowerment.

Where are we left and what are we left with?


What may seem a simple question, what do you do?, really is a big one that plays a significant role. What we do, projects the value we bring to the table every single day.

It makes us feel uncomfortable, when we allow that value transaction system determine how we assess our self-worth. A lot of women I know and have worked with, struggle with knowing how they can cultivate a greater understanding of their self-worth and recognition of their accomplishments.


The discomfort also signals we want a seat at the table; we want to experience expanding our value and strengths over relocation amenities, diapers, raising teenagers, or household chores everyone pretends to not see, but us. We need an outlet where we can share the value we’ve gained thru the living abroad enriching experiences we’ve lived or are still living.


The good news is that in recent years, the growth of dual income families and increased awareness of the integral role of the spouse/partner are making enough noise, support is now critical and central for a lot of companies that today offer exceptional spouse assistance programs. Merging a pool of experts, strategies and tools to offer solutions for career development and transition support.

Opening the window to opportunities and possibilities for expat partners, to find an outlet towards professional satisfaction with a unique value only those with a life abroad experience can offer.


Although, not everyone will qualify for this benefit, and sadly, some will miss to take full advantage of it; finding a job is only one facet of relocation success. Integration, adjustment, change management, personal fulfillment, intercultural awareness, and many other elements are equally important.

Calculating your ROI

Better than dismantling the side-effects of wearing disempowering labels and of the arduous unpaid work battling challenges, is to focus on your cost of opportunity and ponder the questions - What Is It For Me In This Assignment? and What Return Of Investment Would I Like To Get?


Taking ownership of the journey is always the first step. You’ve got to own it and go all the way. In between your choices for career, to relocate supporting your husband’s career advancement, or to raise a family - aligning those choices the best way to fit your goals, is the second step.


To Get Better Answers - Ask Better Questions.

  1. What are the personal and professional goals I’d like to work towards achieving?

  2. What do I need to be successful?

  3. How can I cultivate a greater understanding of my self-worth and recognition of my accomplishments while I become employed/professionally active again?

  4. What challenges do I foresee in this assignment? (i.e. language, personality, etc)

  5. What’s missing in my life right now?

  • A great place to find what’s missing in our life is, in the check and balance of all those parts of life that make us feel Empowered, Strong and Alive.


Keep It Real

Great art is not instant. We are a work in progress, this is only the beginning of mapping a new path in your journey. I say this, because not much is emphasized in how time and hard work are the top two components of achievement. Rather, we overwhelmingly get invited to buy quick-fixes and magic formulas wrapped to appeal our egos or fear-motivated triggers.


Comparing ourselves against the success of others is heading the wrong way and what you see is people falling into discouragement or self-pity behavior; dispirited their short-lived grand conceptions failed to turn into the next Apple. Others opt for meaningless jobs just to wear a different label; others disappeared in limbo where dreams and personal goals remain buried.


I’m a mother of two young girls who are well aware of their early global exposure; my first daughter was born in Texas and my youngest in Singapore. They already are talking about wanting to live in Europe before going to College. I don’t want to be an overprotective parent and make decisions for them. I want them to grow up and explore the world - Owning their Journey, Assessing the Cost of Opportunity of their Choices and Calculating their Return on Return on Investment.


Certainly, there are many strategies to avoid falling in the shadows of unlived potential. But with a ‘Life on the Move’, we need a well-developed fine tuned awareness to nurture our sense of self and pursue of personal fulfillment, and make the very first choice of - taking ourselves seriously enough to find ways to empower ourselves.


Meaningful relationships, enriching personal growth, a career aligned with what you do best, and a solid social network, are top resources in the ongoing pursue of fulfillment and success in our journeys.


Yes, we can help others build an awesome life, what we can’t do, is forget to continuously nourish ours.

#relocatingpartner, #livesabroad, #personalgrowth, #professionalsatisfaction, #identity

Gabriela O'Malley