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Dictionary Merriam-Webster defines tagalong as “one that persistently and often annoyingly follows the lead of another.”
I laughed and thought, annoying to whom?
When it comes to expats, a burden falls on the accompanying spouse. Frequently, they sacrifice their independence, lose their identity, and reside in the supporting role of someone else’s movie. (When they were quite comfortable and capable of starring lead in their own.)
As if that’s not enough, we then roll our eyes when they express their discontent. We scoff and brand them ungrateful and selfish for wanting more than homemaker/parent/volunteer/enjoyer of freedom and adventure.
This week’s call with Melanie will blow up the cliché of the “trailing” spouse. It’s raw, familiar, and packed with “a-ha” relief.
What You’ll Discover in this Episode:
- “Unless” what? Drilling out your true self-fulfillment must-have
- The “good mother” vs. the “serious professional” paradox
- Your behavior as a result of your bruised self-worth
- How to combat biochemical reaction, and tell your brain that you’re safe.
Gaslighting ends here. Get ready to straighten some stuff out, pronto.
Listen to the Full Episode:
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Featured on the Show:
- Are you ready? The 5-Day Purpose Challenge starts on August 19th. It’s FREE for all members of Sundae’s Expats on Purpose Facebook Group.
- Sign up for Sundae’s FREE online workshop series and learn key strategies for expats struggling to get back on track.
- Expat Happy Hour – EP 134: Purpose Hunting
- Free Podcast & Accompanying Worksheets – Purpose Pack
- Sundae’s battle cry for being more on purpose: Expats on Purpose Manifesto
- Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Facebook Group – Expats on Purpose
We’re delighted by our recent nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts!
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, it is 5am in New York, 11am in Johannesburg and 4pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com. I’m a solution oriented coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations and I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
“I’m the cliche trailing spouse.” She said, “I’ve got no excuse but to be happy because I’ve got everything and we’re financially secure.”
What you’re going to hear from Melanie are probably things you’ve thought and felt but never dared say out loud.
In fact, it’s so common, as the words were coming out of her mouth, I felt like I’ve been hearing it a hundred times over.
This episode of Expat Happy Hour is special because it is a live coaching call with Melanie. Someone who’s been an accompanying partner through five countries, five rotations around the world. Someone who is super accomplished, a wonderful parent and a supportive spouse and struggling. I share this with you, and I have permission from Melanie to share this with you, because I want you to know that you’re not alone. And you might hear something that sounds familiar and helps shift your perspective too.
I’m sharing this with you as well because it’s part of our special series on the expat quicksand, the four areas that so many people struggle to get out of. That means looking for more connection, getting unstuck, purpose and meaning. And this week’s episode really hones in on our focus of purpose.
If you are hungry for purpose then make sure that you check out the links in the show notes because we’ve got a purpose challenge going on starting August 19th in the group Expats On Purpose and you don’t want to miss it.
So we’ll keep our focus on purpose by listening in on to what are in her words “Trailing spouse.” And find out what she can do to start trailblazing.
Sundae: So Melanie what has to happen in the next thirty to forty minutes for you to say this was worth your time.
Melanie: Oh, you start tough Sundae. That I will feel better and not that guilty anymore, but I’m not sure if the session is intended to do that.
Sundae: Okay, well, we will see what emerges. So when you and I talked before briefly, you were sharing how you were feeling guilty about living in sort of one of those dream countries and still feeling depressed. Can you say more?
Melanie: Yeah, This is my fifth expectoration assignment and I’m in contact with a lot of expats also in my professional career. So hearing from all the stories where people move, how often they move, under what conditions they move. I feel like I have been hitting the jackpot again and again and again and I am in a beautiful country which is supposed to be one of the easiest countries. We’re happy and healthy, we have everything we need, we don’t move sooner than two years, we have no financial worries or anything. And still I’m depressed and this is really hard because if you compare your life to others you think, “Why there’s no reason for that.” I have no reason and no excuse not to be happy.
Sundae: Oh you sound like so many people that I’ve worked with, this idea of “I should just be grateful.” Here’s the thing, you know, what I hear from you is that you are aware of the privileges that you have, you’re grateful for your health, your family, the security that you have and something is missing. If you’re really honest with yourself, what do you feel is missing?
Melanie: Appreciation, it’s probably I see my own life just passing and having accomplished a lot professionally and financially and being out here and being the cliche of the trailing spouse, it’s just very annoying.
Sundae: Melanie what I think I hear from you is huge grief for loss of an identity. It’s like I’m hearing like you’ve lost a part of yourself that is important to you. Tell me where I’m wrong?
Melanie: That’s probably it, yeah. And as I continue with my learning and academic learning and I have accumulated so many certificates and studies and whatever it’s kind of embarrassing. If I talk to people and I tell them what I’ve done it’s kind of embarrassing. I mean it looks like bragging, but I still don’t have a job.
Sundae: Yeah, you know, I know a lot of women they’ve got like three master’s degrees or two masters degrees and a PhD or three certificates in some sort of specialized practice and they’re still hungry for a sense of purpose. So here’s the thing Melanie, from what I know, from the research I’ve done and the work that I’ve done with women who are exactly in your same situation, is there’s this sense of guilt like “I should be happy with what I have.” And what’s crazy is that we are biologically programmed for purpose. That in fact people with a weak sense of purpose versus a strong sense of purpose are at equally great health risks as smokers and those who are obese.
So from my perspective what I’m hearing is, biologically you’re suffering because you’re hungry for a sense of purpose and that sense of purpose and direction and meaning hasn’t been met yet. And at the same time we don’t have any permission, there’s no permission socially for that right? Like people tell you you should be happy, you should be grateful.
Melanie: That also happens. I think that socially it is expected to be happy with my purpose of holding the family together. But that’s not what I expect from my life.
Sundae: Right, it’s so hard to be a woman and I’ve shared this before with others. There was a woman in one of my groups, a trailblazing spouse group, and she talked about how in the market in Burkina Faso and Ouagadougou, when you make a negotiation you offer a price to the merchant and the merchant hears the price and they say, I think it’s going to be bad French, C’est bien, mais ce n’est pas arrivé, which means it’s good, but it’s hasn’t arrived yet, it’s not enough.
And that’s the thing with motherhood, with being a spouse who’s financial needs are met and can see the world. You have no permission to say ce n’est pas arrivé, you can’t say that it’s not good enough, there’s zero permission for that.
So what if you had permission Melanie, what if you had permission? And science actually says you have purpose – that lack of purpose is actually life-threatening. What if you had permission to want more?
Melanie: I have the permission, of course I can go out and look for a job and my husband encourages that. It’s this weird situation where you find yourself, you were always independent and in charge of your life and all of a sudden you see yourself thrown back in the 50s. And then finding a job is one thing, getting the job is another thing and then you know exactly when the call comes and you move again. It’s not my stuff that holds us back.
Sundae: Okay, so let’s look at this from another perspective. What I’m hearing from you is that based on your education, your professional path, one way to feel that sense of purpose is through your job, and then it’s going to take awhile to get it. Like normally it takes six months, a year, eighteen months to get a job. And as what you said is you’re scared because you might move before then. So I don’t want you to wait. So let’s imagine, just play with me for a second, what will you get when you get the job? How will you feel when you get the job? Just play for a second with me, what are three things that pop up?
Melanie: Sense of purpose, I’ll be busy, I’ll be out with adults, I can apply my professional skills and I’ll feel needed probably and valued.
Sundae: This is so deep, I don’t think people get that, how deep that need is to feel valued and purposeful. So when you get the job you’re going to feel a sense of purpose, you’re going to feel valued, you’re going to feel needed, you’re going to feel busy, you’ll have adult interaction and you’ll be applying your skills.
I don’t want you to wait for the next six months, twelve months or whatever it is for you to feel this way. Yes, still do the job search, but let’s get creative, let’s look at ways you can feel more of that now until you get the job.
So I want you to pick one, valued sense of purpose, feel needed, out with adults, apply skills, busy. Where do you want to start?
Melanie: Busy is easy, busy I am anyway.
Sundae: Let’s scratch that one off the list then.
Sundae: I’m going to ask you to do something that might feel like a stretch. But we’re just going to play and we’re going to see what pops up, and if you need a second to be quiet, to let it emerge then I invite you to do that.
What could you do now, this week, next week so that you feel valued?
Melanie: Apply my skills in the volunteer work again.
Sundae: Say more? Is that something that you’re doing now? Are you volunteering now?
Sundae: Okay, I have a hunch, Melanie that you’re volunteering and you’re not stepping back to see the value that you add – tell me where I’m wrong?
Melanie: I am valued by others, it’s just not the same.
Sundae: Say more.
Melanie: It’s hard to say. Why is it the paycheck that makes me feel valued?
Sundae: “So in order for me to be valuable, I have to get paid.” I have a hunch that’s the thought that you’re believing.
I’m gonna go with this for a second here, “In order for me to be valuable, I have to get paid.” Is that true?
We’re going to do something from Byron Katie called “The work.” All I need is a yes or a no.
Is that true “In order for me to be valuable I have to get paid? Yes or no?
Melanie: Scientifically, I would say no, but for me personally, probably yes, yes.
Sundae: So is it a hundred percent scientifically true “In order for me to be valuable I have to get paid.” Yes or no?
Sundae: Okay, so we’re going to just keep playing, you’re doing a great job, you’re doing a great job playing here. You can believe this thought afterwards, we’re just gonna for a moment hold that space.
So, “I’m not valuable unless I get paid.” Or “In order for me to be valuable I have to get paid.” Which one resonates with you more? “I’m not valuable unless I get paid.” Or “In order to be valuable, I have to get paid.”
Melanie: I’m sorry. I’m really messing up this game, but neither nor because although I think I’m not valued, I’m valued by others.
Sundae: So here’s what I’m hearing, “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.”
Melanie: Yes, now we get there.
Sundae: Is that true? “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.”
Sundae: Is that scientifically true? “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.”
I have no attachment to the answer. There’s no right or wrong answer.
Melanie: You are not wrong.
Sundae: Okay, so what I’m hearing up until now from you, what is true for you is “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” It’s not about being valued by others, it’s about valuing yourself. Tell me where I’m wrong?
Sundae: Yeah, okay, boom that’s it. There you go Melanie, that’s the thought that is torturing you. “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” This practice of not valuing yourself unless you get paid is causing you pain.
And Melanie, I just want you to know I’ve been there, I’ve been there. I mean 20 years ago when I moved to Switzerland, I was I was paid really well in the US for a consulting job I had, in fact, more than any of my friends and I gave it all up. I get it, it sucks. It sucks, I get it.
Okay, so let’s let’s keep going there, and it’s not serving you right? So let’s look at that “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.”
How’s that working for you?
Melanie: Not good, not good because I am chasing getting paid.
Sundae: Yeah, how do you behave when you live that way that “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” Who do you become? How do you behave when you believe that?
Melanie: Hard to take, impatient.
Sundae: So when you don’t value yourself then you chase money, you’re hard to take and you’re impatient.
Melanie: Yeah. I’m grateful as well for being perceived as ungrateful because it’s not, I am not chasing money because I need it.
It’s a different story.
It’s rather the contrast when I have a job, my last assignment, I had an extremely well paying job, I made more money than my husband. People said, “How can you do that? You don’t need to do that, you’re neglecting your family.
Sundae: I’m laughing because you can’t win either way right?
Melanie: It is so messed up.
Sundae: In German, they call it Raben Mutter, when in Swiss German you’re a bad mom if you work more. I’m being a little cheeky now, but I’ve noticed when I was working in Switzerland, there’s like this percentage, you can work 50% and still be a good mom, 60% you’re getting to the end, if you were 80% or more, you’re a bad mom, But if you don’t work more than 80% you’re not a serious professional, so you can’t win.
Melanie: The moment your husband has to iron his own shirt you are absolutely bad.
Sundae: Yeah, we need a name for what kind of a bad spouse you are, you’re bad, way worse.
So you can’t manage at that game so let’s play by our own rules. This is really interesting. So when you don’t value yourself you chase money, you are hard to take, you’re impatient and you’re perceived as ungrateful. When you actually have the money there’s a whole other dynamic that comes out.
So let’s play we’re going to we’re going to keep going here. Imagine this connection, you’re connecting your value or your self-worth to the amount of money you’re making. Who would you be without the thought “My value is connected to the money that I make.”
Melanie: Could your phrase that a little differently?
Sundae: Okay, so I’m hearing there’s when you say “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” You’re connecting your value, your self-worth to how much money you make.
So let’s just imagine I went into your brain and I disconnected the synapses that are firing. The synapses that are connecting self-worth and money that you make. If I went in there with like a magic coaching laser, and I remove those synapses so you weren’t capable of believing the thought that self-worth is tied to money. Who would you be without that thought?
Melanie: Probably more relaxed, it would however go a little bit against my instincts of preserving my future. As this is I think kind of connected, as long as I can keep going and making my money and getting valued and achieving something professionally, I will be independent in the future as well. However with volunteer work, there’s no winning in the long run.
Sundae: So there’s a few things I’m hearing. If you were suspending this connection between value, your value and money, you would be more relaxed. I’m also hearing, there’s something I’ve heard that’s new to me that’s emerging. I’m hearing something Melanie, that some core values that you have are independence, sense of achievement and sense of security. Tell me where I’m wrong?
Melanie: No, I think you are completely right there.
Sundae: So this is this is an important part of the picture here because core values, independence, sense of achievement and security, those are things that you hold dearly and what I’m hearing is one way to achieve to live those values is through your professional career.
Sundae: So it’s like how do we get those needs met? How do we how do we create a life that you can live independently, feel independent, honor those values? How can you live your life so you can honor that sense of achievement and honor that security? And what I’m hearing is your security up until now has been very tied to you as an individual, rather than you is as a family entity. Tell me where I’m wrong?
Sundae: And I have no idea what your family situation is, I’m wondering, your focus up until now has been as an individual because you’re a strong independent woman. So of course, it’s been there. I’m wondering for the moment how we can create more security, sense of achievement and independence. Because when I look at that, it’s actually how we started, you said to be valued, this idea of achievement, appreciation. You talked about that in the beginning. This sense of purpose I hear is tied to your independence. Like “I am doing this, this is my thing.” And then the financial part that we talked about with the money is probably coming up through the security.
So I’m shifting here,
Melanie: You’re doing a great job.
Sundae: We’re dancin’ darling, there’s no script here, we’re just doing, we’re going we’re going.
So I want to check in with you right now, what’s resonating with you right now?
Melanie: Yeah, I think it’s probably I don’t know, probably I shouldn’t rely too much on myself.
Sundae: When I hear that, that I don’t, let me be really honest. I don’t believe you when I hear you say that. In your voice I hear a sense of betrayal to who you are. Tell me where I’m wrong?
Melanie: No, that’s correct.
Sundae: Okay, what I’m hearing is, instead of focus, like in a widening of focus you are relying on yourself, that’s not going to change you want to rely on yourself. I’m wondering, because you know we get into fight or flight, we want to fight and I think you’re a fighter. Tell me I think if that’s how I read you’re a fighter. So what I hear is like it’s almost like you’re in the woods and your adrenaline is going and you’re fighting, but you’ve got more than just you on the team. And I’m wondering for the sense of security, what if you widen your focused and looked at who else is on your team? Who else is on your team?
I’m hearing now like this tunnel vision of the job, like the job that you have to get the next six months. Instead of “Wow, look at my great professional background, look at the qualifications I have, look at my network, look at my family security through the other job that’s bringing in revenue in the family. I’m seeing sort of tunnel vision. what is there when you widen your vision, what else is there to give you security? Let’s just brainstorm.
Melanie: My family definitely.
Sundae: Yeah your immediate family, your partner, who else is there?
Melanie: Yes, my partner, the rest of my family is far away.
Sundae: It’s like we have to tell your brain that you’re safe, because you don’t feel safe right now. It is scary when you don’t feel safe.
Melanie: But why?
Sundae: Because I’ve heard you say that you are someone who relies on herself. And what I’m hearing you do is you’re looking through this tunnel, and are scared because that next job isn’t there yet. And if your view is only through that narrow tunnel of just you alone, and where you have to run to is that job. That feels scary.
And when I zoom out and listen, Melanie, I’ve been there, I remember I had huge sort of, you know, ugly cry with my husband. I think I was pregnant, I was looking for a job. You can imagine that looking for a job pregnant and I was really scared and he didn’t get it. He did not get it, and he said “Sundae” You know our husbands, I hope he’s not listening because he was right. But he said “Sundae, what are you scared of?” He said “Look at your background, look your education, look at your skills, you’re safe.” And I didn’t see that, it’s that whole lie that we tell ourselves that we’re going to be poor and live in a van down by the river.
What I know from my other coaching colleagues is even people who have a million dollars say that they’re like, “If we just get to 5 million then I’m going to be financially secure.” I think we just want to be safe, it’s a need that we have, and I’m not a psychologist, I’m sure a psychologist could go deeper with that. And if we looked at your background from childhood, maybe there’s more there. But what I know now is what can serve you and this is what I would like to offer you as an assignment, is to help your amygdala. Your amygdala needs to know it’s safe, so we need to give it evidence.
Okay, what I’ve heard so far is what you’re doing is you’re channeling your vision into now, just you, this tunnel. And for me this image I have in my mind is like the super narrow tunnel thats super tight and there’s only a pinhole of light through this tunnel. That’s where that job is and you’re in the dark by yourself in this tunnel and that feels scary. And I’m asking you to open your vision, to create a larger space in the tunnel and just brainstorm on reasons that you feel safe.
So that is my assignment for you and I want you to do after our session, is to grab a cup of tea, coffee or wine or whatever and make a list of the evidence, the real-life evidence of why you’re safe. And this is because there’s a biochemical reaction going on that your body that doesn’t know it’s safe actually, and we need to give it evidence so that your nervous system can calm down and that you can relax, because what you said is without the thought you’ll be more relaxed.
Okay, how does that feel feel for an assignment?
Melanie: Okay, I will try.
Sundae: Melanie your biology, your brain is is in fight mode and so we need to help it feel safe again. And that’s the first step, just the first one. So that’s your assignment, I want you to brainstorm all of the reasons why you’re safe. And because your sense of achievement and your independence is so important, list those too.
And I’m going to invite you to open your perspective and mention the other things that are there next to you.
So what we’re looking at is we started talking about how this sense of wanting to feel needed and valued and a sense of purpose is burning in you, and we discovered that there’s a practice of “I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” And there’s nothing to say you shouldn’t get paid, you should get paid, you should have a job, be valued and get paid. But until that happens I’m seeing an opportunity for you to practice valuing yourself.
Okay, and I say that, I share this with vulnerability, with my own journey I began and that’s part of my journey when I first moved to Switzerland, only valuing myself based on if I got summa cum laude or whether I got the great job or how much money I was making. I realized that I was valuing myself based on a very narrow set of “I thinks.” That’s a scary foundation to stand on and I’m hearing you live in a context, your life abroad, this rotational life, that’s scary because that foundation gets ripped out from under your feet every two to four years.
So my invitation to you is to find a practice or to begin just gently to begin, what are other ways that you can value yourself. And at the beginning it’s going to be like a cognitive exercise where you just like write down answers because your teacher asks you to write a diameter. Be honest like that “Well, she told me to do it so I’m gonna do that.” But after our session we can talk about what are some other ways that you can practice valuing yourself. I have some more ideas on what you can do because this is one of those things, it’s not like it’s you flip a switch and it’s going to change, this is a practice.
Melanie: It will take a while.
Sundae: It’s okay. It’s a process. So right now I have an image of what you value yourself for has been a floor of achievement and financial reward and it’s like a plank on a bridge, and sometimes that plank gets removed. So I want to encourage you to think about what are some other planks on the bridge of value that are there and that are true that you can teach yourself to see.
So that’s that’s the journey ahead, so that’s what I’m seeing for you Melanie. You’ve done such an amazing job today, showing up and offering what’s really on your heart and mind and allowing for that vulnerability and what I’m seeing is this strong woman who is fiercely independent and a high achiever, someone who values security. In a completely different culture, a culture that doesn’t all automatically have the container for those values. As a trailing spouse, as an accompanying partner you don’t get that container, you have to freaking fight for it. So how else can you be who you are, that independent person and how can you feel that sense of security?
So I want to just check in with you, tell me what are you seeing differently at the end of our time together that wasn’t there when we started.
Melanie: I think you framed it very well, it’s this tunnel vision, it’s to see the larger perspective of what provides security, to see that. It’s a team effort right, our life, not the individual.
Sundae: You’re not alone. And I know your partner couldn’t do it without you, the security that you create, the stability you create, the sense of connection your family experiences is impossible without you and you are needed on that team.
You know at the beginning we talked about guilt, you said you wanted to end this call feeling better and the word guilt was coming up. Where do you put guilt now?
Melanie: It has nothing to do with where you go, it’s the situation itself.
Sundae: This is you grappling with a challenging situation, with your core values, with your talent. I have a hunch you are just really smart and a go-getter and that feels natural to you and it’s hard in the life that you’re living because it’s like, stop go, stop go, stop go, and you want to go go go go. So I have a hunch that’s hard, like you said it’s going against your instincts.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely, independence is very important.
Sundae: And I’m hearing that the Independence, that value sometimes feels threatened by outside circumstances that are connected to this rotational life.
Melanie: Of course, it starts with easy things, you can’t even get a driver’s license without your husband.
Sundae: Trying to get a bank account, drivers licence, a passport. That’s the tough part.
Melanie: In some countries you are not even allowed to work.
Sundae: So here’s the thing, I’m celebrating you for how you’ve shown up. How I heard you start by feeling bad about feeling how you feel. A bit of shaming yourself for feeling who how you do, and I’ve watched you drop that and see something else instead. I’ve watched you acknowledge your core values, I’ve watched you open up to the idea that your body is responding to the situation in a way that doesn’t serve you and I’ve watched you open your perspective to new opportunities.
So I’m really celebrating you and how you’ve shown up because it’s not easy when you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. What are you most proud of you when you think about how you’ve shown up in our session today?
Sundae: So hard to be honest with ourselves, let alone someone else.
So Melanie, I’m celebrating you and I want to say thank you for your honesty and for showing up and thank you for sharing who you are, because I know that people who are listening are going to see themselves, and because you shared your story they’re going to see themselves and drop their guard, drop the guilt and open the tunnel to a new possibility to do it differently so they can feel differently and show up differently for themselves and their families.
So thank you so much for sharing your story today.
Melanie: You’re welcome, thank you for the opportunity.
So there you have it, one conversation with a woman just like you who’s processing her grief at a loss of an identity. Someone who went from working at a respectable job making money to grasping at a concept of herself when she was in a new position of the accompanying partner and looking for work.
Maybe there is something she said that sounded like your own thoughts, maybe some of the things she shared mirrored her own fears, maybe there’s something new for you that you’re walking away with, like we’re biologically programmed for purpose and how hard it is for us because we do not have permission to want more.
This episode has asked you to consider, what if you had permission to want more? What if you accepted that purpose is important and worth pursuing no matter how wonderful other parts of your life are? And what have you acknowledged how deep that need is to feel valued and purposeful?
Today Melanie was grasping with the thought, “I don’t feel value, I don’t value myself unless I get paid.” And we walked through her own process and discovered that her vision was narrowed and her process was to open that to see what else could bring her security.
But from you it might be different there might be something else that swirling around in your mind and heart that is keeping you stuck and pushing that craving for purpose.
So I look forward to joining you in this journey to help you find more purpose.
This is all part of the four-part series on expat quick sand. If you have not yet signed up you are warmly welcome to my purpose challenge that is taking place in the Facebook group Expats on Purpose.
You have been listening to Expat Happy Hour, this is Sundae Bean.
Thank you for listening.
I’ll leave you with the words of Suze Ormon “There’s nothing wrong with saying I want to have more. I want to be more.”