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How to handle being a trailing spouse in Singapore


If you’ve followed your partner to a posting in Singapore, the world is your oyster. You can jet to Bali when the mood strikes, go shopping with girlfriends in Bangkok or take the family to see Cambodia. You will likely have a full-time or part-time maid, which allows for plenty of time to keep that backhand mighty, your body toned and hairless and those nails freshly manicured. You can choose to spend your days hanging out with your children, doing volunteer work or pursuing your dream job without a care in the world about who cooks the meals or tidies the house. You’re the envy of family and friends back home because, from the outside, it looks like you’re living a dream.

But this glamorous existence has downsides. Loneliness is the trade-off for me and many others. The breadwinners often work longer hours, travel extensively and entertain in the evenings. This means living half our fabulous lives without partners. It’s hard enough when things are going well, but when the things get tough, coping alone can be daunting. Having to confront illness, crisis with family at home, problems with children, the death of a pet, lost credit cards, or just a lizard in the bedroom can temporarily overshadow all the benefits of living abroad. It’s one of the hardest adjustments for an expat spouse: learning to live your life somewhat alone.

You’re far away from the usual support of family and lifelong friends. You can’t spend all day on Skype and, besides, you hate to complain because no one outside the situation would really understand. (“What? You have someone who irons your sheets and buys the groceries for you?”)

It’s time to reach out to your surrogate family – your fellow expat friends. Although many are afraid to admit it for fear of seeming ungrateful, whiny or weak, we all struggle with this life from time to time. When you can use a hand, a shoulder to cry on, or a girls’ night out, your friends will understand.

The weekends can be especially gruelling when the whole world appears to be busy doing something. Why not check in with someone who has recently moved here or whose partner travels all the time? Make the first move by inviting a friend to lunch or a movie. You will be pleased when they return the favour.

Or take advantage of Singapore’s abundance of social networking and support groups. Step out of your comfort zone and attend a meeting of the American Women’s Association, an Expat Living coffee morning or a mother-and-child yoga group. It’s essential to build a network of people you can call on when your partner isn’t there for you. If you don’t, the loneliness could put stress on you and your relationship, and you might squander the amazing opportunities Singapore has to offer.

Having it all is so worth it. Just make sure that includes a great group of friends.