Thriving as an expat spouse - Six steps to success as an expat spouse

In two earlier articles of the "Thriving as an expat spouse" series (part 1 & part 2), I described six stages in an expat experience and provided tips for each stage. Understanding that each person goes through these stages is an important first step as you prepare for your expat assignment.

How to thrive in an expat assignment

The next question an expat spouse asks is "How will I cope once the going gets tough?"

Diagram 1 - Stages in the expat cycle expat cycle mary tod

Personal experience, conversations with other expat spouses and research have identified six steps to transition through the expat cycle and thrive in an expat assignment.

The diagram below illustrates how each of these steps relates to the challenging stages of dislocation, sizing up and second settling in.

Diagram 2 - Six steps to thriving as an expat expat thrive stages

To successfully apply these steps requires an open mind and positive attitude, a desire to examine what makes you tick, a healthy dose of determination, a willingness to communicate openly with your spouse, a commitment to make the most of the situation and a group of family and friends to encourage and empathise.

Step 1: Build awareness

The first step is to understand how moving to a foreign country has affected you by considering all dimensions of your situation as dispassionately as possible. Use this example to prompt your own thinking.

Step 2: Accept need to change

Because so much has changed, an expat spouse needs to face the reality of reinventing herself. She does this by acknowledging that she is the one who has to adapt. Spend time looking through your personalised version of the example in Step 1 as you consider where and how you will change.

Step 3: Discover possibilities

With awareness and acceptance it is now time to take charge of your life again. Each individual has a blend of roles that forms part of her identity (e.g. mother, professional, mentor, wife, friend, care giver and so on), a personal set of interests, strengths, and skills and a range of motivating activities.

Diagram 3 - An example of interests, strengths & skills  interests strengths skills

During Step 3, an expat spouse brainstorms possibilities for using or exploring her interests, strengths and skills in light of each role, in light of changed circumstances and personal motivators. Listing possibilities opens the way to new beginnings.

Step 4: Establish your focus

After working through Step 3, the challenge is not whether there are possibilities, the challenge is where to focus. During Step 4 an expat spouse sets priorities and makes choices based on her personal goals, motivators and constraints.

Step 5: Plan your steps

Dreams are seldom fulfilled without a plan. In Step 5 an expat spouse creates a structured, realistic plan to move ahead. Such a plan enables real change and a feeling of accomplishment.

Step 6: Work your plan

The final step is to work the plan. It is exhilarating and energising to have a realistic plan and to commit to action, one step at a time, against the plan. With imagination, commitment and a sound plan almost anything is possible.

With an open mind and deliberate effort, opportunities abound for an expat spouse: to develop latent talents, to do something you have never had time for, to take a different career direction, to build new skills, to return to school, to travel, to learn a new language or refresh one that is rusty, to get involved in community work, to learn about a new culture and traditions.

Working through each step, an expat spouse / partner will gain personal insights, develop a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities of an expat assignment and use techniques that will help at other times of change.

She will learn that by developing a personal plan with a long term perspective, she just might open herself to a whole new approach to life!

Previous in the series
 Success begins before you leave
 Success depends on you

Mary Tod


Mary Tod

Mary accompanied her husband to Hong Kong for a three year assignment. Prior to Hong Kong, she worked as a management consultant. Following her time as an expat, Mary changed...

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JamesWalter2 11:14 | 21 January 2022

Hey, nice article. Keep posting this type of article to read such articles and learn from these types of articles. By the way, I am James Walter. Subject Matter Expert at Sample Assignment.