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I am fine, but...

Photograph: iStock

Text: Kathy Borys Siddiqui

We all need to feel heard and be seen, however, as international spouses/partners at times, this may prove to be quite hard. Why? It is not easy to be vulnerable, open, and honest about the challenges we face, and at times we may need assistance. Especially when we feel that we should be able to handle things ourselves.

It may come as no surprise that spouses/partners are very significant in all relocations. They are often the ones dealing with all the practicalities, documents, administrative work, settling in, unpacking, and making the house a home. They are the ones that make the relocation a reality and the highly skilled employee employable. The spouses/partners are strong, resilient, innovative, they are the movers and the shakers, and like all people, they need to be acknowledged and have their efforts appreciated.

WHO is a spouse/partner? According to the 2020 research conducted by Oxford Research for Denmark, “ The vast majority of ex-pats in the 2020 survey are highly-educated, some 43% have a Master’s degree, and 12% have a Doctorate.” Spouses/Partners are included in these numbers, which confirms that many are highly skilled, educated individuals and most of them have dual-career experience and aspirations. Some choose to stay at home until the kids are more independent, which in Denmark is not the norm and may seem very unconventional. This, however, does not mean that they do not have dreams and aspirations for the future. It may seem like a luxurious life, moving from place to place, and not having to work, lunching, and sipping cafe lattes. But, do not judge a book by its cover - unless you have done it yourself, you simply do not know what it is like to begin climbing uphill and start over once again. As an adult, it is harder to start from scratch in all aspects of your life. International life means you have to find your way in a new culture, language, build new social and professional networks, understand the school systems, health care, taxes, laws & regulations… and often you are on your own (unless your other half is Danish). Being a spouse/partner is lonely at times, and it takes a lot of energy and tenacity to keep the household running smoothly, the family equipped for everyday activities, and somewhere in between to find a bit of time to focus on yourself.

"Acknowledging spouses/partners is an act that can make or break the whole relocation."

Acknowledge the spouse/partner

I am not trying to paint a sad scenario here of the poor spouse/partner - on the contrary, I would like to highlight the importance of spouses/partners. They are essential to the family members as well as international companies. Acknowledging spouses/partners is an act that can make or break the whole relocation. Yes, we need to hear and see one another and voice our appreciation. The sooner we openly address this topic, the better. The family as well as international companies, may at times unintentionally overlook the efforts of the spouses/partners.

From a business perspective, acknowledgement is a powerful tool to motivate and keep the team spirits high. As a leader, you know that it is vital to make sure that your team feels valued, appreciated, and heard. The same goes for your international employees and their family.

How to acknowledge?

The approach will vary from company to company, but, here are a few ideas:

Invite the family members to see the company (they are curious to see your company -

it is the reason why they moved).

➤ Invest in the spouses/partner (workshops, training, networking events). If you show

interest in the spouse/partner, the family is more likely to stay.

➤ Create a welcoming system (buddy system, an option of external training, counselling).

At times we may seem fine, but the truth is we all need a helping hand. Let us be more aware of all the valuable individuals who make international life and business happen.

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