“The Trailing Spouse”; an expat term we have all heard. Just seeing those three words in print don’t evoke a warm and fuzzy “sit by the campfire and roast marshmallows” feeling; particularly for the spouse “trailing” behind the other spouse. I almost envision this poor spouse being dragged by her ponytail; however I have been called overdramatic on more than one occasion, so this may just be my personal opinion. So, fine. Fair. She is being dragged by her chic BOB haircut, not her ponytail.
I have lived in China long enough to have played every relationship role and somehow have lived to write about it with an “intact sense of humor”. Sometimes I still gag when I speak of my prior relationship “learning lessons”, so I prefer writing about them, because it gives me less of a heartburn.
I have been single in China, dated in China, seriously dated in China, seriously not dated in China, lived with someone in China (they moved out after 2 weeks… hold… I am gagging… you were warned) and now for the first time, I am married in China. And the “trailing spouse” in my case is my husband; not me.
My Beloved (MB) is doing what most “trailing female spouses” do; take care of the children, clean the house, grocery shop, contend with Ayis, take the children to school and enter a country they would not have necessarily chosen, but decided to for the betterment of the family unit.
For all you mothers/fathers who are stay-at-home-parents; I would like to bestow a crown of glory on thy head now if I could, because I would need cocktails at noon if I had to be at home with my 3-year-old lovely son all day. I would fear for my liver. And I like my liver.
I will share something with you that I expect to stay among us friends. There are days when I have worked 10 hours and literally have not had time to pee or eat, only to come home to MB wanting to show me the new cleaner he found for our microwave at Pines Market, only to be followed by a 10 minute monologue telling me how incredible it looks and wanting my immediate adoration complete with an impromptu cheerleading song with pom poms. These are the nights, I ask myself, “Am I on a hidden camera show? Is this my life?” You know, the shows where they test people’s patience and after X amount of time, they win money? Nope, friends. No money, unless I find RMB1 under my couch cushion.
Does my darling of a husband understand that I have just endured a 10 hour work day which consisted of meetings, hiring, firing, emergencies, report writing, HR meetings, deadlines, managing 30 people and taxi drivers?? 5 taxi drivers to be exact, if you aren’t counting the one that kicked me out for no apparent reason yesterday.
I used to yell and scream at MB for literally accosting me at the front door when I crawled in from work (when I say used to, I mean last night). However, I am beginning to understand that being in his position all day has its hardships too and perhaps I should exercise more patience with him since I have no time to exercise at the gym. Thus, being the selfish wife I can be… I have decided to re-evaluate ways to encourage some semblance of marital bliss for MB and I and the sanity of my son and 2 cats. Plus, I do like a clean microwave.
I had to have a “sit down” with my darling of a spouse and explain 1) before I have even stepped foot in the front door, please do not pounce on me before I have even taken my shoes off to show me how clean the house is, the new garden you planted outside or how nice the house smells because you changed the kitty litter. It is not that I don’t care about these things. In truth, I care about them a great deal. But I need 30 minutes to “decompress” after work. This includes: taking shoes off, changing into my pajamas, having a glass of wine, devoting some time to my 3-year-old and getting dinner prepared. After I have basked in the glory of 30 whole minutes to myself in a 24 hour day; I am tickled pink to hear about MB’s day (for once I am not being sarcastic). 2) I actually have to make an effort to remember that MB has probably been home most of the day, cleaning, talking to very few people whom he can communicate with, taking care of a 3-year-old very active boy and literally is “chomping at the bit” to get some adult interaction from me right away and some validation that what he is doing is contributing to the family and is valuable.
I almost feel guilty writing that last sentence. Who doesn’t want validation? Moving on… I did say almost guilty. The point being is that every marriage is difficult and each spouse wants some form of validation at the end of the day.
I know this is amplified for expat marriages where the “trailing spouse” often doesn’t have the family or friends’ support they once had. Conversely, the spouse who led the trailed spouse, often is working in a culturally unfamiliar working environment, are working longer hours, learning different labor laws and a multitude of other factors which cause the entire family’s stress level to reach a breaking point. So before you reach the breaking point, put on the brakes. At least I will attempt downshifting this week.
I’m winding this article down for the night, so I can go look at the microwave MB spent hours cleaning and I am leaving a post it note for MB thanking him for cleaning the vile microwave machine (he was correct: it was “college dorm, frat house” vile). I may even write, “I love you… wifey”.