The JGM BitBlog: The Power of Connection - Why Trailing Spouses Need Social Networks More Than Ever

Journal of Global Mobility

Judit Végh, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Andrea Dúll, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary
Lan Anh Nguyen Luu, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

The adjustment of trailing spouses has been a recurring theme in global mobility research, with social relations being a significant factor in their successful adaptation. However, little research has been conducted on the relationship dynamics of trailing spouses, especially during a crisis such as a pandemic. How do they navigate their relationships, and how do they maintain connections when physically distant? Furthermore, how might the dynamics of their relationships change during a crisis?
These questions were addressed in a two-year longitudinal qualitative study that began prior to the pandemic and collected data at three different time points. This temporal approach allowed for capturing experiential transitions and provided a structured understanding of their experiences.
The results of the study showed that social networks are vital in the adaptation of expatriate families, and the pandemic has had a significant impact on the relationship dynamics of trailing spouses. The lack of time and co-presence has been one of the biggest obstacles to creating and maintaining friendships. However, quality time spent with significant relationships plays a powerful supportive role, especially during a crisis. Furthermore, extended family relationships have a notable impact on repatriation, and when they are impeded, it causes a particularly difficult re-establishment.
Investment of time into a new friendship conducted through physical presence is preferred over digital kinship. In addition, an individual circle of friends can be developed not only by a direct time investment but also as a by-product of a trailing spouse fulfilling their own well-being needs.
To better support trailing spouses and their families, intercultural training curricula should be extended to include knowledge and practical information about maintaining extended family relationships, social network resources, and methods of creating new relationships.
In conclusion, these findings highlight the importance of social networks for trailing spouses and the significant impact that the pandemic has had on their relationships. By understanding the dynamics of these relationships and providing the necessary support, we can help these families successfully navigate the challenges of global mobility.

To read the full article, please see the Journal of Global Mobility publication:
Végh, J., Dúll, A. and Luu, L.A.N. (2023), "Relationship dynamics of trailing spouses before and during a time of crisis", Journal of Global Mobility, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 43-61.