Is “trailing spouse” the right phrase?

Are you offended by the term “trailing spouse?”

It seems like a simple question, but as diplomatic and corporate expat spouses around the world continue to debate its use, Unaccompanied Baggage is interested in our readers’ thoughts. Is it the right phrase? Is there a better one? Is the concept too complicated for a simple label?

Feel free to comment here, even if your response is as simple as YES or NO. If you have more to say about the topic, though, and don’t have a blog of your own, feel free to send longer responses to Feature-length pieces may be posted on their own, and shorter responses will be compiled into a roundup for posting here. (Those who respond can remain anonymous if they’d like.)

If you’re a blogger and would like your post on this topic (current or past) reblogged, let us know!


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10 Responses to Is “trailing spouse” the right phrase?

  1. E.M. Dyer says:

    Indeed, “Trailing Spouse” is a loaded term. “Are you the employee or the trailing spouse?”, they ask. Many people follow up with “And what do you do?”, because as a man of course I must find validity and meaning through work, lest I be cast out like a drone from the hive. For those who I sense would be uncomfortable otherwise, I say I work part time online. For those who enjoy a laugh, I say that I’m a life coach for our children. Both are true. I created Trailing Houses for those of us in this position, not quite fitting in to any one generation’s view of what a “Traling Spouse” should be, yet frequently having to do so for our loved one’s sake at rep events, etc. I like “Internstional Man of Mystery,” myself. Cheers.


  2. john thomas says:

    how about, ya know, spouse. husband, wife, partner would also be acceptable.


  3. Eric Camp says:

    I agree with John – stick with spouse, husband, wife, or partner.

    Unfortunately, too often even these terms are preceded by the words “only the” – as in, “I am only the spouse/husband/wife/partner.” The spouse/husband/wife/partner community needs to make sure that we are not perpetuating our 2nd class status by avoiding such terminology.


  4. Heather says:

    I don’t know if I’m offended, but I find it sort of weird. Why trailing? I’m not “behind” my husband. And I think other types of relationships could be encompassed as well (in-laws, boyfriends and girlfriends, etc.). Maybe “accompanying partner/family” makes more sense, but that still means we’re labeling ourselves in relation to employee’s career. I don’t find that offensive, because the reality is that in the context in which we are using the term (What brings you here? Which one of you works at the embassy? In what ways do a trailing spouse’s needs differ from the working spouse’s needs? etc.), making some sort of distinction is important – we can’t make our needs known to the powers that be if we don’t have some way to refer to ourselves as a group. I don’t like “trailing spouse,” but no one has suggested a better term. The alternatives tend to be either too wordy, or so broad they lose meaning.


  5. Meg says:

    It fits. I am following my spouse around the world and am glad that I am given that opportunity.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Shareen says:

    I think it depends on the context and what is being implied in the question. Its an easy way to explain that I have put my career aside for the choice we made as a family. Some people make it sound offensive and less worthy but I usually ignore them.


  7. lindermanp says:

    I think “accompanying” — standing by the side of — is better than “trailing” with its connotation of tagging along behind. I don’t trail behind my spouse — we make the decision together to go to a place, taking all factors into consideration, and we support each other when we get there, each contributing in our own way.


  8. Kim says:

    Ah, likely a bit archaic. Very Ward and June Cleaver. Suggest, ‘Staying in Motion with the FS..’


  9. Sonja says:

    “Trailing spouse” is an annoying term, to my mind. Since synonyms for the word trailing include words like straggling, lagging, dawdling, and the phrase bringing up the rear, then clearly it is a perjorative way of describing us.
    If there must be a qualifying adjective to go with “spouse” (and I’m not convinced there needs to be), then maybe “accompanying” might work. For lack of anything better…


  10. Offended is a bit strong but even if trailing is shorter than ‘accompanying’ it bears a negative connotation for me (trailer -> white trash …). I wonder why we have to even find a name or acronym to categorize us. Why can we just be Spouses?! When hubby joined I was shocked to discover I was no longer just myself but a TFBS – trailing foreign born spouse …


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