How to create the ideal relocation experience for your spouse or partner

Scouting a job offshore is exciting. But what about loved ones back home? Engaging your partner with the possibility, and reality, of relocating is crucial to a successful move.

Even when given the chance to do a look-see visit many candidates are doing double duty – interviewing for jobs as well as evaluating the pros and cons of New Zealand on behalf of their families. Our Mobile Advisors have some fascinating conversations with clients about what it would take for partners to relocate. And the differences between how the visiting and home-based spouses approach the prospect.

Personally, I’ve muddled through most facets of the partner experience. Early-career, I swept my husband along on the adventure of my first offshore posting. (Admittedly with minimal empathy on my part towards his challenges in finding work and personal networks.)

Then we hit the sweet spot of dual international career moves, putting us on ‘equal’ relocation footing. Next time round I was a freelancer with small children, seeing the prospect of uprooting from quite a different angle. I vetoed one move, and agreed to another.

All this got me mulling over how candidates could approach relocation in a way that brought both partners on board throughout the process. Here are my thoughts:

Deciding to stay or go....

Ask don’t tell

It’s quite normal to find the candidate more enthusiastic about the offshore opportunity than their spouse. Draw out your partner on what they’d like to know about the looksee visit rather than launching forth on a sales job. Nobody likes being pushed into a life-changing decision.

Put yourself in their shoes

Worries about how kids (or fur children) will cope with the move may be foremost in your partner's mind. Maybe their career is peaking, or they are starting to regain control over their own life as children grow up. No issue is insurmountable but they do need to be acknowledged and explicitly addressed.

Know your personalities

Often couples may not actually disagree over an international move. But it might seem they do. This is because they approach the prospect quite differently. For example, a planner needs to have a fully detailed picture of their new life, and will want to work on building this up over time. While a visionary will quickly see the path ahead and want to act, leaving the detail to be filled in later. Some of our clients find it useful for one or both partners to work through a personality test, providing insight into how individuals feel most comfortable conceptualising and undertaking an international move.

Executing the move....

Take lessons from work

A comprehensive onboarding programme and a positive employee experience are crucial to effective performance in a new role. Approach your new home life the same way – even if it’s down to you to make that happen. Cover off the practicalities of life like housing and schooling. And don’t forget the emotional support that is crucial to getting through the inevitable ups and downs of building a new life in an unfamiliar place.

Make critical lifestyle decisions together

Well-meaning workmates urge quick choices of suburbs or schools based on their preferences - which won’t necessarily match yours. As a couple or family, you know what suits best. It’s great if your spouse can shortlist options, but do take time out of work to visit and talk through the pros and cons so that you both own the outcome.

Support your partner's new life

The working spouse will have a ready-made network of people and a sense of purpose through their careers. The partner will be creating all that from scratch. So resist downloading about your busy goal-driven work day and instead share in the progress your partner is making. Be available to host a neighbourhood dinner party or make the effort to join your partner’s new workmates for lunch. In fact those connections you make outside work will be what keeps you in a place for the long term - jobs and colleagues come and go.

Sadly, 37% of international assignment failure is due to family issues, spouse dissatisfaction or inability to settle into their new country. Taking a sensitive and proactive approach to building your relocation experience together with your spouse, is key to maximising your chances of success.

Bridget is Principal at Mobile Relocation and has lived and worked in India, Singapore, North America and New Zealand.  In partnership with HR and executive teams, Mobile helps bring expat staff to fill key roles in companies and organisations throughout New Zealand. 

Mobile Relocation - connecting newcomers with what they need to thrive in NZ.