The Self-Esteem of the "Trailing Spouse"

An issue that comes up quite often in my counselling and Reiki practice is self-esteem and self-value. In my own limited experience, low self-esteem seems to be more common among women than among men. Sadly, some kids struggle with this issue too.

I see this outside my work too, especially among Singapore’s rather large population of “expat wives.” Often, it seems to me, the problem starts with labels such as that. We accept the labels other people apply to us and then slowly, insidiously, they become part of our own self-image. So a journalist, counsellor, engineer, home-maker gets reduced to being something only by virtue of her relationship to her husband.

The most shocking label I’ve come across is “trailing spouse.” Spouse, ok, but why should they “trail?” I first came across this phrase several years ago when someone asked me if I was a trailing spouse. Needless to say, I was horrified at the idea of anyone trailing. I mean really – people walk, run, drive; they accompany their spouse, or even perhaps “follow” them; but why in heaven’s name would anyone trail?

You might think I’m getting all worked up over a simple term. But it is a well recognized fact that language reflects – and affects – the way we think of ourselves and others. This is why the feminist movement has gone to such lengths to change – or supplement – terms that in the past assumed the male gender for people who chaired commissions or committees, spoke for a company, etc. So now we refer either to chairpersons (or simply “the chair”) or to a chairman or a chairwoman, as the case may be. And the same with a spokesperson, or a spokesman/spokeswoman depending on the gender of the individual in question.

And yet, we allow people to address us as “trailers.” Worse, we apply this term to ourselves! I came across the obnoxious “trailing spouse” term again recently, this time applied by a group of women to themselves. Ironically, they had gathered to discuss the changing roles of women at home and in society.

Ladies – and gents – please don’t do this to yourselves - or others. Stand up for yourselves. Ladies, value yourselves enough to be seen (and, in a similar vein, be a "chairwoman," don't hide behind a “chairperson”) - and to be seen to go through life with dignity.

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