The complexity of being an International Career Couple

I recently had the pleasure of talking to Paul Vanderbroeck and Jannie Aasted Skov-Hansen about their new book “The International Career Couple Handbook”. Reading the title alone, you will get a good sense of what the book is all about and it is a great additional resource when planning your adventures abroad. So as it is just a perfect fit for the SharetheLove audience and I really enjoyed reading it I want to tell you more about it in this blog post. I will introduce you to the definition of International Career Couples and explain to you why this book is very helpful even when you are currently NOT in a Dual-Career relationship right now. 

The International Career Couple Handbook

offers powerful ways to guide internationally mobile talent. From a foundation of deeply caring for a global workforce, the authors share real-life insights into the challenges and opportunities for International Career Couples and the organizations deploying them globally.

Are you an International Career Couple?

Let’s start with a short definition first. What are International Career Couples (ICCs)? Well, while the more common term Dual-Career Couples is focusing on couples in which both partners are committed to their career, Paul Vanderbroeck and Jannie Aasted Skov-Hansen have added the dimension of living and working abroad. ICCs are aiming for global life and a global career and are embracing the complexity of it. Two very important points I want to highlight here: 

  • Dual-Career does not mean that both partners are earning equal pay. There might as well be a big discrepancy. However, it reflects that both careers are important to the couples and life decisions are not based on one career alone. 
  • ICCs are more than “just” a dual-career couple that has moved abroad once. Life in another social and cultural context is an integral part of the “couple’s identity – not a mere requirement or by-product of career development, as it is often the case for other dual-career couples. ICC see international mobility as part of who they are as they chart their road to success.” (Paul Vanderbroeck, Aasted Skov-Hansen, 2020)

Focusing on what works instead of what does not

I love about this book that the authors focused on what is working for couples instead of purely reflecting on the negative like so many other resources in that field. They have interviewed successful International Career Couples (ICCs) and were looking for common commonalities. What do successful ICCs have in common? Why do they strive while others break-up or struggle with the complex nature of living and working abroad? Throughout the book, they are beautifully portraying those successful couples and by the end of the book, you have the feeling of almost knowing them on a personal level.

"Although love may be enough for the private side of the partnership, more is required for a successful career and a move abroad. In short, the partners' careers must also become a focus."

The International Career Couples Handbook

You are an expat partner and not working right now - what can you do NOW to shape your ICC future?

The term International Career Couple can be very daunting when you have just moved abroad and realized that you are either not allowed to work or that the local job market is much more competitive or restricted than anticipated. Many expat partners have the wish to work and continue their careers but reality shows that plans are not always working out like that. Hence, it is important to plan ahead. If working at this very moment is not an option, you can see it as an investment for the future. Prepare for the next future outlook and discuss what you can do TODAY to make it easier on the next assignment or after returning back home. “You can see it like planting a seed”, the authors said. They also stressed the need to put in the hard work and grab every opportunity. It is very easy to stay frustrated when you are living in a challenging environment in which you see more obstacles than opportunities. However, I always invite my readers and clients to invest in their future to make change possible. There is so much power in becoming proactive again, reaching out to others, and communicating pain points and goals. The book also invites you to make sense of the life you have lived so far. Similar to my workbook of finding your professional identity abroad as the expat partner, it triggers a strategic approach to examine your status quo and challenges you to define the desired future as a family. This is not done easily. It requires extensive reflection, conversations with the partners, and time and energy to define one’s identity as a global couple. 

Reflecting on yourself and your partnership

I love how this book is empathizing the importance of active communication for couples. In my coaching, I often address how couples can implement healthy communication tactics to make well-informed decisions for the couple as a whole. Throughout the book, you will find great exercises! Be warned here: The book will trigger a sentiment to book a cabin in the woods in order to workshop all the great ideas with your partner :-). 

Thinking about the complexity of coordinating two international careers within one family one can’t stress enough the importance of constant and open communication. In the book you will find lots of useful templates, triggering questions, and examples on how to communicate with your partner on a regular basis. 

Active communication plays an important role and sometimes it makes sense not to only listen to what is said, but how it is said. As Paul Vanderbroeck puts it: “The book is an invitation to care for your relationship.”
In my mastermind and coaching groups, we often discuss how to communicate with the partner as you can’t make changes in your life on your own when you want to live in a well-functioning relationship. It is about shaping your identity as an ICC: Why do you want to be an ICC? What is your long-term goal? What infrastructure/support systems etc. do you need to make it work? What competencies do you already bring to the table and which ones do you want to add to your portfolio while living and working abroad? All those are elementary questions an ICC should find answers to in order to create a joint identity you as a couple can strive for. For most expat families, the partnership is the one key foundation amid changing elements but also it can be the one key element that is taken for granted and not reflected on. 

"What ICCs can - and should- influence, however, is how their identities are constructed, whether actively (making or choosing the identity yourself) or passively (letting the identity be constructed by others). Constructing and communicating an identity determines how other people behave toward the ICC. What's more, a self-constructed identity based on being different and unique can make you more successful."

The International Career Couples Handbook

The world of global mobility is changing from within. While some companies are still hesitating to update their global mobility packages, new types of expats are on the rise. I have recently talked about that in my post about global careerists. The authors Paul Vanderbroeck and Jannie Aasted Skov-Hansen also agree with me that the female leadership agenda and the rising challenge of finding the right talent will create a better negotiation position for the International Career Couples. So it is even more important to sit down today and discuss your global identity to feel comfortable but also confident about your joint career path. You can find more info about the book here and also in the info box above.

If you have any questions or insights please feel free to use the comment section below. I would love to know whether you see yourself as an International Career Couple and whether you defined global identity. Also if you like to share your story as an example for our Role Models Program let me know!

Thanks for sharing the love and stopping by

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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