In the 1980's, the professional world was introduced to a new term of art: the so-called trailing spouse. Trailing spouse syndrome has been generally defined as the effect the relocation of one's spouse has on one's professional trajectory. More specifically, the trailing spouse subordinates his or her own career in order to allow his or her partner to advance professionally. Since many spouses and partners possess their own distinct professional identities, relocation for a new job (even with the same employer) affects not only the candidate, but the spouse as well.
Would you abandon a successful career if your spouse received the professional chance of a lifetime?
In today's large law firm environment, trailing spouse syndrome is an increasingly relevant issue. Firms rely on relocating recruits from one city to another to staff their busier or growing offices, and while domestic transfer and relocation is common, the international relocation of lawyers is becoming increasingly abundant. When considering the needs of a trailing spouse, one cannot simply ask "is this the right job for me?" One must also ask whether the job will allow one's partner to pursue his or her career goals. A job can't just be "good enough," it has to be so good that it is also worth the sacrifices that a trailing spouse will have to make.
Who is doing the trailing?
A 1987 New York Times article ("Relations; Following a Wife to a New Job," by Andree Brooks) stated that 10 to 30% of trailing spouses were husbands following their wives as they pursued new opportunities. The article seemed to suggest that the number of husbands as trailing spouses was on the rise. While current estimates of how often a woman is a trailing spouse, and whether the trailing spouse dynamic applies equally to husbands and wives, are scarce, my own anecdotal experience shows that women are more often trailing their husbands. Still, I have seen plenty of trailing husbands and plenty of trailing in same-sex relationships, which makes it difficult to identify what is "typical" in the trailing spouse world.