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Moving Violations : When Relocation Demands One Partner Follow, the Road Can Be Bumpy

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In July, 1992, while vacationing in San Francisco, MaryKate Waldo met and immediately fell in love with future husband Steve Marconi. Within months, the couple started discussing marriage.

The only trouble was, MaryKate lived in Orange County; she had a good job, had just bought a new home in Orange and had no intention of moving. Fortunately, Steve agreed to relocate.

For Steve, a native Northern Californian, moving south was no small feat. He left family and friends and a job he loved. Although his company promised him a transfer, just weeks before the move his transfer fell through.

“The most difficult thing was moving to Orange County without a job,” said Steve, 28, who found work in his field a few months later. “Although we were fine financially, it was difficult emotionally to be in a new place and out of work.”

Leaving a good job and facing unemployment are but two of the difficulties facing spouses who relocate for their partners, said Joy Vandruff, director of professional services for the Irvine offices of Right Associates, an international management consulting firm.

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“Moving away represents a major loss and can be scary and painful,” she said. “Relocating tends to be more difficult for spouses, who may feel vulnerable, frustrated and angry because their partner’s career is more important than theirs.”

Usually it’s women who leave careers to follow their husbands, but men are also relocating for their partners, said Vandruff, whose company commissioned a 1994 nationwide study of 2,132 employees and 1,090 spouses in a variety of industries. The study showed that 24% of the spouses were men.

“Our study also indicated that no matter what their sex, spouses [who relocated for their partner’s job] felt more stress and dissatisfaction about the moves than their partners,” she said.

“One native Southern Californian, who had to relocate a substantial distance away with her husband, told him, ‘My heart is breaking,’ ” Vandruff said. “It’s more difficult and painful than many people realize to say goodby to co-workers, family and friends and leave a home of many years only to face the unknown in a new city.”

In retrospect, MaryKate Marconi said, she didn’t realize how difficult the move was for Steve.

“I wasn’t always successful in realizing that he made a big sacrifice to move here and really needed my support,” said MaryKate, 28, who is president of a vocational rehabilitation company in Santa Ana. They now live in Rancho Santa Margarita.

“I didn’t have to move, and at times I thought, ‘What’s the big deal?’ Then he would remind me that he packed up all his belongings and left everyone he knew. During the first year of our marriage, we sometimes argued about that.”

Initially, MaryKate was the only person Steve knew in Southern California, which also made her feel burdened.

“Before he got a job, he would stay at home, tinker around the house and wait for me to come home from work,” she said. “As soon as I walked in the door, he wanted my attention, but my job is very stressful, and I just needed to rest for a few minutes.”

A few months after the move, the situation became easier for the couple when Steve got a job in the electronic distribution industry and began making friends.

Although it didn’t happen in Steve’s case, sometimes after relocating the careers of trailing spouses are hard hit.

“Our study showed that spouses who relocate tend to take a cut in pay and benefits, and many find it difficult to find new employment,” Vandruff said.

A spouse’s career may never rebound, said John Hall, vice president of the Jennings Co. in Irvine, an outplacement/career management firm. Hill also teaches a class in outplacement at Chapman University Graduate Counseling School in Orange. “The spouse often can’t reproduce the same job on the other side of the country, which can be very traumatic,” he said.

Since Marie, who asked that her real name not be used, moved from New York to California with her husband 10 years ago, she has not been able to find a position comparable to the one she enjoyed in New York, she said.

“I now think of myself as having a job, not a career,” said the 46-year-old personnel manager who lives in Irvine. “Although I like my present job, I don’t see any hope for growth. Judging by the careers of my friends in New York, things would have been much different if I had stayed there.”

Considering how stressful relocations can be, some marriages don’t survive the strain.

Sally Kilbourne has made a few international relocations.

“Even though you may have started out with a good relationship, if you stress it long enough and hard enough, the fibers are going to tear apart,” said Kilbourne, a management consultant with Right Associates in San Bernardino, who has worked with many relocating families.

Kilbourne’s marriage to her second husband deteriorated after they moved from his home of South Africa to Southern California, she said.

“Although moving out of South Africa was something that we had discussed over a 10-year period as we saw his work there becoming more vulnerable, he was extremely unhappy in Southern California,” she said. “Part of the problem was that he went to work for someone else here but was used to having his own business.”

Kilbourne said that once they reached Southern California, the couple also failed to nurture its relationship as much as it had done in South Africa.

“When we lived overseas, we would take short vacations four or five times a year,” she said. “Those trips really invigorated and refreshed us. Here we forgot to do that, and we eventually ran out of fuel.”

Kilbourne advises any couple considering a relocation to realize how stressful moving can be. She also suggests taking a hard look at the relationship before any boxes are packed.

“Do an audit of your relationship and determine any areas that are vulnerable and then work on them,” she said.

“Once you begin the moving process, take time out to nourish the relationship. If you’ll be separated for a time while one of you closes up the old house, spend some money on air fare and get together so that the person left behind doesn’t feel so overwhelmed by having to pick up all of the pieces.”

Kilbourne also advises couples to look ahead and determine how the move will impact the entire family, including children, in the long run.

“Never underestimate the power of a move,” she said. “It’s a pervasive thing. Be patient. It takes two or three years to adjust to a new place.

“Avoid making short-term decisions on the spur of the moment. Develop a strategic plan of action,” she said. “A spouse may be more willing to agree to a move if it’s understood that he or she gets priority the next time.”


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