For decades, "family issues" have been blamed as the leading cause of failed assignments. This is hardly surprising considering that expatriate families typically face huge relocation challenges, with spouse unemployment and new cultures, languages, locations, homes, schools, and networks among them. Being "dumped in to sink or swim" and being "treated by the company as totally invisible" are frequent complaints, and appropriate organizational support is generally felt to be poor.
Family expatriation is further exacerbated by losses: of employment, of a career, of financial independence, of social networks, and of extended family support. It also tends to result in new and unexpected family roles and responsibilities, along with shifts in relationship dynamics that can cause ongoing unresolved family tensions. In the absence of a handbook for "how to do" expatriate marriage or dual careers, families literally make it up as they go, often unsuccessfully.
Understandably, family expatriation is one of the hardest things to build a skill set for, and because of this, expatriates and their families tend to suffer years of stress, strain, and unhealthy living before it possibly ends in divorce, separation, a split assignment, or failure. If professional intervention is offered before or during the process, perhaps the deterioration can be avoided or reversed.
Employing organizations can play a part in this, with thoughtful application of "best practice" solutions and appropriate organizational support. This includes assistance to address the dual-career issue, managing work–family "spillover", help with trailing spouse adjustment, avoiding mental health problems, alleviating marital stress, and assisting with third culture kid (TCK) challenges. In doing so, expatriate families can learn not only to survive, but also thrive, on the global mobility circuit.
Academic research also has a role to play. With a better understanding of the issues, a deliberate effort to unpack terms such as "family failure to adjust" that has been highlighted as a key reason for assignment failure, and a desire to get behind the generic labels often used in the academic literature, expatriate family research can make a small but important step towards bridging the scholar-practitioner divide.