Flourishing beyond borders: Character strengths, resilience and self-perceived well-being of the accompanying expatriate partner during international relocation
The process of expatriation presents many challenges to the working partner, the accompanying expatriate partner (AEP), as well as their families. One of the most cited reasons for failed expatriate assignments is the unhappiness or the inability of the spouse to adjust in the host country. The need for psychological support is evident, which makes it important to explore and find ways to facilitate AEPs’ mental health. This should involve recognizing and making optimal use of their personal resources, such as character strengths and resilience. Even though there are multi-national companies (MNCs) and psychologists who offer training and assistance prior to expatriation, insufficient attention has been given to the mental health of the AEP. This study aimed to address this extant gap in research and practice. In an effort to gain an understanding of the character strengths, resilience and well-being of the South African AEP, the research study consisted of three sub-studies conducted in three phases. Each phase is reported in a separate research article (cf. Chapters 2, 3 and 4). The core question for the overall study was: Do the character strengths and resilience of AEPs play a role in their self-perceived well-being during international relocation? The following research questions were formulated and addressed in the respective articles: (a) What are the character strengths, levels of resilience, and self-perceived well-being of AEPs during international relocation? (Article 1); (b) What are the significant associations between the character strengths, levels of resilience, and self-perceived well-being of AEPs during international relocation? (Article 1); (c) How do AEPs subjectively experience the relationship between their character strengths, resilience and self-perceived well-being? (Article 2); (d) How do their experiences inform our understanding of the mental well-being of AEPs? (Article 2); and (e) How can character strengths and resilience be enhanced to ultimately facilitate the well-being of AEPs? (Article 3). A multimethod research design was used, where Phase 1 followed a quantitative approach and Phases 2 and 3 followed a qualitative approach. In Phase 1, three standardised questionnaires (i.e. VIA-72, RS and MHC-SF) were used to describe 110 participating South African AEPs’ character strengths, resilience and self-perceived well-being, where after the associations between these constructs were determined and proposed in a structural equations model. In Phase 2, a smaller sample group (n=17) answered 16 semi-structured, open-ended questions in an effort to inform our understanding and review the quantitative model that was proposed in Phase 1, and to provide insight into AEPs’ subjective experiences regarding the interplay between these constructs. In Phase 3, four practicing psychologists who had experience in consulting with expatriates answered 2 semi-structured, open-ended questions and reflected on the strengths included in the model, as well as on the ways in which to enhance AEPs’ character strengths and resilience to ultimately facilitate their well-being. The results of the VIA-72 indicated that the strengths of Integrity/Honesty, Love, Fairness, Appreciation of beauty, Gratitude and Kindness ranked highest. The results of the RS showed 21.8% (N = 24) of the participants to have low levels of resilience; 67.3% (N = 74) to have moderate levels of resilience, and 10.9% (N = 12) to have high levels of resilience. Further, the results of the MHC-SF indicated that 9.1% (N=10) of the participants were languishing, 46.4% (N=51) had moderate mental health, and 44.5% (N=49) were flourishing. The correlational results indicated that strengths of Curiosity, Gratitude, Hope and Zest were not only positively associated with participants’ levels of resilience and well-being, but were also the most significant predictors of AEPs’ resilience and well-being. Resilience was also positively associated with self-perceived well-being. Findings from the qualitative data of Phase 2 confirmed that the strengths of Curiosity, Gratitude and Hope played pivotal roles during expatriation and that these strengths had an effect on both their levels of resilience as well as their self-perceived well-being. Finally, findings from Phase 3 provided insight into the fact that the strengths of Curiosity, Gratitude and Hope as well as resilience could be cultivated to ultimately facilitate well-being. Participating psychologists furthermore reflected on therapeutic approaches and techniques that could be used to facilitate the further development of these character strengths, and hence also AEPs’ mental health. Both the AEPs and the psychologists affirmed a definite need for psychological support prior to and during their time abroad.
- Health Sciences