A post-deployment reunion with your spouse can be a time of mixed emotions: excitement and relief coupled with concern and apprehension. You’re likely relieved the deployment is over and eager to reconnect. If you have kids, you also might be concerned about how your family will fit back together again now that everyone’s under the same roof. It’s normal to hope everything will just fall into place after your deployment. It’s also possible part of you feels you want things to change while another part of you wants them to remain the same. The good news is there are healthy ways to renew your connection with each other.
Spouses at home
As a military spouse, you likely developed routines to keep your family on track and productive during your spouse’s deployment. You learned to manage without your spouse and even got into a “groove.” Of course, there were times you missed your spouse and perhaps found being home alone frustrating, but you made it work. And you likely realized there’s more than one way to get things done. You also found inner strengths you weren’t aware you had that helped you cope with the challenges of deployment. Yet now that your spouse is returning, you might be torn between wanting your partner to be home while also wanting to keep going in your own “groove.”
Consider how you can help your returning spouse feel needed in your home. You functioned well during the deployment, but making space for your spouse now is important. It wouldn’t be fair to turn over all at-home duties, so talk about what you both think is reasonable. Also pause to consider how your partner’s experiences during deployment might—temporarily or over the long term—have changed him or her. It might be hard for your spouse to fully embrace being a partner or parent again at first. So try to be patient in understanding your spouse’s very strong desire to stay connected to his or her unit members and the need to slowly resume duties at home. Isolation and disconnection after a deployment can increase chances of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), so encourage and support the maintenance friendships as well as family ones.
Service Members returning home
If you were the one deployed, you’re likely to experience some mixed feelings of your own. You too got accustomed to being away. You had your own daily routine, and your battle buddies became your main network. You went beyond bonding with your unit members and became connected forever by the shared experience of enduring war. Every day, in and out, you knew you could depend on them, and they could depend on you. Now that your deployment is over, you’re expected to go from spending all your time with your team back to being a spouse and perhaps a parent. That can feel like an uncomfortable shift. Your daily life will change dramatically, and you might wonder how you’ll fit back in with your family, home, and community.
Speak up if you need more time to recover from the exhaustion of a deployment. Also acknowledge the things your spouse has been taking care of during your absence. Strive to remember you’re an important part of your family, and they’re eager to fully engage with you, when you’re ready. It’s okay to want to spend time with your teammates after you return home. Tell your spouse if that’s where you feel most comfortable right now, with the promise that time with your family will quickly follow. Maintaining your support system upon your return is important.
Successful reintegration requires communication
How can you do this transition well? Everyone has a role to play.
- Plan in advance. Talk about how things will go during the first few days after your loved one returns. Having a plan in place can provide a sense of security. Build in both time together and time apart. A big celebration might feel good to some, but it might not feel good to others coming back from a deployment. This time around, explore what seems right for your family.
- Talk about expectations. Reintegration into your family is something that requires its own conversations, both before and after a deployment. It’s never too late (or too early) to start discussing and brainstorming how you both can contribute to things going well.
- Keep talking. Remember: As a couple, you’re a team before, during, and after deployment. Don’t assume you know what your spouse is thinking or wants. Ask. Share your thoughts and hopes for what will happen. Even if the answer is “I don’t know,” it’s better to share that than to isolate yourselves from each other.
- Be flexible. Have a plan to establish mutual expectations, but if you stick to it too rigidly, things might go awry. Build flexibility into your expectations. If you focus too much on what things were like before deployment, you might struggle to adjust to the “new normal” in front of you. Learn from your past, but strive to be present and observe what’s changed since the deployment. Perhaps your kids took on new habits. Maybe your spouse took on new hobbies. Whatever the changes are—and there are bound to be some—become aware of them, and adapt to your family members as they are today.
- Start slowly. Since a physical reunion doesn’t always lead to a couple’s emotional reconnection, talk about your expectations for what your relationship as a couple will be like once you return. Physical affection might be slow to come at first after a deployment. And sleeping apart might feel best initially. Give yourselves space to figure out what works best for you as you reconnect with your family.
Whether you’re a military spouse or a Service Member, you’ll likely experience mixed feelings about reuniting after deployment. Remember it took time and effort to adjust when the deployment started, and it will take time and effort to adjust when it’s over. For reintegration success, take small steps and keep the lines of communication open.
Bowling, U. B., & Sherman, M. D. (2008). Welcoming them home: Supporting Service Members and their families in navigating the tasks of reintegration. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 39(4), 451–458. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.39.4.451
Doyle, M. E., & Peterson, K. A. (2005). Re-entry and reintegration: Returning home after combat. Psychiatric Quarterly, 76(4), 361–370. doi:10.1007/s11126-005-4972-z
Sandoz, E. K., Moyer, D. N., & Armelie, A. P. (2015). Psychological flexibility as a framework for understanding and improving family reintegration following military deployment. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 41(4), 495–507. doi:10.1111/jmft.12086