The time leading up to your spouse returning from deployment is often a frenzy of varied emotions, tasks in preparation, and expectations for the time together to come. Whether your spouse has been deployed for four months or 12, to a combat zone or in support of a training mission, the transition back home is an adjustment worth considering. Here are some suggestions for how you can support your serving spouse through the re-deployment phase.
- Communicate early about the transition
First, strive to communicate openly with each other about the transition ahead in the weeks prior to the arrival home. This season of re-deployment may be one of joy and great anticipation as you look forward to a long-awaited reunion. However, for some the time may be marked with anxiety and discomfort, related to relational difficulties that will now have to be faced again in person. For many, the reunion experience lives somewhere in between on the continuum and may include a mixed bag of excited anticipation with concern for the unknown.
Keep these things in mind when talking about the transition back to home life:
- Remember that neither you nor your spouse is a mind reader. Sharing any thoughts that you are having about this reunion is imperative to support yourself and your partner.
- Be sure to communicate what is going on in your day to day life. Your spouse will be returning to a situation that is likely mixed with both familiar and new. Updates in your work schedule, the teacher’s name for your now-school aged child, and major changes that happened to the house (such as converting a room or ripping out the carpet) are helpful information ahead of time.
- Bear in mind that for your spouse, some of this information may be difficult to fully retain and appreciate until s/he engages with the details first hand once home.
- Plan the first two weeks back home together
A second area way to help support your spouse in returning home is to consider their needs during the transitional time and share any plans you may have with him/her ahead of time. Think about the first two weeks after the reunion and spend time crafting a plan together. Be sure to talk about these key areas as you make your plans:
- How much leave time your spouse will have and when they has to return to work for post-deployment briefings and screenings.
- How you each envision the time will be spent and what will be expected. After having relatively one mission for the last several months and a long journey home, it can be overwhelming to unknowingly return to an action-packed first week filled with a welcome back BBQ, family photo session, weekend trip to relatives, a date night for the two of you, and your child’s sporting events.
- What expectations and preferences you each have, and where you can compromise. For some returning servicemen and women, the more people, places, and activities the better; others may be seeking quiet family time to recharge before reuniting with extended family and friends.
- Talk about expectations of routines and tasks
Another suggestion to ease your partner through the redeployment transition involves thoughtfully reintroducing your spouse into the routines and tasks of life at home. You may be understandably ready to hand over the reins on tasks such as cooking or lawncare, and if you are parents, might be counting down to a much-needed break from daily drop-offs, homework checks, baths, and bedtimes for children. However this transition often requires more than a relay-style baton handoff.
Work together to understand which roles your spouse is ready (and possibly even eager) to reacquire, and which may need to wait a week or to be accomplished together at first. While your spouse was away, s/he had one primary job and identity; adopting the additional roles at home in a full-time, in-person capacity can be understandably stressful. Just as you have adjusted the routines at home during the time apart, the routines during this transition (and possibly even for the continued future) may adjust to be different than they were before this deployment. Continued open communication is the most helpful skill you can apply through navigating these tasks. Be willing to look at things from your partner’s perspective.
- Prioritize self-care for you and your spouse
This is a good time to prioritize self-care for each of you as individuals. As part of a military marriage (and especially if there are children) there are plenty of stressors added to the regular work required to maintain a healthy relationship – this redeployment experience is one of them. During these times, it is important for you both to nurture yourselves as individuals, so that you are better able to take care of others.
- Familiarize yourself self-care strategies. While this article by Zero to Three addresses the importance of self-care for parents, the CARE model it talks about is helpful for anyone.
- Engage in your own self-care so you can better support your spouse through this return home.
- Encourage your spouse to do the same, and be an active support of their efforts.
Through this time of transition, there may be a honeymoon period for some, a rocky start for others, or an ease back into the normal. No matter where you fall on the relationship and transition spectrum, know that stress lives in both the good and hard moments of life. If you continue to find more difficulty and tension in your relationship than is healthy — especially beyond the first month or two — find support from trusted sources, including professionals. It may be the best investment that you could make in supporting your spouse and yourself.
Venée M. Hummel, LCSW is a clinical social worker and clinician at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Endeavors in Killeen, Texas, and an instructor at the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. She provides clinical services to veterans and military-connected family members, with a specialty focus on evidence-based treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide prevention, and the impact of deployments on children, couples, and the entire family. She previously completed a fellowship in combat trauma research, assessment, and intervention at the STRONG STAR Research Consortium and Consortium to Alleviate PTSD at Fort Hood, Texas. Ms. Hummel is also the proud daughter of a US Army soldier with over 30 years of active duty service, and she is honored to dedicate her career to giving back to the community that helped raise her.
This article was brought to you by USAA.