Let’s Talk About Reintegration after Deployment
The cycle of Deployment does not end at the Homecoming. Sure, Homecoming Day is an exciting day to welcome them home, but it is followed by a huge period of adjustment for the service member, the spouse, and their children. That adjustment period is called Reintegration. Just as the months leading up to deployment can be stressful and frustrating, many relationships experience difficulties immediately after deployment. Both the spouse and the service member change during the Deployment. The have unique experiences–good or bad. They develop new habits–good or bad. Afterwards, they have to live together again and resume their marriage, but things don’t ever go back to “the way they were before.” You just have to create a New Normal instead.
Sometimes it goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn’t. For some couples it takes a week or so to get into a routine. For other couples it can take months. It all depends on a bunch of factors that may change from couple to couple, or even from one deployment to the next. A new baby, moving, new orders, family stress, can all make this period a lot more challenging.
The secrets no one wants to discuss about Reintegration
I think one of the hardest parts about Reintegration is that no one talks about it, so no one is prepared for it. Everyone focuses on Homecoming Day–what to wear, how to design a sign, etc. No one talks about what will happen the next day, or the next week, or how to deepen your marriage with someone you haven’t seen or hardly talked to in six months or more. Sometimes, it can be a huge challenge!
Often we, the spouses, make this period harder because we have had so much time to think and dream and plan while the service members are away. We create our own fairy-tale version of the future. Then they come home, and we wonder what happened to our fairy tale. Our romance did not involve dirty laundry everywhere and a garage full of sandy gear! We did not picture our lover exhausted on the couch, absorbed in video games. We wanted to be happy and feel loved, so we get disappointed and frustrated when things don’t go smoothly. It seems to me that the stress mostly comes when our expectations do not match the reality.
Things every military spouse should know about Reintegration after Deployment:
- Service members have to go back to work the next day, and for about a week or so afterwards.
- When they come home, they will be tired. Most don’t want a party. They want a shower, a nap, and a real meal.
- Don’t worry about getting the house “perfect.” Focus on making room for them so they feel welcome there.
- Your service member has probably changed a little. Their language may be rougher. Driving skills may be rusty. Be kind, and give them time to adjust.
- You have probably changed a little. You don’t need to introduce them to your new hobbies and friends right away. But make sure they know about anything new that is important to you. Invite them to be part of it.
- Finances are very different for a single service member who deploys vs. a married one. Be open and honest about how the money was spent. They may be expecting the lump sum they received after a previous deployment, and that won’t be present if they were paying for your housing, or a new baby, or a car, etc.
- You have probably forgotten their bad habits, but they will still be there. Including a love of video games. It’s ok to let your service member indulge their hobbies and hold your tongue for a short time, but talk honestly about expectations of household chores, and time limits for gaming.
- You are used to being in charge and making your own schedule. Don’t get surprised or offended when they ask what/when/why you are going somewhere. Tell them your routines, and try to include them, too.
- If you have a new baby, he won’t know what to do with it. Don’t laugh at him! Show him how you change a diaper or give a bath, then step back and let him do it his own way. Your way is not always right or best. Dads are different, and that’s ok!
- New babies usually warm up to Dad right away. (Both of mine did when they met him at age 6 months and 7 months, and all my friends have said the same.) Just tell him not to grab the baby from your arms. You can prepare the baby by showing them lots of pictures of Daddy, and letting them lay on his t-shirt or uniforms. And if baby does cry at first, don’t worry, there will be plenty of other moments.
- Kids will want to do everything with their returning parent right away. If your service member is tired, help kids wait or take turns by writing down all the things they want to do, and then drawing out one idea at a time. You could also schedule each activity on a different day. Then they won’t get overwhelmed and frustrated.
Whew, that is a lot to consider! So how can you avoid some of that stressful fighting, and fast forward to the part where you live together happily and comfortably again?
Skills and Resources for Reducing Stress during Reintegration
- Communicate. Make time to sit down and talk. Ask questions. Listen. Have the tough and awkward conversations. You will be glad you did.
- Be patient. Both of you need to remember this, again and again. It will take a while to adjust.
- Realistic expectations. Sometimes you have to lower your expectations. Military life is no dream.
- Laugh together. When things don’t feel fun, remember why you fell in love in the first place! Do something together you both enjoy, and just let yourselves relax and laugh.
- Talk to a counselor. There is nothing wrong with professional help! Military One Source offers 12 free sessions a year to military members. Their services are confidential and don’t affect the service member’s job at all.
These sound very simple, but sometimes they can be hard to remember and practice. A friend gave me a wonderful idea to help. She keeps a journal during deployment where she writes down wishes/dreams/expectations. Things like “I wish we had dinner together every night.” Or “I hope we can go to _____ for a date.” Then on the page beside each wish, she writes down some harsh realities: “He will sometimes work late or be in the field for dinner. ” Or “We need to save $x and find a babysitter before we can go on that date.” This simple exercise can keep some of the more starry-eyed dreams in check. It is also a great way to have meaningful communication with your spouse during deployment. If you aren’t sure what else to talk about in letters and emails, share some of your dreams and ideas. Being open and honest with your spouse before the Homecoming can help you both get on the same page more quickly. If you both have similar expectations, things are going to go more smoothly. If you know your partner’s expectations, it will be a lot easier to make them happy.
What are your Reintegration questions?
It’s normal to feel nervous or anxious as deployment comes to an end. But most spouses eventually get over the awkwardness and adjust to each other within a few days or a week. It’s also normal to have an easy “Honeymoon” experience for the first week, and then deal with bigger issues and head-butting as time goes on.
I am so passionate about the topic of Reintegration that I hosted a question-and-answer session for the spouses in our unit before our deployment ended. I worked with our FRO (Family Readiness Officer, like an Army FRG) to plan an event that was run BY the spouses, FOR the spouses. We gathered some of the “Seasoned Spouses” from the unit who have been through a few deployments to share their experiences– things they did right, things they did wrong, things they would do differently. It was a casual and comfortable environment where anyone could ask questions about what to expect. Then someone who has “been there/done that” reassured them or helped them be prepared. Some of our topics were:
- Introducing a New Baby to Daddy
- Reintegration with Children, at different ages
- Finances and Budgeting
- Sharing Household Tasks/Chores
- Recognizing PTSD
- Planning Vacations and Family Visits
- Moving or having a new baby right after deployment
- Feeling a need for space
- The 5 Love Languages
If you were coming to our panel, what questions would you ask? Have you had a difficult or successful Reintegration after Deployment? Please share!