Reuniting with your spouse after a deployment 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. 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 a deployment. It’s also normal to feel the paradox of wanting things to change and wanting them to remain the same.
Spouses at home
If you were the spouse who stayed home during the deployment, you developed routines that kept your family on track and productive. You learned to manage without your spouse and 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. You likely realized there’s more than one way to
get things done. You found inner strengths you weren’t aware you had that helped you persevere
through the challenges of the deployment. Yet now that your spouse is returning, the paradox is
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 the 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 on deployment might—temporarily or long term—have
changed him or her. It might be hard for your spouse to fully embrace being a partner and/or
parent again at first. Be patient in understanding the very strong desire to stay connected to his or
her unit members and the need to slowly retake duties at home. Isolation and disconnection after
a deployment can increase chances of PTSD, so encourage and support the maintenance of
friendships as well as family relationships.
Operator/Enabler returning home
If you were the one deployed, you’re likely to experience a paradox 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 them to become brothers who will be 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 the 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 into your family, your home, and your
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.
Talking about expectations is essential. 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.
Planning in advance is key. Talk about how things will go during the first few days after return. 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, be open to exploring what seems right for you as a family.
Be flexible! Have a plan to establish mutual expectations, but if you adhere to it too rigidly, things might go awry. Build flexibility into your expectations.
Keep lines of communication open. 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 your 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 one another. 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 in separate spaces might feel best initially. Give yourselves the space to figure out what will work best for you during this important time of reintegrating your family.
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.