Let’s Talk About Reintegration after Deployment
In June, I was the featured writer for the Sticky Apron Blog. It’s a Navy wife blog. She wanted to hear my advice from my husband’s 6 deployments, so she asked me to write about the Reintegration period after Deployment. And oh boy, did I have a lot to say! For copyright purposes, I can’t just copy the article here. You’ll have to go to The Sticky Apron to read it in full. (By the way, I did not write the title. I would never call young military wives “newbies.” But I wrote the rest of it!) Here are some of the highlights.
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. 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 1 deployment to the next. A new baby, moving, new orders, family stress, etc 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. It is similar to giving birth for the first time. When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to Pregnancy and Birthing classes. They talked about different options for birth, positions to help the mom relax in labor, ways to reduce stress, etc. I read lots of books about Pre-Natal care, and how to prepare my body for birth. But I realized that the books and class all ended at the moment of birth. They were completely silent on the topic of recovery afterwards. I remember calling my sister-in-law days before my due date, and asking, “So, ummmm, will I be in pain the next day? What is the recovery like?” She paused, then told me hesitantly, “Well… there will be a lot of blood…” This was the first time that anyone had mentioned that. But I’m glad I asked, because even with a healthy birth, oh boy was there a painful recovery!
Deployment is the same way. 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 6 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 guys 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 he comes home, he will be tired. He doesn’t want a party. He wants a shower, a nap, and a real meal.
- Don’t worry about getting the house “perfect.” Focus on making room for him so he feels welcome there.
- He has probably changed a little. His language may be rougher, his driving skills may be rusty. Be kind, and give him time to adjust.
- You have probably changed a little. You don’t need to introduce him to your new hobbies and friends right away. But make sure he knows about anything new that is important to you. Invite him to be part of it.
- Finances are very different for a bachelor who deploys vs. a married man. Be open and honest about how the money was spent. He may be expecting the lump sum he received after a previous deployment, and that won’t be present if he was paying for your housing, or a new baby, or a car, etc.
- You have probably forgotten his bad habits, but they will still be there. Including his love of video games. It’s ok to let him indulge his 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 he asks what/when/why you are going somewhere. Tell him your routines, and try to include him, 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. Remember, all babies cry at birth, and mothers never take that as a personal insult!
- Kids will want to do everything with Dad right away. If he is tired, help them wait or take turns by writing down all the things they want to do, and then drawing out 1 idea at a time. You could also schedule each activity on a different day. Then he 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 session 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.Keep a journal of your post-deployment expectations, and share them with your spouse! Click To Tweet
Let’s Talk about your Reintegration Questions
I am so passionate about the topic of Reintegration that I want to host a question-and-answer session for the spouses in our unit before our current Deployment ends. I am working with our FRO (Family Readiness Officer, like an Army FRG) to plan an event that can be run BY the spouses, FOR the spouses. We are gathering 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. We want it to be a casual and comfortable environment where anyone can ask questions about what to expect, and then someone who has “been there/done that” can reassure them or help them be prepared. Some of our topics will be:
- 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!