Even though it was welcomed news to learn that the overall divorce rate among military marriages dropped during the fiscal year ending on September 2013, it is probable this is due to the military operation in Iraq concluding combined with the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. The military community understands that when the enormous stress of repetitive deployments slows, so also does the associated stress levels in the marriage and home. This is not to say that all stress disappears once our loved one returns home from deployment. A certain amount of stress is normal and expected as the family moves through the deployment cycle. Here are five tips to help make the post deployment transition a smoother experience:
1. Don’t Over Plan – We all desire those first couple of months our spouse is home to be reminiscent of our honeymoon, even conjuring up a mental list of things we want to do as a couple or family. However, being an eager beaver to return to pre-deployment normal too fast can backfire. Over planning can overwhelm the returning military spouse. He or she may be stationed on a ship, but it was certainly no leisure cruise or a wildlife safari excursion if your spouse is a soldier. Their life has been on a demanding and strict regime for many months prompting the need to decompress without unrealistic or unreasonable expectations. If possible, prior to your spouse deploying or returning home, (via e-mail, port calls home, or snail mail) discuss your expectations with one another.
The rhythm of each military home is different. In traditional non-medical family reunions, some spouses may be able to integrate back into his or her role in the family sooner or later than anticipated. The key is to be patient with your spouse. When my husband returned home from deployments I avoided committing him to plans as a couple or family the first two weeks. Every family is different in what is sensible and wise, but the idea is to find what works best for your military family to achieve a doable transition.
2. Lower Expectations – This can go both ways–for the spouse returning home and the spouse upholding the home. Having unreasonable expectations on each other, as we discussed above, can trigger tension in the home. Have you ever felt like things were out of wrack or sync with your spouse just after a homecoming? Relax, that feeling is normal. During deployments, growth happens. Deployments have inherent factors that develop and change us over time. This is especially true for the children of the home. However, if this “out of sync” feeling persists, and doesn’t get better over time, there’s nothing wrong with counseling as a needed first step.
3. Don’t Wait, Get Help – Returning from a deployment can also mean new challenges. If you and your family are experiencing unforeseen stress such as emotional or physical, it’s important to seek counseling right away. Part of the reason for the drop in the divorce rate during fiscal year ending September 2013 among military marriages is the improvement of family programs. Contact your nearest military family support center for programs targeted for meeting the unique needs of military couples and families. They are eager to support you.
4. Control Spending – This may seem like a small matter, but most stress in a family is over financial worries. It is natural to want to celebrate your loved one’s homecoming, but over spending can amplify financial concerns. Too many nights out over dinner with a movie can wreak havoc in an already tight budget. Determine ahead of time a homecoming celebration budget that doesn’t hamper the overall health of your family budget. By sticking to a pre-determined celebration plan, you gain a sense of accomplishment and control by celebrating responsibly.
5. Don’t Rush Romance – Depending on how well your deployment experience was, whether or not it went better than expected or worse than expected, don’t rush intimacy. Even the smoothest deployments have their unique challenges, and this calls for caution. Physical closeness may not come as easily as expected, if it was especially difficult or overwhelming. A couple that fosters unity, patience, and understanding creates a safe environment to express feelings, fears, inadequacies, and failures.
Deployments teach us many things about ourselves, our spouses, and our marriages. I discovered through my husband’s deployments, that the military lifestyle in general is one long transition with many revolutions–each deployment provided opportunities for personal growth–investments made for future deployments and future successes as a military family.