What to Expect When They Come Home
Homecoming is always cited as a tremendous source of joy and relief after any deployment. Kristin Henderson writes about her intense relief regarding her beloved husband’s safety after combat once his place landed, but that she couldn’t let herself relax until she saw him in person and knew the bus had brought him safely. For others, the reuniting of partners and the ability to share parenting and household responsibilities again is the primary source of relief and joy.
Post-deployment honeymoon periods vary, often depending on family plans and work schedules. It is important to share expectations well in advance by simply asking each member of the family what they want to do. Many service members want to sleep and eat home-cooked meals, while spouses want to go out to fancy dinners. Better to discuss plans in advance so that everyone’s desires can be addressed.
Children obviously want to spend time with the service member, but it’s important to discuss what kinds of activities. Many service members need time to decompress from combat and deployment, and they may suffer from injuries or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, so loud noises or playing war-like video games may be disturbing to the service member.
While couples should expect some degree of emotional rollercoaster, spouses of combat veterans should monitor service members for overwhelming emotions or other symptoms of PTSD or a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI -which can result from trauma to the head). According to the Deployment Health Clinical Center, the rate of combat-related TBI in military members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan account for as much as 30% of all combat-related injuries seen at Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 2003 to 2005. The Army estimates that PTSD affects as many as 30 percent of service members as well.
“Following a TBI, the most important factors in the military member’s recovery are a strong family support system and a united network of medical resources,” says Tom Robinson, MD, a Navy physician. Thus, spouses can be critical in identifying and obtaining treatment for service members. Because the military now anticipates such high rates of PTSD and TBI, it has removed the stigma from the diagnoses and encouraged service members to get treatment. In fact, in 2008 the Defense Department removed a question from the security clearance application regarding whether the applicant had received mental health treatment.
No matter how good the homecoming, at some point the honey period will be over.
“Having such close communication, we fooled ourselves into thinking that redeployment was going to be seemless,” writes “Kfairfax.” “Well, the honeymoon period wore off pretty darn quick. I think that a huge part of his frustration is that he went from an operation tempo of about 120mph 24/7, to 30 days leave, and it was like hitting a brick wall. He felt so important to the mission, and came home a hero in everyone's eyes...but the truth is, after a few days everyone returns to their normal lives.”
“Being a service member myself and being married to one, I've dealt with both sides of reintegration...and it's a lot harder than it looks, even when you're both trying,” says MommaJ. “Dealing with my husband’s PTSD and my own depression (which neither of us wanted to admit we had) has been a real challenge - not to mention just getting used to sharing space with each other after our long seperations.”
Most military couples will not have to deal with the serious issues of PTSD and TBI, but they will have to reintegrate the service member into everyday life. The service member will have to learn and equally enforce the household rules, especially the new ones which arose while he was gone. His guilt will drive him to spoil his children with toys and extra sweets, and spouses need to allow some degree of outpouring. Couples will also need to re-create good habits of marriage, including loving gestures, words and, yes, sex. It may feel awkward to one or both parties, but practice and communication makes perfect.
Fortunately there is a wealth of resources available to military couples. These include the free and anonymous counseling sessions offered by MilitaryOneSource. Couples retreats and seminars are also offered by chaplains and nonprofit groups. Tricare provides services from its Military Family Life Consultants who are specifically hired to counsel military families before, during and after deployments.
“I'd encourage you to go get any help you need, even if your husband isn't at a place yet where he feels like he can or wants to get it for himself,” continues MommaJ. “Mine was initially pretty resistant to the idea but when he saw how much it helped me, he started tagging along, and now he goes on his own! It's helped our communication immensely - we even talk about things now that we assumed we didn't need to talk about because we're both military and are ‘just supposed to know this stuff.’”
Deployments are certainly difficult, but they also help us appreciate our spouses and families. Successful military families focus on that point, and keep up good communication habits.