Here's a Secret: Military Homecoming Isn't Easy

A sailor greets his wife during a 2015 homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Navy photo
A sailor greets his wife during a 2015 homecoming celebration at Naval Base San Diego. Navy photo

"Homecoming." We all love to hear that word. We buy our cute outfits, get our hair done, dress the kids up, make a cute sign and wait.

And nothing is more magical than that first hug, first kiss and the first moments when we get to see, hold, touch and look at our service member again after all those months.

If only that moment could last.

There's a reason all of those wonderful surprise homecoming videos end right there, in that moment. What about the next day, next week or months? Suddenly, life isn't magical anymore. It's hard, confusing and stressful.

But it's real life. Everyone goes through those reintegration pains. And yet for all its reality, it's not something we discuss -- not in public, not with our friends and sometimes barely with our spouses.

When things are hard, we often retreat into our homes and inside ourselves for protection. If life is hard inside the home, we don't want to open ourselves up to threats that might come from outside, so we shut ourselves in.

But while withdrawing may allow us to protect ourselves, it also means we lose the opportunity to gain a new perspective from receiving outside views. As we work so hard trying to make things right or "normal" in our relationships, we lose a sense of the outside world.

When we withdraw, it's hard to see that we are not the only ones experiencing the homecoming and reintegration struggles. As we fail to seek support from friends and family who might have experienced similar situations, we have no idea that we aren't alone in this battle.

Withdrawal and isolation aren't the only things that make reintegration difficult. Unless we have gone through a reintegration period before, we don't know that homecoming does not mean things pick up exactly where we left them before deployment.

We expect our spouses to come home and immediately begin helping with the kids or do their share of housework, just as they had done before. They may expect to come home to the same routines, just as it was before they left. But the reality is that you and your spouse have likely both changed and your routines have adjusted. We have all adapted to living separately out of necessity. So we have to learn to adapt to the new normal now that everyone is home.

Yet another reintegration challenge often starts before the service member even leaves: the emotional disconnect. Ever find yourself arguing and bickering in the weeks leading up to a deployment? That's normal as we try to protect ourselves from the hurt that is coming on deployment day.

Regaining emotional intimacy and connection at homecoming takes trial, error and patience.

We might have an expectation that it will happen quickly because we have wanted nothing more all these months than to be back together. But it can take months for emotional intimacy to rekindle and new habits that work for both parties to develop.

These struggles don't mean we love each other any less. Just as emotional intimacy didn't happen right away when you first met, it is the same process during reintegration.Reintegration is hard, but it's not just hard for you. It is hard for everyone. And you're not alone -- no matter how isolated you might feel.

Reach out to for help and don't be discouraged. Reintegration can take a while, but it will happen with patience and perseverance.

-- Grace Lipscomb is an Army wife and family counselor with an emphasis in marriage and family counseling.

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