Reintegration: It Ain't Easy....


Usually when I receive email about military life, it comes from a milspouse. That changed a couple of days ago when I received an email from a deployed soldier who explained why he reads SpouseBUZZ.

Even though I am the deployed soldier and not the spouse, I like to check in to get a glimpse of life back at home.  Just about any one of the articles could have been written by my wife, there is a lot to relate to.

It's an interesting twist, and nice to see that this soldier is curious about "the other side." You never know who may be reading....

This soldier wanted to discuss reintegration.

Since I have experienced the shock of returning from multiple deployments, I know that the traditional plane-side charge with outreached arms is more fantasy than fact and reintegrating a family can be a very trying experience.

It was interesting to me that this soldier used the word "shock." Reintegration can certainly be a "shock" to the system for all involved.

Outsiders are fascinated with homecomings. How many times have you seen television crews at a military installation for the purpose of capturing the hugs, kisses, tears and celebratory joy of homecomings? But when the television crews leave and the family goes home, often the initial homecoming glow fades very quickly.

When it comes to reintegration, as with all issues, there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all. Some families find it an easy process, and some find it incredibly difficult. Each family is different and each returning spouse has their own set of issues to work through. Reintegration issues range from the seemingly-superficial to the complex to the intolerable.

Not long ago, I heard the story of one Army wife who described how hard things became when her husband returned. He began criticizing her for the way she handled the children - their diet, extra-curricular activities, their behavior, etc.. This wife felt as if she had been stabbed in the back. Months later, this couple had a heart-to-heart discussion and the wife described how painful her husband's criticism had been to digest. She had, after all, endured a deployment where she had played mommy AND daddy and had successfully held down the fort. What happened next? The husband admitted that contrary to his constant complaints, he felt that his wife had done such a good job that he wasn't needed. He was looking for ways to be relevant again, hence the constant carping. The couple then put the pain and criticism aside and opened a dialogue which enabled them to understand where the tension was coming from, and allowed them to work through their fears and insecurities.

Another Army wife wrote to me about the difficult process of reestablishing a normal physical relationship with her husband.

At the MilBlog Conference this spring, a milspouse told the audience that when her husband returned, he wanted her to understand what he had been through after a year in a combat zone. This milspouse had lived in her own combat-zone-of-sorts while her husband was away. Tearfully, she said, "I wanted HIM understand what I'VE been through too."

And what about the children? I don't have children, so I can't speak from personal experience, but I've heard stories of children being unusually clingy to their returning parent and being fearful every time the parent walked out the door. While mommy and daddy are trying to get used to being together again, the children are also having to adjust to the new, albeit welcome, reality.

From the perspective of the returning service member, they may be amazed at what their spouse has been able to do while they were away. So amazed, that they become insecure. Recently, I had a soldier ask if they're even needed when they return. The best response I've heard came from one of the panelists at SpouseBUZZ LIVE who said, "we can take care of business while you're away, but we need you when you get back." Holding down the homefront is something we do, but it doesn't mean we don't miss or need our spouses.

The combat-related stress that is common in today's military manifests itself in many ways. Sometimes, the person that you sent away isn't the same person who returned. Conversely, the person that the service member comes home to isn't always the same person that he/she left behind. People grow and change and become shaped by their experiences. In many marriages, growth and change occurs right in front of our very eyes, but deployment forces couples to deal with changes from a distance, or not at all.    

We're all happy to have our spouses back at home and far away from the battlefield, but truthfully, it doesn't take much for both sides to begin to feel some resentment. Those who stayed home want their new routines to be respected. Those who are coming home often struggle with trying to figure out where they fit in. Homecoming, as sweet as it is, often means disruption and disruption isn't easy to deal with.

Those who have never experienced reintegration will no doubt read this and find it hard to understand the challenges that reintegration poses. Those who have experienced reintegration know all too well that it takes time, patience, understanding and love to get through this phase. And for many, by the time you've successfully reintegrated, it's time to prepare for deployment all over again. It's truly a vicious cycle.

Today, when deployments are the norm, reintegration is an important topic for military families, and clearly one which deserves a lot of attention.

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