In our first conversation, Coming Home: Veterans Readjusting to Civilian Life, our contributors — including veterans, family members of veterans and members of organizations that support veterans — share their own stories, offer insights on the challenges facing returning veterans, and provide tips and resources on the kinds of support that families, friends and communities can offer veterans.
re.in.te.grate: to integrate again into an entity : restore to unity
Since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, I have lost count of the number of times I've seen romanticized homecomings depicted in the media. I am sure you've seen them too — families waiting in a gym or airport hangar with flags, banners, and homemade signs just waiting to jump into the arms of their loved one as soon as the return ceremony is over. How I wish that the process of reintegration was as simple for soldiers and their families as those moments of homecoming depicted in the media.
For many military spouses, a homecoming is a lot more complex of an experience than they might realize or admit. There's this part of you that can finally breathe again because you don't have IEDs (improvised explosive devices), mortar attacks, and convoys in the back of your brain — you know your loved one is safe. Yet there is an entire range of emotions mixed into this relief — guilt, anger, fear, resentment, curiosity, a sense of loss, independence, pride.
By choosing to write about the tough parts of homecoming, I feel like I am breaking the Army Wife Secret Code of Silence. This internal code of conduct helps us suck up so many of the challenges that military life offers, taking in stride what we know would tear others apart. So we remain in the shadows, content to let the rest of the world create romance out of what can be one of the most difficult periods in a military marriage — reintegration.
People change significantly during long separations. What a soldier experiences away from home can include traumatic events or injuries that permanently alter the way he sees himself and the world. He's had to live in a world completely foreign to his family. The sights, smells, tastes and routine of his day are something a spouse can often only imagine. At home, major life events take place: babies are born, funerals are held, new jobs are started, households are moved, trips are taken, and holidays and school plays come and go.
All of these moments are bonding experiences that are typically experienced by a family together, in person. During a deployment, they are experienced via email, phone, imagination and silence. There are so many little moments that just don't make the cut-off for 20 minute phone calls once a week. You get used to not talking about things, not making decisions together. You get used to being alone.
This is what can make reintegration such a challenge. The independence and intrinsic strength that enables two individuals to cope with the lonely separation of war can often become a wedge after the deployment ends.
The long period of adjustment that takes place between spouses is completely normal. It is okay to admit a feeling of distance between each other without panicking over your marriage.
I will close with a few tips for couples during the months after deployment:
Make time to relax - Don't schedule too many activities the first few months. Savor the simple moments you have together.
Be patient - Don't set yourself up for disappointment by believing everything will go "back to normal" when your soldier redeploys. It can take many months before things start to feel normal again. It's okay to not feel completely in sync right away.
Focus on communication - Listen empathetically to one another. Ask about highlights and lowlights that took place during the separation.
Be respectful - Everybody deals with change at their own pace and in their own way. Treat one another with respect, even during disagreements. Respect begets respect and brings peace.
Attend a couples retreat - Most units will offer marriage or family retreats at a minimal cost to redeployed soldiers. Make the time to get away and attend one together.
Be mindful of excessive drinking - I can think of nothing worse for a period of change than too much alcohol one night. If you are experiencing marital tension, alcohol will not do anything to alleviate it.
Spend time alone - Find time away from the kids for a date night or lunches with just the two of you. You need time to reconnect apart from the rest of the family.
Get counseling - If you feel your marriage is stretched too thin, seek professional counseling or the wisdom of someone you both trust and respect. Everyone needs to get back on track once in awhile.
Blogger and military spouse. Fifteen Months. On the challenges of a military marriage.
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