When the day for homecoming draws near, military couples are wise to prepare to reconnect after deployment as the service member re-enters life on the home front. Just as it takes time to learn to be a couple while apart, it also takes time to reconnect and learn to be a couple together again.
Karen Pavlicin, author of Surviving Deployment and Life After Deployment, says couples should give themselves an adjustment period, at least as long as they were apart, and also recognize life together will be different after deployment.
“You will both have grown while you were apart,” says Karen. “You’ll need to accept each other and the changes that have taken place, so you can begin to grow together again.”
During deployment, couples will have separate and significant experiences, says Corie Weathers, author of Sacred Spaces: My Journey to the Heart of Military Marriage.
“Deployment changed my soldier and me,” says Corie, “so reconnecting means recognizing those changes and growing from there.”
As well as writing about preparing for deployment and reintegration, Karen and Corie also speak regularly to groups of military spouses about these and other military life issues.
Army wife Bri Barholm attended a reintegration retreat at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, where Corie was a featured speaker. Bri and her husband, Ronnie, have been through four deployments. Bri said she appreciated Corie’s wisdom about setting reasonable expectations about how soon and how much returning spouses may be willing to share about deployment.
“I’ve always been extremely sensitive to my own emotions, but also the emotions of others around me,” says Bri. “Corie explained empathic and warrior personalities … that maybe he won’t come home and want to tell me all of his feelings, even though I crave that. I felt like that was so eye-opening.”
Bri says spouses should definitely prepare for the stresses of homecoming just as they prepare for the stresses of departure.
“We’re always so prepared for the whirlwind of them leaving,” she says, “but we don’t get much insight or preparation for when they return and how much different life can be.”
Sharing experiences with other military spouses is one way to find encouragement and support.
“It can be incredibly isolating when they come home, although your family is finally whole again,” she says. Knowing that you’re not alone is one of the most comforting feelings. Sometimes that’s all you need.”
Bri said she is learning patience, realizing it takes time to find a new normal for life after each deployment.
Karen and Corie agree that reconnection requires patience and willingness to move forward, rather than expect things to go back to the way they were before deployment.
Drawing together again also takes intentionality, practical steps, and actions that reconnect the relationship and create new connections
“Express pride in one another’s accomplishments and growth,” says Karen. “Talk about your time apart and honor each other’s sacrifices and experiences. Recognize that you each had challenges to overcome and work to understand how your spouse has grown and changed as a result.”
As you talk through experiences during deployment, it’s also important to discuss your expectations as a couple for life after deployment, Corie agrees.
Talk About It
“Over-communicate rather than under-communicate,” says Corie. “Keep assumptions at bay. Don’t test your spouse by staying quiet on what you need and hoping they will be able to guess. Set each other up for a win by giving each other opportunities to win.”
As absence makes the heart grow fonder, time apart makes it easier to forget the irritations of daily life and remember the best part of marriage. Karen advises couples to hold on to the positivity while recognizing conflicts will occur too.
“Separations don’t usually solve problems; past conflicts may re-emerge after homecoming,” says Karen. “Commit together to work through them when they arise.”