What to Expect (and Not Expect) Post-Deployment

You have spent the days, weeks, months, or years writing letters, crossing off the dates, and chatting from miles and miles away. Finally, after all that waiting and anticipation, here you are: your spouse is returning home from deployment. This is a joyous moment you have been waiting for for so long, so it’s natural to feel like the storm is passing over and it is smooth sailing here on out. We would love for that to be the case, but the reality is, just because a deployment is over, doesn’t mean that all the problems are. Post-deployment life is difficult to navigate for most military families, and if you aren’t prepared for it, it can be even more tough to accept your new reality.

The fact is, people change. Time, experience, and distance have gotten between you, your spouse, and your children and things can’t just go back to normal. The issues that come up after a deployment are often surprising to people and might include changes in personality, differences in opinions about money management, parenting disagreements, and the struggle of post-traumatic stress. Every couple will have their own experience with it, and it’s hard to predict what it will be like for your family specifically. However, there are some things you can expect, and some that you should not expect.

What to Expect Post-Deployment

The truth is, everyone will react differently to deployment, so much of preparing yourself for post-deployment life is to NOT have expectations. That being said, there are a couple of things that you should anticipate to prepare yourself for when your spouse returns. Namely, expect that they will have changed, just as you have. You have both grown, and it will take time to get used to the ways your relationship is different than it was before. If you expect this to be the case, you can be more forgiving of both your spouse and yourself as you take the time to adapt to this new way of life. It may be awhile before you reconnect and find the dedication you once had for each other, but if you accept that you will need time to adapt, it will be a lot easier for all involved.

After deployment, the biggest concern for military personnel is post-deployment stress. Almost every service member has experienced a traumatic event while overseas, and the stress that comes with deployment affects everyone differently. It is typical for returning service members to experience feelings such as guilt, sadness, worthlessness, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. They might feel the need to avoid situations that trigger traumatic memories, hide from their friends and family, or cope with drugs or alcohol. While this experience is very common, it doesn’t mean you should ignore it. It’s typical for service members to have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, which can have a major impact on your family as a whole. Therefore, it’s best to anticipate that your military spouse will need you to be supportive if any of these feelings, behaviors, or thoughts come up. One proactive step you could take is finding a couples or family therapist who can help you and your spouse. Talk to your partner before they return about this idea to make sure they don’t feel blindsided, but this can be an excellent way to provide you all with the space you need to process all of the feelings post-deployment.

What Not to Expect Post-Deployment

Don’t expect everything to just return to the way things were before your spouse was deployed. In the same sense, don’t expect everything to remain the way it was when your spouse was deployed. Chances are, you have found a system that works for you while they were gone. You have your own schedule and way of doing things that you have had to figure out while your spouse wasn’t around to help. It’s tempting to hope that they will just jump right into your well-oiled machine, but most military families find that there is a period of adjustment as everyone learns how to live with each other all over again.

In addition, don’t anticipate that your communication will be the same as it was when your spouse was deployed. Sometimes, service members are able to be in fairly close communication with their family during their deployment, emailing, writing letters, and video chatting regularly. If you were talking on a regular basis, it might feel like you will continue your effective communication once they return home; if anything, you might assume that it will only get better. The truth is, post-deployment is a whole new world, and while it may have been easy for your spouse to be candid, open, and affectionate with you from a distance, the intimacy of sharing daily life might prove to be a stumbling block for your relationship.

Finally, don’t expect that everything will be like it is now forever. While the initial transition after deployment can be rough, with time, you find out what works for you. After that first deployment, you can work together to figure out the best way for you and your spouse to ease future transitions back. Change is hard, but ultimately, it brings with it new things to look forward to, and if you approach the situation with patience, you and your spouse can find happiness and harmony once again.

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