A New Milspouse Perspective: Adjusting to Life After Combat
All right, ladies. This is going to be a pretty candid account of the first few months after my husband returned home from his second combat deployment. Buckle your seatbelts, because it’s not all a smooth ride!
The biggest insight I gained after my husband’s second deployment was realizing that life doesn’t completely go back to normal when he first returns. It’s definitely not the fairytale reunion (or homecoming) I expected from the movies or television. I did not greet him at an airport or coming off a bus. Rather, I was ushered into a loud gymnasium after hours upon hours of waiting, in the rain, in the middle of the night.
When my husband first returned from Afghanistan, I think I had a harder time adjusting than he did. Weird, right? Let me back up.
From day one, my husband had always taught me to prepare for the worst. Prepare for the absolute worst-case scenario in every situation, because that way if something better happens, you won’t be disappointed and you won’t be overly hopeful in the process. He lived by this, and he said to remember it when he deployed.
Consequently, as month after month of his deployment passed by, I really tricked myself into believing that he wasn’t coming home. When I did get the sporadic phone call from him, I always answered and said goodbye as if it was the last time I’d ever speak to him. There were more and more stories of injuries and fatalities from the news and from the wives of men in his unit. So many days, I stood in my family room stalking the front window; nervously staring up and down my street looking for the black car with the suited ones telling me my beloved was not coming home.
Even the day of homecoming when I heard he’d landed in the United States, I was afraid the plane would crash on its way to North Carolina. Even after he landed in North Carolina, I feared the floods and awful rainfall we experienced would overtake the bus on its way to me.
And then—he was home. For the first week, I was afraid I was dreaming and I would suddenly wake up and it wouldn’t be real. That was hard! What was also hard was adjusting to living together. This was the first time we’d lived together, and as most of you know that alone takes a whole lot of getting used to on its own. I had to learn to control my OCD tendencies and to take it easy on him when he didn’t put the dishes in the right cupboard. I also had to learn to differentiate between him adjusting to living with me versus him adjusting to being back in America. Trust me, the difference is huge, and thinking one was the other caused me to be defensive when instead, I should have been supportive.
There were lots of times when I needed “my space,” because sometimes it was hard to be on my game, happy, or supportive all the time. There were nights when I didn’t want to cook, and days when I didn’t want to clean up the house. When he first got home, I felt like I was striving to be perfect at everything, to show him that I could be a good wife. Perfect at cooking, cleaning, working, entertaining, loving, relaxing, etc.
It took a few months for me to finally feel normal, like I could let my hair down for a bit. It took me awhile to realize I didn’t have to be perfect for him, and he didn’t expect that (thank goodness). If I didn’t feel like making dinner a few nights a week, we learned to order take out or go out to eat. If I had a busy day at work and didn’t clean up the house, we waited until the weekend and cleaned up together. We learned to visit with friends when we wanted to and liked to, not because we felt like we had to. It took away stress and gave our lives more breathing room and—gasp—fun!
As for always expecting the worst, well— both our perspectives have shifted on that too. My husband came back from Afghanistan with a really positive attitude… much different from the one he left with! He’s optimistic a lot and happy more, which he says is because he has a new appreciation for everything after what he experienced on deployment.
We have our good days and we have our bad days. We have days when we fight, and days when we can’t get enough of each other. But the good days outweigh the bad, and we couldn’t be happier together. It’s been a long road to get here, but things feel right. They feel balanced. He’s here for me to bounce ideas off, to show my latest projects to, to ask his opinion or advice about my work or my latest endeavor. I’m here for him to talk to about his day at work, the physical training, the scheduling, the routines, and online classes.
To those of you going through a deployment or whose loved ones have just gotten home… be patient. Stay true to yourself. Be open. Make compromises.
And be sure to give him a whole lot of love.