Deployment can feel like a roller coaster with many emotional ups and downs. When you finally hit the halfway mark, it’s a celebration. Yay — you made it halfway! The next moment, it feels defeating to realize you are only halfway through.
Everyone hopes the second half of the deployment will go more quickly than the first half. In reality, many spouses feel tired and ready to give up during the tail end of deployment. You just want the deployment to be finished, but you know you must press forward for several more weeks or months.
During each of my husband’s seven deployments overseas, the end of deployment caught me by surprise. Each time we neared the end of countdown, I experienced several unexpected challenges:
- Instead of being happy, I suddenly felt tired, frustrated and unmotivated.
- All the tasks I had been doing regularly now felt overwhelming.
- Homecoming filled me with mixed feelings of excitement, nervousness and insecurity.
If you‘re experiencing these emotions near the end of your deployment countdown, you aren’t alone. In recent years, I’ve worked with thousands of military spouses in my deployment support group. Many reported struggling with the same feelings at the end of deployment. Here’s what you can do when it feels like the deployment countdown is taking forever.
When You Don’t Have a Return Date
Sometimes when a military unit deploys, they tell families it will be a 9-month deployment, for example, so you can do a general countdown starting from the date they leave.
In many situations though, deployment end dates are indefinite. Or worse — you have a date, but it keeps changing and getting pushed further back. This is an extremely frustrating situation because you’re going through an emotionally challenging time with no specific end in sight. Humans like to have goals to work towards, so it can be unsettling to live in so much uncertainty and accept that you have no control over the circumstances.
There are several things you can do to take care of your mental health during uncertain deployment dates. It’s OK to take a day to pout, be angry, eat ice cream, or do what you need to do to get your frustration out.
Then, take a breath and look for little things you can control in your life. You can make your bed in the morning. You can shower. You can control what you eat for meals. By conquering one small task at a time, you can gain a sense of control in an unsettling situation.
Emotional Drain at the End of Deployment
Deployments are long — more like a marathon than a sprint. If you’re like most military spouses, during the second half of deployment, the repetition and exhaustion of shouldering all responsibilities all the time really start to weigh you down. Many spouses report feeling emotionally drained and a lack of motivation during the final months of deployment.
When you’re feeling run down, it’s your body’s way of begging for self-care. Look at the responsibilities you currently handle each week. Are there any you can let go of temporarily? Can you hire someone to help with small things like grocery delivery, babysitting, house cleaning or lawn care? Where can you carve out a few minutes each day to do something that refreshes you?
When you take the time to address these questions and your emotional needs, you’ll find yourself better prepared to move forward through deployment.
Concerns About Homecoming and Reintegration
Every military spouse counts down to Homecoming and the day you can welcome your service member home from deployment. It’s something you look forward to with joy and excitement. If you’re being honest, Homecoming is more complicated than most people admit. Beneath the feelings of happiness are more complicated emotions of doubt or insecurity. Some military spouses admit to questioning things about their service member or their relationship, even if things have felt solid and healthy up until this point.
Common concerns are:
- What if my service member no longer finds me attractive?
- How will they adjust to the major life changes I experienced during deployment? (New baby, new job, different house, etc.)
- Will it be weird for us to live together and be around each other all the time now?
These questions are common, even in spouses who are usually self-confident and successful. It’s natural to go through some adjustments during the period of reintegration after deployment.
Sharing your concerns with your service member or other military spouses may help relieve the tension. It can also help to talk through these questions with a professional counselor from Military OneSource. It’s natural to feel frustrated when the deployment countdown is taking forever, but always remember that it will come to an end, and you will get through this soon!