After a long deployment, it’s finally homecoming month! You’re so excited for your service member to return! But… you also have a quiet fear that everything won’t be rainbows and butterflies after that first kiss.
Of course, you’re happy to see your loved one again. You’ve waited months to be reunited! Although both of you have grown and changed during deployment, sometimes that means living together again doesn’t go as smoothly as you would like. It’s natural for both military spouses and service members to have some hesitation or nervousness about the reintegration period after deployment. Some couples feel like they pick up right where they left off, while others report several weeks of awkwardness and frustration as each person adjusts to the big changes from deployment.
Both experiences are “normal,” and working through reintegration challenges doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship has long-term issues. It’s just another difficult stage in military life. Let’s talk about how to prepare for a military homecoming, so you set yourselves up for success and can enjoy reintegration with your service member.
How to Handle Differences in Expectations
When couples struggle to reconnect after deployment, the biggest frustration is typically a difference between expectations and reality. Maybe the service member expected to use their “extra” deployment money towards a new motorcycle, but the spouse had to spend money on car repairs and broken appliances instead. Perhaps the spouse expected to take a post-deployment cruise vacation to reconnect, but the service member wants to travel home and spend a week visiting their family. If these situations aren’t discussed early, they can lead to frustration, disappointment, arguments and accusations.
Communication during deployment is sometimes inconsistent or slow, so it isn’t always easy to have long chats about post-deployment expectations. Although couples who discuss major expectations and get on the same page before the end of deployment generally report a smoother reintegration period.
Things to Discuss Before Homecoming
Whether you send text messages, emails, or have multiple phone calls, try to bring up these topics before the service member returns:
- Finances: The household budget will shift when the service member’s pay changes after deployment. Make sure both parties are aware of changes and how much is in savings.
- Vacation or Leave Time: Service members typically get some time off after deployment, but it may not be when you expect it. Learn the approximate dates and what each person expects from that time.
- Household Responsibilities: During deployment, the spouse at home probably handled 100% of the household management tasks. They are likely eager to give that up and share the burden, so it’s helpful to discuss who will do which chores and when that process begins.
- Major Changes: During the months the service member was deployed, things probably changed at home. The spouse can help speed the adjustment along by filling the service member in on new routines, schedules, hobbies, etc. This is especially important if the spouse started a new job, went back to school, or if young children are in a new developmental stage.
- Make Space: If the spouse has taken over all the spaces in the house, this can make a returning service member feel uneasy or unwelcome in their own home. Remember to create space for their return. This includes physical space in closets, but also space in the schedule, space in the evening routine, and emotional space for them to feel connected during reintegration.
There’s no need to discuss these all at once, but if you can each voice your opinions and discuss compromises before homecoming, there will be less tension when the service member returns.
How to Help Kids Adjust After Deployment
Remember to prepare your kids for post-deployment changes. Discuss any big plans you and the service member have made for the family ahead of time and talk them through anything that will be different when the other parent returns.
Kids often save up a long list of things they want to do with mom or dad once they come home. Instead of them asking everything on Day 1, when the service member is tired, write all the ideas down and put them into a jar, so the service member can pull them out one at a time when they are ready. This is less overwhelming, and the kids know their requests won’t be ignored.
Talk it Out
Whatever relationship challenges you face after a military homecoming, it’s helpful to talk them through with each other and with a counselor. Don’t let frustrations fester and make things more difficult. Instead, discuss them calmly. You can reach out to free, confidential counselors on Military OneSource to get your relationship back on track after deployment.