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Tips for Spouses of Returning Service Members
As the wife or husband of a service member returning from deployment, you are probably both excited and nervous about the homecoming. A lot of time and significant events have passed during the deployment and there will be a time of natural adjustment. The days and weeks following the return home will include challenges but there are some things you can do to ease the reintegration for both of you.
What to Expect During the Reunion
- It is normal to feel nervous and anxious about the homecoming. This does not mean you aren’t happy to see your spouse.
- Realize the day of homecoming is stressful. Plan for homecoming day but keep your plans simple and flexible. Try to avoid high expectations.
- Expect to feel out of sync with each other at first. You both have been through separate experiences during the deployment and have changed as a result.
- Avoid over-scheduling the first few days after the return. Your spouse may be experiencing jet lag from a long trip home and may need a few days to adjust to the time change.
Tips for Communicating with your Spouse
- Talk with your spouse. Tell your spouse how you feel and listen to your spouse in return. The best way to regain closeness and rebuild family routines is by talking and actively listening.
- Take time to get used to each other again. Re-establishing emotional and physical intimacy is not easy after stressful situations.
- You’ve both gotten used to doing what you wanted during personal time. Feeling like you need some space is normal. Be prepared to be flexible.
- Try not to be defensive when discussing decisions you have made, new family activities and customs or methods of disciplining the children. Your spouse may need to hear that it wasn’t the same doing these things alone, that you’re glad he or she is back and that you’d like to discuss problems and criticisms calmly.
- Watch your spending and resist the temptation to celebrate the homecoming with a spending spree. The extra money saved during deployment may be needed later for unexpected household expenses. Stick to your household budget.
- Reassure your spouse that he or she is needed, even though you’ve coped during the deployment.
- Don’t force talk about the experiences of war, but be open when the time is right. Your spouse may have seen or experienced some upsetting things during deployment and may not be ready to talk about it. Some common reactions to these stressful situations are fear, nervousness, irritability, fatigue, sleep disturbances, startle reactions, moodiness, trouble concentrating, feelings of numbness and frequent thoughts of the event. Talking with others and/or counselors trained in crisis stress reactions can be helpful.
Everyone should show each other how much they care by giving each other a little extra attention and time to adjust. There will likely be a long list of things that need to be “back-briefed” from everyone and these things will take more than just a few days to share them.
What to Expect from Your Children
Children may be feeling the same confusing things you and your spouse feel — worry, fear, stress, happiness and excitement. It is common for children to have the same feelings of apprehension and fear that they did before the deployment.
It’s hard for children to control their excitement. Let them give and get the attention they need from the returning parent before you try to have quiet time alone with your spouse.
Children’s reactions to the returning parent will differ according to their ages. Some responses will be positive, but it is also normal for there to be some difficult responses, as well:
- Infants: Cry, fuss, pull away from the returning parent or cling to you or the caregiver.
- Toddlers: Be shy, clingy, not recognize the returning parent, cry, have temper tantrums, return to behaviors they had outgrown (no longer toilet trained).
- Preschoolers: Feel guilty for making parent go away, need time to warm-up to returning parent, intense anger, act out to get attention, be demanding.
- Elementary School Age: Excitement, joy, talk constantly to bring the returning parent up to date, boast about the returning parent, guilt about not doing enough or being good enough.
- Teenagers: Excitement, guilt about not living up to standards, concern about rules and responsibilities, feel too old or unwilling to change plans to meet or spend extended time with the returning parent.1
- "Coming Home" A Guide for Spouses of Service Members Returning From Mobilization/Deployment [PDF 560KB]
- "Coming Home" A Guide for Service Members Returning from Mobilization/Deployment [PDF 568KB]
- Defense Centers of Excellence Outreach Center
- National Caregiver Support Line
1"Coming Home: A Guide for Spouses of Service Members Returning From Mobilization/Deployment" [PDF 560KB], National Military Family Association. Last accessed May 15, 2014.