Military Spouses & Family
There are four phases of deployment: pre-deployment, deployment, return, and post-deployment. This section provides advice on what can be down to make you and your loved one's transition to being deployed easier on the both of you.
Many emotions will come up between the receipt of a loved one’s deployment orders and the time they leave home. You may become angry or depressed, or frustrated with having to get your affairs in order. Forms of denial about the fact that your loved one will be leaving are also common. It is important for all those affected talk about their feelings and try to spend as much time as possible with servicemembers before they depart.
Here are a few tips that may reduce stress:
- Obtain as much information as you can about your loved one's deployment, but remember that operational security (OPSEC) procedures will at times limit what information is available or should be discussed. Although it can be frustrating, recognize that operational security restricts information about deployments in order to protect service members. If information were readily available about troop movements, troop strength and other operational facts, U.S. enemies could gain an advantage against our armed forces.
- Come up with the best way to keep in touch with a loved one. Realize that communication may be scant and inconsistent depending on the stability of your service member’s station area. Consider sending “care packages” when letters or phone calls are not possible.
- Join military support groups and Internet discussion groups so that you can share what you're going through with people who are in similar situations.
- If you will be living alone, pick up a new hobby or take a class to fill your free time. Temporarily moving in with or closer to relatives may provide extra financial and emotional support.
After your service member is deployed, your emotions may range from pride to anxiety. Now is the time to reach out to family, friends and other means of support if stress and anxiety become overwhelming.
It is normal to worry at this time. Sleeping and eating habits may change. Emotional stress or simply having to take care of life’s routine responsibilities on your own may cause changes in your daily schedule. On the flip side, some people become proud as they learn to live more independently in the absence of their loved ones.
During this time, children often have difficulty coping with a parent’s deployment. It is especially important that children understand what a deployment is and how it will affect them. The following tips may help some guidance for children during this trying time:
- Ensure that each child gets alone time with their parent before the deployment date.
- A child must know that they did nothing wrong and that their parent did not abandon them—they are just at work.
- Create a clever way to count down the time until the deployed parent returns. This will help younger children understand that their absence is not permanent.
- Explain to children that even though one parent is temporarily gone, their chores and routine will not change. Make the home as stable as possible and avoid implementing a lot of changes.
- Videotape your children and the service member parent doing routine activities together, like bedtime stories, dinner at the table or taking a walk in a park. Children can watch these videos when they miss a parent, and the videos can help keep the parent-child bond strong during long deployments.
- Before leaving for a deployment, parents can record messages to their children. Simple “I love you” messages, singing a song or reading a bedtime story are possibilities.
- Have older children pick up the chores that the deployed parent usually performed.
- Show children on a map where their parent will be staying. This will make the situation less surreal and give them something concrete to picture. Children can find information online about where their parent is deployed.
- Make sure children stay active and eat well. It may seem like commonsense, but healthier kids are happier, less stressed and less restless than kids who are low on sleep or not getting proper nutrition.
- Continue to discipline as you always have. Don't let bad behavior slide because you feel guilty about your spouse being deployed. Set consistent consequences for undesirable behavior and reward good behavior.
- Be affectionate. Kisses and hugs go a long way in calming children’s fears.
- Help children make presents for their deployed parent, and if possible, mail them in a care package.
- Keep children away from television news. Avoid scaring them by limiting their exposure to the violent and/or disturbing images often on TV.
About one to six weeks before a service member is scheduled to return, loved ones at home may feel combinations of excitement, relief, anxiety and elation. They often become preoccupied with improving their personal appearances or the appearances of their homes.
While you should be happy to see your spouse return home safe and sound, you may find that adjusting to his presence is more difficult than you expected. Keep your home life happy and harmonious with the following readjustment techniques:
Don't romanticize the reunion.
Many times, military families have certain expectations about their service member's homecoming and are disappointed when the reunion goes awry. Flight delays, emergencies, work schedules and other obstacles may get in the way of your homecoming preparations.
Don't bombard your spouse with attention.
Returning home from a deployment is often an exhausting task in itself, taking weeks of preparation and work. Your service member may be worn out and need a few days of peace and quiet before you celebrate his return. Furthermore, keep conversations positive for the first couple of weeks. Explain this to your children beforehand so they don't pester your spouse with complaints.
Be careful to ease back into your roles.
You and your husband may not be the same people you were before the deployment and those changes will alter the relationship dynamic. Acknowledge these differences and compromise on the duties and responsibilities of each partner.
Be prepared to feel awkward.
It may feel awkward to have your husband with you once more. You will need to rebuild the physical and emotional intimacy you once had. Pull out your old charm and be on your best behavior the way you were when you first starting dating your husband.
Communication is key, and spouses should respectfully discuss how they feel and work through re-acquaintance jitters together. Don’t be afraid to say that you may need some private time away from your service member and vice-versa.
Don't force war talk.
Remember that your husband may have been put into life-threatening situations during his deployment. According to the National Center for PTSD, 93% of Iraqi war veterans reported being shot at and 86% reported knowing someone that was seriously injured or killed in combat. Memories like these can be hard to cope with. Don't force your husband to share his experiences. If your husband wants to talk, be patient, positive and really listen to him. Don't take it personally if your husband feels more comfortable talking about his war experiences with his service buddies or male friends than you.
Be on the lookout for a mental health concern.
According to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, 19% of all soldiers returning from deployment in Iraq meet the criteria for a mental health concern. Be sensitive to signs of prolonged mental or emotional distress in a returning service member.
Reactions that should be considered for concern include fear, anxiety, irritability, anger, sleep disturbances, substance abuse, over-protectiveness, social withdrawal, extreme fatigue or lack of concentration.
If these symptoms worsen or persist for more than six to eight weeks, the problem should be addressed by a mental health professional.
About one to six weeks after a service member returns home, family members may feel happy or even resentful. The service member may feel alienated from the rest of the household. Re-establishing roles may be confusing and frustrating. Be careful to ease back into your roles —rushing things will only cause conflict. Patience is crucial because readjustment takes time.
Here are a few tips that may reduce stress:
-It is okay to be nervous and your returning loved one will be nervous, too. Everyone should just take it easy for the first few days after the service member returns. Returning home from a deployment is often an exhausting task in itself, and the returning service member may be tired and just need a few days of calm and peace.
-Be prepared for negative feelings. Some spouses may resent their service member spouse for leaving. Teenagers may be reluctant to acknowledge their military parent as an authority figure, and younger children may be afraid of or not recognize the returned parent.
-Communication is paramount. Spouses should respectfully discuss how they feel and work through re-acquaintance jitters together. Don’t be afraid to say that you may need some private time separate from your service member spouse. Likewise, your spouse may need alone time.
-The returning service member and family members need to acknowledge that family life may have permanently changed during the deployment. Family members may have acquired new interests and/or skills, and relationship dynamics may be altered. Be prepared for these changes, be as understanding as possible, and recognize that even if there had been no deployment, people and relationship dynamics change.
-Be sensitive to signs of mental or emotional distress in a returning service member, and understand that this is not an uncommon reaction to combat or other stressful deployment experiences. Loved ones may experience fear, irritability, anger, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and concentration problems and may startle easily. If you think your loved one is experiencing mental or emotional distress to the point that it is interfering with your lives or creating noticeable personality changes, don’t be afraid to seek professional counseling.
The following links provide helpful information and support to help you cope with the deployment of a loved one:
MOS is a comprehensive military mental he