Rest and Recuperation (R&R) visits home during a deployment are looked forward to with great anticipation. R&R is a happy time for couples, children, extended family, and service members. Along with the excitement and happiness, what else should loved ones expect when a service member returns home on a brief leave? What are some ways to prepare and make the most of this time as a family and as a couple? The following information can help.
What to expect as a family
- R&R plans can change. It's not uncommon for the needs of the Service or the unit's mission to override R&R plans. An R&R might be cancelled unexpectedly or delayed for an unknown period of time.
- Try to have realistic expectations. It's normal to have fantasies about what your time together will be like. In reality, you may have emotional ups and downs during an R&R. You may feel very happy being together again. You may also feel stressed or sad knowing that the leave is short and that the service member will be leaving again, possibly to return to combat. These emotions are normal, and identifying and acknowledging them may help.
- The service member may need time to adjust and decompress. He or she may be getting over jet lag, may need to catch up on missed sleep, or may simply need time alone to get used to being home.
- The service member may not want to talk much about combat experiences. There may be things the service member is not allowed to talk about, and things that he or she doesn't feel comfortable talking about.
- Children may need help reconnecting with the returning service member. For example, younger children may keep their distance from the returning parent at first. You can help by making time for your children to spend time with the returning spouse.
- The returning service member may experience stress-related symptoms. Traumatic events such as combat can trigger nightmares, flashbacks, and feelings of panic, anxiety, nervousness, or irritability. Help is available. You can find support by reaching out to your military treatment facility, TRICARE, or the Defense Centers of Excellence. You or the service member can also call Military OneSource at 1-800-342-9647 to get referrals to other military or community-based resources.
- Talk with couples that have been through your situation. They may have valuable suggestions and helpful ideas on how to make the most of an R&R and how to handle the sadness of another goodbye.
Tips for couples
- Make an extra effort to be considerate and understanding with one another. Avoid topics that you know may lead to an argument or disagreement. This will help you make the most of your precious days together.
- Realize that both spouses may need a break. The parent at home with young children may be looking forward to an R&R, too, when the service member returns home. The returning service member may be just as tired and in need of relaxation. Give yourselves time to rest and relax together.
- Negotiate the "honey do" list. You may be eager to catch up on some of the household or yard jobs that were your spouse's specialty. But let your spouse rest first. Be sure your spouse understands that you are happy that he or she is back, and that you are not just happy to have another hand to get chores done.
- Anticipate changes. Both of you may feel more independent than before the deployment. Your service member may have changed priorities. A brief leave may not give either of you time to work through these changes and just acknowledging them may help as you continue to navigate the rest of the deployment.
- Avoid trying to switch gears too much or too quickly in your time together. Family members at home have probably gotten into new patterns and routines while the service member was absent. Trying to return to old patterns – and then back to the new patterns once the R&R is over – may be too difficult for everyone to take on at this time.
- Share your feelings. Communication is key to all good relationships and to making your time together the best it can be. Talk about your feelings and encourage your spouse to talk. Listen to one another.
- Try to accommodate each another's needs. You may have different ideas about how you want to spend these days together. You may have different physical or emotional needs and this can sometimes cause tensions or strains in a relationship. Make time to be alone and to talk about your feelings and needs.
- Realize that it takes time to rebuild feelings of intimacy. It may not happen in one day. As experts at the National Mental Health Association explain, "Sex can resume immediately, but intimacy takes longer to re-establish."
- Don't expect an R&R to solve long-standing relationship or marital problems. Couple problems that were there before the R&R will still be there. An R&R isn't a time to try to solve major problems in your relationship. Instead, try to enjoy your time together as a couple and agree to continue to work on your problems Try to avoid a "harsh start-up." In some cases, one spouse may have bad news that he or she thinks is important enough to share the moment the returning service member walks in the door or arrives at the airport. Researchers refer to this as a "harsh start-up." Once an interaction starts off on a bad note, it's very hard to turn it around. It's much better to save difficult issues for later on, when you can work through issues or problems.
Making the most of a brief visit home
A colonel describes the common problems he sees during R&Rs: service members spend out of control, eat out of control, and don’t get enough sleep. Here are some ways to avoid such problems and make the most of a home visit:
- Communicate ahead of time about how you would like to spend the time. In phone calls, emails, or letters, share ideas and plans of what you would like to do.
- Don't overschedule yourselves. Most service members appreciate just being home and being with family at this time. Resist the temptation to do too much. Instead of late-night partying, focus on relaxation, downtime, and spending time together.
- Encourage the returning service member to get enough sleep and to eat well. During times of celebration and when we're out of our normal routines, there is the temptation to eat and drink too much. You'll all feel better and enjoy your time together if you stick to healthy habits as much as possible.
- Take lots of pictures or videos of your time together. If you don't have a camera or video-camera, consider borrowing one from a friend.
A second goodbye
The hardest part of a home leave is in knowing that the visit will end and that another "goodbye" is just around the corner. Here are some ways to make this time easier:
- Keep in mind that children may have a hard time saying goodbye. Talk with your children about the upcoming separation, and help the service member find some special time to spend with each child before leaving again.
- Be aware that there is often tension in families before separations and goodbyes. This is normal. But the tension can also taint the joy of being together again. Try to focus on the here and now and the happiness you are having together.
- Keep the focus on enjoying one another. Try to stay focused in the moment. Take the days one at a time. And try not to let the pending departure preoccupy your thoughts.
- Take advantage of the services and programs available to you. There are organizations and groups for spouses, military family support groups, and online support groups. If you live on or near a military installation, consider using one of the many support services available to you, including the installation chaplain.