Having your spouse deployed can bring up a wide range of emotions, starting when you first learn about the deployment and continuing until well after your spouse has returned home. As you go through this emotional process, you may experience many emotions or combinations of emotions, including fear, anger, loneliness, joy, relief and anticipation.
Before the deployment
When you first learn about the deployment, you may go back and forth between pretending that the deployment isn't really going to happen and starting to think about what it will be like to live without your spouse for a long period of time. You may feel confused, stressed, resentful or depressed.
As the day of departure nears, some spouses begin to feel detached or withdrawn as their service members invest more time and commitment in the mission. Common reactions to an impending deployment include feelings of hopelessness and impatience. Some couples may experience a decrease in emotional or physical closeness. To help keep things positive and loving with your spouse during the pre-deployment period, remember that it's important to:
- Keep the lines of communication open. It's important to talk about your own feelings and to listen when your service member shares his or her feelings. It's also helpful to discuss what you expect from each other during the deployment, including how you'll communicate.
- Create opportunities for lasting memories during the separation. It may not be easy to set aside the pre-deployment preparations or your mixed feelings about getting too close before the separation. But building in some quality time together in a relaxed atmosphere will provide memories to sustain you during the deployment.
- Get to know other military spouses who are going through the same experience. By participating in family readiness activities and other unit or installation events, you can find comfort in sharing your experiences and begin building a network of support.
During the deployment
Many family members go through a difficult adjustment period in the first weeks after their service member leaves. You may have feelings of sadness, disorientation, anxiety or anger. Fortunately, this feeling of being on an emotional roller coaster often gives way to a growing sense of self-confidence and independence. Here are some suggestions for coping during a spouse's deployment:
- Try to find things to look forward to. Take a class, volunteer or start a project you've always wanted to do. Set some personal goals for yourself during the deployment period and make a point of being open to new experiences and friendships.
- Reach out to others who are in the same situation. Remember that you aren't alone. Plan an event with other families who are coping with a deployment or find a support group through your military community.
- Don't try to hide your feelings. It's normal to feel sad, lonely, or angry when you've been separated from your spouse. You don't have to hide these feelings - that may just make it harder to deal with them. Talk about how you feel with people you trust.
- Try to concentrate on what you can control. It's normal to worry about your spouse's safety during a deployment or about when he or she will come home, but remember, these are things you can't control. Try to focus on things you can control, like spending time with family and friends or signing up for a class or volunteer opportunity.
- Learn some stress management techniques that work for you. The stress of living without your service member can take a toll on the way you feel and think. Try out some different ways to relieve stress, such as an exercise class, a journal of your thoughts and feelings, or meditation or deep breathing.
- Take care of yourself. Get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthy meals and be sure to drink plenty of water.
Homecoming and the post-deployment period
As the end of the deployment nears, military spouses experience growing excitement and anticipation, as well as apprehension. You'll wonder how your service member has changed, knowing that you've changed, too. You may have concerns about what your relationship will be like after you've been apart for so long.
The post-deployment period can last from a few weeks to several months. You may experience stress and frustration as you and your service member renegotiate your marriage roles and responsibilities. The reintegration process may be especially difficult if your service member is having difficulty disengaging from combat or is suffering from combat stress.
There are several things you can focus on to reduce stress for you and your family during these emotional times. Here are a few suggestions:
- Maintain a positive, nonjudgmental attitude. There may be uncomfortable moments as you and your service member get reacquainted and begin rebuilding your relationship. The right attitude will help to lower stress and frustration when getting back together doesn't seem to be going the way you expected.
- Talk openly and honestly about your experiences during the deployment and how you've changed. It can help you reestablish a foundation of healthy communication and encourage your service member to trust you with his or her deployment experiences.
- Try to be patient. It may be some time before you and your spouse feel relaxed and comfortable together. You may have to modify your expectations often during the post-deployment period, so it's important to keep in mind that time and patience are critical to the process of recovering from combat experience.
- Make plans. Making plans together - whether it's for a weekend outing or something more elaborate - can help you focus on your life together and the future. Talking together about dreams and ideas can help you feel closer.
Asking for help
At any stage of deployment, military spouses can feel overwhelmed and unsure about their ability to cope. It's critical to remember that asking for help isn't a sign of weakness - it's a sign that you care about yourself and your family.
If you're feeling sad much of the time or so anxious that you're having difficulty taking care of everyday tasks and routines, you may benefit from some professional help. Contact Military OneSource to find help in assessing your needs and connecting with a counselor or other community support services.
Additionally, military and family life counselors are available to provide non-medical counseling services. You can contact them through your installation's military and family support center.