Welcoming home our deployers becomes an exciting time for couples. In the days leading up to the reunion, you may have felt excited to see each other and ready to get things back to normal. Each person will have certain expectations often picturing the “perfect” reunion. So while the joy and excitement of the event exists, the reunion also brings challenges. Being flexible and keeping your expectations realistic can assist in renewing your relationship after a deployment.
Whether this is your first deployment or fifth, you both have changed. Each of you has had new experiences during the separation and worrying that the couple grew apart is common. It is also normal to redefine your role in the relationship as well as worrying about unresolved issues from the past.
In order to address some of these changes, let’s focus on what helps strengthen a relationship:
- Trust – Showing confidence in each other helps the relationship stay on track
- Respect – It’s important to respect your partner as an individual and treat each other as equals
- Communication – Feeling free to share your goals and concerns makes it easier to talk out disagreements
- Teamwork – sharing responsibilities and setting goals together helps build the relationship
It is important to remember that no relationship is perfect. Unresolved issues can make the reunion and reintegration difficult if you don’t have trust, respect, communication, and teamwork.
As I mentioned before, you both have changed during the deployment. Airmen have had different experiences that often come from going overseas. Most likely you have worked long hard hours at a tempo that is not seen at work during time at home. Sometimes this can be hard to dial back and slow down. For the partner who stayed home, the Airman may seem withdrawn at times. Don’t take this personally; they may need some time to reflect on the deployment experience and reintegrate to home.
This is not to say that things at home have not been hectic. Your partner at home often has had to learn to do tasks that the Airman usually did. They have developed new skills and have increased their confidence and competence making them more independent. Additionally, during your absence they may have developed new hobbies, interests, or friends to help fill the time during the deployment. As the Airman, allow your partner to continue doing the tasks that he or she has taken over until you both have a chance to discuss new roles around the house. Don’t criticize or judge the changes they have made; keep an open mind. Instead, give your partner some credit for taking it all on and becoming more independent. Don’t take this personally and assume they don’t need you anymore.
The reintegration process is a slow process. Take your time and ease back into your former routines. Here are some suggestions to do this:
- Discuss your budget and any financial decisions that were made during the deployment.
- Discuss household chores and how they were accomplished during the deployment.
- Hold off on major changes. Often the deployed Airman will expect to take back all their tasks and roles that they held before leaving. Work together with your partner to help define responsibilities over time.
- If you have kids, discuss the routines, discipline issues and changes that took place while you were separated. The kids have changed too!
- Avoid criticizing and being defensive if you don’t agree with changes made while separated. The changes may have been necessary to make things work in your absence.
- Put the “To-Do” list on hold. Take time getting into a new routine.
- Show your appreciation for your partner that stayed home and keep things running smoothly and let your Airman know that they are still needed.
All of this does not work without communication. It is important to keep the communication going as you adjust to life back together. Make a point of checking in with each other every day.
Be a good listener. This is done by: making eye contact, not interrupting, not judging or criticizing, and focusing on what the other person is saying.
Pay attention to your body language. Your posture and expressions will often speak louder than your words.
When asking questions, use open ended questions like:” What was a typical day like during the deployment?” or ”What are you hoping to do now that I’m home?”
Keep in mind that all relationships have conflicts. If they are handled in a healthy way, even disagreements will help keep your relationship strong. Common sources of conflict include finances, responsibilities around the house, and parenting styles.
To solve conflicts we suggest using the Speaker/Listener Technique to assist keeping issues from escalating and increasing understanding of each other’s points. Click the link above or picture to learn about this communication tool.
Take time to enjoy each other again. Allow the Airman time to settle in and get used to the routine before planning any dates. If you have kids, they will also need individual one-on-one time with the Airman to rebuild the bond again. If needed, give each other space and realize that there may be activities you enjoy doing on your own.
Be patient, it may take time to feel like a couple again after being separated. Sexual tension is common and can take a while for one or both of you to feel relaxed and comfortable being physically intimate again. While some people feel awkward talking about physical intimacy, you and your partner may need to be honest about your feelings with each other.
Overtime, if things are not getting back to normal, you make need to seek assistance. There are many resources out there for you. Take a look on our Common Questions About Counseling page for details. You can also visit our marriage page for other tools to help your relationship, whether you are married or not.
You can keep your relationship strong, even after a long deployment. It will take time. Be sure to continue communicating effectively about your feelings and concerns and listen to each other. Finally, accept help. Take advantage of the resources the base offers or utilize the resources in the community.