During reunion and reintegration, couples will experience change and adjustment, just like they did when the deployment began. Sometimes this can be more stressful than any other part of the deployment process because of the conflicting expectations and changes that have occurred during the separation.
The reunion itself is often full of emotion and expectations. It can be an awkward mixture of excitement, joy, strife, apprehension, among other emotions. Both partners may need to renegotiate routines or responsibilities that were in place due to the deployment in order to find a good balance.
Be Realistic: Throughout the deployment both partners may be daydreaming about what it will be like to be home together. You may expect homecoming to be a passionate rendezvous, but when you are together you feel a little awkward and need some time to get comfortable together first. It is common that during the reunion, the deployer expects their partner to shower them with appreciation for the hardships they endured during the deployment. However, their partner may be looking for the same grand gesture. Instead of understanding that both experiences were challenging, couples may find ourselves in the “who had it worse” game in which neither person gets the validation they need and deserve.
Be Patient: Keep in mind that the deployer is coming home to a family in progress that has developed different routines. What about the partner who had to make the family budget? They may like doing it now, but the deployer expects to pick up that duty again. While one Airman was deployed, his wife started visiting her family twice a month. When he got back, she still wanted to go to her parent’s house often, but he expected that now he was back they would spend more of their time at home.
There can be many expectations on how to handle change. Sometimes the deployer expects things to go right back to the way they were before the deployment. There was one Airman who would read her 4 year-old daughter a bedtime story every night. It was something they both greatly enjoyed. When she got back from the deployment she assumed they would pick-up right where they left off. She was surprised and sad to find that her daughter was uninterested in story time. What do you think happened when she tried to enforce this routine? Sometimes this can cause tension among family members who are accustomed to the way things are. A realistic plan may be for the Airman to observe the new routines for a while and slowly join in when everyone is ready.
Communicate: Good communication can be defined differently by each couple based upon their experiences. However it is defined, good communication usually brings emotional safety for each partner. When one feels heard and able to understand the other person’s point of view, both are communicating well and experiencing emotional safety. Good, emotionally safe communication makes it okay to open up your heart to your partner. When you do your best to listen carefully to your partner, you make it safe for them to open up to you.
Many may have experienced times when their communication doesn’t look “good.” Sometimes your normal way of talking just isn’t working, but there’s something that needs to be talked through. Often couples keep trying over and over, or maybe they keep doing the same thing only louder. If this is the case for you and your partner, being able to use a method of talking that structures the conversation and allows both to listen will help good communication. One way of communicating that does this is the Speaker Listener Technique. You can learn about it from our Speaker/Listener Technique page that describes the steps.
There are choices to be made in communicating with your partner. When an Airman returned home, he found that his 15-year-old daughter was acting out at school. His wife was never strict with discipline, because that was a role he normally fulfilled with her support. But during his absence, his wife had allowed her to get away with many things that together they would not have. He had a choice to make. He could assert his power by enforcing new rules or he and his wife could brainstorm together and come up with other options that were reasonable and fair to everyone. They talked about it and agreed to let the daughter have input on the new rules. With consistent structure and guidance and by allowing her to have a say in important matter, her behavior improved and she was no longer getting into trouble at school.
Plan and prepare for the reunion with your partner just as you needed to prepare for the deployment separation. Some plans that you make may need to be readjusted as new events unfold. Be open to new ideas. Most importantly, stay connected and work as a team.