Deployment is challenging, both for the military service member and for the family left behind, but sometimes the transition back to civilian life is even more challenging. Not only do you have to transition to a normal schedule free from the regimen of military life, but you also have to learn to turn off the reactions and high alert that you had to keep while working in a combat zone. Your kids having a scuffle will require a different level of reaction than a scuffle in enemy territory. Here are some tips to help you with this transition.
Rebuild Relationships First
Depending on how long your deployment was, you may find that some of your relationships with family and friends have changed. Your experiences while on duty have changed you, and the people you left behind have also lived their lives and experienced new challenges that have changed them. Even your family, including your spouse and children, will have changed significantly.
Be patient as you work to reestablish relationships with those you love after combat duty. Commit yourself to good communication, and remember to be patient with those you love who have changed. Accept the changes and pick up at this new stage, rather than expecting things to go back where they were.
Keep Your Marriage Strong During the Transition
One of the most challenging relationships to rebuild after deployment is your marriage relationship. For the past months or even years, your spouse has been running things solo. Your family has developed new routines, built memories and grown while you were gone. You need to adjust accordingly.
First, ask questions about what happened while you were gone, and avoid placing judgment on the decisions your spouse made. Remember, you weren’t there, and you need to show support and rebuild trust.
Next, adapt yourself to the schedule and routines that developed while you were gone. There will be time in the future to make adjustments you feel necessary, but for now, adapt to the routines of your family as they stand. This will help show appreciation and trust.
Remember to share about your own experiences. Your spouse wants to know what you experienced while you were away, and this can help build the trusting relationship you had before you left.
Pay attention to your own stress reactions. These are normal after the high stress world of active duty service, but they can derail your relationship quickly. If you notice angry outburst, aggression or even withdrawal, either from you or your spouse, seek the help of a counselor.
Finally, be patient! Don’t rush physical and emotional intimacy. Build your relationship again slowly, and be patient with your spouse. You both need time to adjust.
Rebuild Your Parental Relationship
The videos of kids tearfully embracing their parent returning from service just show one part of a bigger picture. Yes, your kids are probably excited that you are home, but after the initial excitement and emotion wears off, you may find that they have changed significantly. Give time for your kids to reconnect and warm up to you, and don’t feel hurt if they prefer your spouse over you for a while. Listen to them, read stories together, play games and be there. They will eventually respond positively.
Reconnect with Your Community
Family comes first, but once you’ve laid the groundwork for those relationships, it’s time to get involved with your community again. Finding a connection with your community as a while is going to go far in helping you feel “at home” again. If you are not returning to work outside of the military right away, get involved with your church, a local civic group or a service organization. This will broaden your social group and make you feel connected with your neighbors.
Get Help When Needed
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help when needed. Emotional support and even psychiatric help are important as you learn to turn off the high alert of military service and embrace life as a civilian again.
Do you have additional tips for this important adjustment period? Share with the Military Helper community in the comments below.