It might seem foreign to those who are unfamiliar with the military lifestyle, but the reality and effects of a deployment don’t immediately cease when your servicemember returns home. Beyond the deployment and the homecoming, there is the reality of reintegration; when your servicemember gets back and you have to learn to live with one another again. Deployment has many phases (and faces) and, in all honestly, none of them are easy.
There’s predeployment, which is an absolute nightmare. It’s like ripping off a band-aid reallllllly slowly and painfully. Your servicemember is preoccupied trying to prepare and, likely, swamped with work. You can feel them withdrawing and starting to emotionally prepare themselves for the separation, all while you’re trying to squeeze in every last second of togetherness that you possibly can.
There’s the actual deployment. This is a beast all its own. Regardless of how long your servicemember’s deployment is, it’s hard. You have to learn to live apart, function separately, and still hold fast to some sort of connection while they’re away. It’s a storm at the start, then you’ll reach a the beautiful eye of the storm where you find relief, then the storm returns as the end approaches. Like the stages of grief, deployment is something you don’t quite understand until you live it.
There’s homecoming. It’s the magical day in which you reunite and can finally breathe again. It’s blissful, it’s beautiful, and it’s everything you’ve been hoping for and working towards throughout the deployment. But homecoming doesn’t last forever, and life continues beyond the homecoming.
Then, finally, there’s reintegration. Reintegration is hard; I’m not going to sugarcoat it. While servicemembers get some prep regarding the process while deployed, many spouses never know that there are actual resources to help during the transition on our end, as well. And, even if they do, many think that the hard reality is the exception to the rule. I can honestly say that reintegration is rough, and we struggled last time. Both of us had our unspoken expectations, and learning to live together as a couple, rather than two proverbial ships passing in the night, was difficult.
This time, we’ve done better, in large part because we know what to expect (to an extent). We didn’t expect magic and fairy tales. We did expect patience and grace on both our parts. Our soldier’s been thrust into a home that’s pretty much new to him since I moved while he was deployed. He’s come home to a household with three children, versus the two he left when he first deployed. For my part, this time I’m more acutely aware of what I’ve accomplished and don’t necessarily seek that outside validation. Rather, I accept the love and support, I relish the time we have together as a family, and expect the transition to take time.
Reintegration is a season of life that’s gradual, and it’s not something that can be rushed. It requires patience, grace, conversations, and involvement on both sides. It’s give and take. We’ve learned to live apart, and we need to learn to live together again. While it may sound bad, the best tip I can ever offer is to lower your expectations. Be humble and kind. Expect a few frayed nerves. Understand that it may be difficult for them to see you’ve learned to live apart, and it might be hard for you to relinquish the reigns. Involve each other. Give space. Find balance.
And yes, we’re doing well, but lest anyone thing reintegration is a cakewalk, it’s not.
And for those struggling in silence, I promise you’re not alone. This, too, shall pass.