Jennifer Haskell is a Canadian military wife and a coordinator at a Military Family Resource Centre in Meaford, Ontario. Everyday she finds herself privileged to work with Canada’s bravest families as they deal with the ups and downs of deployment and looks to share some of her personal and professional experience with families facing a separation due to deployment. Her husband is currently away on pre-deployment training (deploying to Afghanistan in April 2010) so she has taken up blogging about life, home, and the military to help pass the time. Catch up on the journey at Canadian Rhapsody.
The Emotional Cycle of Deployment
The emotional cycle of deployment can be useful for families to identify if they emotions and behaviors they are experiencing are normal (they are!), and help them to minimize the problems normally faced by military families simply by understanding the process of adjustment.
For instance, lack of intimacy just before deployment could be accepted as a natural reaction to difficult circumstances rather than being viewed as personal rejection. Arguing during that time may be tolerated instead of perceived as evidence of a deteriorating marriage. It also helps to know that it is perfectly normal to feel somewhat strange with each other when the husband first comes home. Almost everyone feels reassured just knowing that their range and fluctuation of emotions are normal.
Stage One-Anticipation of Loss (1-6 weeks out)
Expect to begin bickering more often, and feeling moments of anger or resentfulness (spouse) or guilt over leaving (soldier). You may even find yourself crying unexpectedly at movies or commercials. Tension, frustration or even depression can all be common as you face the prospect of the next few months.
Stage Two-Detachment and Withdrawal (1 Week prior)
The last few weeks before separation, couples will often begin to distance themselves from each other in an effort to make the goodbyes easier; this can be seen in reduced intimacy, emotional distancing, numbness, or even just impatience. The bickering that may have started in stage 1 will continue as it’s easier to let someone go when we’re not too happy with them!
Stage Three-Emotional Disorganization (First 6 weeks of Deployment)
Once your loved one has left, it can be difficult to settle into a new routine for the deployment; the kids will be upset, you may be feeling guilty for how much you were fighting beforehand, or you may just be feeling lonely. Expect some difficulty sleeping and making decisions, and spend a few weeks focusing on the kids and helping them to feel connected to their missing parent.
Stage Four-Recovery and Stabilization (Variable stage; ‘midway point’)
Now that you are coming into the midway point in the deployment, you are gaining some confidence in your ability to make all of the decisions and hold all of the responsibilities in the home. Some women may still feel anxious or depressed dealing with all of the responsibilities and being isolated from their husband and/or extended family, however most women have a new sense of independence and freedom and take pride in their ability to cope alone.
If changes occur (deployment extended, etc.) during this stage, it is easier for families to adapt and prepare, as they have not yet begun the preparations for homecoming and have to put them on hold.
Stage Five-Anticipation of Homecoming (Last 6 weeks of deployment)
He’s coming home soon! If you and the kids have been keeping track, there’s probably not many jellybeans left in the jar (see bottom), and the entire family will begin feeling both the excitement and apprehension of having your loved one return.
The homecoming or reintegration is one of the most difficult times during a deployment, yet it often gets the least preparation. Everyone in the family has changed and experienced new things, and it is important to do some legwork ahead of time to help your family to have a smooth transition.
We all have projects we intended to work on during the deployment, whether for ourselves or decided as a family, and during the last few weeks when the countdown begins, it can be overwhelming to look over what you have not yet accomplished. Don’t sweat it; deployment leaves the at-home spouse with a lot of responsibilities, so you’ve probably been a little busy! This is also a good time to look at the new routines and activities that the family has become accustomed to, and figure out ways to make room for the returning spouse to participate. Many spouses begin to fear that they will have to give up the new activities that they have come to enjoy once their soldiers return, but it’s important to maintain those things that you enjoy and ensure that you are taking care of yourself as well.
The biggest ‘symptom’ or ‘reaction’ of this stage? Joy!
Stage Six- Renegotiation of the Marriage Contract (First 6 weeks at home)
For many months it has been ‘my house, my tv, my remote’, and all of a sudden there’s someone there sitting in my chair, watching my TV, and eating my food. It can be a difficult transition for anyone! You may begin to miss all of those responsibilities and freedoms you had when you were on your own, even if you hated making those decisions at the time. During this stage, the couple has to make major adjustments in roles and responsibilities; the marriage cannot and will not be exactly the same as before deployment: both spouses have had varied experiences and have grown in different ways, and these changes must be accommodated.
Stage Seven – Reintegration and Stabilization (6-12 weeks after redeployment)
Things do get better! If you’ve been open to allowing the changes that have occurred in each of you to have space in your new found relationship, you will be on your way to building new closeness and routines as a family and as a couple.
Coming up next Jennifer discusses BATTLEMIND, a program that helps families to understand the behaviors and skills that are important in battle and which may be difficult for soldiers to turn off once they’ve arrived home.