Ahhh, homecoming. The long-awaited day that every military spouse counts down to during deployment. It’s the day when you can finally run into your loved one’s arms and welcome them home with a kiss! Birds will sing, music will play, and all will be right with the world.
Except … sometimes it isn’t that simple. Of course the moment of reunion is sweet, even if it happens in the middle of the night or on a very cold and windy pier. But the days afterwards can be a confusing whirlwind of emotions. You want things to go back to ‘normal,’ but many military families have gone through major changes during deployment — the birth of a child, moving to a different house, working a new job, new hobbies, etc. As you and your spouse get used to living together again, you may be reminded of all the reasons you fell in love with them. But you will surely remember their annoying habits too.
Contrary to popular belief, deployments don’t end on homecoming day. The time after homecoming is called reintegration. This is when the service member returns and adjusts to life at home. It may take days, or it could last a few weeks. Some spouses report that reintegration goes smoothly, while others struggle. These tips will help you prepare for Homecoming so you and your spouse can navigate it together.
Have realistic expectations
The biggest mistake people make about homecoming and reintegration is setting expectations that are too perfect and unrealistic. Many spouses want to be swept off their feet. They are usually ready to hand over the household chores or responsibilities with the kids. The spouse who remained at home wants life to become easier after deployment, and who can blame them for that?
However, military life doesn’t always allow things to be easier. The service member often returns to work for the first few days or weeks after deployment. Many are tired, jetlagged, and still processing their overseas experiences. They may be focused on their next “mission,” whether that is school, a PCS move, or a transition to a new unit. There may not be enough money budgeted for extravagant vacations or date nights. Spouses need to keep these realities in mind when making plans during the reintegration period.
Another common problem with reintegration is that it can take a while for both spouses to get on the same page. Whether they have different opinions over money, or opposite views about raising the children, these ideas are most likely to clash in the days right after homecoming. Having lived separately for long periods, each spouse developed their own habits and ideals. The spouse at home may feel judged for things they didn’t accomplish. The service member may be surprised how much the children have changed. These emotions can lead to petty arguments and frustrating disappointment.
The best way to ease the reintegration transition is by communicating during the deployment. Options are sometimes limited, but spouses can use a combination of letters, care packages, email, and video calls to try and keep the service member updated about daily life at home. The more details they know about your routines and the kids’ preferences, the easier it will be for them to adjust to life at home. If you had a baby during deployment, it is particularly important to update your spouse with specific schedules and how-to’s so they don’t feel lost taking care of their own child.
Children of Capt. Robert Ahern, an F/A 18C Hornet pilot with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, Marine Aircraft Group 11, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, hold a sign in preparation for the return of their father from deployment at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Joshua S. McAlpine
As much as possible, try to discuss post-deployment plans with your spouse before making any decisions. Do they want to see family? Plan a beach vacation? Prefer to stay home? Let them know your dreams and goals, then listen as they share theirs.
It takes time to adjust. Some service members feel relaxed after just a few days. Others report feeling uneasy for a few weeks. Don’t expect life to go back to normal, especially if either one of you has been through major events. Instead, try to adjust to new routines and a ‘new normal’ together. Be honest and gentle in your communication. If they seem to need space or rest, give it to them.
Have fun together
Most importantly, find simple ways you and your spouse can relax together. Whether you are tackling a home project, cooking meals together, sharing a hobby, playing a game, or just enjoying a quiet evening — try to savor those moments and remind your spouse how much you enjoy sharing this time with them. Reintegration can sometimes feel stressful, especially if there is an upcoming PCS move. Take time to laugh and plan simple dates together. This will help heal your relationship and get you both on the same page again.