They’re back! Your spouse has returned from deployment, or an extended TDY, and your family is whole again. The reunion was amazing, but after a few days, the newness of the homecoming wears off and the difficulty of reintegration becomes real. Why is it so hard to come together again after extended time away? Why can’t we just be happy to be together?
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About the Author
Melanie Hart, MA, LPCC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in marriage counseling, family therapy, and anxiety & depression in women. She sees clients online and in-person at our Denver, Colorado counseling center.
6 Tips to Help Military Families Reintegrate After Deployment or TDY (Temporary Duty Assignment)
They’re back! Your spouse has returned from deployment, or an extended TDY, and your family is whole again. The reunion was amazing, even if a bit awkward (kissing someone for the first time after months of separation can be awkward, that’s okay.) But after a few days, the newness of the homecoming wears off and the difficulty of reintegration becomes real. Why is it so hard to come together again after extended time away? Why can’t we just be happy to be together?
Accept that you’ve all changed.
For starters, you are different people than you were before. The time apart and your unique experiences have changed and grown you. Acknowledge the change and share your experiences with one another. Set some time aside to focus on re-meeting each other and share with your spouse changes you’ve made to family routines and structures. That includes little things like rearranging the kitchen to make things easier to reach while your spouse was away. And the baby-now-toddler-only-takes-a-nap-after-lunch is critical new information.
Remember, when your spouse was away he or she only received limited information about what was happening at home, and it really is a lot to assimilate upon return.
Stay flexible when reestablishing family roles.
As a returning spouse, it may feel like your place in the family has at least shifted, or it may feel altogether gone. Your family had to learn to live without out your physical presence, but that doesn’t mean they wanted to. Everyone has taken on new responsibilities to help fill in the gap and keep the family running as smooth as possible.
Reestablishing family roles and tasks will take time. Stay flexible. Just like learning to juggle the children’s school schedules each year takes a few weeks, so your homecoming will take time to get you settled back in. Be patient with yourself and your family as you all get used to having you around to depend on again.
Review key moments together with family members.
While away, you may have shared in some important moments via phone, Skype or email. Once together revisit these moments to communicate from both sides care and inclusion. This doesn’t have to be a formal process but rather take a more informal approach. For example, ask about your spouse’s job promotion while helping to clean the dinner table. Or while folding laundry with the kids, ask your daughter to tell you about her center-field catch that won the game. Your interest matters and it’s a great way to grease the wheels of communication that may have rusted a little while you were apart.
As appropriate, and as you are able, be sure to share your experience with them, too. That may look like telling them how often you thought of them, and how you enjoyed the care packages they sent. And it might include telling them about your infrequent shower options, eating MREs, and some of the personality quirks of your comrades in the field.
Share new parts of your social circle openly.
In military communities, it’s common for friends to come and go, and that very thing may have happened while your spouse was away. That means there may be new people in your life, and your children’s lives. It’s important to be intentional about introducing your spouse and helping to put faces with names. This helps foster trust within the marriage and keeps that whole “Who was that?” conversation from going south.
Remember to celebrate.
Chances are that some important dates happened while duty called you away. Anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays may have been missed. It’s easy to just skip it until it comes around again, but being purposeful about celebrating these significant events together, even after the fact, communicates how important you are to each other.
For wedding anniversaries, make this a special occasion to for the two of you and decide as a family how to celebrate other special days. The planning can be as meaningful as the celebration.
Apply grace liberally.
Most importantly, give yourself and one another abundant grace as you move toward your new normal. Recognize your spouse’s efforts at reintegration and know that it’s not about perfection here, it’s about re-connection. This is both a wonderful time of togetherness and a challenge to figure out all of the who’s-doing-what-when minutiae of coming back together. Laugh when you don’t know where to find the can-opener. Be amazed at how big your son has gotten when you try to put on the wrong sized shoes. And relax when your returning spouse’s gear is still lying around a week(s) later- it means they’re home! (P.S. They may not know where to put it because you re-arranged the closets.)
If reintegration seems overwhelming or more difficult than you’re prepared to handle, reach out for some help. Any of our therapists would be eager to support you during your homecoming transition and help strengthen your marriage and family bonds.
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