Readjusting to Family Life Requires Communication
(October 28, 2008)
|GRAFENWOEHR, Germany, Oct. 27, 2008 – All
Eva Creel wanted for 12 months was for her husband to come
home from Afghanistan to be by her side.|
When he returned, she found she wanted nothing more than her
own personal space. Creel – like many spouses of soldiers
returning from deployments – discovered firsthand that the
rush of emotions after redeployment can both draw a couple
together and pull them apart.
“When they're gone, you miss them terribly, but you become
very independent,” she said. “I had my routine, my schedule
and my plans. He kind of got in the way of all those
Redeployment is an overwhelming joy and a rollercoaster ride
of emotions, including everything from feelings of guilt
from a newfound independence to the insecurity and
frustration of getting to know one another again. But these
emotions are 100 percent normal, according to Army Chaplain
(Lt. Col.) David Scheider, deputy chaplain for the U.S. Army
The key to getting back on track, he said, is communicating
expectations and emotions with one another.
During extended separations, Scheider said, it is common for
couples to develop unrealistic expectations of a physical
and emotional reunion. One of the most common types of
expectation building is for soldiers to develop an
unrealistic image of their spouse in their minds. A very
high number of deployed troops do this, the chaplain said.
“There is really not much of a place to get away from it all
[while deployed],” he explained, “So they develop a place in
their brain to go to, in their memories. And they start to
build this safe place. The star of that safe place in their
mind is usually their [spouse].
“After awhile, they'll begin to develop this expectation of
[the spouse] as this perfect person,” he continued. “It is
totally unrealistic. It is half fantasy and half reality.”
Back at home, Creel said, a spouse may experience the same
“I did turn him into this perfect husband [during the
deployment],” she admitted. “The reality is different.”
To prevent reality shock from upending the marriage, the
soldier and spouse should reevaluate the “fantasy” image
they have created of their loved one, Scheider said. Because
everyone changes during deployments, he said, couples must
evaluate the reality of who they have become and get to know
each other again when they're reunited after a deployment.
In doing so, he added, they shouldn't take anything for
granted. Couples should communicate even the most obvious
expectations and desires, even something as simple how much
time you expect to spend alone together or who will take out
the trash, the chaplain said.
Some spouses look forward to handing over the job of
disciplinarian and household organizer to the redeploying
soldier, Scheider said, but recently returned servicemembers
often can't make this decision because they are unsure of
what the rules were in their absence, or what the rules
should be. At the same time the spouse is ready to hand off
the disciplinarian hat, the soldier, having missed birthdays
and other important family events, is ready to make up for
lost time by overindulging the child.
Talk, talk and more talk is the key, Scheider said, as
maintaining open communication – detailing both large and
small expectations – is one of the only ways to weather the
emotional storm of reintegrating.
Another sticking point, the chaplain said, is when
increasingly confident spouses who have grown independent
during the deployment, begin to resent when their redeployed
soldiers expect them to put their lives on hold and devote
all of their time to them.
While each couple will experience variations of these common
scenarios, each relationship and every individual is unique,
Scheider said. The bottom line and the driving factor for a
smooth reintegration, he said, is to make reconnecting as a
couple a top priority.
Soldiers may find themselves feeling both hurt and proud
that their spouse coped so well without them, the chaplain
noted. They may question whether or not they are needed in
the relationship, and may even feel like an outsider in the
family. Spouses should understand these feelings and attempt
to make the soldier feel needed, he advised.
Both spouses will need affirmation that their relationship
is as strong as ever, or at least growing, Scheider said,
but connecting on an emotional level after redeployment may
take some time. Soldiers who experienced a high level of
stress during the deployment may feel shame for something
they did or guilt for something they did not do in combat.
This can be a contentious area, the chaplain said.
“The most hurtful thing [to a spouse can be] wanting to have
that significant reconnection, waiting for this time to
really sit down and talk, and [the soldier] stiff-arms her,
thinking, ‘I want to protect her from who I am,'” he
While spouses may be curious about their soldier's
experiences, the chaplain said, the best thing they offer
the servicemember is space to work through their feelings.
Spouses should avoid asking questions about what happened in
combat and never should pressure the soldier for details, he
Soldiers still struggling after six weeks, Scheider said,
should seek help.
Throughout reintegration, as soldiers readjust to their new
home life, they may seek a comrade in arms to confide in and
relate to, the chaplain said. This may leave the spouse
feeling unloved and alone.
“It calls into question the whole relationship -- the
loyalty and the bond,” he said. Soldiers, he added, should
resist the urge to close their circle of support to only
those they served with.
And just as soldiers do, he noted, spouses learn to rely on
those around them for support and assistance during the
deployment. When troops return, they may experience hurt
feelings and disappointment if those support groups begin to
“I had a few friends whose husbands were deployed at the
same time as mine,” Creel said. “We were like family. We
talked to each other every day. They were in my routine. But
when our husbands came back, we barely talked to each other.
It is sad that you lose that friendship.”
It is important, however, Scheider said, for the marriage,
not the friendships, to be the couple's main priority.
For couples who still are having trouble reconnecting on an
emotional level after six weeks, Scheider suggested reaching
out for professional help.
“Healthy couples,” he said, “gang up on the problem, not
Special to American Forces Press Service
Mary Markos works in the U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs Office.
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