Your First Reunion: How To Survive Reintegration

firstreunionheader1

I will never in my life forget the incredible thrill of adrenaline that rushed through my veins as I, at long last, made the 2 hour drive on that glorious day to pick up my husband after a long 10 months. Excitement doesn’t even begin to describe it: I was electric – my blood was on fire. It’s a miracle I made the trip in one piece! The nervous jitters, excited way-too-loud laughter, hot-cold sweat as I tried to push away that walking-down-the-aisle urge to go to the bathroom that every bride has…. it was nearly too much. I clung to my toddler for dear life, and tried to keep myself from visibly shaking.

firstreunionheader2

And we waited. We were good at that. We’d been waiting for years. Waiting for the orders… waiting for the training…. waiting for leave… waiting for the final goodbye…. waiting for the emails, patchy phone calls; glitchy Skype sessions. All through a beautiful Maine summer, our Baby Girl’s 1st birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas and Valentine’s Day we’d waited. We knew how to wait.

Now, as we stood outside on that cold dark February night, surrounded by hundreds of wives, children, fiances, mothers, girlfriends and family all just as impatient as we were, I found myself overcome with nervous fear. Would it be the same? I knew I wasn’t the same, and I was not expecting him to be the same… so would we be the same? How would our daughter react? A brilliant 18 months now, she hadn’t seen him since before she could walk: a big-eyed crawling machine still sticking everything in her mouth. She knew him by name, recognized his laugh, could point out his picture. But how would she take to him when he was really here in flesh and blood?

My fears began to run away with me, but I forced myself to stop. Not now. They’ll be time to figure all of that out later… not now. Enjoy the moment – that’s the mantra. And that’s what we did. We had waited long, worked hard, persevered and kept our chins up. It was time to enjoy the reunion. This was not the first mountain my husband and I would climb together and it wouldn’t be the last. No matter how hard the season before us would be, I knew we could get through it together.

postdeploycollage1.jpgThe sudden rumble of diesel engines brought a hush over the crowd as we all gasped in excitement. They were here! The buses pulled up and hundreds of Marines disembarked and fell into seamless formation as the Commander began the dismissal.

Where is he?! Yes, I won’t lie, they were all dressed alike and it was nearly completely dark outside, save a few dim street lights. I thought I had found him at one point, but then realized I was wrong. I had no idea where he was, but I was up close to the front and my Baby Girl’s bright pink jacket and our sign that said “My Daddy Owes Me 295 Kisses” could not be missed. He would find us.

And he did. As they dismissed with a final solute, the crowd surged forward in a mad rush to meet the world of camo. I stood still and clung to my baby, searching every face until, finally, I saw him. No words can even begin to describe the sweetness of reunion, so I will not even try. But imagine that your heart has been ripped out of your body and in an instant, you are whole again. He was home, which meant I was home – he is my home. We were one and every tear, every lonely night, every missed celebration – it all began to fade into a distant, painful memory. It was in the past and the relief that washed over me as I realized this just about knocked me off my feet. It was over. 

firstreunionquote1

Reintegration: The Hardest Road on Your Journey

I could continue to wax poetically about how amazing those first few days were (albeit the part where I got the worst case of flu I’ve ever had in my life about 2 hours after we got home that first night…. oh yes, there’s a legitimate thing called deployment luck and it apparently still applies on the first night home!), and if you are still experiencing your deployment journey it would probably bring you hope and comfort, although also the tears of your own pain for today. But that’s not what this post is about.

I was overwhelmed – shocked – by the response I received on my little DIY newbie blog just 9 short months after posting Your First Deployment: How to Thrive {Not Just Survive}This is obviously a very important issue in many lives today and I am enormously blessed and humbled by the opportunity to speak hope and comfort to my fellow sisters on this road.

What that post didn’t tell you, however, is that unfortunately deployment is the easy part. Let me say that again…. the worst 6/12/18/24 months of your life is really not that bad compared to the beast that is reintegration.

From Them to You

In preparation for writing this post, I reached out to my heroes: strong, courageous women in my life who have done what seems to be the impossible in my eyes: lived through more than one deployment.

I asked them what they wish someone had told them about post-deployment, and how they have managed to continue in the cycle of deployment, reunion, reintegration without losing the closeness and wholeness in their marriages. For some, they are seasoned military wives with multiple deployments and years of experience. Others have just begun their journey of raising a young family through the hardships deployments bring. Others still, are military members themselves, married to a service member and have endured seasons of deployment themselves as well as waiting for their spouse to come home. The variety and range of experiences is rich and I hope you will find it as helpful and encouraging as I did! Here’s what they said.

afterdeploy5.png

What do you wish someone had told you about post-deployment/re-integration?

The thing I wish someone had told me about reintegration is that you can never really prepare for it.

The difficulty is talked about in the same way people talk about how hard childbirth is, but there’s really no way to understand it until you’ve been there.

firstreunionquote2You can talk about your game plan (or your birth plan) all you want, you can have every detail ironed out and have your bags packed, but nothing ever goes according to plan. Just like every child birth is different, each reunion is different too. We are reintegrating now for the third time, and honestly, we thought this wouldn’t be too difficult because #beentheredonethat, but this is the hardest one yet. We’ve been together for almost a decade, I know when he’s going to sneeze two minutes before it happens, yet we are still finding it hard to sync up after this deployment. The two things we keep going back to are to show each other grace and to keep communicating. Whenever we are really butting heads, it’s because we are either not talking about the root of the problem, or we are being merciless in our expectations. Slow down, talk it out.

During the deployment if things got tough he would say “don’t worry, I’ll be home soon.”, which is a step in the right direction, but it bothered me that he thought just coming home would fix the problems. The homecoming is the easy part. It’s the anticipated, photographed, viral YouTube video that brings everyone to tears. But then the family goes home, and the absence that was the elephant in the room becomes the presence that is the elephant in the room.


I wish someone had told me how difficult reunions can be and that we are a normal couple to not have the best reunions and simply be thrilled to see each other. Every deployment and trip is different and has its own challenges.

How have you managed to continue in the cycle of deployment, reunion, reintegration without losing the closeness and wholeness in your marriage?

afterdeploy3.jpgI will say we haven’t always managed this very well. We approached deployments early in our marriage as something we could go do on our own, then come back together and pick up our life as if nothing had changed between us (i.e. we thought we could just put things in our marriage on “pause” and pick up right where we left off when we got back). This seemed to work alright for our first deployment (2 months) but the effects of deployments and separations are cumulative. Just because you seemed to do fine last time doesn’t mean this time will be the same way. Every deployment is different and you have to work hard to reconnect and stay connected when gone – every time. The work you put into staying connected when deployed translates into easier reunions.


Honestly, in this season we are in, it seems like we HAVE lost the closeness in our marriage. It has been really, really difficult for us. We are working on it. There’s a lot of grace, and counting small blessings, a lot of humility.

Other Thoughts & Advice

There are significant challenges to staying connected, and the most critical thing that must happen to have a successful deployment where you stay connected and close as a couple is expectation management/communication. You have to clearly communicate what you need and what you expect, as well as what your limitations are (schedule, no privacy in the deployed room, bad internet, etc.) in order to stay on the same page. I think everyone who has spent any time apart in a relationship can relate to the disappointment you feel when you expect you will be able to talk on the phone and look forward to it all day, and then when you finally get your significant other on the phone, you talk for 5 minutes and they say they have to go, or can’t talk at all. It doesn’t matter how urgent or legitimate the reason is, it’s really disappointing. However, if you started the day knowing that your significant other would only have 5 minutes to talk to you later that day because of (whatever) it’s not really that big a deal. It’s the disappointed expectations that are most difficult to deal with, and lead to resentment and disconnection over time if it happens often enough.

The second part of expectation management happens once you actually get that person on the line. Many deployments feel like Groundhog Day – you do the same thing over and over again, days blend together, and you feel like there’s nothing new to say about it. This is hugely frustrating for the person at home, because you want to be a part of your deployed spouse’s life, but they either have nothing new to tell you or, depending on their job, they CAN’T tell you details of their life/job. The spouse at home may only be able to fill the conversation for a few minutes about their day, then what’s left to talk about? It’s really difficult to feel close when you can’t seem to find things to talk about that matter, and when your lives are completely separate.

afterdeploy1

One of the most successful ways we have coped with deployments and the above problems is to sit down before the deployment and come up with goals for us as a family/couple and for us individually. Deployments aren’t all bad – they give you time to do some things as individuals that you normally don’t have time to do. They usually are great financially as well, so we’d talk about the savings goals we had for the deployment and what we wanted to do with that money. Deployments are always great times to really focus on your relationship with God, do a joint Bible study, read a book together, work on a project or class, get in great shape, etc. All those things we wish we had time to do for ourselves but don’t because of work/family commitments are perfect things to work on during deployments. It really helped us find something to talk about and feel like a part of each other’s lives when we were both excited about goals that we have and are working on together. When we’ve spent the deployment dreaming together and encouraging each other through the goals we’ve set at the beginning of the deployment, it really helps us to feel closer throughout the deployment and eases the transition home.

Things NOT To Do

As a blessed wife of a no longer active military Veteran, I am still in awe at how much of our lives we are still piecing back together, 5 years later. Our finances, social lives, parenting roles, and communication still show the battle scars of spending nearly a year apart. What we’ve discovered as we’ve worked through these bumps in the road is that anyone can live separate lives, spend a year apart, and come back to co-exist. But that’s not what we wanted our marriage to be. We are soul mates – best friends. We have been all our lives. And to keep that closeness it requires a great deal of effort to regain the ground we lost during our year of silence (not complete silence, but it might as well have been at times!). We believe it is absolutely worth it and don’t have any regrets. But, should we ever be in the place to do it again, there are definitely some things we would do differently. Here are my top 3:

  1. Don’t expect it to be the same. It won’t be. He won’t be the same. Deployment changes you and, even if it’s in the slightest way, changes your marriage. Don’t resent the change – embrace it and grow with it. But whatever you do, don’t hold the expectations of pre-deployment interactions over your spouses’ head, or even over your own. It took us 18 months to have a ‘real’ conversation – and we were happily married the whole time! Sometimes it just takes time. Be gracious and patient and open to change.
  2. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. 3 months after he returned home we found ourselves in a new state, leading new lives, in a new job – our world was completely turned upside down. In those months it was easy to pretend the deployment never happened. But what that did was lower my tolerance for random and unexplainable behavior by my still re-integrating husband, as well as bottle up all the emotions and frustration we felt when we tried to communicate normally. When we addressed why we found ourselves in this place, it took the ‘scary’ out of it and helped us see the big picture: we were recovering from a major life change and needed time to adjust.
  3. Don’t ask questions but always be willing to listen. I am thankful to say I got this one right, but it’s too important not to mention. Thanks to my veteran military wife friends I had a heads’ up that things might not be the same when he got home. I knew to expect him to be a little different, and I knew not to push. There would be times he would go for days and not want to talk about anything or acknowledge that he had just come back from the other side of the world. And then there would be times, months later, that he would want to share some of his experiences and confide in me. He knew he didn’t have to talk with me for me to accept him, and I think that made him want to open up more. Either way, he knew I was there for him, whether I was having a great day or not, and that I could ‘handle’ him, silent or not. That proved to be an important bridge in rebuilding our communication.

The Anonymous Husband Interview
{what your service member wants to tell you}

Now that you’ve heard it from a spouse’s perspective, perhaps it might be helpful to hear one military member’s view on reintegration. Specifically, what your spouse wants you to know but doesn’t know how to tell you.


“What is the easiest way for you to communicate?”

I don’t know if there is any easy way to communicate. Especially coming right off deployment, the only communication I recognized easy was the straightforward, to-the-point conversations I was used to having. Hinting, wishy-washy attitudes and manipulation are really frustrating. Don’t add a bunch of drama into routine things; just say what you want.

firstreunionquote3“Is it helpful or harmful for her to ask questions?”
Depends. If a guy has made it clear that he’s not interested in talking about it, back off. He may or may not have legitimate reasons to talk about it, but pushing him will hurt. I think a lot of guys feel like no one asks about anything because they really don’t care. They’re too busy with their petty civilian worries to think about what real problems are like, and they don’t want to hear about your miserable deployment.

“What makes you feel safe?”
A secure room. A gun. A wall behind me. Quiet. The amount of distractions and noise and moving pieces in any given public place is way too much to process or account for; it’s a security nightmare. It takes a lot to pretend like it doesn’t bother me or tune out the alarm bells.

“How can she help?”
Not pretend like the military is a sports team or club. Not assume that he likes it. Not demand that he leave it. Not treat the benefits like her right and the hardships like her cross to bear. Understand that he may not want to be a “normal civilian” ever again, and that the dysfunction and stress of military life can become comforting and familiar over time. Give him a safe place to let down, not a bunch of crazy anarchy and drama that flies in the face of the discipline and rules he’s used to seeing.

“What is something you don’t think you could tell her, but she needs to know?”
It’s hard to be home. It’s hard to do life almost alone, in charge, responsible for everything. It’s a lot easier to be told what to do, have buddies looking out for you, and be able to emotionally shut down in order to accomplish a goal. Being vulnerable to loved ones and responsible for a household is daunting.

“What are your expectations?”
Everyone has different expectations. I’m not sure any of them are realistic. We expect comfort, rest, love, fun, friends, and free time. Instead we feel sealed off, isolated, bored, purposeless, and dissatisfied. Whether or not we love or hate the service, we get more satisfaction out of our work and position than most jobs provide. No one thinks you’re a hero for working at McDonalds. Your Target coworkers can’t match your fire team, no matter how stupid they were. We expect the civilian world to be so much more fun and free, but it often feels pointless and confusing.

Things to Remember

Whether you find yourself on the first steps of this journey, or like me, it is a thing of your past, I hope and pray these experiences have helped you see two very important truths about your situation:

  • You are not alone
  • There is hope where you are

afterdeploy4.jpgNo matter if you’ve done everything right or everything wrong in your post-deployment re-integration, I pray you will have a renewed courage and determination to rebuild your relationship, strengthen your marriage, and move forward stronger and closer than ever before. We may never get back the marriage we had when we said goodbye, but I believe with all my heart God can redeem anything you’ve lost and bring such beauty from your pain.The relationship we have today is better than it could ever have been without those trials and the growing pains caused by deployment and re-integration. It really is worth it! Stick it out, stay close, and stay on your knees.

You are always in my prayers and in my heart – you do not walk this road alone!

429340_356737094348677_141198443_n

{For Godly advice on marriage and relationships, please see the list of resources provided here}

*A big thank you to my amazing contruibutors! You ladies are truly my heroes. To hear more from one of them visit Cate’s blog at Let It Be Messy*

*Special thanks to Noel Small Photography for the beautiful family photos of our reunion!*

*Special thanks to Kalyn Griffin Photography for the stunning military photos!*


Editors’ Note: My husband and I have worked collectively on this post for the last few weeks, pulling together information and sorting through content. What we discovered was that although we have come so far comparatively to where we were when he first returned home, there are still so many ways our lives are affected by this experience. Bringing this all up again has uncovered some less than desirable kinks to work out both in our individual lives and in our marriage. I wish I could say this is a quick and easy process… it’s not. But what I can promise you is that if you work hard at it you will reap the reward. Writing this post was a difficult journey for us as a couple and it came with it’s challenges. But we have embraced them, conquered them, and are moving on stronger because of them. That is our prayer for you in your experiences as well.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Your First Reunion: How To Survive Reintegration

  1. Pingback: Your First Deployment: How to Thrive {Not Just Survive} | The Mama Diaries

  2. Pingback: Post-Deployment: What No One Tells You {And You Need to Know} | The Mama Diaries

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s