Focus on the Family

Post-Deployment: The Short-Term Reality

by Erin Prater

You've waited weeks, months or possibly over a year for your spouse to return from a mission or deployment. You've fantasized day and night about the picture-perfect reunion – passionately running into your spouse's open arms with reckless abandon. (Never mind the fact that you're exhausted from spending the whole night cleaning, primping and calling friends and family!)

But the longer your spouse has been deployed, and the more danger he's faced, the more likely you both have changed. Even if the reunion goes as planned, challenges lie ahead.

When it comes to post-deployment marital issues, it's more likely that the "problem" lies with your marital expectations than with either of you. Most couples set the bar too high during early marriage, so you've probably encountered this same problem before.

If you've ever wished for a "do-over" of the newlywed years, here's your chance to employ a little more wisdom and grace this time around. With experience under your belt and God on your side, you can rebuild a beautiful marriage relationship on a solid foundation.


Identifying and Conquering Immediate Hurdles

Within 24 hours of the homecoming ceremony, you're bound to run into at least one minor marital hurdle.

by Erin Prater

Within 24 hours of the homecoming ceremony, you're bound to run into at least one minor marital hurdle. Whether the sex is awkward or you're having trouble communicating, the issues you're facing are normal, solvable and often short-term.

What are these hurdles, and how can you conquer them?

Hurdle: Getting reacquainted
Conquer: Date your spouse! Both of you have changed, if only in small ways, since the commencement of deployment. Have fun relearning each other's favorite food, movie and date-night activity. Does he still like sleeping on the cold side of the pillow? Does she still love ketchup on her eggs? Pick-up a book of "if" questions or a board game that will facilitate the process to getting reacquainted.

Hurdle: Divvying up duties
Conquer: Let your spouse know of your desire to keep-up with additional household duties while he adjusts to home life. In the mean time, complete some chores together as you mutually brainstorm a flexible set-up that will work best for both of you. And don't forget to have a balled-sock fight or squirt each other with the hose while doing dishes. Chores don't have to be drudgery when a friend's involved!

Hurdle: Budgeting
Conquer: Deployments are capable of financially disengaging couples. The spouse at home may take care of all finances or spouses make keep separate budgets during the deployment. Either way, gaining financial unity shortly after homecoming is essential. Re-assess your pre-deployment budget over a carry-out pizza or at your favorite coffee shop. Remember, if you were receiving hazard pay, you won't be any longer. Assign each incoming dollar to a category, and make sure one of those categories is "savings." Pay down debt, pay the bills and set aside a few bucks each month to invest in your marriage. Apply them to a date night or surprise present for your spouse.

Hurdle: Irritability
Conquer: It's hard to understand from an outsider's perspective, but anxiety, readjustment, job stress and painful memories can all lead to unexplained irritability from your returning service member. Let your spouse know you see his distress. Ask if there's any way you can help, or just lend a listening ear. If your spouse is resistant, let him know you love him and give him some space.

Hurdle: Differing sex drives
Conquer: Many returning service members find their sex drives are lower than they were prior to deployment. (Stress, depression and exhaustion can also dampen a sex drive.) Discuss your sexual needs with your spouse. Do your best to be understanding, and remember: As a married couple, your bodies belong to each other.

Hurdle: Emotional stonewalling
Conquer: Many service members emotionally disengage during battle as a means of coping. It's a tough habit to turn off once they arrive home, and troubling memories don't just disappear. Succinctly let your spouse know you sense an emotional disconnect. Even if he is resistant to sharing his feelings, you can share yours. Above all, be patient.

Hurdle: Shaky faith
Conquer: Faith is often found and lost, both temporarily and permanently, on the battlefield. If your husband is a Christian, he may be wondering how a kind, loving God can let his comrade (a husband and father of four) return home in a body bag. These questions are normal, both by human standards and by God's. Pray for spiritual intimacy, and seek to walk alongside him during his struggles. Don't pretend to have all the answers. Be honest about your own spiritual struggles, and "wrestle" with God together.


Tips for Reconnecting Well

Reconnecting is fun, fulfilling and a downright discouragement to the Enemy.

by Erin Prater

You and your spouse are finally under the same roof again. Unfortunately, rebuilding your connection doesn't happen automatically. Both of you have become increasingly independent and unaccustomed to considering each other in everyday decisions. Satan desires to use selfishness to tear your relationship apart.

The good news? Reconnecting is fun, fulfilling and a downright discouragement to the Enemy.


Surrendering Your Expectations

A military homecoming is a fit allegory of Christ returning for his bride.

by Erin Prater

Just as marriage is an allegory of the relationship between Christ and the Church, a military homecoming is a fit allegory of Christ returning for his bride. Your service-member husband represents Christ victorious, returning for the church He so bravely sacrificed for. You, his bride, represent the Church, anticipating the return of your bridegroom with bated breath. It's a beautiful, this-side-of-Heaven snapshot of the Second Coming.

Chances are your homecoming experience will be a "rapturous" moment. But we're "not home yet," and your picture-perfect expectations for post-homecoming life won't be fully met. And that's OK. Perfect literally means "thoroughly done," and God is not through working on either of you.

Expectation: Things should be "back to normal" in no time.

Reality: Experts say re-integration may take just as long as the deployment itself. The reality is some things may never be the same. Some changes are for the better, such as your family's renewed appreciation for life, family, God and each other. Some changes are heart-wrenching, such as watching your husband struggle with nightmares and insomnia. Whatever your "new normal" is, strive to embrace it with full commitment, determination and reliance on God.

Expectation: During our deployment, my husband and I truly learned how much we mean to each other; we'll never take each other for granted again.

Reality: As permanent as your newfound appreciation for each other is, it's bound to get buried in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Strive to frequently appreciate each other in small ways. Thank your husband for fixing the broken printer so quickly; thank your wife for making dinner each evening. Perform small, random acts of kindness that will probably go unnoticed – replacing the toilet paper when it runs out or changing the batteries in the remote. It's the small, unnoticed kindnesses that make a relationship run smoothly.

Expectation: It was so nice having the bed and remote to myself while my spouse was gone; It's not a big deal if I keep hogging everything.

Reality: While your spouse was away, you likely used a little indulgence as a means of coping: spreading out on the whole bed, not cleaning the house as often, stocking only your favorite flavors of pop tarts. Now that your spouse is back, pray for the wisdom to see how your decisions affect your spouse. Regularly forfeit the last scoop of ice cream or cold soda to your spouse; you'll be surprised at the blessings you receive in return!

Expectation: We've been apart for so long and can't wait to be in each other's arms again. Sex should come naturally and be better than ever!

Reality: Sex is bound to be at least a little awkward after homecoming, just as it might have been at first. Regularly schedule a couple-hour block to be intimate in whatever ways you desire. Have fun exploring and relearning your spouse's likes and dislikes. Sex is meant to be fun, so laugh a little and check your expectations at the door.

Just as God grew you separately during deployment, He will now grow you corporately. Kiss deployment and misplaced expectations goodbye, and look forward to a bright future together.


Back From Iraq: A Readjustment Story

'I know someday God will use what we've been through to help others.'

by Anne Kline as told to Erin Prater

Preparation

Most wives aren't sure what to expect when their husbands return from their first tour to a combat zone. On the contrary, after hours of reading military-related magazines, books and Web sites, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what might happen when James, my husband, returned from 15 months in Iraq.

I'd read the story of a husband who felt his wife didn't understand what he'd been through in combat; he regularly held "conversations" with his dead comrades while sitting on a stump in his backyard. I read another story of a husband who would "check the perimeter" of his property on a regular basis, withdraw completely from family life and look for ways to kill himself at every turn.

So when my husband asked me to pick up two 12-packs of beer shortly before his homecoming, I was more than worried. I wondered how fast the beer would disappear and fretted about his family's history of alcoholism.

The morning of the homecoming ceremony was a whirlwind of cleaning, primping and putting last-minute touches on James' welcome-home poster. This tour was the first of our marriage, but his second to Iraq and third overall. From all accounts, it had gone much more safely than the previous tours. As the platoon armorer, my husband was frequently out of harm's way, a contrast to the situation he faced when he served as a turret gunner during his first tour.

Loss

But as wonderful as the blessing of his safe return was, it couldn't disguise one very big hurt: My husband had lost his comrade and best friend, Johnson, just a few months before. If their tour hadn't been extended, Johnson would be returning today, too. He wouldn't be pushing up daises in a cemetery in Louisiana. His wife wouldn't be attempting to tearfully explain to their five children why daddy wasn't coming home today. Johnson's death was the most painful thing my husband had ever endured, and both of us were still struggling with grief, why's and what if's.

The Return

The wait at the special events center was excruciating as the boys' arrival was continually delayed. Finally, the back doors flew open and our soldiers marched in to Toby Keith's "Angry American." After a seemingly unending speech, our soldiers were dismissed and released from formation. A sea of homesick soldiers clashed into an equally tear-stained sea of family members. I spotted my husband, and at that moment nothing in the world could have held me back from him. I dove into his arms, and we held each other tighter than ever before. After a long embrace, we gathered his bags, jumped in his truck and headed for the new home we'd purchased while he was in Iraq.

The two of us were surprised at how quickly we "clicked" again; we certainly hadn't lost our chemistry! We were also surprised that neither of us felt rushed to become intimate. Despite spending months on end pining for each other, we weren't ripping each other's clothes off. But the lack of pressure let us fully enjoy each other's company and take our sweet time. Within 48 hours of the homecoming, we'd enjoyed a movie night together, eaten a steak dinner with his family and re-evaluated our budget. Things were going swimmingly.

Readjustment

And, despite some hurdles, things still are. The two main post-deployment issues we've faced have been irritability and differences in sex drive. Sometimes the littlest things I do, such as accidentally serving him spicy food or forgetting instructions he gave me, cause him to lose his temper. When he does, he often apologies, gives me a kiss or attempts to make a joke out of the situation.

Our mismatched sex drives have been a bit frustrating too. His has been unusually low since Iraq, and it's embarrassing that mine is so high compared to his. We've had a couple of tearful arguments over the matter, but, thankfully, have come to a much better understanding. He's become much better at giving me what I need when I need it, and I've become better at understanding when he just can't.

Many returning service members talk about how they can't stand the petty gripes of Americans after serving in a war zone. I've seen my husband adopt this attitude, and it's affected our home life as well. I have diabetes, and my blood sugar levels went through a rough patch shortly after his return. I went low a lot, which usually causes me to slip into panic attacks. Though my husband was supportive, it became increasingly clear that my anxiety was taxing him. When I asked why he was so aggravated with me, he said, "I've only seen people who have been shot – people who are dying – freak out like you have been. You're not going to die, but you're acting like it."

It's moments like these when I learn a little more about what he's been through and how it still affects him. I'm happy to report that he talks about Johnson regularly – about the good times the two had together, what Johnson might do if he were in a certain situation and what a great husband and father he was. We've both been able to talk about how traumatizing it was to learn of his death. I was able to watch a DVD of my husband giving a speech at his funeral, and I'm helping him compile a scrapbook of pictures, funeral brochures and transcripts from TV shows and congressional meetings that mentioned Johnson.

Both of us are healing a little more every day, personally and corporately. I still cry at the drop of a hat at the thought of my husband deploying again. We're currently facing a possible stop-loss situation, and may only have a couple months left together before my husband is deployed once more. It hurts. But my husband seems to open up a little more each week, and I know someday God will use what we've been through to help others.


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