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Lessons From A Newlywed [Part Three]: Reintegration

June 1, 2009


The day that we all look forward to, the day when our significant others return to us from deployments. All that stress, and the struggles that we go through as couples, seems to wash away with the hope and anticipation of what will come next.

We look forward to jumping into their arms, kissing their gorgeous faces, and returning back to some sort of  “normal” before they left. All that waiting … that’s the least we can get out of it, right?

Nobody can prepare you for what life is like post-deployment. I definitely can’t, and I these experiences are mine and mine alone.  Yours will be completely different. But I can at least share what we went through as a couple. The FRG tries to give you a reintegration class, to warn you that things won’t be all flowers and roses, that there is an adjustment period for them as well when they get home. My FRG told me to expect it to be weird for about a month. My therapist [who I had been seeing since my near nervous breakdown after R&R] told me to expect it to be weird for four months.

I say give yourself some credit, and give yourself a full year. Because that’s what it took us. A full year to get back to being “us.” You know, just in time for him to ship out again [but that’s a whole other blog post!]

The day I picked him up from the ramp was a great day. I was nervous as hell, but still excited. It seemed like FOREVER in between the plane landing way out there on the runway, the march into the hangar, the loads of formalities that go on, and the moment when I felt him in my arms. And we only got fifteen minutes!

Luckily our company was small, and it didn’t take too long for everything to be turned in, accounted for, and the bags to get there. We scooped everything up and headed home to a house that he had never stepped foot in before, and a dog that he had never seen. A dog that kept us up the ENTIRE first night. To say that my beagle was a little overprotective of me is a major understatement. It was awful. Funny now, but awful then. But that perfect night that I so badly wanted us to have? Yeah … SO DIDN’T HAPPEN!

Without going into too many details, 15 months is a long time to be a part, and it had been nine since we last saw each other. And having to share space was difficult for me. I had essentially lived by myself for the previous FOUR YEARS. We had only lived together for a month and a half before he deployed. Once that excitement phase was over, and reality started to set in, it was hard for me to push back the anal retentive feelings that were creeping up. Let’s just say I like things a certain way. I also did NOT want to relinquish any sort of responsibility. I think that was the hardest thing for me to do … to LET him do things for me. It was just easier to do it myself, because, well, I’d ALWAYS done it myself! I made him feel like a guest in his own home, and I had him walking on egg shells.

The bitterness that was still there from being deployed for 15 months, mixed with a wife who wouldn’t let him to anything began to take its toll. I think [and I can only speak for myself] there were some experiences over there that stuck with him for a while. There seemed to be a lot of anger on his end [and again, I know I wasn’t helping the situation] and the connection that I so badly wanted to be there, well, WASN’T. We were distant. He fell into his new routine, and I stuck to mine. There was no redefining our lives together. No cohesion.

Two months after he returned, we found out that one of our best friends had been killed over in Afghanistan from an IED explosion. I hadn’t even woken up yet [I was currently unemployed] and my husband found out while he was at work. He came out and blurted it out to me before I had a chance to even really sit up. I cried for days. My husband didn’t want to talk about it. I think that was the straw for us, because it seems like things got worse from there. That disconnect that was between us took another hit with the loss of a friend. We sort of just skated by.

We did this for months, this just sort of surviving every day. When we did try to talk, we usually ended up fighting. My work situation [or lack there of] didn’t really help the situation either. We were struggling, and try as I might, nobody would hire me. Financial stress is difficult enough on it’s own. Pair all of that with the fact that I had been trying to get pregnant for almost a year, and it just made things worse for us. The lowest point for us came about six or seven months into his time home. We got word that they were definitely deploying again in the fall; we hadn’t even recovered from the previous deployment, and already we were having to get ready for another one?? They whisked him away to JRTC for six weeks, and that was that. Here we go again.

But, it was after this that things started to look up for us. We had a make or break moment while he was at JRTC that most definitely could have broken us. We chose to let it make us, and we figured out a way to get through our struggles. We started forcing ourselves to talk more, to do more things together, and to figure out a way to make it work. I also finally got hired at a great company. Having that second income DEFINITELY helped. Our defining moment was the marriage retreat. Finally, we were forced to talk about the things that matter to us the most, what was the most important for each of us individually, and what we could to as spouses to support the other person, and fulfill them in ways that needed to be fulfilled. If you ever have the opportunity to go on one of these Marriage Retreats [our brigade paid for the entire weekend. Most do.] I would highly recommend it. It changed the course of our relationship, I believe, and has made this deployment so much easier.

Again, I do want to mention that while we had a very difficult time with the reintegration process post-deployment, this is not the case for everyone. I like to consider ourselves the worst case scenario, and I think that we have both learned enough that it will be different next time around. But, reintegration is hard. Especially when you are newly married, and learning HOW to be married to begin with. Throw that in with never seeing your new spouse, and it’s an Army sanctioned recipe for disaster.

But there is a way, and the key is to not give up. Tomorrow I will talk about some of the things that we learned from the last deployment, how we are dealing with this deployment [hint: MUCH BETTER!], and things that you can do as an individual AND a new couple to make the reintegration process easier.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2009 3:14 pm

    The FRG thought it’d be weird for a month? I would have paid good money for only a month!

    You make a good point about how a deployment can play havoc with a new relationship. My sweetie and I hadn’t even lived together before he deployed, then he came home and there I was, in his house, all the darn time. It was so hard to distinguish what were reintegration issues and what were “us” issues. I cut him quite a bit of slack for being fresh from war, and that’s the only reason I didn’t leave him. (It did get better, btw!)

    • June 1, 2009 3:57 pm

      You bring up a good point, Bette, that I totally forgot to mention, and will mention in the next post: the “deployment” issues versus the “us” issues. A lot of people that I talked to post-deployment, ourselves included, had that same problem.

      And then there is the cutting of the slack. The issue that I, and many other people that I know, had the problem of where do you draw the line in the slack cutting? Cutting the spouse some slack in the beginning, when he is just getting used to being back, is totally acceptable. But how long do you do that for? I tried to give him a break from normal household stuff for a while, but after a while it was like … well … he’s been home for three months now … how long do I keep “giving him a break?” There’s that fine line, then, of where the deployment issues and “us” issues sort of begin to cross over and blend into one another.

  2. June 1, 2009 10:01 pm

    Oh, my. I’m having flashbacks from our first year of marriage. We decided to get married after one day and then my hubs up and left for 6 months (totally not military related). By the time our wedding came around we had spent oh, three weeks together under the same roof. Needless to say our first year was a nightmare – thank god for an excellent therapist!

    Having 13 years under our belt made it much easier to figure out what was deployment related and what was us…didn’t necessarily make it easier to deal with, just easier to identify. 😉

  3. June 1, 2009 11:00 pm

    Our relationship was long distance before his deployment, so we only spent weekends here and there together. But when he got back from the deployment he came to live with me in my tiny studio apartment while we bought a house. That was… interesting. I am also very picky and independent. It was great having him around, but I like things a certain way. We had difficulty in figuring out what was us stuff and deployment stuff to. But we got through it with time and patience.

  4. June 3, 2009 12:40 pm

    Aaah, this is so good to read everyone’s comments! We did the long distance thing for a good year and about a month before our wedding we started actually living together… then he PCS’d to his new post and we went another month not living together… we did get 2 “normal” months as husband & wife under the same roof JUST before he deployed. I think we understand ‘our’ issues okay right now, but I don’t know what the reintegration process will do to that understanding. ugh. I’m guessing everything I THINK I know will go right out the window…

    Thanks everyone for sharing and being so open… I think this will go a long way to helping Swiss and I survive this!

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