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Last week we focused our conversation on the challenges of reintegration and transition for the veteran. This week, we will discuss specifically the challenges experienced by the spouse.
THE EXPERIENCE OF REINTEGRATION
As we explored last week, the post-deployment experience is an important stage for the returning warrior. But it has just as important implications for the stay-at-home spouse. There are several key factors to be considered;
- understand expectations for couple and family reintegration
- be patient with own feelings and in dealing with the veteran’s mood changes
- intentionally become reacquainted
- deliberately re-develop and build on communications and intimacy
As the spouse considers these factors, he/she will be better prepared to understand their specific reactions to their warrior’s return. The stay-at-home spouse reactions vary greatly, between not having to adjust at all during the transition and reintegration, to the spouse not knowing their partner because they have drastically changed thereby making it difficult to adjust.
CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME
While the warrior is deployed, the family attempts to keep everything as normal as possible. The spouse and children attend work, school functions and their faith community. The children continue to play soccer, baseball, and cheer. They visit the grandparents and go shopping. Normalcy is paramount for the family. Also, the spouse may find it difficult to navigate the military systems in order to better integrate into the community or to find support resources.
Several dynamics affect the family during reintegration. The returning warrior has changed, and so has the spouse and children. The spouse and the children functioned alone. The warrior denied his/her own needs in order to serve their comrades as the spouse denied his/her needs for the family. The warrior followed rules and regulations and the spouse navigated the bureaucracy of military support agencies. At times, neither the warrior nor spouse understand or accept these changes. All of these could affect the reintegration of the couple and family.
The reintegration process includes numerous challenges for the spouse;
- Feelings of joy and relief because their warrior has returned from a combat zone may be mixed with unexplained anger because the spouse may feel displaced.
- The spouse may find it difficult to fit the returning warrior back into the family routine. This may include re-balancing children discipline and responsibilities.
- While the warrior was away, the spouse learned a new sense of independence. The spouse may now find it difficult to share in decision making.
- Getting to know the warrior again. There may be some fear and concern for the reactions being displayed by the returned warrior, or fear that they will no longer connect.
- Communicating expectations and the story of his/her experience during the deployment may be difficult because the returning warrior may not be receptive nor interested.
- During the deployment, the spouse most likely found a social support network. Who do they turn to for advice now that their warrior has returned?
- Lastly, the spouse may begin to worry about the next deployment that could affect their openness to allow the returning veteran to reintegrate back into their relationship and the family’s lives.
During the course of the Post 9/11 wars, the Army developed pre-deployment training for the warrior in order to prepare them to survive on the battlefield, and what to expect during re-deployment in how to better process the transition and reintegration with the family. This training was required for the deploying service member. Additionally, the Army required every Soldier to attend the same training prior to re-deploying. The Army opened the training to spouses both pre and post deployment. However, spouses were not required to attend. For various reasons, many spouses chose not to attend.
The training provided the warrior and spouse some mitigating factors in order to better navigate through the reintegration process. Some of these factors included;
- frequency of positive contact during deployment
- importance of good communication and patience to give time and space to re-adjust
- overall acceptance and adjustment to deployment
- spouses use of military support programs
- adjustments to expectations according to the age of children
- celebrate together the personal growth each person has achieved during the deployment
Of course there are some negative factors that could cause stress to the spouse while the warrior is deployed that most likely will linger into the transition phase;
- poor and difficult contact with the warrior during deployment
- mistrust of the warrior’s faithfulness to the marriage vows while deployed
- negative beliefs in the value of the warrior’s mission
- the warrior’s exposure to imminent threat while in combat
An awareness of these stressors will help the spouse during reintegration.
There is definitely another important factor that must be addressed. If the warrior was wounded, either physically, mentally, or spiritually; this places great stress on the spouse and the reintegration process. The Rand Corporation conducted a study per the Dole Foundations’ Hidden Heroes on how many caregivers provide 24/7 care to their wounded veteran. There are 5.5 million from all wars which includes 1.1 million for the Post 9/11 wars who are parents, spouses, children and friends who 365 days of the year provide quality care to their loved one who was wounded in war. This places a great stress on the family and the reintegration process as well.
These are just a few of the transition challenges experienced by the spouse. Please, share your challenges so we all may benefit from your experiences. What tools did you use to assist you through the transition phase during re-deployment? What would you not do again?
Next week, we will focus our conversation on the challenges the children experience during reintegration. Until then, thank you for the conversation….