“When I’m gone, you seem happy and fine, but when I get home you’re mad all the time,” my husband complained a couple weeks after he returned from a long deployment.
“I’m not mad. I’m frustrated,” I shot back at him. “Because when you’re gone you send me thoughtful emails and respond to my emails. When you get home and could finally be with me, you just work all the time and ignore me.”
OK, maybe I was a little mad.
After this exchange, I realized I missed the focused attention I felt through our long-distance communications. Once he got home, my husband showed his love by trying to catch up on chores he’d left me to handle while he was gone. Some of our reunions are still harder than others, but now we try to carve out time after dinner or the kids’ bedtime to talk and connect, and I make sure to praise and appreciate any chores he’s able to do.
It’s no secret that reuniting with your partner after living apart can be tough. After a sweet honeymoon period (that lasts anywhere from two minutes to two weeks, in my experience), reality returns. And sometimes reality turns out to be that—as nice as it is to have him home—you’d rather be at wine night with the girls then getting stood up for dinner because he had a work crisis…again.
People change while they’re apart. You may be surprised at the person who returns. They may be surprised by some aspects of the person they find at home. It can be hard to readjust to accommodate someone else in your daily life—even if you love them dearly. Sometimes I resent having the routine that kept me sane for months turned completely upside down when he gets home. Both people bring expectations of what “back to normal” should look like. Those expectations may not match up to reality, and getting back to normal almost often takes longer than everyone expects.
1. Adjust expectations
Expectations are so important. The more you understand your own and your partner’s expectations the more patience you’ll have with each other and the better you’ll be able to communicate. So talk about expectations. Think about what hidden and obvious expectations you have, then communicate these clearly to your partner. No one will do this perfectly, but trying goes a long way.
2. Take the reintegration class for spouses and significant others
If your partner is in the military, most commands/squadrons/ships have a Deployment Brief before they leave and a Reintegration Brief when they return. It helps set appropriate expectations for that command. For example, can you expect your sailor to have some time off? How can you ease the transition to having Daddy back for your kids? If it’s not going well, what resources are available to you for extra help? Find out at the brief.
Need more? Check with the Fleet and Family Support Center (FFSC) for classes, counseling, and other assistance.
3. Keep your community around you
When your partner returns, it’s tempting to hole up with them and soak up all the time together you’ve missed out on over the past nine months. Don’t overdo it. This is a situation where getting back into a normal routine—complete with regular friend activities—is extra important. You need to remember what normal feels like; friends can help. And doing some “normal” things like hanging out with friends can dial down the intensity of being back together a little.
A friend called me three weeks after her husband arrived home from their first deployment. They’d dated long distance before he joined the Navy, so this wasn’t their first separation. Still, after a couple minutes she hesitated, and then asked, “When your husband gets home, do y’all ever…like…fight CONSTANTLY?”
“Every time!” I laughed.
“OK, good. That’s really all I was calling about. I was afraid we just hated each other now.”
“Nah, it’s the transition. It gets shorter each time,” I said.
Sure enough, a week later she confirmed things were on the upswing.
So don’t be discouraged if the high of a reunion is followed by a jarring low a couple weeks later. It doesn’t mean your relationship is a huge mistake. Ease the reunion transition by communicating expectations, taking advantage of available resources, and leaning on friends and family who have been there. You’ll get through it!