Understanding The Ups and Downs of Reunion
Office of Family Programs
Couples who have been separated by military deployment often look forward to a service member's return as a time of happiness, a chance to get back to "normal" life. Lovers and spouses miss each other and look forward to time together. Children look forward to having a missing parent back at home. The absent service member looks forward to a joyful reunion and the comforts of home. After a dangerous deployment, families are relieved that the service member is returning home safely.
But mixed in with those feelings of excitement and anticipation are also some perfectly normal worries and resentments. Husbands and wives worry that their spouse has changed, that there will be new strains in the relationship. Both partners may dread giving up the independence that being apart has allowed them, and may resent what they imagine as the freedom the other has enjoyed during deployment. While everyone looks forward happily to getting back together, they may also feel some anger at having been separated in the first place (a feeling that children sometimes express very openly.)
Reunions can be especially challenging if the deployment was longer or more dangerous than usual, if the deployment created serious money problems for the family, if communicating back home was more difficult than expected, if the deployment is just the latest in a series of deployments, or if there are feelings of jealousy or rumors of infidelity. Without these special strains, reunions are generally much less stressful.
The initial reunion often is happy. But because expectations on all sides are so high, it can also be disappointing. The list of opportunities for crushed hopes is a long one.
What can make return from deployment an unhappy and stressful time is the mismatch between high expectations and the reality of family life, and the need to change and fit into new family roles and routines. But knowing this is also the key to making the return a happy time with a minimum of stress and disappointment.