Transitioning back into civilian life from a military deployment can be difficult and frustrating. You’ve been living a life that has a very rigid structure about how and when things are done, and then you come back to a life where you get to make up most of the rules. If you have kids, they’ll quickly remind you that things are going to be much slower, but even without them, it can be disorienting reintegrating back into a new normal life.
Preparing To Return Home
As the deployment comes to end, you can start preparing your mind, as well as your family, for what the next few weeks will most likely look like. Oftentimes, there is a period where the military member has time off after the deployment and before having to return to work. During this “break,” it could be a good time to plan some family activities that are lowkey so that everyone can reconnect without a lot of stress from needing a rigid structure or schedule. If you’re close to the river or beach, a beach day is a good way to connect with family under the serenity of nature.
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To ensure a smoother transition home, make sure to reinstate your vehicle insurance if it was paused during deployment. Budget the money that you have earned and what is still coming in to make sure you can bridge the gap between military pay and your civilian job’s pay. If possible, it might be worth hiring a house cleaner or a babysitter or setting up some date nights where family can take your children so that you have some quiet time to reconnect with your spouse.
The Moment Has Arrived: Military Life Meets Civilian Life
During deployment, life is easier in some ways. Depending on your job and rank, you might not have to make a lot of decisions. If you do make decisions, there is a process to it. There are objectives, timelines, and deadlines. You know when you’ll get paid. You know what’s expected of you. You typically don’t have the responsibilities that come with civilian home life and raising children. You might have set bedtimes, as well. But now you’re home.
The biggest killer of joy is expectations. When coming home and beginning to live life again with your family or even alone, there might be expectations from the military member about how everyone should behave (which makes sense considering there are strict behavior expectations in the military), and there might be expectations from family members about having you back the way they remember you. Depending on the type of deployment you were on, it can change a person. If you were at war, there is definitely some post-processing that needs to happen with a therapist, and even if it was for a peace mission, it might be worth talking to a therapist anyway.
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Managing Unrealistic Expectations
It can be difficult to manage unrealistic expectations, but there are some strategies you can implement to make the transition back to “normal” life a little easier:
- Communication is essential. Communicate with family and friends about your travel dates. They’ll most likely want to celebrate your return home, so it’s important to communicate what you are comfortable with. Do you want a small gathering or a big party? Let them know. Let friends and family know that it’s ok to talk about your experience by talking about your experience. It’s ok to tell people that you are feeling tired and don’t want to connect. It’s more than likely that many people will want to spend time with you, so listen to your body and your mind. Take breaks when you need to and don’t be afraid to say no. It’s also important to communicate with family members about your emotions, which leads us to the next point.
- Talk about your feelings and hold space for the feelings of those around you. Everyone is going to experience some level of readjustment. If you are coming home to a spouse and children, they’re going to have to reintegrate you into a schedule that they’ve created in your absence. One spouse is going to have to navigate having two adult voices present again. It can feel challenging, but showing your partner and children that it’s ok to express how your feeling will give them the freedom to express theirs. Your children, depending on how old they are, might not be able to express themselves clearly through words.
- Be patient. Your kids might act out more or seem more emotional than usual. This is normal. Your spouse and even you might experience more emotions as you process the experience you just had during the deployment, as well as the difficulties that can arise when you come home. Be patient with yourself and with those around you. Sometimes people don’t know how to express themselves, so lead by example.
- Don’t be afraid to seek help. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help if you are struggling mentally and emotionally. Only you can truly understand what your personal experience was overseas, as well as back home, and only you can decide what your step forward is. If you feel like you are relying on alcohol or other forms of mind-altering and numbing drugs, please reach out to someone who can help you.
One option for seeking immediate help during a crisis, beyond going to the Emergency Room, is called the military crisis line at 1-800-273-8255 and then press 1. “The Military Crisis Line, text messaging service, and online chat provide free VA support for all Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserve, and all Veterans, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care.”
- Plan some time to connect one-on-one with the people in your household. It’s normal to feel a bit out-of-sync with those closest to you. You might have been apart for a long time and your family has had to cope in different ways and similar ways that you’ve coped with the separation. Sometimes a level of detachment occurs with both parties to help ease some of the sadness that can accompany a deployment. It’ll take time to “repair” the relationship and reconnect when emotional barricades are up. If you feel you’re struggling in your marriage, don’t hesitate to reach out to a marriage counselor. Talking with someone as a couple doesn’t mean that you have problems, it just means that you want to have the healthiest relationship possible, and bringing in someone that is unbiased can help open up pathways to better communication.
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Transitioning from deployment back to home life can be bumpy. There are a lot of unknowns since the military can change people, and separation can change relationship dynamics.
The best thing to do for the highest chances of a successful reintegration back to “normal” civilian life is to be open and honest in your communication and feelings, be patient with yourself and those around you, and really give yourself some downtime to move slowly back into this different lifestyle. When you communicate openly and with compassion, the people in your life will be more receptive to what you have to say to them. When you are patient with yourself and your family and children, everyone gets a little gentler in their communication and are more easily able to offer empathy rather than defensiveness.
And when you give yourself and your family some slow downtime, you are providing an opportunity for everyone to get reacclimated to each other, as well as creating space for those bigger emotions to be shared in a quiet and safe space.