The war in Iraq has officially ended and the president promises to bring the troops home from Afghanistan by the end of next year. For all of our military and all of their families, finding the way home from war is a treasured event and a complex process.
For families, homecoming involves readjustment in terms of time, space, roles, and expectations. For couples, homecoming means finding a way to integrate all that has happened to each partner and the relationship they share. Whether one or both have been to war, on many levels both partners have to “come home” together. For couples that means coming to know themselves and their partners in old and new ways.
How Does that Happen?
Couples do this in their own way, in their own time, knowing that they are not alone. They often find that even more complicated than the hours waiting to be rescued, the hours of driving in the dessert, the flight from Bagdad, and the applause and embrace of those waiting, is the journey home they will take in the many months that follow.
Listed below are some considerations gleaned from others who have traveled this path as well as from those who have worked with and guided them home.
The Excitement and Fear of Homecoming
Emotional Time Warp
In some ways homecomings throw you into an emotional time warp. One day you are military serving with dust, death, comrades and combat and then -You are home.
It takes time to adjust. There is often such a flood of feelings on the return home that both partners may at times secretly wish to turn back the clock. It rarely means you don’t love your partner.
It takes time to be physically and psychologically home. You still have a powerful bond with your comrades and your mission. Being home does not eradicate that. It means that there can actually be room for many dimensions in your mind and heart.
The Romantic Interlude
In their valuable book, Wheels down: Adjusting to Life after Deployment, Bret Moore and Carrie Kennedy offer some advice worth holding for you and your partner.
They recognize that you will have the urge to party, feel free, and go out to celebrate your homecoming. They urge you to: Get plenty of sleep -you probably don’t even realize how exhausted you are; Don’t drink much alcohol – your tolerance is not likely to be the same. The last thing you want is to end up in an emergency room from alcohol poisoning or in jail from drunk driving. Above all they urge you to – leave your weapon at home.
Making Sense of Trauma Symptoms Together
“I’m numb- I wish I could feel.”
“I can’t sleep – the nightmares won’t stop.”
“He is so angry; he can’t seem to control the road rage.”
The Pause that Refreshes
A common expectation that partners may have in the glow of “Homecoming” is the belief that they should share every waking moment together. Often neither (thankfully) wants this but fears the other expects it.
The reality is that you are adjusting to your re-connection. You have just managed to cope apart from each other under very difficult circumstances. Celebrate your resilience.
Be it jogging, spirituality, friends, the gym, music, books – don’t suddenly give up your stress reducing routines or ask your partner to give up his/hers. If constructive, these are valuable ways to regulate anxiety and enhance functioning.
Tell your partner about them, include your partner in some – go slowly and add the “We” experiences to what you both find helpful and enjoyable. Love does not mean 24/7 attachment.
Homecomings are about transitions on many levels. On the broadest level they represent a transition from the past that you once knew and shared together to a future, which may seem uncertain and difficult.
As you proceed look for the resilience you have always had and the bond that you once shared. Look for the person you once loved in yourself and in your partner – and fall in love again.
Homecomings are certainly about promises and processes but they are also about the debt of thanks this country owes you and your family for your service.
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Last reviewed: 11 Nov 2012