What people do not see and may not understand is that the homecoming of a veteran is both a treasured event and a complex process.
For a couple, in addition to all that it demands in terms of the reality of time, space, roles, money, kids and deployment cycles, homecoming means finding a way to integrate all that has happened to each partner into the relationship they share.
It doesn’t matter which partner actually arrives home. On many levels both have to “come home” together.
As a couple that means coming to know themselves and their partner – falling in love again.
How Does that Happen?
Couples do this in their own way, in their own time, knowing that they are not alone. They so often find that even more 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, the journey home is the one they will take together in the many months, even years 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
- It comes as a surprise to realize that for as much as everyone is counting the moments to be re-connected with their partner, many are also very anxious about homecoming – “Will he still love me?” “Will I still love him?” “Will she expect me to be the same?” “How much will she have changed?”
- You are not alone if you are both excited and nervous. If you can, savor those first Kodak moments of connection – you will have many more moments to get to know each other again.
- If those first moments just don’t unfold as dreamed, give yourself time and trust your coping skills and support networks.
Emotional Time Warp
In some ways homecomings throw you into an emotional time warp. One day you are a marine serving with dust, death, and combat or a partner at home coping with the kids and life and then – life changes.
- 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.
The Romantic Interlude
- Most partners have been day-dreaming about the “Homecoming” with the expectation of the long-awaited sexual connection. For some it is all they had hoped for. For many, human factors of fatigue, anxiety, injury, illness, expectations, children, pets or family conspire to make this impossible – at first. It is worth remembering that this is not a TV “Homecoming Episode,” it is your life together. One or both of you may need time for different reasons.
- Reclaiming intimacy often happens best in small and special steps. Listening to music, holding each other, laughing and crying together, talking in the dark about your first time as lovers all work to restore a sense of trust and intimacy. As such, these activities can enhance sexual connection.
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 and the last thing you want is to end up in an emergency room from alcohol poisoning or jail from drunk driving.
- Above all — leave your weapon at home.
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.
- 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 find a way to adjust to changes. 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.
Thank You and Your Families for Your Service