By Jenny Rea, Ph.D.
I remember this day as if it were yesterday: It was January 28th, 2012, and it had been 9 months since I had seen my (then) boyfriend (now husband). He had deployed just after my junior year of college, and I was absolutely devastated when he left. At the time, we wouldn’t have known how many traumatic events we were about to experience – several miles apart.
Through patchy communication, snail mail, and care packages, we were able to maintain our relationship – but it wasn’t easy. The various waves that rocked our ship were a true test of our relationship that year. Fortunately, we were able to focus on other joyful things, such as planning our wedding for that coming June.
It’s crazy to think back to this day because I still remember the feelings. I remember feeling like it was our first date again. I had butterflies in my stomach and I felt nauseous but so excited at the same time. I remember thinking “Is he going to think about me differently? And, “How will our relationship be now that he is home?”
The return of my service member on January 28th, 2012 was by far one of the best days of my life and an experience that is beyond words to describe. The days following our reintegration were bittersweet and often reflected as the “honeymoon phase” of deployment. It did feel like we first met again, but of course, there were days when we had to settle disagreements and had to re-learn how to communicate and adjust to our new normal as a couple.
Post-Deployment – The Reintegration Stage
“The post-deployment phase (also referred to as the post-deployment-reintegration stage) begins as the service member is preparing to return home and continues after the service member’s return” (Frye-Cox, White, O’Neal, Lucier-Greer, 2022). As you recall from Part 2 of this deployment blog post series (if you’re new here, start with Part 1 to learn more about how to prepare military families for deployment), many service members and their families have adapted to the changes in their roles and settled into a new normal – adjusting to the separation of deployment and developing a new routine.
Most family members and the family as a whole generally do not return to the pre-deployment state. This “new normal” will look differently for each military family, and therefore, each family member’s needs will vary.
A recent study that explored the reintegration experiences of service members (n = 236) and their civilian partners (n = 141) found that participants reported both positive and negative reintegration experiences across their personal and family life. These reintegration experiences were used to classify similar participants into groups, and these groups were analyzed for differences in individual and family functioning.
For example, service members in group 2 (approximately 39% of the sample) averaged more sleep and closer family relationships compared to service members in groups 1 and 3 (53% and 8% of the sample, respectively). Among civilian partners, group 2 (64% of the sample) had, on average, more social connections (i.e., connecting with others), fewer depressive symptoms, and closer family relationships compared to civilian partners in group 1 (36% of the sample).
The study found that despite reporting some differences in reintegration experiences, most service members and civilian partners reported high levels of positive personal and family reintegration experiences.
Tips and Strategies for Service Providers working with military families and Educators
So, what are the key goals to keep in mind when supporting military families following deployment? A recent review of evidence-based strategies, written by the Military REACH team at Auburn University, highlighted several unique strategies to help military families after deployment. Below are a few tips and strategies for service providers working with military families and educators as they assist military families post-deployment.
Because reintegration can look different across families and across family members, it is important to….
- Assess both positive and negative reintegration experiences to fully understand military families after deployment.
- One idea might be to have family members journal their experiences and create a safe space for each member to share.
- Ensure that family members on the home front allow time, and patience, and make space for their service members to reenter the family unit, especially considering the service member’s family roles and routines.
The extent to which service members, partners, and children have been changed by the experience of deployment will increase the complexity of the reintegration process (Knobloch & Theiss, 2018). Therefore, consider…
- Promoting positive family activities (e.g., setting aside special family time) during the reintegration period to promote healthy adaptation.
- Recognizing post-deployment experiences can be turbulent for military families and building communication skills to help couples talk about any difficulties they may have transitioning during this time.
Feel free to also check out additional resources on deployment at OneOp.org/deployment!
- Frye-Cox, N., White, M. L., O’Neal, C. W., & Lucier-Greer, M. (2022). Review of evidence-based strategies to help military families navigate deployment. Retrieved from https://militaryreach.auburn.edu/DetailResult?resourceid=69e24a70-ecaa-4b4d-b546-d62ae092c4ec&resType=resSum
- O’Neal, C. W., & Lavner, J. A. (2021). Latent profiles of post-deployment reintegration among service members and their partners. Journal of Family Psychology, 36(1), 35-45. http://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000894
This post was written by Jenny Rea, Ph.D., military spouse and mom of four kiddos under six years. Jenny consults with OneOp’s Family Transitions team to provide free and open-access multidisciplinary professional development resources for providers serving military families. You may find more blog posts, podcasts, and webinars from Family Transitions. We invite you to engage withOneOp on Twitter @OneOpTeam and on Facebook.