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Transitions are always tough, no matter what. Leaving home, getting married, having children – these are all stages of life in which we might feel a sense of otherness or separateness. But returning home from a tour of duty or a stint in the National Guard brings even more challenges.
Returning Home: The Effects Of "The Come Down"
After living in the charged and adrenaline-filled world of an active tour, coming home to our “normal” lives can feel very strange.
- What we find ourselves doing as our “day” job, either with or without the military, may seem a far cry from what we’re used to.
- And with our families, too, the expectation that we can quickly jump back into being our normal dad or mom selves might put a big strain on us.
- Home-comings are tough on all involved.
- Spouses, especially, have learned to cope without us, and now, suddenly, we no longer know where we fit in the daily grind of chores, kids, and homework.
- We might feel as if we have missed out on the daily interactions with our children and may be mourning that lost time.
- It might also feel as if the rules that we thought were in place have been discarded, and we might feel as if our opinion is no longer valid.
- We also don’t know if anyone will understand what we’ve been through, and we are sometimes reluctant to talk about it, perhaps further creating distance. This can especially be true if we are struggling with any type of emotional distress or post-trauma issues.
- In addition, a sense of guilt may be plaguing us: we sometimes don’t believe we are heroes, despite the big welcome we got on the plane ride and upon arriving home.
- We might feel as if we didn’t do anything to deserve the hoopla. Or, we could feel guilty for leaving our families behind to cope without us.
Sharing Personal Time?
- We might also find that we don’t like having to give up what we consider our personal time to others. When you were deployed, whatever you decided to do during personal time, you did it.
- Now we have to negotiate again between our spouse and potentially our children, too. It may feel as if we have less personal time of our own, making us anxious and irritable.
Fear Of Being Alone?
- While deployed, we were almost never alone. Being home, we may find that we don’t know what to do with ourselves when we’re alone.
- We might feel anxious or strange having to find things that we enjoy doing again, and things that we enjoy doing on our own.
Know That All Such Feelings And Emotions Are Normal
It’s normal to feel out of sync with your spouse, especially if there are unresolved issues that have merely been shelved while away.
But there are some things that we can do, either before we come home or after we arrive.
What You Can Do Before You Come Home
- Make your communications on the phone more than just relaying of information. Ask your spouse about something fun that they enjoyed recently, and then ask active and constructive questions (an “uh huh” doesn’t count!) Repeat what they have said, and then perhaps ask about something that interested you in what they said “I saw a great movie with Wendi the other night.” Maybe follow up with: “That’s great. What did you all see, and what did you like about it?”
- Express what you’re feeling. “I’m feeling a little nervous about coming home and jumping right into things. Do you think we can take a few days just for us / our family in the beginning?”
What You Can Do If You’re Already Home
- Communication is still the key. Engage in active conversations with your spouse and children, really getting to know what their lives are about. The more you can ask and learn about their interests, the more interested they will be in your time away.
- It is important to be aware that things have shifted slightly, and have open discussions about roles and chores with both spouses and kids (making sure to acknowledge the hard work of the spouse who stayed home).
- You may be in for a let-down if you expect everyone to have as much interest in your time away, what you learned, and what you saw as you did. While everyone is very happy to have you home, they did have an active life, too. Let them come to you with their questions and interests.
- Know that transition phases like this are sort of like the grief process: there will be ups and downs, moments when you think you’ve “got it all together”, and them moments where it all seems to fall apart again. This can take days or months or even years, but it will get easier.
- Get professional help if you are struggling, either with or without your partner. The best psychotherapists don’t just ask you to define your problems; they teach you the techniques to use so that no matter what comes at you, you can grow or enhance the emotional resiliency that is needed, both at home and away.
The Reframing Your Thoughts Technique
One technique that might work here is reframing thoughts. For instance, a thought like:
- “Nobody needs me here. My kids don’t even care that I’m home.” This could be transformed into:
- “This may take a little time to feel entirely normal, but I’m doing all that I can here to enjoy being home again. Carter was even talking today about how much he likes that I can drive him to school and we can listen to the music that he likes.”
Help From Nassau Guidance & Counseling
At Nassau Guidance & Counseling, we know how tough it is, and our compassionate psychotherapists have successfully worked with many Long Islanders in the service industry who need help and guidance. We’re here to support you and hope that you reach out.
More helpful resources: (not affiliated with Nassau Guidance & Counseling):