My husband just returned from his second deployment as a Soldier; it was his third total, since he did one as a Marine prior to a stint as a civilian which led to the Army. It was my first. As the year progressed, I realized how many things I wished someone had thought to tell me.
- When the boots leave the door, everything goes haywire. My husband deployed on a Saturday; Monday morning on my way to work, my car died; two days before that, my husband’s car refused to start when we were leaving the restaurant after lunch. Within the next month, another wife’s garage had flooded in a torrential rainstorm, which brought me to her house at midnight to help salvage what I could, and subsequently left me stuck with her hyper, destructive dog until her fence was fixed. That winter, the heater in our apartment died. I think statistics will show that crises do not actually cluster around deployments, but with the stress already taking a toll and in the absence of anyone to help, it can feel that way. Be prepared and stay calm; this is normal.
- Transit is the most nerve-wracking part of the whole experience. I at least had the sense to feel silly about it, but every time my husband was travelling to from theater, I was a nervous, pacing, insomniac wreck until I heard that he had arrived safely. It sounds absurd to say that I was calmer about his arrival in a combat zone than about his trip there and back aboard a commercial airliner, but it really is true, and other spouses have told me they experienced the same thing. With the exceptions of certain units and certain MOS’s, most of us hear from our deployed spouses pretty regularly, and we come to rely on that contact to assure us of their safety and maintain some sense of normalcy. When that regularity gets disrupted, it can be a cause for significant anxiety.
- It’s okay to have fun; your spouse probably wants you to. For the first month or so, I felt guilty about going on dive trips, going out to dinner with a friend (even though all we did was swap stories on our deployed husbands), or even enjoying a quiet lunch. I felt guilty for doing something other than sitting at home waiting or assembling care packages. Then I realized that it simply is not practical to mope for a year, and doing so does nothing positive at all for the person on the other end. My husband pointed out that he actually felt worse knowing I was just sitting at home, and that knowing his wife was happy did wonders for his morale. If all else fails, think of it as gathering material so you have something to share when he calls.
- Deployment can start to feel normal. Humans are amazingly adaptable; I adjusted to my husband being gone, even though I did not want to. I developed a routine, and we developed other routines and habits together, and eventually it took on a very strange kind of normalcy. Life consisted of waking up to a good morning text from my husband, bouncing messages back and forth throughout the day, calling on Skype as soon as I got home, and falling asleep to the sound of Afghanistan on the other end of my computer (Afghanistan sounds like my husband snoring sometimes). We had a set of games which we often played together online, and those games and our Skype chats and texting became the shape of our relationship in an unexpectedly comforting way. In the beginning, remember that you will both adjust, and there will be days which will even be pleasant; later, when you have adjusted, remember that everyone does, and it’s not crazy to feel normal.
- You will be unbelievably excited about homecoming, but you won’t feel ready. I began my husband’s deployment with a long list of things I meant to accomplish. A month before he came home, I re-read that list and admitted to myself that I had accomplished none of those things, the house was a mess, and it was too late to fix all that because suddenly a month had turned into two days. I meant to do so many things to prepare for that wonderful day when he came home, but when the day came almost nothing was in its place; he was thrilled to be home anyway, dirty dishes and all. You will start the deployment thinking you have nothing but time; that may be true, but time will escape from you, pass quickly, or be eaten by stress and the crises at the top of this list. Expect that, and don’t judge yourself too harshly; it happens to all of us.
Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.