Welcome Home, Now Get Out of My Way


“Everything is different.”

That’s what my neighbor told me a couple of weeks ago after I welcomed him home from an 8-month deployment. I don’t know him very well, but when I stopped to say “hello” on the street as he helped his young daughter ride her scooter, my heart when out to him. The poor man looked completely lost.

The next day, he confided even more in my husband. “My wife treats me like a child,” he said. “I feel like I’m just in the way.”

When my husband replayed the conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder how his wife could treat him that way. Why, after 8 months of missing each other, wouldn’t she do everything in her power to reacquaint him to the daily routines he was no longer accustomed to, to make him feel like a part of the family again, to include him rather than making him feel like an outsider invading on her turf?

But I knew why. Because I’d been there before. And I know that reintegration is way more complicated than sharing a romantic kiss and then automatically resuming all that was once normal.

When our husbands are gone for extended periods of time, we military spouses have no choice but to move on with our lives. We create new routines. We form new patterns of behavior. We figure out how to get through the day-to-day on our own. We don’t do these things because we want to, because we’d like to live without our husbands. No, we do these things because we have to, because life doesn’t stop for a deployment.

But in a way, life at home does stop for our husbands during deployments. In their eyes, the baby they left behind is still a baby, not the walking toddler he grew into. The house is still decorated for Easter, not Thanksgiving. The cereal is still stored in the top left cabinet, not the bottom right. Life for them is frozen in time like a snapshot. And when they come home, they suddenly realize that snapshot they’d been carrying around in their back pocket for months and months is no longer reality.

My neighbor really was lost that day I ran into him on the street. He had returned to a world he no longer recognized. His toddler was potty-trained and speaking in complete sentences. His three sons were all in different grades at school. He even felt strange driving a car. Everything truly was different than he remembered.

My neighbor is far from the only servicemember returning from a deployment and struggling with the feeling that he’s “just in the way.” So, how can we help our spouses feel like part of the family again? I’m certainly no expert, but here are a few things I had to remind myself when my husband returned from deployment and we headed into military reintegration:

Remember how to share. Somewhere along the deployment road, you realize that everything you once shared with your husband now belongs solely to you. The bed. The yard work. The television remote. The kids’ homework. The daily responsibilities. But when he comes home, those things aren’t just yours anymore. Learn to share them with your husband again.

Replace routines. Remember those new routines you created while your husband was gone? Well, guess what? He doesn’t know them. So don’t expect him to. Did you change the kids’ bedtimes? Don’t forget to tell him as you hand him their new favorite bedtime story so he can do the nighttime snuggle with them. Did you curl up on the sofa every night and watch “Friends” reruns while he was gone? Well, he might prefer to play Scrabble. So break out the game board before visiting with Ross and Rachel. If you can’t include him in your deployment routines, create new ones that do include him.

Give yourselves a break. You’re both tired and disoriented. He’s not used to kids climbing all over him. You’re not used to having to explain everything, especially when sometimes it’s just easier to do it yourself. This reintegration business is no joke. But don’t be so hard on yourselves. You can’t expect the puzzle pieces of your family life to fall neatly into place again. After all, those pieces don’t look the same as they once did. While you’re trying to figure out how those pieces can fit in a new way, cut yourselves some slack and take a break every now and then to simply enjoy the fact that you’re together again.

What are some ways you have helped your servicemember reconnect with your family after a deployment?

Want more tips? Click here for more ways to help your spouse reconnect with your children.

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.

13 Comments on "Welcome Home, Now Get Out of My Way"

  1. I hate to say this, considering the recent hullaballoo here and elsewhere, but maybe she cheated on him while he was away. When I returned from my second tour in Vietnam, my wife was different and indifferent. I learned later that she had been cheating on me and it destroyed my trust in her and my marriage. I hope that's not the case here, but it's something to be aware of.

  2. jacey_eckhart | November 29, 2012 at 10:17 am |

    I don't think cheating is ever part of it. I think most of it is habits. We get out of the habit of including the servicemember. Or in my case, I expect him to just know what the right thing to do is and pitch right in. I got better at that over time. You?

  3. Reintegration is hard. We had a relatively simple/easy deployment…he was in Bahrain for a year, was home twice, and I visited him twice. Even so, a year later things are FINALLY starting to feel *right* again. Not only were we dealing with reintegration issues, but life goes on WHILE the reintegration is happening. Children graduate and go off to college, new school years start, new commands have to be adjusted-to…concentrating on *only* reintegrating is practically impossible, unless you live in some alternate universe.

    I would say, don't set any expectations on how long or how short the readjustment period will last. It will be done when it is done, and not a minute before then. Enjoy each other. Do the hard work of rebuilding a relationship…because you have been separated, and being together again involves a time of rebuilding. Nothing wrong about that. Just a time for both to adjust. Don't expect him to know everything. Don't expect the way you have adjusted to doing it NOT to change…everything will change, but you can both make it better.

  4. I felt very similar to this situation when my husband returned from his deployment. I had our first baby while he was gone. He came home for 2 weeks when she was first born, but didn't return until she was 6 months old. I had graduated college and was starting a new job when he returned. As a single mother, I had set up meal time routines, and bed time routines, and morning routines for myself and the baby. When he came home, it seemed like he was just in the way. When he would try to help, he would sometimes "shout orders" at me, which I didn't respond well to. The one thing that he did do was frequently ask me if I thought He had changed. I didn't really think that he had changed as a person, but our circumstances had changed. I told him that I was struggling because I felt that he was interupting my routines, and explained how I had made things work while he was gone. I also explained that I was not one of his soldiers and did not appreciate being "ordered" to do things. He stated he understood, and I think that was our most helpful conversation. It takes time, patience, and communication.

    • Sounds very similar to my situation. It is hard. He has been home for 8 months and its still not "normal". For me, him missing the birth of our son was the worst. It does take time patience and communication.

  5. Reintegration is very difficult. My husbands 1st deployment was very good for us but difficult. When he returned we attended a Returning Warrior Workshop offered through the USNavy. It helped us both appreciate how we had both grown separately and we found a new appreciation for each others strengths. It saved our marriage. I hope we both remember everything we learned from the last deployment and apply it to the next. When my husband gets back, we WILL be going to another Returning Warrior Workshop. If any one is interested in one of these workshops:

  6. I was deployed three times and nothing changed at home. My wife and I just continued on with our lives as if I was never gone. We're older so that probably made the difference from what other people have experienced. Plus on my last two deployments I was able to talk almost daily with my wife and through email.

    • Being able to communicate daily really helps. When i skype my husband i tell him about new things i bought, what the kids are doing now, etc. I sent him a care package and he told me he felt so loved. Keeping in contact, even if it's just email is so important. When my husband went(a year) overseas for the second time, my son was only two months old. He was able to see him walk via skype, he really felt included. We still laugh at my 5yr old, he told people at church that his dad lives in the computer! LOL! He was 3yrs old at the time, my 1yr old was confused when he came home.

  7. Communication, communication, communication that is the key.

  8. I see both sides of this coin. But, in the last 10 years that I have been a spouse my experience has been, that just as we reintegrate and get a new normal he is gone again and I'm left holding the reins and trying to handle it all myself again. So in my mind its just easier if our routine stays and he adjusts to the 4 of us instead of the 4 of us adjusting to him. When he is gone for 6 months out of most years, how is it ever possible for him to be apart of "normal" at home?

  9. Possible it isn't always the Wives who have to come up with all the answers the Soldier is a smart person too. Don't load it all on one side it takes two to tango.

  10. Sorry if I offended you ladies, but I'm dealing from experience. And your instant assertion that it couldn't possibly be cheating shows you're unwilling to examine all possibilities. Take off the rose-colored glasses.

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