Don’t Give In to Reintegration Exhaustion

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A woman standing next to me in the airport once complained, “I didn’t get married to be a single mom, this isn’t what I bargained for. I’m so exhausted!” She explained that her husband had been away for two weeks and that she had “had enough.”

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This brief encounter illustrates the strain of family separation. If a mere two week business trip can frustrate a spouse’s expectations, what must our military families experience following a lengthy deployment?

While separated, family members often fantasize about reunion; the exhilaration of hugging one another, the anticipated vacation, and the return of intimacy all enable family members to manage separation. Some of these expectations can be met – few families forget the joy they experienced during the moment of reunion.

Although family members fantasize about reunion, few fantasize about reintegration. Reintegration is the process by which the separated family member reenters the family system; a family system is a collection of roles and rules that exist in every family. When a member leaves for any reason, roles and rules shift to adapt to new circumstances; the return of a family member necessitates a further modification.

The reintegration process often begins when the returning family member attempts to reinstate previous family roles and rules. The returning family member did not shift their expectations in unison with the rest of the family system; predictably, their family resists returning to old patterns. For their part, families often want the returning member to adopt the roles and rules they created during separation. Unsurprisingly, the returning family member opposes what they distinguish as unnecessary change.

To facilitate change, individuals need to feel secure and they must understand the benefits that change ensures. Unfortunately, recently reintegrated families may not sense security – they have been stressed by separation, disconnected by distance, and face uncertain expectations.  More, families may not appreciate their need to change, often relying on known behavior patterns which only appear helpful.

Complicating matters, some military members return home with lingering effects from being in a war zone. These effects may be misunderstood by family members who, upon reunion, see the person that deployed but are unable to grasp the profound turmoil that lies within them.

During reintegration families can regain security by moving slowly; the emotional “rush” of reunion must be accompanied by an unhurried desire to discover the personal changes that occurred during separation. Additionally, rather than employing known roles and rules, families need to be encouraged to explore and invest in new expectations which benefit every member.

Reintegration can be a lengthy – and sometimes difficult – life event.  Army chaplains are positioned to assist families which are struggling to embrace change. Through counseling, family retreats, worship services, and seminars chaplains offer holistic reintegration support. Support, in turn, enhances the family’s sense of security, creates family solidarity, and increases the likelihood of healthy adaptation. The public can assist, as well, by being aware of the complexity of reintegration and assisting the process through patience and consideration.

Reintegration is not effortless, but its benefits are long-lasting. By supporting committed military families, no one needs to fell that they have “had enough.”

 

Chaplain (Maj.) Donald Ehrke was raised in Mount Clemens, Michigan.  He graduated from Oakland University, in Michigan with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration and also with a Master of Art degree in History from the same institution. He received a Master of Divinity degree and is ordained as a Lutheran minister. He is a certified Family Life Chaplain with a degree in Counseling Psychology from Texas A&M/Central He has served as a Battalion and Regimental chaplain with deployments to both Afghanistan and Iraq.  He is currently serving as the Pentagon Family Life Chaplain. Chaplain Ehrke has been married for 16 years.  He and his wife have a teenager at home (13-year-old son).

 

Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force.

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  • Audrey

    I am an old military wife; who married a Airman at the age of 18. Knowing that he was in the military he had no control of his where abouts. Yes, he left us at intervals of 90 days TDY. Not easy but I never complaint because I knew he always came back and we would be together.Yes it was difficult for me as well as for him, so I alwlays said every thing was fine back home. He had enough stress on his job not adding more to it from his family. As long as we were ok,,,,he did not had to worried about us as much. Yes , the washing machine broke, lawn mower broke, the fence broke on a storm, dryer and so on.Yes! and I was lonely , used to call it ocean of tears, for I wouldn’t let nobody know about it. Yes ladies its not easy to be a wife of a military wife, or fireman ,or doctor or police officer……Thats life, we make the best of it. I am proud to have gone thru all that for the man I loved…. Audrey

  • anonc

    I don’t have a lot of experience, my husband hasn’t been deployed, he goes away for 1-2 week feild trainings. The most we experienced was basic training and AIT, basic training was difficult because there was not contact beyond letters, our son really hated that, he was 3 and just wanted to talk to daddy. AIT wasn’t so bad since we had time to talk, and we only had to spend 2 months of it apart, we were able to move and live with him on post for the last 7 months of his AIT, which was great. We had a slight experience with reintigration after so long with barely any contact and him coming from the total institution that is basic training. My being pregnant with our second child did not help, he’d left me when I wasn’t even showing and we were together again when I was huge and a month or two away from giving birth. Emotionally we slipped right back into our roles as loving husband and wife and he had no trouble taking over as co-parent again. We had no problem running the household smoothly. We did have a problem physically, we hesitated to touch one another as we never had before. The problem was exasperated by my pregnancy. It was something we adjusted to and got over after a week or two, happily.

  • Anna

    My husband returned from a 9 month deployment in May, and we were separated for a total of 11 months due to him moving to a new duty station 3 weeks before he deployed, me choosing to stay behind during the impending deployment, and then when he came home, it was another 3 weeks after the homecoming that I was finally able to move to his new duty station. It definitely took a huge toll on us. We were separated for almost a full year! While we have mostly settled back into our new routines I still feel like we are BOTH reintegrating. I know I still have trouble giving up control to him, after being so independent and relying on only myself and living with only myself for so long. And I know he feels left out, like he’s imposing on “my” life. I feel like the time apart strengthened our relationship, but the reintegration is straining it. It is certainly a stressful part of military life and I feel like it’s not talked about quite enough so thank you for this article.

  • Apryl

    I can’t push the Yellow Ribbon programs enough. When I thought our marriage was over after the first deployment (12 months plus a 6 month class prior to) we attended a Yellow Ribbon event and it pulled us back into our marriage. After the second deployment (12 months) we had some more issues and we went through the Yellow Ribbon seminars and again we learned more about each other and the benefits were great. This past deployment (11 months) plus a cross country move 2 months after he returned home (I did not catch up with him for almost 4 months) we need a Yellow Ribbon but none are available to us due to the length of time since his deployment. We’re hitting our 6 month mark of Deployment Honeymoon and are having some normal couple struggles. Marriage is hard. It’s a job. Make sure you commit your 8-10 hours towards it. And learn to communicate. That’s hard too.