February…a whole month of this new year has quickly passed by and it’s now been two months since my husband returned from Iraq. It really does seem like just yesterday that we were anxiously awaiting his return in that cold airplane hangar. And then there are other days when it feels like he has been home forever and that the long deployment was only a bad dream. But it wasn’t, and there are some tell-tale signs that still, two months later, remain to prove it’s existence.
Overall the reintegration has been a very smooth process. Especially compared to much of the information that we were given at the reintegration briefings focusing on how different our spouses can be, and how difficult reintegration could be, and all the possible conflicts that can possibly arise. They prepare you for the worst possible scenarios so that when issues do arise, you are armed with the knowledge and resources to deal with them. But luckily for us, my husband has settled into a routine within our family fairly well with only a few minor bumps. Discipline for the kids, responsibility for the finances, living among people other than a group of guys who burp, cuss, and call each other nicknames that I really don’t want to know the origin of…those are just some of the parts of reintegrating back into the post-deployment life and so far he has eased back into almost effortlessly.
But it’s not my husband who is having a hard time adjusting to life after deployment…it’s me. The first few weeks he was home was like a honeymoon. After 10 months apart, we wanted to spend every moment of the day together as a couple and as a family. My husband’s clothes on the floor didn’t bother me as I happily picked them up to put them in the hamper. The dishes left on the counter above the dishwasher, versus in it, just another reminder that he was back home safe where he belonged. Emails went unchecked, schedules were abandoned, and laundry was left to pile up – everything could wait while our family made up for lost time together…
…and then reality returned. As soon as the holidays were over and school/work resumed, life began to creep back into our happy, honeymoon existence. While I was still elated that my husband was back in my arms once again and I looked forward to seeing when we returned home after work, the laundry and chores were all waiting for me too. I began to have a difficult time balancing keeping up with the things that needed done day-to-day and spending time just being with my husband. Whereas during the deployment I spent the hours after the kids went to bed cleaning and catching up on things, I now wanted to spend those hours talking with my husband or simply being with him. I just couldn’t figure out how to get it all done and how to make everyone happy in the process…including myself. And as much as I complained about all the “alone time” during the deployment, I suddenly found myself needing some of it now.
Finally, after a long conversation with my husband and actually opening up to him about what I was struggling with, things had begun to fall back into place. I needed to be willing to tell him what I needed help with (something I have never been good at doing is asking for help!) and I also needed to realize that it’s OK to let the laundry go for a bit. The chores will get done and the lunches will get made. And it is OK to take some time to myself, because like the saying goes, “If Momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!” But being together as a family again is ultimately more important than a clean house or empty laundry hampers. It’s funny, these were all realizations that I came to during the deployment, but once my husband was safely back home I seemed to forget again.
I think the biggest thing that I have realized during the last two months is the importance of communication. Being able to openly state what I need and how my husband can help has actually helped both of us. Some of the stress has been taken off of me and he knows what I really need, rather than him guessing or doing nothing. We have both been able to communicate when we are struggling with something and have been able to help each other with suggestions or by clearing up a misunderstanding. While communication won’t take all the bumps out of reintegration, it certainly will go a long way to making them a bit smaller. And anything that will make this process even a little smoother is well worth the effort to me!