When I was in graduate school working on my counseling degree, I was pretty sure I was going to marry my current boyfriend (And I did a semester before I finished school). And so knowing that I was going to be a military spouse I took the opportunity to do as many as my research projects on different aspects of military family life as my professors would let me do. One project was on the effects of the deployment cycle on military families. One area that was woefully low on research was the pre-deployment part of the cycle. Well now that I am no longer in school and in the midst of military life I wanted to share what I found, and how it has helped me during this period of pre-deployment for me and my husband.
We all know that deployments are emotionally intense for military SOs! But what is talked about less is the emotional strain that comes with the pre-deployment period.
There are several things that make the pre-deployment period emotionally difficult for a couple. The first is that before our spouse even deploys they begin to build up emotional walls that are necessary during deployments, and in all honestly, we do too. The second is when we play games thinking that it will make it easier to say goodbye. We want to spend as much time together as we can, but maybe family wants to come visit before he leaves. Or, the Military is claiming much of their time with TDYs and other trainings that are required before they ship out.
If you have children this time can be even more confusing and difficult to navigate. Younger children may sense the tension in the home, but may not understand the impending separation. When children are older they may have a similar reaction by withdrawing from the soon to be gone parent. They may act out in protest of their parent’s leaning.
Why Pre-Deployment Phase is Hard
The pre-deployment period is difficult because we are preparing to be by ourselves. Our spouse is preparing to leave and be placed in potentially hazardous situations. Because of this, we begin to shut ourselves down emotionally before we even get to the deployment.
We might also begin to pick fights with one another the closer we get to the deployment, believing it will be easier to say goodbye to one another if we are mad at each other. So, we pick fights over silly little nothings, or maybe over important things that come with a separation.
What can I do?
So with all these emotions running high, how can we make the most of our last few days or weeks with our soon to be deploying spouse?
First, don’t ignore your emotions! Sometimes as military spouses we get caught in the trap believing that we aren’t supposed to be upset or sad when they leave because this is their job and we know that. We are supposed to put on our big girl panties and figure it out, no sadness in our hearts. That just is not true. Anybody would be sad that their spouse is leaving for an unknown amount of time. So, acknowledge your sad feelings, tell your spouse, find a good friend to vent to. If we stop pretending not to be sad, we will be less likely to play games. We won’t pick fights with our spouse just to make it easier to say goodbye.
Understand that them becoming more and more closed off as the departure date approaches is normal, and a survival tool for them down range. When deployed it is hard for soldiers to keep family in the forefront of their minds because emotions can compromise the mission. As “good” military spouses we know that its mission first. But also shutting down emotionally doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that takes weeks, and so it happens before they even leave home. More than allowing them to put the mission first, shutting down emotionally is a survival mode instinct for them.
As much as we hate leaving, and as much as they say they want to deploy, rarely do they want to leave us behind. The emotional disconnection helps make that process easier for them. And in reality, we do it too. We begin doing more and more around the house ourselves. Asking for less help with the kids. So it just looks a little but different.
When we know it happens we are less likely to take their emotional shut down personally. It creates fewer fights and less tension in the home. After going through many deployments we might begin to pick up this pattern, but what if we didn’t have to struggle so much to figure it out? That is why we share our experiences with other spouses and friends. Trust me I know it is hard when it feels like right before they are leaving they want so little to do with us and we want nothing more than to be even closer to them as the date gets closer and closer.
So if your spouse is gearing up for a deployment like mine is then hopefully my insights might provide just a little bit of clarity into why things aren’t what you expected. Why he is withdrawing more and more, and why there seem to be more tension. By using this information to your advantage maybe you can just savor those last few sweet minutes before D-Day approaches.