Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Seven Stages of Deployment

I've heard a lot of comments from people about being a military spouse, what it's like to face separations from my husband and family, and many people have said things like "You are so strong", "How do you do it?", etc.  The truth of the matter is I'm not strong, I'd say I'm about average.  I'm not doing anything extraordinary here, I'm just getting by.  But I want everyone to understand a little more about what my feelings, anxieties, and emotions are all about-because then you'll be able to be of more help to me when I really need it! 

This is something that I found on a support website for military spouses.  It is fairly long, but definitely worth the time it takes to read it.  I think it was originally written for Navy spouses, which is why it refers to "cruises" and deployments.  :)  But it is all very relevant to every branch of the military! 

PRE-DEPLOYMENT 


Stage 1: Anticipation of Loss 

-6-8 weeks prior to deployment. 

-Some feelings: denial, fear, anger, resentment, hurt. 

-Activities: financial planning, car and home preventative maintenance, updating records of emergency data. 


This stage occurs four to six weeks before deployment. During this time it is hard for a woman to accept the fact that her husband is going to leave her. She may find herself crying unexpectedly at songs, TV shows, and other such Silly things that would not normally affect her. These incidents allow her to release some of her pent-up emotions. There is a lot of tension during this period as both husband and wife try to cram in a multitude of projects and activities: There are bikes and cars to fix, roofs to repair, deadbolts to install, garages to clean, family to visit, neighbors and friends to invite over, etc. 


The wife will have some unexpressed anger, and the couple may bicker even though they usually do not. This can be upsetting if it is viewed out of context. Although unenjoyable, these arguments can be functional. They provide one way for the couple to put some emotional distance between themselves in their preparation for living apart. It is hard for a wife to feel warm and loving toward her husband when she is mad at him, and as one woman said, Its easier to let him go. Other frequent symptoms of this stage include restlessness (productive), depression, and irritability. While women feel angry or resentful (Hes really going to leave me alone with all this), men tend to feel guilty (Theres no way I can get everything done that I should before I leave.) 


Stage 2: Emotional withdrawal

-1 week prior to deployment.

-Some feelings: confusion, ambivalence, anger, pulling away. 

-Activities: talking, sharing, fighting, setting goals to achieve during deployment. 


In many ways, this is the most difficult stage. It occurs sometime in the final days before departure. Such statements as, I know I should be enjoying these last few days together but all I want to do is cry indicates a sense of despair or hopelessness. The marriage is out of the couples control. Although they push ahead trying to complete the list that never gets any shorter, the wife often feels a lack of energy and is fatigued. Making decisions becomes increasingly difficult. 


During this time, the wife may experience some ambivalence about sexual relations. It is hard to be intimate when husband and wife are separating from each other emotionally. This can be especially difficult if it is seen as rejection rather than as a reaction to trying circumstances. The couple may find, too, that they stop sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other. This stage is most evident when departure is delayed for some reason. When asked if they enjoyed the extra time together, wives invariably respond, It was awful! The detachment and withdrawal stage is an uncomfortable time; Though both spouses are physically in the same house, emotionally they have separated. Wives think, If you have to go, go. And husbands think Lets get on with it!


DEPLOYMENT 


Stage 3: Emotional confusion/disorganization 

-1-6 weeks after departure.

-Some feelings: sense of abandonment, need, loss, emptiness, pain, disorganization. 

-Activities: crying, loss or abundance of sleep and appetite, busy, goal activation. 


No matter how prepared wives think they are, the actual deployment still comes as a shock. An initial sense of relief that the pain of saying good-bye is over may be followed by guilt. They worry, If I really love him, why am I relieved that he's gone? They may feel numb, aimless, and without purpose.  Old routines have been disrupted and new ones not yet established. Many women are depressed and withdraw from friends and neighbors, especially if the neighbors husbands are home. They often feel overwhelmed as they face total responsibility for family affairs. Many women have difficulty sleeping, suddenly aware that they are the security officer, others sleep excessively. A wife may feel some anger at her husband because he did not say, provide for her physical security by installing deadbolts. 


Wives often report feeling restless (though not productive), confused, disorganized, indecisive, and irritable. The unspoken question is, What am I going to do with this hole in my life? Whereas wives experience a sense of being overwhelmed, husbands report feeling lonely and frustrated. Unfortunately, a few women get stuck at this stage, either unable or unwilling to move on emotionally; they will both have and cause problems throughout the cruise.


Stage 4: Adjustment/Recovery 

-Most of the deployment.

-Some feelings: hope, confidence, calm, less anger, loneliness.

-Activities: establishing routine, establishing communications, self-growth. 


At some point, wives may realize, Hey, Im doing OK! They have established new family patterns and settled into a routine. They have begun to feel more comfortable with the reorganization of roles and responsibilities. Broken arms have been tended, mowers fixed, cars tuned up, and washing machines bought. Each successful experience adds to their self confidence. The wives have cultivated new sources of support through friends, church, work, wives groups, etc. They often give up real cooking for cruise food; they may run up higher long-distance phone bills and contact old friends. 


Dr. Alice Snyder of Family Services Center, Norfolk, calls the women single wives as they experience both worlds. Being alone brings freedom as well as responsibility. They often unconsciously find themselves referring to, my house, my car, my kids. As a group, they are more mature, and they are more outwardly independent. This stage is one of the benefits of being a wife: Each woman has the opportunity to initiate new activities, accept more responsibilities, and stretch herself and her abilities all while secure in being married. Nevertheless, all the responsibility can be stressful, and wives may find that they are sick more frequently. Many women continue to feel mildly depressed and anxious. Isolation from both their husbands and their own families can leave them feeling vulnerable. There is not much contact with men “ by choice or design “ and women may begin to feel asexual. On the whole, though, most women have a new sense of independence and freedom and take pride in their ability to cope alone.


Stage 5: Expectation of reunion 

-6-8 weeks prior to homecoming.

-Some feelings: apprehension, excitement, high expectations, worry, fear. 

-Activities: planning homecoming, cleaning, dieting, loss of sleep, completion of individual projects. 


Approximately four to six weeks before the ship is due back, wives often find themselves saying, Oh my gosh, hes coming home and Im not ready! That long list of things to do while hes gone is still unfinished. The pace picks up. There is a feeling of joy and excitement in anticipation of living together again. Feelings of apprehension surface as well, although they are usually left unexpressed.


This is a time to reevaluate the marriage. That hole that existed when their husbands left did get filled “ with tennis classes, church, a job, new friends, school, - and now they instinctively know that they must clean house in their lives in order to make room for the men. Most experience an unconscious process of evaluation, I want him back, but what am I going to have to give up? Therefore, they may feel nervous, tense, and apprehensive. 


The wives are concerned about the effect the husbands return will have on their lives and their childrens: Will he understand and accept the changes that have occurred in us? Will he approve of the decisions I made? Will he adjust to the fact that I cant go back to being dependent? The husbands are anxious, too, wondering, How have we changed? How will I be accepted? Will the kids know me? Does my family still need me?


Most women bury these concerns in busywork. Once more, there is a sense of restlessness (but productive) and confusion. Decisions become harder to make and may be postponed until the homecoming. Women become irritable again and may experience changes in appetite. At some point, a psychological decision is made. For most women, it is. Do I want him back? You bet! I cant wait to see him!


REUNION 

Stage 6: Honeymoon 

-Day 1 until the first argument.

-Some feelings: euphoria, blur of excitement.

-Activities: talking, re-establishing intimacy, readjusting. 


This stage, too, is one in which the husband and wife are together physically but not necessarily emotionally. They have to have some time together and share experiences and feelings before they feel like a couple again. They both need to be aware of the necessity to refocus on the marriage. For instance; After one of the wives husband had been home for a few days, she became aggravated with him when he would telephone his shipboard roommate every time something of importance came up within the family “ finally declaring, Im your wife. Talk to me! During this stage, the task is to stop being single spouses and start being married again. 


Most women sense a loss of freedom and independence while a minority is content to become dependent once more. Routines established during the cruise are disrupted: I have to cook a real dinner every night!? This causes the wives to feel disorganized and out of control.


Although most couples never write it down, there is a "Contract in every marriage “ a set of assumptions and expectations on which they base their actions. During this stage, the couple has to make major adjustments in roles and responsibilities; before that can happen, they must undertake an extensive renegotiation of that unwritten contract. The marriage cannot and will not be exactly the same as before the cruise: both spouses have had varied experiences and have grown in different ways, and these changes must be accommodated. 


Too much togetherness initially can cause friction after so many months of living apart. More than one wife has had to cope with the fleeting shock of wondering, Whos that man in my bedroom! Some resent their husbands making decisions that should be mine. Still others question, My husband wants me to give up all my activities while hes home. Should I? On the other hand, the husband may wonder. Why do I feel like a stranger in my own home? All of these concerns and pressures require that husband and wife communicate with each other. 


Assumptions will not work. Some find that talking as we go along works best, while others keep silent until, We had our first good fight, cleared the air, and everythings OK now. Sexual relations, ardently desired before the return, may initially seem frightening. Couples need sufficient time together to become reacquainted before they can expect true intimacy. 


This stage can be difficult as well as joyful. But it does provide an opportunity offered to few civilian couples; the chance to evaluate what changes have occurred within themselves, to determine what direction they want their growth to take, and to meld all this into a renewed and refreshed relationship.


Stage 7: Readjustment

-6-8 weeks following return. 

-Some feelings: uncomfortable, role confusion, satisfaction.

-Activities: re-negotiating relationships, redefining roles, settling in


Sometime within the four to six weeks after the homecoming, wives notice that they have stopped referring to my car, my house, my bedroom using instead our or we. New routines have been established for the family, and the wives feel relaxed and comfortable with their husbands. There is a sense of being a couple and a family. They are back on the same track emotionally and can enjoy the warmth and closeness of being married.


So if you made it this far then GREAT JOB!  I think it is funny (well, funny is not the word, but I can't think of the word....) that we were stuck in Stage 2 indefinitely for MONTHS- the stage that it says is "in many ways is the most difficult stage".  Now that we are finally at Stage 3 I'm really hoping that I can get our routine going again and get on to Stage 4.  Thanks for reading, and I hope that this gave you some insight into my life at the moment, and who knows- it may even give you some insight into your own that you didn't even know of.

2 comments:

Em said...

Very Interesting... thanks for posting this!

Marshall McIntyre said...

Stage 2 was horrible and WAAAAY too long (4ish months?). Sorry about the lawn mower, I forgot to warn you and who you how to do it. I have to get into a routine also. I love you and miss you and Maddox. Take care of our/your house and our/your car hahaa.