I remember the feeling of anticipation as I waited for my husband to get off the plane. It had been ten months since we had seen each other. I celebrated a birthday and our first wedding anniversary alone and I was more than ready for him to come home. When he stepped onto the tarmac and we were finally allowed to go to them I pushed past my new mother in law and ran in for the first hug. Feeling him against me was the
biggest relief, and all I could think about was what came next.
Those ten months had been some of the hardest of my life as I tried to navigate graduate school and suddenly being a “single married person” for the first time. I had only recently established a routine at home and begun to feel comfortable on my own when I started receiving boxes full of gear in the mail from Afghanistan. He was coming home! I had learned how to cook for one and how to manage loneliness as well as developing the ability to tell you what time it was halfway across the world at any given moment. I could fill out a customs form for the post office in my sleep and had officially been married for over a year but I still didn’t know how to be married to someone who lived in the same house yet.
In the days leading up to my husband’s deployment I was told repeatedly “don’t burden him with the hard things at home because he’s going through enough right now”. The message I got repeatedly centered around being strong and just dealing with it. This message is not inherently bad, and it came from people with the best of intentions, however, when he came home it meant I was still afraid to express anything but positivity. This was fine for a while, until life continued, and I couldn’t share the hard parts with him. I couldn’t tell him normal things like if I had a stressful day or that he was annoying me by leaving his socks on the floor. What this break in communication inevitably leads to is resentment and disconnection.
So many couples are never given the space to struggle after a long separation. They are expected to be so grateful to be back in the same physical location with each other that they are not allowed to navigate the emotional distance that can still remain. You can be unbelievably grateful that your partner is home and safe and also struggle to deal with them being in the same space as you. It is normal and even expected for people to take time to figure out how to reconnect when they have spent so long apart.
One of the best things my husband and I did for our marriage during this transition was to simply slow down. There is a sense of urgency when someone comes home that we have to catch up and immediately jump back into a routine, but in reality, spending time getting to know each other again allowed us to create a new normal that fit us and our marriage in this new stage of life.
Another thing which was very meaningful for me was to come to the understanding that struggling does not equate to being an grateful person. I could experience both of those things at the same time and they are equally valid. I was once told that I should be happy that my husband was alive to leave his socks on the floor because some people’s spouses never come home. That was the defining moment when I had the realization that people who have not experienced a long term separation from their spouse do not understand. Not everything is as simple as it seems from the outside. I had to learn that having normal grievances does not mean I am ungrateful, it simply means I am sharing a space with another person and we are going to get on each other’s nerves sometimes.
My message to those in this crazy stage of life is this: show yourselves grace. This is new and requires time to figure out. You are not going to know how to navigate this in the beginning and there will be times when you struggle. That doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. Transitioning from a deployment is a beautiful time but with that beauty comes growing pains. These growing pains are normal and can lead to a deeper, more meaningful connection. Slow down and take time to get to know each other again. You have both been through a season in which you have surely grown and changed apart, this is an opportunity for you to come back and grow together again. Finally, ask for help. Whether that means visiting a spiritual leader, a parent, or even going to therapy together or alone. There is always hope to find each other in the hard times.
“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” Samuel Johnson