They try and make this process sound so clean using pop-psychology vetted words to describe the “emotional rollar coaster” of deployments. First of all, a lot of them were blatantly sexist in their wording, using “husband” and “wife.” (More on my ire with military blogs and their use of the gender normative spouse names next time.) Second is that they are really just to NICE about all this. I couldn’t stand it. All the niceness. So fuck that, here is what deployments feel like.
Stage 1: Anticipation of Loss or FIGHT CLUB
-6-8 weeks prior to deployment
-Some feelings: denial, fear, anger, resentment, hurt, and kung fu like reflexes
-Activities: financial planning, car and home preventative maintenance, updating records of emergency data. Sorting all the shit that your spouse pulled out of boxes saying “I’ll organize my office” when they meant “I’ll put everything out of storage into huge cluster fuck piles then play with my rediscovered action figures and leave it all for you to deal with”
This stage occurs four to six weeks before deployment. During this time it is hard for a spouse to accept the fact that their service member is going to leave them for the Homefront Spouse to accept that their “American Hero” can be so fucking organized at work and such a disaster at home. They may find themselves crying screaming unexpectedly at songs, TV shows, and other such silly things that would not normally affect them that the Swashbuckling Spouse plays on repeat for no reason, such as Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” because they feel the need to get a full six months of annoying the crap out of you into a few weeks. These incidents allow the Homefront Spouse to release some of their pent-up emotions. There is a lot of tension during this period as both spouses 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 which means the Swashbuckling Spouse will start five billion projects and leave them all undone for you to clean up in their absence.
The Homefront Spouse will have some unexpressed loudly expressed anger, and the couple may bicker even if they usually do not. 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. Other frequent symptoms of this stage include restlessness (productive), depression, and irritability. While the Homefront Spouse may feel angry or resentful (They are really going to leave me alone with all this), the Swashbuckling Spouse tends to feel guilty (There is no way I can get everything done that I should complete this level in my video game before I leave.)
Stage 2: Emotional withdrawal or I’M FUCKIN FINE, LEAVE ME ALONE
-1 week prior to deployment
-Some feelings: confusion, ambivalence, anger, pulling away
-Activities: talking, sharing, fighting, setting goals to achieve during deployment and trying not to kill the Swashbuckling Spouse because then the government will be mad, usually done while packing their shit for them
In many ways, this is the most difficult stage. It occurs sometime in the final days before departure. Although they feel they should be enjoying these last few days together, the marriage is out of the couple’s control the Swashbuckling Spouses attention span is GONE. Although they push ahead trying to complete the list that never gets any shorter, the Homefront Spouse often feels a lack of energy and is fatigued. Making decisions becomes increasingly difficult as the Swashbuckling Spouse turns into some ADD squirrel that gets distracted by video games, youtube and anything unrelated to being helpful around the house.
During this time, the spouse may experience some ambivalence about sexual relations. The brain says, “We’ve got to have sex; this is it for six months” while the heart may rebel, “But I dont want to be that close Not after all those dishes, asshole.” Intercourse represents the ultimate intimacy in marriage, yet it is hard to be intimate when spouses are separating from each other emotionally the Swashbuckling Spouse is acting more like a younger sibling than a lover. The couple may find, too, that they stop sharing their thoughts and feelings with each other because like mama said, you ain’t got nothin’ nice to say, don’t say nothin’ at all. Though both spouses are physically in the same house, emotionally they have separated.
Stage 3: Emotional confusion/disorganization or MY KEYS ARE IN THE IGNITION AND THE CAR IS LOCKED
-1-6 weeks after departure
-Some feelings: sense of abandonment, need, loss, emptiness, pain, disorganization, burning rage
-Activities: crying, loss or abundance of sleep and appetite, busy, totally mind fucked
No matter how prepared the Homefront Spouse thinks they are, the actual deployment still comes as a shock. An initial sense of relief that the pain of saying good-bye of the Swashbuckling Spouse leaving Pop Tart wrappers and empty Coke cans strewn about like you live in a damn frat house is over may be followed by guilt. They may feel numb, aimless, and without purpose. Old routines have been disrupted and new ones not yet established. Many Homefront Spouses are depressed and withdraw from friends and neighbors who are trying to be supportive mostly because they say really fuckin’ insensitive stupid shit. They often feel overwhelmed as they face total responsibility for family affairs. Many Homefront Spouses have difficulty sleeping, others sleep excessively.
Homefront Spouses 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? Where the HELL did they leave the feather duster?” Whereas Homefront Spouses experience a sense of being overwhelmed, the Swashbuckling Spouses report feeling lonely and frustrated. The lack of sex pretty much sucks too.
Stage 4: Adjustment/Recovery or I CLAIM THIS CLOSET
-Most of the deployment.
-Some feelings: hope, confidence, calm, less anger, loneliness,
-Activities: establishing routine, establishing communications, self-growth.
At some point, Homefront Spouses may realize, “Hey, ‘ doing OK this closet is mine, beotch!” 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 throwing all the Swashbuckling Spouse’s damn toys into boxes at the back of the closet, not to mention donating away that shirt they always wear that is hideous. Broken arms have been tended, mowers fixed, cars tuned up, and washing machines bought. Each successful experience adds to their self confidence annoyance that what the Swashbuckling Spouse couldn’t get done in two years they accomplished in three months. The Homefront Spouses have cultivated new sources of support through friends, church, work, wives groups, etc excessive workout routines, coffee, Netflix and wine, lots of wine. Did we mention the lack of sex?
Stage 5: Expectation of reunion or DAMN IT I DON’T FEEL LIKE SHAVING AGAIN
-6-8 weeks prior to homecoming
-Some feelings: apprehension, excitement, high expectations, worry, fear, razor burn
-Activities: planning homecoming, cleaning, dieting finishing all the wine, loss of sleep, completion of individual projects battening down the hatches for the return of Carly Rae Jepsen, Pop Tart wrappers and video games
Approximately four to six weeks before the Swashbuckling Spouse is due back, Homefront Spouses often find themselves saying, “Ohmigosh, FUCK they coming home and I’m not ready I’m still enjoying my clean house!” That long list of things to do while they were gone is still unfinished nearly done, at least all the things that they will notice when they return, because you need to rub their face in your ability to prioritize and focus. 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 and they must be reminded that dirty clothing left on the floor will turn into a scene from Misery. But sex sounds good.
This is a time to reevaluate the marriage. That hole that existed when the Swashbuckling Spouse left did get filled with tennis classes, church, a job, new friends, school wine. Most experience an unconscious process of evaluation, “What am I going to have to give up? The Merlot or the Riesling?” The Homefront Spouses are concerned “Will they understand and accept the changes that have occurred? Will they approve of the decisions I made bitch about shit?” The Swashbuckling Spouses are anxious, too, wondering, “How have we changed? How will I be accepted? Does my family still need me? Can I still get away with eating in the clean office?”
Stage 6: Honeymoon or THIS TOO SHALL PASS
-Day 1 until the first argument
-Some feelings: euphoria, blur of excitement, humping
-Activities: talking, re-establishing intimacy, readjusting
This stage, too, is one in which the spouses are together physically but not necessarily emotionally. They have to have some time together and share experiences and feelings sex, lots of sex before they feel like a couple again. During this stage, the task is to stop being single spouses and start being married again.
Most Homefront Spouses sense a loss of freedom and independence and clean homes. Routines established during the deployment are disrupted: “I have to cook a real dinner every night!? If you want something more complicated than cereal, you know where the pans are. I’m having wine.” Too much togetherness initially can cause friction after so many months of living apart. Some resent their Swashbuckling Spouses making decisions that should be theirs that are obviously wrong.
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. Or something like that.
Stage 7: Readjustment
-6-8 weeks following return
-Some feelings: uncomfortable, confusion, acceptance
-Activities: re-negotiating relationships, redefining roles, settling in
Spouses are back to annoying the hell out of each other, but it’s better than going without sex so deal with it. Welcome to marriage.