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Dealing with the Emotional Roller Coaster of Deployment

In this day and time, if you are the spouse of an Army soldier, you have either already dealt with a deployment or will be dealing with one in the future. In the past, many Army spouses were able to make it through an entire enlistment without enduring a deployment separation. Today, with continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight, it is not likely to happen.

The best thing you can do as an Army wife is to prepare for the deployment and the many obstacles it can deliver. There are emotional stages that are common for Army wives to endure during the separation from their spouse. Although these stages are the most common, do not be alarmed if you either skip a stage or stay in one stage for a longer period than stated.

It should also be noted that if you are having a difficult time functioning through the deployment to the point where you cry for days on end, you cannot get out of bed or it dramatically interferes with your ability to handle day to day tasks, you should seek the help of a professional.

The unit chaplain is always available if you need to talk. Tricare also covers counseling with the possibility of having eight visits before needing to be referred by your PCM (Primary Care Manager). Check with your regional Tricare office for specific information for your case. You can also contact www.militaryonesource.com for a referral.

deployment roller coaster

First Stage: Learning of the Deployment

Depending on your husband’s unit, you could have months of notice before they deploy or as little as a few hours. Your first reaction could very well be shock, disbelief and a feeling of helplessness. You may have thoughts run through your head about flying off to another country and disappearing. Although this is common, it’s NOT recommended! They will find you and then not only will he be deployed, he will probably serve jail time as well and have pay and rank stripped from him.

Back to emotions….it is not uncommon as the deployment nears to have separation anxieties. In some, this can cause you to cling to your spouse in every available moment. In others, you may find that you are fighting with your spouse more than ever. Both of these situations are normal.

You may also find yourself preparing a long honey-do list for your spouse. It can be very intimidating to think of all of the things your husband typically handles that he will not be around to do. Make yourself a list of these things and sit down together to discuss the best way to handle them.

Your soldier may actually even be looking forward to this deployment. This is, after all, what he has been training for since he entered the Army. As an Army wife, it can be very hard to hear that your husband is looking forward to the deployment. Remember that he is looking forward to the chance to utilize his skills; he is not looking forward to being away from his family.

It is very important that he has a bond with the other soldiers in his unit. He may begin spending more time with these soldiers before deployment and this can cause tension as you generally want this time to be just for your family. Just remember unit cohesion and morale is essential to their success.

It is also normal for you to get to the point of just wanting him to leave so you can get on with things and get the deployment over with as quickly as possible. Do not feel guilty because this thought entered your head – it is normal!

Second Stage: The Day He Leaves and The First Weeks That Follow

This can be by far the most difficult stage. Saying goodbye to your spouse knowing that it will be the last time you see him for a prolonged time period is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Understandingly, many also have the fear that their spouse may never return home alive or at the very least will be a different person upon his return. While you shouldn’t dwell on these fears, it is normal to have them. One thing that was somewhat comforting to me was an article I found comparing how many people in the United States died each day in car accidents.

Now I know you’re thinking how can that be comforting? Every life lost in war (or any other time) is a great tragedy and one I hope I don’t have to endure. But statistically, you have a greater chance of being killed in a car accident while he is deployed than he has of dying during the deployment. If the news exploited each car accident death as they do the death of each soldier, none of us would probably ever drive again.

During this time period, you can expect to experience emotions from one extreme to the other. You may be sad one minute, inconsolable the next and angry at him the next. You may be in denial about the deployment and still wait for him to walk through the door each night. You may have trouble sleeping and you may be anxious about your personal security, particularly if you are living by yourself for the first time in quite some time. This happened to me.

After my husband deployed, I realized I was living alone for the first time ever. I went from my parent’s home to sharing apartments with roommates in college to getting married and living with my husband. It was quite an adjustment for me. Just about any emotion you have during this time period is normal. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation and get yourself into a routine.

Third Stage: From Month One Until The Month He Returns

This stage can also carry a variety of emotions but at the end of the first month, you should begin to find yourself in a routine and functioning through a normal lifestyle. In fact, during this stage, it is not uncommon to feel guilty that you are able to continue to do things you enjoy while your husband is deployed.

You’ll find that while he is still on your mind and of course in your heart, you aren’t pondering him twenty four hours a day as you most likely were in the first few weeks. By this time, you should begin to have some communication with him, whether by phone, email or mail. Email is a great asset to deployments as you are able to communicate with your soldier as often as you would like rather than having to wait on a phone call from him.

Many spouses say that one of the most frustrating things surrounding deployments is that phone calls must be initiated by him.
This can give you a feeling of having to be trapped in your home and a missed phone call can be absolutely devastating.

I highly recommend investing in a cell phone and instructing your husband to always call your cell phone. If this is not possible, place call forwarding on your phone for just a few dollars a month to ensure you won’t miss his call.

When you do communicate with your spouse, do your best to keep things positive. A bad conversation during deployment can cause negative feelings that last a long time. And the fact is, you have no idea when he may be able to call back.

While you should be open with your spouse, try not to overload him with problems that he cannot help to fix. I am by no means saying to hide these things from him, but if possible address them quickly and then move on to more pleasant subjects. Make the most of the time you have on the phone with him.

During this time, it is important to communicate as often as possible whether through phone, email or mail. And don’t forget those care packages. While in many locations, the soldiers have access to a PX to buy essentials, it is nothing compared to receiving a package or even just a card from home. Don’t let your soldier be the one who isn’t receiving anything while he is deployed.

Packages do not have to be expensive to put together. The post office offers priority packing materials for free that you can even go online and order to have them shipped to your home. They also have two priority flat rate boxes. No matter how much these boxes weigh, the price to ship them will be the same. Use this to your advantage and cram it full of your soldier’s favorite things! Your FRG should be able to give you a list of things that are acceptable to send to his specific location.

It is very important that you have support in one form or another while he is gone. This can come from others with deployed spouses (which in my opinion is best), from family and friends and through your FRG. Be sure to go to every FRG meeting and ensure they have all of your contact information at all times. You don’t want to miss out on an important announcement because they can’t find you.

Many FRGs have a variety of activities and events that you can participate in while your soldier is gone. The base also has volunteer opportunities available. No matter what you decide, be sure to have that support and let people know when you need their help. Many people are more than willing to help but just don’t know what to offer. Let them know what is best for you!

During this time period, one of the most damaging occurrences to morale is the rumors. There may be rumors that the unit is coming home earlier than expected, that a deployed soldier is cheating on his spouse or vice versa. Do not participate in the rumor mill. If you hear rumors specifically about his unit, contact your FRG leader to set it straight. Rumors will only cause negative feelings in the long run. Do not feed into them.

Redeployment: Last Month of Deployment

You’re in the home stretch now. It won’t be long before you see your husband walking (or running!) towards you with open arms. That will be a moment and an experience you won’t soon forget.

Unfortunately, this can be the most stressful part of the deployment for many spouses. Personally, I would rather go through him leaving again than the last month of deployment. The range of emotions will be back – but in a different way.

You will be nervous, excited, and anxious all at once. You may get to the point of just being angry and frustrated as the days just seem to absolutely drag. This is one time during the deployment when it is critical that you keep yourself busy.

Many wives begin to look at the list of the things they wanted to accomplish while he was gone and say where did the time go? If you’re in the beginning of the deployment or haven’t endured one yet, you’re probably thinking “yeah, right” but it will happen!

Don’t stress yourself out too much about trying to cram everything into the last month. Your husband wants to see you and your family – he will not care that the hardwood floors have not been stripped and redone. Promise!

Everyone feels differently about this next part. I will give you my opinion on it. When your husband returns, you need to decide what type of homecoming he is going to have. It has been my experience that the simpler it is, the better.

If you would like to have a big blow-out when he comes home, save it for a few weeks after he returns and has had time to acclimate to his surroundings again. He may want to avoid crowds, he may just want to stay home or he may be ready to go – you just don’t know.

Also, when my husband returns, I am always the only one there to meet him. I feel it is very important that we have at the very least a few days with just the two of us to get to know each other again and to readjust. Only after this period, do we begin inviting family over or going to see them. I let him do this on his schedule – not mine.

The other part of this is that in the first few days of his return, it may not even feel real to you. You may actually wake up in the middle of the night and be a bit scared at first when you realize someone is there with you.

Also prepare yourself for the fact that your house will most likely look like a tornado hit it when he returns home. Mine always does and I’ve just learned to deal with it for a few weeks before I start asking him to pick his stuff up and help out around the house.

You may also find that your husband is one who needs to get right back into the routine. He may be one who needs to know he is needed and one way to help him with this is to let him help with things around the house. If he was walking the dog before, let him start doing it again. Let him know he has been missed!

Regardless, enjoy this time with your husband and reuniting again as a family. Be proud of yourself for making it through the separation and hopefully surviving this deployment with an even stronger marriage than you had before the deployment.

How about you? Do you find the roller coaster to be true for you? What tips would you offer to survive a deployment?

Check out these books about deployment.

About the author: Stacey is an Army wife of a soldier who joined in 2003. He has since been medically retired but she continues to provide information to Army wives and families to make their adjustment to the Army lifestyle easier. Connect with Stacey: Facebook Twitter Pinterest

{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Michy September 23, 2010, 6:03 pm

    Really appreciate this article you put together! Well done. You put some things to words that I haven’t heard from anyone else, but things I was feeling. It’s good to know I’m not alone. Going to reference this on my blog, as well. 🙂

  • Casey November 8, 2010, 2:47 pm

    Thank you so much! My fiance is deploying in December and I’m trying to deal with all these emotions. What sucks is… since we aren’t married I don’t get the counseling and the other benefits the wives do but I’ll being going through the same thing. I’m terrified right now but its nice to know all the feelings I’m having are normal. Thank you again…

  • Molly June 25, 2011, 3:51 pm

    Thank you for the encouraging words. My husband is due home any day now, and I was wondering if it was pregnancy hormones (I am 36 weeks pregnant w/ our first child) that were making me more emotional than usual or what. Glad to hear that I’m not the only one who has had these kind of emotions at the end.

    This last week of hearing “I’m headed home, but not sure when I will be there”, has really created an emotional rollercoaster. I get tired of others saying “at least he is on his way home and this will be over soon”. But it is not over yet. No one else has to deal w/ the day in, day out of him not being here.

    My observation has been this: The week before he left when he was getting all packed up, out processing, ect was hard. The first week that he was gone getting into a new routine of life without him was hard, and this last week of anticipation has been hard. Everything else in between has not been easy, but nothing like those/this three weeks.

    Also, I was wondering if there was anyone else who had a child (specifically their first) while their husband was gone or who had one soon after their return. I keep hearing about how things will be different when he returns home, but this situation is a given. Is there anything unusual that I should expect?

  • Danielle June 26, 2011, 1:02 am

    I very much appreciate the information you have accumulated on this page; however, as an Army widow myself, I would have to disagree with one statement you made. You compare the probability of being in a car accident as more likely as a soldier dying in our current conflicts. This is wrong. There are many many more people driving vehicles every day than there are US soldiers abroad. This is a sad truth, but it is one that we, as Army wives, much face on a daily basis. My first husband died 5 1/2 years ago and, having married another soldier recently, I am once again faced with the possibility I may have kissed my husband for the last time.

    • Terri November 19, 2011, 8:36 am

      I agree with you Danielle. I think that comparison is completely wrong. It pretty much states that our soldiers are safer being deployed during a war than staying home. Kinda upset me at first but everyone makes mistakes so I’m able to overlook it. I like the rest of the artical though. The one thing that bothers me during deployment is not being able to let him know when you are upset with him. I hate holding it back in fear that something will happen and he has to get off the phone before closing on a positive note. I’m lucky right now to get any phone calls or email and when I do I am so happy to hear from him that any feelings of upset disappears….. until later when the saddness of holding it back returns. I’m so worried of offending or upsetting him because what if he dies and that was the last conversation. It is the opposite for them because they say what they want because they are not afraid your going to be shot, killed or get ptsd. I hate the emotional roller coaster. What I do like is that when they get home your in 7th heaven and all of the stress magically disappears..

      • Stacey November 19, 2011, 10:28 am

        The comparison is absolutely not meant to minimize the risk. I’m very sorry if it appears that way.

        Danielle, I’m sorry for your loss.

  • sheena July 21, 2011, 5:56 pm

    My man left to Afghanistan 15, July 2011. We are not married and have only been together a short time. I know he is the one I want and that our love is special to one another. I just started this journey of deployment and I already feel like I’m loosing my mind. I know I have to stay strong for him and be here for him when he does come home. He has left everyone behind that he loves to go up range to fight for our country, so I know his pain and loneliness is way greater than mine. So, I have to put my own pain aside and keep strong for him. I can only believe he is ok, have faith he will come home, and prey to God that his daughter needs him and he needs to come home safe to her. I ask myself, why would God have us meet so soon before his deployment and have us fall so deeply in love if he was gona just take him from me? He won’t!!!! God loves us and will give us a chance to live our lives together. That’s what keeps my hopes alive and I refuse to think any different. I love my man and he will be home next July, and I will be Waiting for his safe return.

  • Zuzana April 3, 2012, 9:01 am

    Really a great read for me, who is facing a deployment of my fiancee in a month. He will be gone for 4 months and the prospect of this separation feels unthinkable and insane at the same time. Thank you for making me realize that I am not alone and that this situation and ordeal is shared by so many women.

  • K May 29, 2012, 7:21 pm

    Thank you this article helped me put it in perspective that it’s not the end of the world and I can make it through

  • Teresa July 16, 2012, 1:24 pm

    I have been stumbling all over the internet looking for helpful advise, tips, the right words, explanations of my fear of the unknown, why’s and what if’s…
    This was the most informative page I found. Thanks for sharing your experiences, encouragement and positive outlook on your husbands deployment. My husband leaves in November for his 4th deployement. However it’s my first. We married just last year. The hardest part for me is he was scheduled to retire from active duty this coming Feb and now he’s been extended to go. So, yes, I signed up to be an Army wife but I never really expected this to actually happen before he would get out. He will be part of an SFAT team in Afghanistan. I can’t find a lot of info for all the questions I have. I know I can do this…I just want him to believe in me as much as I believe in him. I hope I do as well as you have done! Wish me luck…t

  • Jamie February 15, 2013, 9:35 pm

    This is truly written on behalf of the military, not for the spouse.

    • Stacey February 17, 2013, 7:23 pm

      What does that mean? I wrote this as a spouse.

  • Holly March 3, 2013, 11:42 am

    Stacey, Thank you SO much for this well written & informative article! My husband just deployed last week & I’ve been a mess. He’s been in the Army 18 years, I’ve been his wife for 15, but this is his first deployment. I’ve found that the most difficult part for me right now is the wait between communication. He’s not at the FOB yet where he’ll spend the next 9 months, but still in transition (training, etc) however he IS in Afghanistan. He’s been able to call a few times & we even Skyped yesterday morning. I struggle with not getting a phone call or email from him when other spouses have heard from their soldier; I immediately think the worst 🙁 For instance, yes we Skyped yesterday but since then, they have left 1 area & went to another. I’ve not heard from him yet but one of my friends has heard from her soldier a few times. Any tips on dealing with that? Again, thank you for such a fantastic article!!!

    • Stacey March 10, 2013, 10:52 pm

      Thanks! That was the hardest part for me too and unfortunately it comes down to that whole “no news is good news”. I know that provides little, if any, comfort, but we just have to have faith that they’re going to be okay. I think it gets a little easier once they’ve been gone for a bit and you get into your routine, etc. good luck….I know it’s tough, I did it four times!

  • Saira May 8, 2013, 2:00 pm

    I have been with my man for a substantial amount of time he has been deployed to Afghanistan and until 3 days ago I heard nothing from him. I don’t know what to do I have emotional times where I just breakdown and start crying. Is this normal? for me these 3 days are killing. How can I find out he is ok? or do I just sit it out and wait. Btw this article is amazing and I have the utmost respect for all the men who are out there and their wives 🙂

    • Stacey May 8, 2013, 9:19 pm

      It’s common to go a lot longer than 3 days, at least it was with my husband’s unit. The thing to remember is no news is good news. Hopefully you know his family as well so you can always check in with them to see if they have heard from him. Since you’re not married, they are likely the ones who will be notified in the event something did happen. But for now, rest easy and try to be patient. I know it’s easier said than done.

  • cassidy November 26, 2014, 1:28 am

    Me & my boyfriend was planning to get married last month, just last week we had some argument that made him get angry on me just because of the argument, he said we will not be married again and the next day he left me and we broke up. I still loved him and I wanted him to marry me, for me to get him back i had no choice than to contacted chasuspropet@gmail.com to help me and he helped me to bring my lover back to me so we can continue our plan to be married. he came back after 3 days.

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