roller coaster of deployments in the military

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 could 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 spouses.

Although these stages are the most common, do not be alarmed if you skip a stage or stay in one stage for longer 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 for a referral.

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 helplessness.

You may have thoughts running 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, but he will also probably serve jail time 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 everything your husband typically handles that he will not be around to do.

Make a list of these things and discuss the best way to handle them.

Your soldier may 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 tough to hear that your husband is looking forward to the deployment.

Remember that he is looking forward to utilizing his skills; he is not looking forward to being away from his family.

He must have a bond with the other soldiers in his unit. He may begin spending more time with these soldiers before deployment, which 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 period, is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Understandingly, many also 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.

During this 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 be anxious about your 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. 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 period is normal. Give yourself time to adjust to the new situation and get 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 function through a normal lifestyle.

In fact, during this stage, it is not uncommon to feel guilty that you can continue to do things you enjoy while your husband is deployed.

You’ll find that while he is still on your mind and 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 can communicate with your soldier as often as you would like rather than wait for a phone call from him.

Many spouses say that one of the most frustrating things surrounding deployments is that they must initiate phone calls.

This can make you feel trapped, as a missed phone call can be devastating.

When communicating 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 he cannot help fix. I am not 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.

It is important to communicate as often as possible during this time, whether through phone, email, or mail. And don’t forget those care packages.

While the soldiers have access to a PX to buy essentials in many locations, it is nothing compared to receiving a package or 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 you can even go online and order to have them shipped to your home.

They also have two priority flat rate boxes. The shipping price will be the same regardless of how much these boxes weigh. 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 acceptable things to send to his specific location.

You must 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 attend every FRG meeting and ensure they have your contact information. 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.

Regardless of your decision, be sure to have that support and let people know when you need their help. Many people are more than willing to help but don’t know what to offer. Let them know what is best for you!

During this period, rumors are among the most damaging occurrences to morale. 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!) toward you with open arms. That will be a moment and an experience you won’t soon forget.

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

You will be nervous, excited, and anxious all at once. You may get to the point of being angry and frustrated as the days seem to drag. This is one time during the deployment when you must 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 at 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 too much about cramming 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 will 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 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 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 it may not even feel real to you in the first few days of his return. You may wake up in the middle of the night and be a bit scared when you realize someone is there with you.

Also, prepare for the fact that your house will most likely look like a tornado hit 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 needs to return to the routine. He may need 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 reunite 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.

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.

author avatar
Stacey Abler
Stacey's husband joined the Army in 2003 and was medically retired after four deployments. She enjoys sharing her experiences and expertise around Army life while continuing to support Army spouses and families in their military journey.

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  1. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  2. 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 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.

  3. Thank you Stacey! I am trying to prepare for a deployment. I am glad you took the time to write this advice! Still not sure how I am going to make it with three kids.

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