Last update on December 20, 2022
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 www.militaryonesource.com 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.
19 thoughts on “Dealing with the Emotional Roller Coaster of Deployment”
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. 🙂
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…
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?
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.
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..
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.
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.
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.
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
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
This is truly written on behalf of the military, not for the spouse.
What does that mean? I wrote this as a spouse.
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!!!
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!