In the lives of military families, deployment is an ever-present reality that tests the strengths of everyone involved. This time of separation, with its roller coaster of emotions, can prove to be a scary, yet liberating journey for the loved one “left behind” to take care of a home, finances, and a family. The following is a summary of the identifiable stages many spouses experience prior to deployment, as adapted from Dr. Erik De Soir’s Handbook of the Sociology of the Military (2006):
Stage 1: Anticipation of Loss
- 6-8 weeks before deployment
- Feelings: hurt, resentment, denial, fear, anger
- Activities: home and vehicle maintenance, financial planning, updating emergency data
This stage often begins with the initial orders for deployment and continues until one week prior to departure.
Once the military member received news of his deployment, it is often the case that much of his time is spent training in preparation for upcoming missions. When training is not in session, it manages to dominate conversations at home, causing the significant other to feel abandoned before the physical separation has even begun. This sense of abandonment leads to unexpected bouts of sadness when listening to music, watching television, or taking part in activities that wouldn’t affect her in such a way; these incidents allow for a release of emotions that have likely been concealed until this point.
In anticipation for departure, the family is busily tending to administrative tasks and projects, such as making home and car repairs, visiting family and friends, and so on. Tension builds and arguments occur as the spouse being left at home resentfully wonders, “Is he really going to leave me all this?” while the soldier guiltily questions whether or not he can get everything accomplished before he leaves. As disheartening as these confrontations can be, they provide a way of placing emotional distance between the couple in preparation for living apart.
Stage 2: Detachment and Withdrawal
- 1 week before deployment
- Feelings: pulling away, confusion, anger, uncertainty, hesitation
- Activities: talking and sharing, arguments, setting goals to achieve during deployment
As the time for deployment draws nearer, the energy to complete final tasks and make decisions is drained by feelings of despair and hopelessness that he is leaving. Despite the realization that every precious moment should be savored, the couple begins to detach from each other.
As this time drifts on, the sharing of thoughts and feelings come to a stand-still and ambivalence stretches to other areas of intimacy within the relationship. This stage of detachment and withdrawal proves to be the most difficult for many who experience it; though both spouses are physically in the same house, they have separated themselves emotionally.
On occasion, departure becomes delayed, thus extending the grueling detachment and withdrawal process. When asked if the extra time was preferable, many responded that would rather the period pass as quickly as possible.
The time before a loved one in the military deploys can be one accompanied by anxiety and apprehension, but it can be eased when lines of communication remain as open as possible. It is important for couples and families to be supportive of each other and reach out for support from others, when possible. Although it seems easier to detach completely, consider the feelings of rejection the significant other experiences when this is done, and how lonely it can be when the heart is ignored. Lastly, be sure to cherish each moment to the fullest extent, because there is nothing worse than having regrets once he is gone.
“We are not held back by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not extending in the present.” – Marianne Williamson