April 10, 2021

Reintegration after deployment

Military Dad Hugging His Young Daughter


What is the hardest part of deployment for families?​

What can you expect when your loved one comes home after deployment?

In this podcast episode, Elizabeth Polinsky answers these questions and more when she discusses how to navigate reintegration after deployment.



  • The impact of deployment
  • Stages of reintegration 
  • Tips for reintegration ​


1. A Personal Story of ReintegrationThe last time my husband returned home, I spent days feeling really excited that he was coming home; but I also felt anxious about whether our relationship would still be the same. When I went to pick him up from, I suddenly felt really angry–which took both of us by surprise. It took me a while to realize that I was angry because he had left in the first place even though my logical mind understood that he can’t control when the military tells him to go somewhere. I mention this story because even when people think they are prepared for deployment and reintegration after deployment, there are often unexpected emotional reactions that happen. 

What can go wrong will go wrong right when your partner leaves”

Paraphrased from Elizabeth Polinsky 

2. The Impact of Deployment

  • While some people develop anxiety, depression, or PTSD as a result of their deployment experience; the majority of people often return home without an mental heath  problems.
  • Deployment is still stressful for all families–for the service member as well as for the families who stay at home.  
  • Stress can still cause feelings of anxiety, irritableness, and behavior change. So many people may experience these as a result but it doesn’t necessarily mean there is a mental health problem–people just need time to adjust to the changes. 
  • While a service member is deployed, there was reorganization of responsibilities, routines, and roles in the family.
    1. People vary in coping; they either underperform or overperform. Both are natural responses o the stress of the change. 
  • It is common to have feelings of uncertainty and loss throughout the deployment. 
  • There is a rebound effect once you have adjusted to deployment; then you will feel more confident and have stronger social relationships.
  • Good social support is one of the biggests factor for adjusting well to deployment versus having more struggles with deployment. 
  • For most people, the most stressful part of the experience is the actual deployment itself. ​

The less secure your relationship is going into the deployment…the deployment can amplify the feelings of insecurity in the relationship”

Paraphrased from Elizabeth Polinsky 
Army Soldier with His Family Holding the American Flag

3. Stages of Reintegration after Deployment

  1. There is a lot of anticipation and mixed emotions as you approach reintegration. 
  2. It is typical to have a honeymoon period when your partner comes back from deployment. This can last a few days to a few weeks. However, it won’t last.
    1. Families start renegotiating roles and responsibilities. The service member will need to have a role in the family again. 
    2. Some families struggle when there is conflict over new roles and responsibilities. It is helpful to actively discuss this as a family and create opportunities for your service member to be involve din the family again. 
    3. For some people,  this is the most difficult stage in the deployment cycle. 
  3. It is important to remember that each member in the family has changed some over deployment. ​​
    1. This requires patience, commitment, and using resources navigate these changes.
      1. Resources: This podcast, date nights, Military  One Source, couples counseling, the Gottman Card Deck, etc.
    2. The kids will be more advanced and will likely be the ones who have changed the most. 
    3. Spouses tend to be more autonomous than they were before deployment. 
  4. If you know you will deploy again soon, then it is especially hard to reintegrate because people are likely to guard themselves emotionally. 

The key to couple relationships is recognizing your emotional experience, processing your emotional experience, and sharing it with your partner…this is where I see most couple relationships breakdown.”

Elizabeth Polinsky 

4. Things that Help with Reintegration After Deployment

  1. Positive communication.
    1. Be kind and compassionate. 
  2. Understanding and having appropriate expectations.
    1. Spouses might create a fairy tale of how it might be when their part comes home after deployment, and often these expectations are not met. 
    2. The service member will often have to go back to work in a week, and they are often tired and don’t want to party or do anything big for a while. 
  3. Give yourselves time to get reacquainted to each other.
    1. Give yourselves time to get to know the new aspects of each other. 
  4. Going to counseling can help you recognize and process your emotions.
    1. When there is difficulty expressing emotions, it can lead to relationship problems, intimacy problems, communication problems, and even domestic violence is often about a break down in processing emotions. 
    2. In one study of those with PTSD, 70% had clinically significant relationship difficulties which included marriage and parenting problems. 
  5. For spouses, things that will make deployment easier are  if you are older, the longer you have been married, the length of your marriage, your copings skills, and the level of social support you have during deployment. 

Action Steps: In renegotiating roles and routines, try being open and honest about the finances and routines while offering for your service member to be included. 

Liz’s Useful Links: 

Podcast Sponsor: The Relate Assessment is the most comprehensive relationship assessment in the world and is based on 10 predictors of marital stability. It’s supported by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is the one my husband and I used during our premarital couples counseling. To get 20% off the assessment, go to https://relateinstitute.com/ and enter “POLINSKY20”.

Thanks for Listening!


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    About Author

    Elizabeth Polinsky is a Certified Emotionally Focused Couple Therapist (EFT) providing EFT marriage counseling in the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Nevada. She also provides EFT training and supervision to therapists looking to become certified in EFT Couple Therapy. As a military spouse, she has a special passion for working with military and veteran couples, and is also the host of The Communicate & Connect Podcast for Military Relationships.


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