Stage 1: Anticipation of Loss
-6-8 weeks prior to deployment.
-Some feelings: Denial, fear, anger, resentment, hurt.
-Activities: Financial planning, car and home preventative maintenance, updating records of emergency data.
This stage occurs four to six weeks before deployment. During this time it is hard for a woman to accept the fact that her husband is going to leave her. She may find herself crying unexpectedly at songs, TV shows, and other such silly things that would not normally affect her. These incidents allow her to release some of her pent-up emotions. There is a lot of tension during this period as both husband and wife try to cram in a multitude of projects and activities: There are bikes and cars to fix, roofs to repair, deadbolts to install, garages to clean, family to visit, neighbors and friends to invite over, etc.
The wife will have some unexpressed anger, and the couple may bicker even though they usually do not. This can be upsetting if it is viewed out of context. Although unenjoyable, these arguments can be functional. They provide one way for the couple to put some emotional distance between themselves in their preparation for living apart. It is hard for a wife to feel warm and loving toward her husband when she is mad at him, and as one woman said, "Its easier to let him go." Other frequent symptoms of this stage include restlessness (productivity), depression, and irritability. While women feel angry or resentful (He's really going to leave me alone with all this), men tend to feel guilty (There's no way I can get everything done that I should before I leave.)
Stage 2: Emotional Withdrawal
-1 week prior to deployment.
-Some feelings: Confusion, ambivalence, anger, pulling away.
-Activities: Talking, sharing, fighting, setting goals to achieve during deployment.
In many ways, this is the most difficult stage. It occurs sometime in the final days before departure. Such statements as, "I know I should be enjoying these last few days together but all I want to do is cry." indicates a sense of despair or hopelessness. The marriage is out of the couples control. Although they push ahead trying to complete the list that never gets any shorter, the wife often feels a lack of energy and is fatigued. Making decisions becomes increasingly difficult.
Stage 3: Emotional Confusion/Disorganization
-1-6 weeks after departure.
-Some feelings: Sense of abandonment, need, loss, emptiness, pain, disorganization.
-Activities: Crying, loss or abundance of sleep and appetite, busy, goal activation.
No matter how prepared wives think they are, the actual deployment still comes as a shock. An initial sense of relief that the pain of saying good-bye is over may be followed by guilt. They worry, "If I really love him, why am I relieved that hes gone?" They may feel numb, aimless, and without purpose. Old routines have been disrupted and without purpose. Old routines have been disrupted and new ones not yet established. Many women are depressed and withdraw from friends and neighbors, especially if the neighbors husbands are home. They often feel overwhelmed as they face total responsibility for family affairs. Many women have difficulty sleeping, suddenly aware that they are the security officer, others sleep excessively. A wife may feel some anger at her husband because of things he did not say, or maybe he didn't provide for her physical security by installing deadbolts.
Wives often report feeling restless (though not productive), confused, disorganized, indecisive, and irritable. The unspoken question is, "What am I going to do with this hole in my life?" Whereas wives experience a sense of being overwhelmed, husbands report feeling lonely and frustrated. Unfortunately, a few women get stuck at this stage, either unable or unwilling to move on emotionally; they will both have and cause problems throughout the cruise.
Stage 4: Adjustment/Recovery
-Most of the deployment.
-Some feelings: Hope, confidence, calm, less anger, loneliness.
-Activities: Establishing routine, establishing communications, self-growth.
At some point, wives may realize, "Hey, I'm doing OK!" They have established new family patterns and settled into a routine. They have begun to feel more comfortable with the reorganization of roles and responsibilities. Broken arms have been tended, mowers fixed, cars tuned up, and washing machines bought. Each successful experience adds to their self confidence. The wives have cultivated new sources of support through friends, church, work, wives groups, etc. They often give up real cooking for cruise food; they may run up higher long-distance phone bills and contact old friends.
Dr. Alice Snyder of Family Services Center, Norfolk, calls the women "single wives" as they experience both worlds. Being alone brings freedom as well as responsibility. They often unconsciously find themselves referring to, "My house, my car, my kids." As a group, they are more mature, and they are more outwardly independent. This stage is one of the benefits of being a wife: Each woman has the opportunity to initiate new activities, accept more responsibilities, and stretch herself and her abilities “all while secure in being married." Nevertheless, all the responsibility can be stressful, and wives may find that they are sick more frequently. Many women continue to feel mildly depressed and anxious. Isolation from both their husbands and their own families can leave them feeling vulnerable. There is not much contact with men “by choice or design" and women may begin to feel asexual. On the whole, though, most women have a new sense of independence and freedom and take pride in their ability to cope alone.
Stage 5: Expectation of Reunion
-6-8 weeks prior to homecoming.
-Some feelings: Apprehension, excitement, high expectations, worry, fear.
-Activities: Planning homecoming, cleaning, dieting, loss of sleep, completion of individual projects.
Approximately four to six weeks before the troops are due back, wives often find themselves saying, "Ohmigosh, hes coming home and I'm not ready!" That long list of things to do while he's gone is still unfinished. The pace picks up. There is a feeling of joy and excitement in anticipation of living together again. Feelings of apprehension surface as well, although they are usually left unexpressed.
This is a time to reevaluate the marriage. That hole that existed when their husbands left did get filled with tennis classes, church, a job, new friends, school, - and now they instinctively know that they must clean house in their lives in order to make room for the men to return. Most experience an unconscious process of evaluation, "I want him back, but what am I going to have to give up?" Therefore, they may feel nervous, tense, and apprehensive.
The wives are concerned about the effect the husbands return will have on their lives and their childrens: "Will he understand and accept the changes that have occurred in us? Will he approve of the decisions I made? Will he adjust to the fact that I can't go back to being dependent?" The husbands are anxious, too, wondering, "How have we changed? How will I be accepted? Will the kids know me? Does my family still need me?"
Most women bury these concerns in busywork. Once more, there is a sense of restlessness (but productive) and confusion. Decisions become harder to make and may be postponed until the homecoming. Women become irritable again and may experience changes in appetite. At some point, a psychological decision is made. For most women, it is. "Do I want him back? You bet! I can't wait to see him!"
Stage 6: Honeymoon
-Day 1 until the first argument.
-Some feelings: Euphoria, blur of excitement.
-Activities: Talking, re-establishing intimacy, readjusting.
This stage, too, is one in which the husband and wife are together physically but not necessarily emotionally. They have to have some time together and share experiences and feelings before they feel like a couple again. They both need to be aware of the necessity to refocus on the marriage. For instance; After one of the wives husbands had been home for a few days, she became aggravated with him when he would telephone his bunkmate every time something of importance came up within the family finally declaring, "I'm your wife. Talk to me!" During this stage, the task is to stop being single spouses and start being married again.
Most women sense a loss of freedom and independence while a minority is content to become dependent once more. Routines established during the tour are disrupted: "I have to cook a real dinner every night!?" This causes the wives to feel disorganized and out of control.
Although most couples never write it down, there is a "Contract in every marriage " a set of assumptions and expectations on which they base their actions. During this stage, the couple has to make major adjustments in roles and responsibilities; before that can happen, they must undertake an extensive renegotiation of that unwritten contract. The marriage cannot and will not be exactly the same as before the tour: both spouses have had varied experiences and have grown in different ways, and these changes must be accommodated.
Too much togetherness initially can cause friction after so many months of living apart. More than one wife has had to cope with the fleeting shock of wondering, "Who's that man in my bedroom!?" Some resent their husbands making decisions that should be theirs. Still others question, "My husband wants me to give up all my activities while he's home. Should I?" On the other hand, the husband may wonder, "Why do I feel like a stranger in my own home?" All of these concerns and pressures require that husband and wife communicate with each other.
Assumptions will not work. Some find that talking as we go along works best, while others keep silent until, "We had our first good fight, cleared the air, and everythings OK now." Sexual relations, ardently desired before the return, may initially seem frightening. Couples need sufficient time together to become reacquainted before they can expect true intimacy.
This stage can be difficult as well as joyful. But it does provide an opportunity offered to few civilian couples; the chance to evaluate what changes have occurred within themselves, to determine what direction they want their growth to take, and to meld all this into a renewed and refreshed relationship.
Stage 7: Readjustment
-6-8 weeks following return.
-Some feelings: Uncomfortable, role confusion, satisfaction.
-Activities: Re-negotiating relationships, redefining roles, settling in
Sometime within the four to six weeks after the homecoming, wives notice that they have stopped referring to "My car, my house, my bedroom, using instead, our or we." New routines have been established for the family, and the wives feel relaxed and comfortable with their husbands. There is a sense of being a couple and a family. They are back on the same track emotionally and can enjoy the warmth and closeness of being married.