Emotional Cycle of Deployment - Stages 5 to 7
Stage Five - Anticipation of Homecoming
Approximately four to six weeks before the ship is due back, wives often find themselves saying, "he's 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 re-evaluate the marriage. That "hole" left by the husband's departure was filled - with work, friends and new interests - and now they instinctively know that they must "clean house" in their lives in order to make room for their husband again. Most experience an unconscious process of evaluating want him back but what am I going to have to give up?" They may feel nervous, tense and apprehensive.
Wives are concerned about the effect the husband's return will have on their lives and their children's: will he understand and accept the changes that have occurred to us? Will he approve of the decisions I have made? Will he adjust to the fact that I can't go back to being dependent? Husbands are anxious too, wondering, "How have we changed? How will I be accepted? Will the kids know me?"
Most women bury these concerns in "busywork". Once more, there is a sense of restlessness 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 Six - Renegotiating of the Marriage Contract
This stage, too, is one in which the husband and wife are together physically but not necessarily emotionally. They will 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 woman's husband had been home for a few days, she became aggravated with him when he would telephone his shipboard roommate 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" and start being married again.
Most women sense a loss of freedom and independence, while a minority are content to become dependent again. Routines established during the deployment are disrupted. "I have to cook a real dinner every night?!" This causes wives to feel disorganised 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, couples have to make major adjustments in roles and responsibilities; before that can happen, they must undertake an extensive re-negotiation of that unwritten contract.
The marriage cannot and will not be exactly the same as before the deployment: both partners have had various 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 wonder "who's that man in my bedroom?!" Some resent their husbands "making decisions that should be mine". 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've had our first good fight, cleared the air, and everything's 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.
As you return from sea ...
You've been places, seen things and had a lot of new experiences; it might be easy to think that your husband or wife at home has enjoyed a stable, steady lifestyle and of course you'll be full of "news" to tell on your return. Remember, life has been very different for your family at home too, - don't expect everything to be the same as before - and let them tell their story too. Ways in which your partner has changed or adapted to your deployment might take some getting used to, but be positive about it - it should make separation on your next deployment easier to deal with, because you'll know they can cope on their own even if they are missing you as much as you're missing them. It's easy to want them to be dependent on you and to feel lost without you, but it is better for all of you to nurture some feeling of independence. As a sailor, you'll always have your mates around you; your partner doesn't have this "team" support, so allow them their right to the independence they need in order to feel able to cope on their own.
Stage Seven - Reintegration and Stabilisation
New routines have been established for the family, and 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.
Variations on the cycle
Once the basic ECOD model or cycle is understood, we can examine the effects of other kinds of deployments. It takes time to work through each stage; people's emotions cannot be forced to fit ship's schedules. Short deployments, in particular, can be disruptive as there is not enough time to get used to the men being gone or home. Longer deployments, or those of uncertain length, with unreliable communications (such as submarine deployments) will take more effort to cope with, and can result in longer periods of stabilisation, or require greater "Renegotiation of the Marriage Contract".
More Information: How to Use the ECOD Model