Before a servicemember is deployed, It's natural for deployees and family members to feel: A sense of despair. A feeling that the marriage is out of control, feeling a desire to separate, to run away to reduce the pain.
A lack of energy, feelings of fatigue and depression. Difficulty in making decisions. Ambivalence towards one's partner and sex. It is difficult to be physically intimate when trying to separate emotionally. This should be viewed as a reaction to deployment rather than rejection of each other.
The pre-deployment stage is characterized alternately by denial and anticipation of loss. As the departure date gets closer, spouses often ask: Deployees will energetically talk more and more about their upcoming deployment and what they anticipate life in Iraq or Afghanistan will be like.
This could also create an increasing sense of emotional and physical distance for spouses of deployees. In their frustration, many spouses might complain: Long "honey-do" lists are generated dealing with all manner of issues including: At the same time, many couples strive for increased intimacy. Plans are made for the "best" Christmas, the "perfect" vacation, or the "most" romantic anniversary.
In contrast, there may be some ambivalence about sexual relations: Other frequently voiced concerns may include: Will my marriage survive? A common occurrence, just prior to deployment, is for deployees and their spouses to have a significant argument.
For couples with a long history, this argument is readily attributed to the ebb-and-flow of marital life and therefore not taken too seriously. For younger couples, especially those experiencing an extended separation for the first time, such an argument can take on "catastrophic" proportions.
Fears that the relationship is over can lead to tremendous anxiety for both deployee and spouse. In retrospect, these arguments are most likely caused by the stress of the pending separation. From a psychological perspective, it is easier to be angry than confront the pain and loss of saying goodbye for six months or more. However, the impact of unresolved family concerns can have potentially devastating consequences. From a command perspective, a worried, preoccupied deployee is easily distracted and unable to focus on essential tasks on construction sites or the critical movement of heavy equipment.
In the worst-case scenario, this can lead to a serious accident or the development of a stress casualty who is mission ineffective. On the home front, significant spousal distress interferes with completing basic routines, concentrating at work, and attending to the needs of children. At worst, this can exacerbate children's fears that the parents are unable to adequately care for them or even that the servicemember will not return.
Adverse reactions by children can include inconsolable crying, apathy, tantrums, and other regressive behaviors. In response, a downward spiral can develop - if not quickly checked - in which both servicemember and spouse become even more upset at the prospect of separating.
Although easier said than done, it is often helpful for couples - in the pre-deployment stage - to discuss in detail their expectations of each other during the deployment. These expectations can include a variety of issues, to include: Failure to accurately communicate these and other expectations is frequently a source of misperception, distortion and hurt later on in the deployment.
It is difficult at best to resolve major marital disagreements when face-to-face, let alone over six thousand miles apart.