War on Terrorism

Friday, February 19, 2010

Frontline Psych: When Your Loved Ones Return

By Dr. James Bender

Dr. James Bender recently returned from Iraq after spending 12 months as the brigade psychologist for the 4-1 CAV out of Ft Hood. He served for four and a half years in the Army. During his deployment, he traveled through Southern Iraq, from Basra to Baghdad and many spots in between. He writes a monthly post for the DCoE Blog on mental health issues related to deployment and being in the military.

Hello. Last time I discussed service members returning from deployment and changes they may notice in themselves. This time, I’d like to talk to families and significant others.

As a loved one of a deployed service member you have sacrificed a lot, and your country owes you its support and appreciation. You’re no doubt very excited when your loved one finally comes home. You probably made big plans to catch up on lost time, maybe a vacation or some special evenings together. These plans are great and you deserve them. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you plan for your service member returning and when they’re home.

Don’t raise your expectations too much. You may initially be uncomfortable sleeping in the same bed or have many lapses in conversation. The dream vacation you imagined may not be as much fun as you thought it would be. The children may have trouble reconnecting and feel awkward now that mom or dad is home again. Don’t worry about this. People need time to get used to each other.

Don’t make big romantic “honeymoon plans” for the first few nights. Your spouse is fighting jet lag, disorientation and a whirlwind of emotions. All of these can dramatically decrease a person’s sex drive. Also, don’t plan an elaborate or expensive trip for at least the first month or so. Give people a chance to settle in and get used to being home. Your returning service member may want to reconnect with many different people besides you (friends, other family members, people he/she deployed with).

None of the things I just mentioned are evidence that your family member doesn’t love you or isn’t glad to be back with you.

Check out my post from last month for an idea of what’s normal and what’s not for returning service members. A lot of things are normal, even an occasional sleep terror.

Sleep terrors are episodes at night when a person is asleep and they start screaming and thrashing around. Your service member may want to talk a lot about their experiences or may not want to talk much about them at all. Neither response is “wrong” or abnormal.

However, if your spouse is having thoughts of hurting or killing himself/herself, or is using alcohol/drugs to feel better or deal with emotions, it’s time to get professional help. Most service members come home from deployment and are good as new after a few weeks of readjusting.

Family members play a crucial role in helping service members get through deployment and the readjustment period once they are home. Thank you for doing that.

Take care,


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