Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reflections on R & R: Expectations and Reality

A big thanks to Tim Blake, author of the blog "Army Dad: A blog about life from a stay at home dad and proud Army spouse" for this great post about deployment.  Tim reflects on R & R ("Rest and Recuperation") leave .... from an Army husband's perspective.  You don't want to miss this!

I can't remember many things in my life that I've anxiously waited for quite like I did for R&R. We began the countdown to my wife's return home way back in January. Each day that passed was another crossed off the calendar. As the days got closer, the waiting got harder. It's hard to imagine being more ready for anything like I was for her to come home.

And then, it finally happened. She came home. And what followed was probably two of the happiest weeks of our marriage. But they weren't without their own issues. You see, both of us had expectations for what life would be like, both of us had imagined what the reunion would be like. Like so many things in our lives, though, reality is usually a lot different from what our expectations are. And I'd like to talk about the contrast between the two.

When you are going through something like we are, a year apart from your spouse who is in a war, the only thing certain is that you will change as a person. There's no way to avoid it. Now, sometimes you change for the worse. Many of us who've lived in a military community for years know of those examples. Some marriages don't survive the year long deployment. Some people don't remain faithful to their spouse while they are apart. Other times, like in my case, you change for the better.

Whatever the case may be, change occurs. What that means is you aren't the same person that your spouse left. Sure, you talk on the phone often and ‘Skype’ and all those VTC things. But that's not the same as being there. I've learned to raise 4 children all alone this year. I've been through a lot and have grown a ton. All of that is related to the experiences I've had this year. And everything I've experienced, I’ve experienced alone.

What this all means is you and I, the spouse back home in this war, have to allow our Soldier the chance to get to know us again, to get used to the changes in us. Unfortunately, our expectations are that when our spouse gets off the plane they will know exactly who we are and where we are coming from. What's more, our spouses have been in a combat environment for so many months that they aren't the same person either. What you have, then, is two people who have changed over the course of the deployment and need to get reacquainted. Both of us probably thought we'd be seeing the same person we saw 7 months ago.

So you can see how the expectations of us picking right up where we left off were completely unrealistic. What I found to be the case was this: the first couple of days together are blissfully happy. They are filled with joy and peace as we finally got to see each other and hold each other again after so long apart. Since we spent the first two days without the kids, this was an even better reunion. It was like a honeymoon!
The next few days, however, were a little bit strained as she had to become acquainted with our routines and methods. When you are raising 4 kids on your own, you are bound to do things differently than you did as a couple. It's only natural. And that was our situation.

The next few days were really a readjustment period. And it was more on her part as she was forced to come to grips with our way of doing things. That said, she was prepared for it as I explained to her in the weeks leading up to R & R that she would need to adopt a ‘guest mentality’ when she arrived. Now, you might think that was mean or unreasonable, but in light of what I wrote above, you can see the logic. We have our way of doing things right now and that way is meant to get us through. I remember telling her that I'd be completely open to discussing changes in the way we do things when she came home for good later this year, but this was how things were going to be until then. To her credit (she's such a better person than I am!), she was completely on board with this.

After the readjustment period, things really smoothed out and we had a great time together as a family. Our R & R (I say ‘our’ because it was a break for both of us from this deployment) was exactly what we needed. Sure, it did take a couple of days for us to get reacquainted and get back into the "married" mentality. But the fact that we were able to is a testament to the strength of our marriage.

You see, I will go to the ends of the earth for my wife. My love for her means I'll make whatever adjustment I need to so that she can feel at home. No, it isn't always easy. But she's worth it. What's more, she feels the same way. I remember her telling me "I want to be a part of your routines, not interrupt them, or, more importantly, disrupt them." She understood how important our routines are to us as we carry on while she's gone.

Readjustment is easy when both of us realize that the other isn't quite the same person any more. One thing that never changes for us, though, is how much we love and support each other. And that's what helps get us through this deployment!

~ Courtesy "Army Dad: A blog about life from a stay at home dad and proud Army spouse"

For more information on the deployment cycle, visit Army Well-Being: Deployment Cycle Support.


Army Well-Being said...

Tim, thank you for sharing this with us! R & R is one of the best things about deployment, but it can be tough if you don't manage your expectations. We appreciate your honesty and candor about seeing your Soldier after months of separation.

MyArmyLife said...

Thanks for this great post! Tim, we've made it tradition to always spend the first couple of days of R&R alone, too, and I HIGHLY recommend it! It gives us both time to relax, reconnect, and gear up for the rest of the break ... full of lots of family and friends. Our boys (ten and six) spend those couple of days with family, making welcome home signs and getting ready to see Dad. That way, he's a little better rested, sort of adjusted to the new time zone, and ready to play!

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