At Peer Support Central, we talk a lot about how veterans and peer support specialists can help military members deal with critical stress management and PTSD – but we don’t often talk about what military spouses can do to help a soldier returning home from war. Currently, there are about 200,000 U.S. troops deployed in foreign countries, and many family members are anxiously awaiting their return. Being prepared for what to expect when your soldier returns can make the transition to civilian life a little easier.
Notes on helping your soldier return home from war from the National Center For PTSD:
- Reunions can be just as stressful as they are happy: From the time of your soldier’s deployment, you have lived entirely separate lives with different experiences. If you have children, you might have spent the last year being a single parent, and suddenly bringing a partner back into the mix can disrupt household routines and create stress. On the other hand, your soldier has been in “war mode” and can have a hard time adjusting back to the norms and standards from their pre-war life.
- Know what your partner might have experienced, but don’t force information: Based on a survey distributed to members of the U.S. Military who served in Iraq, over 85% received incoming fire or were shot at, 63% saw dead bodies or remains, and 36% discharged a weapon. Your service member may not want their family to be exposed to what they experienced, or they might feel completely comfortable sharing. Knowing how your service member feels about sharing war experiences can help you understand their reaction.
- Understand stress reactions to trauma: Every soldier’s experience is different, but all will need time to readjust when coming back home. Oftentimes service members experience stress reactions that they may not have exhibited before. Some of these include trouble sleeping, headaches and rapid breathing when thinking about the war, being jumpy, abusing drugs and alcohol, nightmares, anger, unwanted flashbacks, feeling abandoned, and feeling depressed or numb. Most service members will have some of these stress reactions, but only a small percentage will develop PTSD.
- Reacquainting service members with children: Children will react differently to a service member’s return than adults will, and it is important to understand what your child might experience. Infants may react poorly to changes in schedule and their caretaker’s mood and availability, toddlers might throw tantrums since their parent is now sharing time with the returning soldier. School age children could become whiny, wet their beds, or experience bursts of anger and depression, and teenagers could be rebellious and dislike the new family roles upon the return of the deployed parent. To help combat this, make sure to provide extra attention and closeness to your child, discuss and accept their feelings as normal, and avoid telling them things like, “You should be happy that mom/dad is back.”
Tips for coping with the return of your service member
- Make sure that the soldier experiences one-on-one time with all family members, but also allow them to spend time alone if needed.
- Discuss how household roles and responsibilities are going to be distributed – this may be different than before the soldier left. Be okay with compromise.
- Allow your service member to share information with you without telling them how to feel or what to do.
- Try not to rush things. If you feel like your partner is uncomfortable around you, remember that it is just a readjustment period and it takes time to get reacquainted. It is okay for you to feel stressed, irritated, or uncomfortable around your service member as well. Make sure that you are also discussing your feelings during this whole process.
Seeking Help Is The First Step
At Peer Support Central, we offer preventative and reciprocal military critical stress management training to prepare service members for how to react to stressors, as well as PTSD support and management. Peer support ensures that service members are counseled and trained by people who have shared their experiences, making it easier for them to open up. Contact PSC today to find out more!