Last year we started a series on Why People Return Home and the impact it can have on #families and partners. With #ValentinesDay on the horizon and the difficulty of transitions for #couples, I’d like to raise the topic again, this time focused on unaccompanied or separated tours and the challenge of growing together when you’re apart.
What do you need to do when you return to ensure your #relationship continues to deepen and that small things while you were away from one another don’t drive you apart?
1. While #Nextpat focuses on your reunion, you cannot assume that you will be apart for a full tour or year and then return and all will go back to normal. There has to be
continuous engagement while separated – via phone, filling up your relationship bank, traveling to see one another (where possible), maximizing the time you have together when you are together, and laying a solid foundation prior to your departure through an honest conversation about the why time apart is beneficial to one or both parties and how you will navigate it. Remember that conversations while apart have to be at least two different kinds – the catch-up ones and then scheduled relationship ones (that dig deeper on the how you are and where you are emotionally) – something that can be difficult depending on timezones. Regardless, find the tech that facilitates you staying in touch regularly while apart – this lays the foundation to find a new normal when you return.
2. #Manageyourexpectations on the return. Not only have both of you changed while you were in different places, there are probably some systematic changes you made while apart that are better suited to each of you individually. In the same way that you had to compromise when you started a life together, this will be a step or two back that you’ll need to re-navigate. Sometimes laying that fact out can help both of you step back when tensions run high and realize that it was a natural default not a desire to push one or the other out of the life you’ve built. Recognize also that you and your partner will be triggered by different things and different emotions will take precedence. Remember to talk it out and be patient – this is just the time it takes to re-navigate your expectations which are likely to go back to what was before, instead of finding the new normal. Lauren Tamm of the blog The Military Wife and Mom has some great, similar ideas on her blog post about how to reconnect after deployment.
>Don’t take things personally. When returning people navigate a place they once belonged but may no longer see their role in in different ways. Sometimes, many times perhaps, they will do this silently as they find their new role. It is so easy to assume that this is bad and negative. It is not, it is a new situation and takes time to adapt to, for all parties. If you can create time and a way to speak about it, that’s wonderful, but not everyone processes their journey in the same ways.
Example: When I returned home after five years away my family had changed, we had new people who joined, some that had passed on and others that now lived with my parents or moved out, etc. In the course of being away I had also lost touch with some of my family members or our relationships were just not as deep as they once had been. If I had taken it personally and perceived it as everyone hated me and there was no place for me, I'd no longer have that family. Still, it took me years to finally express that I wasn’t sure where I belonged and ask for help. Today, I have a schedule to reach out even if just to say hi in an effort to rebuild those open lines of communication; it is slowly getting them to reach out to me as well.
3. Build #routines that allow you to participate in a joint household. Building
routines that don’t change and that you can rely on can help you fall back into a shared responsibility and serve as a starting point for finding your new normal. These can be as simple as how you get ready for bed or prepare a weekend breakfast. Putting your kids to bed the same way for years can help you find a place to fit back in quickly. Maybe you are famous for making pancakes on Saturdays or doing the crossword on Sundays – these little routines help you find an ease and a comfortable space from which you can start the conversations that might be hard to find at first. Find simple ways to create space for the conversations to catch yourselves up in a true and honest way.
4. Go on a Date and Schedule #Alonetime. The journey is going to be tough on both parties, you have a lot to re-navigate and determine what the new way forward is. You’ve had independent lives while apart and have to learn where your new boundaries may lie, similar to Tommy and Kia when they started dating while apart in this GlobalGlue film (about minute 3:10 and again at around 8:15). Returning to a joint household after time apart is very similar to long distance dating in the early stages. Scheduling some time to let yourself think and give yourself space from that intense new building can be beneficial to help you maximize date times. Go on dates early to help talk about your experiences. Recognize that both experiences apart were difficult – you both learned, grew, were challenged in a variety of ways, as basic as some may sound. Use the opportunity to encourage the growth and admire the person you married. Also use it to acknowledge new skills or independence and recognize that it may change roles in the relationship and that the date is a perfect moment to find the new way forward. These are also the moments to be vulnerable and share your experience, your challenge, your feelings and thoughts with one another – and let the other support you in the ways you wished they could while you were apart.
5. Find Your Intimacy. This one feels like it should be obvious, you’ll be craving physical touch or wanting to be together all the time. But for most couples, time apart usually means some readjustment upon return in intimacy. Partially this will come down to using those dates to truly listen and acknowledge one another, partially it will be small things (kisses, hugs, holding hands). But even more intimate acts might require you to have a conversation about any changes or expectations. Exploring one another without the expectation of more might make for an easier foray into more intimate activities and help you recalibrate to one another. Once again a military blog, military spouse, has more ideas.
6. #Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Yes, any research on this or frankly any other relationship topic will raise communication, but it can’t be said enough. If you aren’t relaying what you are feeling your partner doesn’t know. So much of a relationship is about being willing to be vulnerable with your partner and trusting that they will see that and cherish you all the more for it. But it can be hard when you’ve been apart and worried about stressing one another out with things that your partner can’t help with because they are miles away. You haven’t always told them about your struggles while away or home and so you are starting over in some ways with some gaps in knowledge.
The date night is a great place to start, but if you are still struggling and perhaps feeling like it’s not your place if you are the returnee, reach out to #Nextpat! We’re happy to facilitate these conversations in a confidential manner and neutral space. We have tools to help you communicate when words might not be the way that comes most easily and to help translate that if words are what you interpret most easily.