Emotional Wellness During Deployment: How to Help Families Going Through a Long Separation

For military service members and their families, the separation of deployment is difficult, both physically and emotionally. In the past decade, it’s more likely that service members will deploy for an extended mission. The stress and trauma of these long separations is a real concern as military families go through the five stages of deployment.

  1. Pre-deployment
    Before deployment, it’s common to experience the anticipation of separation and denial of the inevitable. Arguments are typical between a service member and their spouse as frustrations mount, and fears that the relationship will fall apart during deployment cause significant anxiety.
  2. Deployment
    When a service member is deployed, there are mixed emotions of disillusionment and relief. A carryover of anger from tasks left undone prior to deployment can lead to the feeling of a hole in the life of the spouse still at home. Stabilizing communication during this time is key to keep the relationship in balance.
  3. Sustainment
    As the family adjusts, the military spouse and children adjust to the new realities of life. It’s common to develop support systems and create new routines. However, it is typical for children to have a sudden negative reaction to their new environment that misses the presence of a deployed parent.
  4. Re-deployment
    Mounting anticipating for a service member’s return home can lead to a surge in excitement, as well as apprehension. A military spouse might be concerned that he or she has made the wrong decisions for the family while their loved one was deployed.
  5. Post-deployment
    This stage is the most important one for both a service member and his or her family, as the family reconnects, relearns routines and builds communication. While it can be a joyous homecoming, this time comes with its own frustrations, as becoming assimilated to family life again may not go as smoothly as expected.

With October being Emotional Wellness Month, now is the perfect time to think through how you can support emotional wellness for a family going through this process. If you haven’t experienced deployment yourself, you might find it difficult to understand this journey. Here are some practical ideas to help foster emotional wellness in friends or family going through deployment.

Be ready and willing to listen.
You don’t always have to talk to be able to help. Being present and showing genuine interest is often enough.

Be empathetic and understanding.
When you communicate, be sure to show that you understand the feeling behind what an individual is saying. Even if you can’t personally relate, try to put yourself in his or her shoes and empathize with the situation.

Validate their experiences.
The most important way to validate the experience of deployment is to avoid the use of cliches. Even when speaking positively, avoid general platitudes like “Be strong.” and “You’re doing so well.” Speak to their situation specifically and let them know you’re there to help.

Don’t solve their problems for them.
Help them find answers on their own. You can’t be the problem solver for them. During deployment, military spouses have to take ownership of their own routines and decisions.

Be a confidant.
Conversations have to be kept between just you and the other person. Being an emotional support system requires trust. The only reason to break that trust is if he or she is a danger to himself or herself, or to others.

The famous quote from Maya Angelou rings true in this situation, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Supporting emotional wellness for military families is a critical component for making it through deployment. Remember, your presence and support is enough. For the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, emotional support is a key element in bringing service members back into everyday life during the trauma of TBI and the difficulties of psychological health conditions. Learn more about about our programs in support of our military here.


Posted on October 2 2017 in Blog

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