Lindsey Litton is once again joined by 2020 AFI Air Force Spouse of the Year, Bree Carroll! They are tackling all of the emotions and developments that happen in military marriages during that important reintegration period!
LINDSEY LITTON: Let’s talk about reintegration.
BREE CAROL: I just wrote an article for Legacy Magazine, and it was about co-authoring your sex narrative. We are going to talk about sex. People assume that when your spouse is coming back from a long deployment that they are just ready to go and, in the mood, but guess what? We need to talk about sex and communicate expectations for reintegration because you don’t know what your spouse’s stress levels may have been on that deployment, what they may have seen, what they have experienced, things that they may not want to share with you, and they might not want to be intimate immediately. They may need some time to decompress. And let’s talk about it from your perspective as a spouse. You may have been stuck with little people who were driving you crazy. You may be tired and drained, and the only thing you want to do is hand over the kids and head out for some me time. That doesn’t necessarily cultivate a very sexy atmosphere for reintegration either. So, let’s manage our expectations and don’t expect that reintegration just means hot and steamy and I want you right now because that may not be the reality. It’s powerful to have those conversations so that couples can be prepared as opposed to the romanticized version. We love seeing the welcome back home picture and big hugs, and we love sharing them but as a community, it is not always sunshine and rainbows.
LINDSEY LITTON: We all build these expectations. We wonder why isn’t my marriage like that other marriage that I see on Facebook with the magical Pinterest-type welcome home sign. Your spouse is dealing with a lot too, they just had a long flight home, they might be extremely tired, stressed, and now we are putting our expectations on them they have to be hot and heavy for us, or you are ready to unload your emotional baggage of being a solo parent for many months, and during covid. It doesn’t have to be this Pinterest-type love welcome. It literally can be oh hey, you’re home. Let’s watch a movie, have some wine, and just chill, and maybe we’re not getting sexy time the first night and that’s ok.
BREE CAROL: I love that you used that example because what I would encourage for reintegration is to go back to basics. And what that means is, create an atmosphere that is familiar to them so they can decompress, and they can feel like this is their safe place again. That may look like cooking their favorite meal, watching a movie, maybe even getting a sitter. Ask your spouse if they have a preference. Give yourself grace with the timeline of reintegration. People expect you to be back to normal immediately, but sometimes reintegration takes a very long time. There is no set timeframe when reintegration starts and ends or what’s normal. Our marriages continue to grow and evolve, and we also grow and evolve as individuals.
LINDSEY LITTON: We are a year past my husband coming home from a deployment, and I am still saying things like “When you were gone, I could do all of these things by myself”. And I’ve had to catch myself because while we spouses are strong and independent, the one thing our spouse needs from us is love and respect. And so, if we keep tossing that “well I don’t need you”, it’s important to catch yourself and not say these things.
BREE CAROL: We take on the task of being a mother and a father, a solo parent, and a plumber, being the manager of the home, or sometimes the breadwinner, and taking on extra responsibilities, and I applaud you for all of that. Reintegration is the start of the new season when you don’t have to be all things to all people and wear all the different roles. You need to allow your spouse the opportunity to work in their role. Our (especially male) counterparts need that respect. They are protectors and providers, so when we come off as disrespecting that role and position, it really causes tension in our relationships. Don’t feel like reintegration is going to be perfect. Maybe you’re going to say some things, maybe your spouse is going to say something. Just make sure you don’t stay in those places of feeling like I can do it all. Don’t stay in that place of rejecting your spouse of not allowing them to reassume roles. Don’t stay in that spot of isolating and not communicating how you feel. This is where we find couples are getting into trouble because they are not identifying those areas where reintegration got challenging and they didn’t seek additional help that may be needed to get them over that hump.
LINDSEY LITTON: Tricare is amazing because it covers mental health services for you as a spouse and your children.
BREE CAROL: Let’s talk about reintegration for the kids. I could not stand when I would have family members who would be around for reintegration and they would be egging my kids on “go hug your dad, say you love him”. No, do not force them. Back off. They need to process too; they haven’t seen him for a while. They have their own emotional things to process. They might not want daddy to tuck them in at night because mommy has been doing it. Maybe you can start a new routine of doing it together, so the children have the time to get used to it. Children are like sponges; they need the time to soak in the new thing that’s happening and to wring out the old stuff as they transition from one season to the other. Help prepare the kids for the transition, so your spouse doesn’t end up being the bad guy because that’s often how they feel if they are the typical disciplinarian. Try to give your spouse a break.
LINDSEY LITTON: There is one last scenario I want to talk about. Your spouse is coming home, expectations are high. It’s going to be sexy time when they arrive. Well guess who shows up at the front door—your in-laws.
BREE CAROL: Communicate boundaries. Protect your deployment circle. Inner circle is just your immediate family-you, your spouse, and kids. The outer circle is in-laws and family members, and the people who cared about you, but they are not directly impacted by the deployment. They want to know what’s going on but you have the option to choose to not tell them. And then there is that further out circle, that’s just like distant friends, people on social media, etc. What matters when it comes to the boundaries, or the deployment season is that reintegration is just for the inner circle—that’s who gets a say. And then everyone else gets a boundary based of how you feel. So, if your in-laws unexpectedly ring your doorbell, they can come in and have dinner with you, but they may have to stay at the Holiday Inn down the street. You should be able to advocate for yourself and your marriage and set a boundary for other people, so that you can have a marriage that thrives.
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