Let’s Be Honest: Intimacy After Deployment

What do you do to get back to "good" after deployment?

There’s a lot I didn’t know about reintegration.

I didn’t know my husband would be at once desperate for my company and totally needing his own space and that I’d need my own space too.

I didn’t know he’d have no idea what to say to me half the time and I didn’t know I’d have no idea what to say to him, either.

I didn’t know that I was going to feel guilty, no matter what I was doing, that I wasn’t doing it right. That no matter what, I was going to feel like a failure.

And I really didn’t know I wouldn’t know how to be intimate again.

I’ll get the obvious comments out of the way up front: Yes, guys, we love each other very much. Yes, we want each other very much. And yes, we’ve clearly had no problem with the basics (you’ve all seen the proof in my son).

But intimacy after deployment and not seeing you for ages? How can something that’s the cornerstone of your marriage suddenly feel so foreign?

And I’m not talking intimacy in only the physical sense. I’m talking about the stuff that makes your marriage magic. The ability to open up, talk to each other, to with that simple glance make known all those invisible words and life-affirming emotions that make marriage what it is in the first place.

I didn’t know I wouldn’t know how to get back there. And worse, I didn’t know we’d left.

My marriage is a good marriage. I don’t say that in the way that people who are out for your money always say “trust me” or a car salesman says “yeah, it’s a greeeat deal.” I say it in an honest to goodness, you don’t know me personally so to have this discussion and it mean something I’m saying it up front way. We are incredibly blessed to be in each other’s lives. We have the most beautiful child (the old Yiddish saying applies: There’s only one perfect child and every mother has it), we’ve been through thick and thin, through loss and miracles, and here we are.

It’s the kind of marriage where he knows I’ve got his back for anything, and where I can turn to him at dinner one night and ask if I can publicly write about our intimacy and reintegration because it might spark one comment that helps one person and that’s meaningful and he says absolutely.

Like I said: It’s a good marriage. But it took us eight weeks to find our way back to it after this deployment.

Maybe it’s because we had a baby, and that really does throw everything off. Maybe it’s because I had to have that baby in Bethesda, far away from our North Carolina home, and that meant living with his mother-in-law for two weeks until baby was OK to travel. Maybe it’s because I was preoccupied with our child and he was preoccupied with the career designation board. Maybe it’s because we were trying too hard.

Or maybe it’s just because marriage and reintegration are hard.

I read the books. I read the manuals. I read the information sheets, the blog posts, the forums. I listened at the meetings. I took notes. I joined the discussion. And mostly I found other women who were saying how quickly they all got it back on. That it was a little hard at first but in no time was back to normal. Or that it was a second honeymoon. Or a third.

No one was saying they were two months in and it was still hard — except me.

One of the things I love most about SpouseBuzz is that here, we can be honest. Here I don’t have to wear my perfect wife hat and say “oh, it’s great! We’re all just great. We’re fine. Better than fine. We’ve never been better.” Here I can say “y’all, it’s hard. Does anyone have any wisdom?”

Because I know you do. I know you’ve wondered how long it’s going to take to get things back to normal, too. I know you’ve wondered if marriage counseling might help, but worried about your servicemember’s security clearance if anyone ever found out. I know you’ve battled long nights, and stressful conversations, and the feeling that, right now, you’re just doing it all wrong.

Because we’re human, and of all things, that’s the most normal.

So tell me. Tell me what you’ve done to get things back to normal. Tell me what you’ve found worked and what didn’t. Tell me because someday, someone just like us might be googling and looking for help, and she’ll stumble upon this article, and you’ll have said just what it is she needs to hear. That’s what we get to do for each other.

That’s what makes our community so strong.

About the Author

Raleigh Duttweiler
Raleigh Duttweiler is a writer and social media expert living just outside the gates of MacDill in sunny Saint Petersburg, Florida. A Marine Corps wife, she has navigated the stress of Active Duty moves, trainings, and deployments, and now that her family has transitioned to the Reserves, she's experiencing the "weekend warrior" side of military life. (NB: It's not quite as part-time as advertised.) When not writing about benefits and military families, Raleigh posts here about truly life-altering, important issues like What Not to Wear to a Military Ball (visible thongs), Military Halloween Costumes We Love to Hate (ones that generally resemble both military uniforms AND thongs), and how to pack awesome care packages. She is passionate about spouse employment, higher education, and helping families navigate the often-bumpy transition back into civilian life. Raleigh also manages the SpouseBUZZ and Military.com Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest pages, so be sure to say hi!
  • SGMBob

    Stop your whining! Probably your spouse didn’t return from the sandbox with missing limbs or worse. Get over it – and get over yourself.

    • Cindy W

      Bob, that’s part of the issue. Would you say the same for TBI? Just get over it? Spouses are coming home and they need that intimate emotional support from their spouse just as much as they need counseling and outside support. If they can’t reconnect with their spouse, that leads to feelings of failure and a want to just give up. Maybe ‘get over it’ worked for you…but did you ask your spouse whether they are/were happy with that method of handling it?

      • Steve

        Wives, please STOP reading “all” those books, please STOP listening to all those other wives, STOP attending those meetings that always have the answers! YOU my dear have the answers with YOUR HUSBAND at you side, it’s getting reacquainted time, and yes, it may be time another honeymoon. Enjoy each other as before, don’t act high and mighty because you were alone and made all the decisions without the MAN about to be part of the decision making….REVRT back to what you bother had before he deployed….Your marriage may always have short separation times, and you can’t fall apart over that normal sequence of life…. You both need your “space and tie ” as you say, but you always did, and never noticed ta he did too…Throw the microscope away and stop looking for all those finite reasons of concerns, BE YOU, and help him become HIM once again, he after all has been through a different traumatic experience that you have….eventually you both will be helping each other….Stop being a clock watcher for those getting back to routine married life, and take it a day at a time, while adjusting takes place…….Good Luck…….Been there and done that………

        • Jess

          So, wait, we’re supposed to STOP listening to other people… except for you? (Hmm.) I think I get what you’re saying. Every couple is different, no one has all the answers, and reintegration is something every couple has to work out in its own way. But there’s value in knowing you’re not alone. There’s value in having coping resources, and value in the experience of spouses who’ve picked up some wisdom along the way and don’t mind sharing. And there’s value in honesty and vulnerability, and in having the guts to say “this isn’t working for us–any ideas?”

    • sabrinacking

      In my personal experience people should pay more attention to intimacy issues, not less. Here, those were the first signs something was terribly wrong. I did, like you say..I just soldiered on. I blew it off as being reintegration quirks. People rarely, just flip out. Mental health issues generally build over time. Hindsight is 20/20. Two years ago I would have said, “oh things work out, get over it.”. Because they always had, for the previous 4 deployments. I discounted things like: needing more personal space, not sleeping, irritability, et all for just adjustment quirks that would go away. Because of that, things got very, very bad for my family progressionallly. As spouses we are the first line of defense in our homes, we need to be taken seriously when we ask for help and not just be told: get over it. I am 100% certain had I taken that advice from a young arrogant commander, my husband would be a suicide statistic.

      • I am 100% positive your husband is lucky to have you in his life. (Just as you are lucky to have him.) Working at intimacy, marriage, friendship, relationships… that’s the good stuff.

        • sabrinacking

          Thanks, right back at ya.

    • Jess

      Look kids, it’s a dinosaur! Right here, in our very own spousebuzz! Isn’t science wonderful? Once upon a time, this attitude may have been the norm, but we’ve matured past that as a community and realized grumpy old farts poisoning the well of our shared strength wasn’t in our best interest. Listen close, kids, and you can hear the echoes of “back in my day” and “uphill in the snow both ways.”

      • Renee

        This was perfect!!

    • Greg

      You sir, are an idiot! And single no doubt, physically, emotionally, or both.

    • Renee

      HOLY MOLY!! First comment and it has to be from a tool bag?? I can’t imagine your spouse lasted long with an attitude like that. Trying to back the relationship you had before the soldier left is hard and it mainly falls onto the womans shoulders so try having a bit of empathy.

    • Rosalee

      Had you not said that, I might have felt compelled to do so…….
      There is too much of that.
      Mom dealt with it for 30+ years. She did an excellent job.
      Handled it all and kept moving along even in times when it was particularly hard, e.g. when we
      were in the Mariannas and she was alone for the entire time he was TDY for a long stretch
      Life was rough then anyway, but on her own she was to be commended
      The ONLY thing more disgusting is when they leave them while they are deployed
      I remember one of them boo hoo hooing
      She knew he was Navy career material and married him anyway. When he was deployed she was cavorting with his best friend who was shore duty………..
      Poor little thing. Never did get the hang of it totally.

    • You know, you make a good point. My spouse didn’t come home with missing limbs, but it doesn’t mean he came home to a perfect marriage where there was nothing missing. I think working at that and trying to do our best is a good thing and something worth thinking about and helping each other with, but that’s just my two cents. I’ve been grateful for how many people here have come forward to do just that. A friend said to me just recently that marriage is something you only survive with the right person – I’m lucky I’ve found him, and every day, I work hard to be his right person, too. We’re lucky for that, even if it’s not always perfect.

      • Docsenko

        One of the things that I have done, I not try to take over when I got home. In fact my spouse held everything together so well, I never bothered. When I went to war, I was single, so trying to reconnect with society as a whole was a goal. But, I went to sea many times for months at a time. She had to juggle first one baby and later another without me being there. I felt the best I could do was help her and that is how we reconnected.

        • that’s awesome. good for you two!

          • Docsenko

            They Also Serve This is a truism. You may not wear a uniform, but each one of you do serve the military. Your job, mentally is much harder than ours, it takes a lot to hold everything together.

  • sabrinacking

    We have always been “couple most likely to get a ticket for indecent exposure in the airport parking garage”. We never had a problem with intimacy physical or otherwise…until we did. I think that is my only word of advice, just because things have always clicked right back, doesn’t mean they always will. And if you find yourself in the position of questioning things you are seeing in your service member or yourself, get outside perspective sooner, rather than later. Don’t blow things off as, “oh well he has always been fine so it’ll work itself out”. Finally, we have to get past this hurdle of taking care of our mental health. Mental health is a key part of readiness. If couples therapy would work for you, get it. If speaking to a priest would work for you: do it. If going on some trust building obstacle course adventure would work: get out there. Marriage is important. You have to work at it, and sometimes even fight for it. Any naysayers as to how you do that, be damned.

  • Cherese

    We reintroduced ourselves to each other. We started out with simple things like taking a walk or just trying to remember how we go to the point of attraction. You cannot fully go all the way to the beginning but try to remember what makes you laugh or smile at each other.

  • Ann

    After 5 deployments and 19 years of marriage reintegration felt like being newly weds in a bad way. Little things that people who have been married for a long time just know about each other were forgotten. Favorite foods, the way the newspaper is folded, or what time someone likes to eat dinner. What got us back to normal was mostly spending time together and a determination to be together.

  • I think simply admitting that it was an uncomfortable time for us was key…we both admitted it and stopped trying to pretend it should be different. Humor helped us through a lot and spending quality time alone doing things we used to enjoy together helped us get reaquainted.

  • CiCi

    I have been struggling with this since 2009, that is a long time, especially when the other person is saying everything is fine. They are home but it’s like they are standing on the sidelines. They refuse to go for counseling, even though they are retired. It’s exhausting trying to figure out what happened to the person I knew through five deployments. I know it was going to be some adjustment—but all of this time. I am simply tired.

    • sabrinacking

      VA website: coaching into care…it works!

  • Rosalee

    It is not just intimacy after deployment. It is the entire structure of the marriage including children
    Children who are normally taking orders from mom once more are taking orders from dad
    and much more.
    Depending on how long the deployment it can also mean reintroducing the deployed service member
    e.g. my sister was having nothing to do with whoever this man was who showed up suddenly
    after a long TDY. He also was deeply tanned, bearded and wearing tropical khaki short
    She recognized none of it.
    It happened with me also when he was deployed earlier and was gone longer than my sister had to deal with.

  • a tree

    Decide who you are and what you stand for and stay firm in that belief. I love my wife and I was never going to leave her. When she came back and even before she came back things were definitely different. She even told me they were. She was not happy and not in love etc. I could have said well @#*$ you too I am out of here or just let it roll off like a duck as they say and go on. you see, I knew she loved me and I know she loved our family. I have no idea what it was like for her and how she was able to manage being away from her family and the man she loved as a husband and a friend but I knew she loved me so yes, it hurt like hell to hear that… I stood firm in who I was. A husband committed and in love with his wife and family. Who told her many times he was not going anywhere. Be slow to anger. Yes, it is a Biblical principle but even if you are not a Bible person, it is a great tool to use … especially when OUR service members return. It hurts but believe in what you KNOW you have and stand your ground. It makes you, your children and your true love much stronger in the end.

  • Justine

    I met my husband and was married a year before he started basic training and tech school for the Air Force. It was shorter than a deployment, but it was still a relationship shocker. I had spent so much time missing him and so much time alone that the concept of being married was sort of foreign when we met up again. It felt like being single while being married and that is not a feeling I was in any way prepared to deal with. It felt like dating all over again, I was just lucky to fall in love with him all over again. For us it was a good thing, albeit a strange thing..but anyone who discounts it is wrong to do so.

  • A Few Brave Souls

    Hats off to each of you for your candor and willingness to publicly share such a private issue. All it takes is a few brave souls like each of you to help all the rest of us who might be too timid to put-to-print the many, many feelings and hurdles we’ve faced post deployment.

    Post deployment is not an easy time and is often heart-breaking for far too long. Wounds are very real regardless of how visible they. A gulf between you and your partner (spouse, friend, lover, whomever) can seem insurmountable. But it never, ever has to be.

    I really hope more people will help by posting what they faced and how they handled it. In knowing that you are not alone, solace can be gained and strength can be found. In learning what others have tried and done successfully, hope can be embraced and determination can be fortified.

    Such an important post — thank you!

    • I think part of the problem for me when my husband returned from deployment years ago was that in those days we had no warning that there would be a readjustment period. It wasn’t just a second honeymoon and I thought something was wrong with me.

      We did come through it eventually because we kept working at it. But I found it interesting some years later when, at a meeting, younger wives were sharing their feelings of needing to get reacquainted again with their husbands even after a short TDY. How true that is.

      So it’s perfectly normal and I thank those who shared their experiences. Sometimes outside help may be the answer today in view of the traumatic experiences of the military member. But don’t give up.

  • The spouse left behind always seems to think they have it the toughest. He’s only getting blown up or shot. He doesn’t have to deal with kids doing home work. Many of you need to stop and realize its YOU and not him. He thinks every day about coming home to a loving wife and family and when he gets home all he gets is rejection from the very people he need’s the most. How many of you have told your husband to go sleep on the couch when he got home? Did you say you don’t know him or something close to it? Are you aware that even if you were faithful this is exactly what many women how have not be tell their husbands? Are you aware that that is the first thing that comes to his mind? While he’s living in the dirt the wife is seeing someone else and maybe even bringing them home? You leave them with the feeling that you’d rather they didn’t bother you but keep paying the bills. And then you wonder why they get depressed. Your husbands need you and you’re rejecting them.

  • SFC P

    I skipped most of the comments, the ones I did read were crap. Some were good, but just want to offer my little bit of advice. You are completely correct, marriage is hard work and so is reintegration. The only thing is the hard work to make it through reintegration eventually ends. Here is my advice.

    First, and my wife an I learned this the hard way, put down the phone, tablets, laptops and turn off the TV. Once we started doing that, we started talking again about the important stuff and the silly stuff.

    Next, pick a date night and budget for it. Make time for just the two of you. It won’t fix everything instantly, but it will remind you both that you are in a relationship. Date night doesn’t have to be a romantic dinner at a fancy restaurant, it can by a ten dollar game of miniature golf, walking around a street fest somewhere. Make it fun and sometimes let him plan it.

    Another is find neutral ground that will prevent you from a blow up fight. When things get stressed between my wife and I we will go to a restaurant and talk things out. The neutral ground takes a little stress off and nobody likes to be embarrassed by a fight in public.

    To many of us keep the things that are hurting us bottled up and don’t let it out. To often it is to late once you realize it. If you are mad at him, tell him. If he seems mad at you make him tell you. And when the pressure is released talk about it.

    • Nicole

      You didn’t miss much skipping a lot of the comments, half made me cry the other half made me angry (both feelings could be more of a product of being 8 months pregnant). I’ve never been through a deployment, but this was the only response that made me think, “Those are some very specific and good ideas. I think I might try that if I’m having trouble adjusting”. I expected that reaction to be a lot more frequent. Thanks for your time and effort; it’s appreciated!

  • Kat

    Does anyone have tips that include an evacuation situation, where the spouse is the one sent away? That’s what I’m dealing with.

    Also I’d love any feedback on reintegration after a first child has entered the marriage while the couple has been (mostly, aside from a short R&R) separated – especially when the separation was not planned (as in our case with the evac).

  • Jane25

    I am going through my second deployment experience with my husband, and what I learned from it all is that, you need to let him “be” when he gets back.. If he seems depressed or reacts over little things, it is because HE was dealing with all kinds of people, saw and heard things we don’t understand, or can’t share with us ( my husband cant tell me all the details they are doing over there ) where he was at and how all those experiences made him feel…Men don’t open up easily, so we , as women, need to put on our motherly hats and give them that support, and affection….About his reaction over milk, :) let’s remember, that guys talk to each other differently…He may dealt with and was around more MEN than women maybe the whole time, and his primal side is more on top :) I notice when they spend a lot of time together, especially during deployment times, they pick from each others’ attitudes and even use the words they haven’t used before :)…I remember I tell him when he uses a new word that I haven’t heard before, or when he gets excited on some topic, and tells it in a different way, that he’s “changed”…and I ask him “why you talk like that? you weren’t talking like that before…? have you picked new habits from other guys, hmmm?? :)” and I ask a lot of questions….It’s not that they are changed of course in the long run, it’s what they have been used to when they were away all that time.. The people they work with, or hang out with…It’s kindda like when we were growing up, we were curious and nervous about the kinds of people we’d be friends with in high school…And everyone starts to hang out with that certain group of friends, and in time we pick little bit of something that we find “cool” from those we admire…and hence it shapes our personalities, behavior..etc..I am not saying that we are following a crowd, just how people affect each other in an environment where you are 24/7 together…everyday…

    So what I am saying is, try asking him how his experience was…If he has any good or bad stories to share….talk about the people he had met, whether he has made any friends….talk about anything that makes you both feel “connected”… Plan romantic evenings, go see movies, take short trips, visit family.. Whatever you guys enjoy to do before he was gone…and GIVE him time to settle…It’s a totally different environment there…When they get back they look like a zombie, :( and seem lost…Like getting back on another planet…That’s how my husband is describing it… So imagine yourself away form the ‘world’ that we know it, it wont be quick to adjust right away….

    You will need time to adjust him being around as well….I know I am spread all over the house right now, and I need to get my stuff together…Lol! So I think the trick is NOT EXPECT too much from each other…
    Also how was the communication between you two when he was gone? How often you communicated? Have you had any fights, arguments, misunderstandings, and didn’t get back with each other till you talked the next time? Also, going to marriage counseling wont ruin anything for your clearance…We went with my husband at the beginning of our relationship, (we met overseas and had gone through a lot of things because of his ex.)….so if you went through rough patches, then you can definitely talk openly, and get over this as well….Communication, and HONESTY is the key.. Don’t hold yourself back from trying to ask questions.. you two are sharing a life together…If he’s not willing to talk, or difficult for him, suggest if he’d like to talk to a counselor first alone, then you two can try counseling together.. Maybe he doesn’t wanna worry about what he had experienced and feeling…Again, you cannot find out if you don’t try to show that you are supporting him….Let him know that no matter what it is, you are ready to listen, and will help you two adjust his return together…

  • Boston01

    I read all the comments and thanks for sharing. For all who are having a difficult time I do send prayers to all because I know it is hard and only couples who are dealing with it know how hard it is. I agree we cant always know what they have gone through but we need to let our partners know they have a soft place to land give them a hug and kiss for no reason but to let them know that you are there. I must agree with SFC P date night is very important and is something I totally look forward too.

    Reintegration is tough but the one thing that has help us through his entire deployment is our faith. I know some may not agree but I have seen a change in him (more calmer and less stressed). When he was deployed I would send him information and when he had time we would discuss the bible and faith. I must say I am so thankful that he was open to learning more and it made his deployment easier for the both of us.

    He said he has never felt this calm in his life and he is so thankful. I am grateful he made it back safe and sound this was his last tour( 24 years of service). He will be retiring in a couple of months. I do agree COMMUNICATION and make an agreement that if you do have a disagreement that you would talk about it and clear it up and once you both have given your point of view that it wont be help against the other that it is truly forgiven and forgotten.

  • humbleopinion

    SGMBob, You’re speaking like a soldier who has “Sucked it up” a lot and offer this advice a lot. It works for a while, it does. Maybe for years. Then the buried hurts surface in the spouse and Children. You’re having anxiety attacks, sweats, poor memory, easily frustrated, and burned out. I’m a Veteran and Military Spouse. I’ve sucked it up for 25 years. Now I’m loving my husband to help both of us and our children. A couple of our children are grown and we’re dealing with “suck it up” hurts. Please be kind to yourself and others. I know there’s no room for emotions in the Military. It takes a strong person to open up. It’s never to early or too late to talk and cry with your spouse in private. Look at him/her and say “Yah, this sucks!” Then support each other. “One team, One fight”.

  • scared

    my boyfriend just came back from deployment again. For the many times he has been deployed when he came back home is was us taking it from where we left off. This time he came and I can feeling something had changed in me and I am scared. I love him but my body or my mind is not creating the spark it is suppose to. I am suppose to be excited and seeing stars,,but I am not, In case you are thinking maybe there is someone else there is not. I have been faithfully.