Finally. You’ve made it through almost an entire deployment, and you just received your loved one’s expected return date. You’re overjoyed. You’ve spent months envisioning the moment that he’s back in your arms. You’re already eyeing a few homecoming outfit possibilities. You’re proud. You’re ready. This is the day you’ve been dreaming about since a month before he deployed.
My husband and I have had 4 deployment homecomings since we got married. This is one of the few areas of military life where I consider myself pretty experienced.
Here are a few things that I suggest thinking about before you begin planning homecoming. These items may sound harsh, but I think these are important things to think about:
– The most important piece of advice I can give you is to communicate with your loved one in the weeks prior to his homecoming. Ask him what he wants and do not push your own agenda on him. He will likely agree to whatever you want to do because it will make you happy, but remember that homecoming isn’t about you … it’s about him and his transition back into the civilian world. Try to be cool if he asks to just hang out on the couch at home for the first day or three. You may want to do other things, but he probably needs time to decompress.
– Homecomings never go exactly to plan. Sometimes the carrier doesn’t pull in on time. A friend’s husband’s jet broke-down right before his squadron’s fly-in, so he was not able to fly-in as planned; instead, he had to ride the carrier home a few days later. You MUST emotionally prepare yourself for things to change the day of homecoming. If you have children, I strongly recommend that you either do not tell them that daddy is coming home that day or you prepare them for change, too.
– Your deployed loved one has changed during deployment and so have you. If nothing else, you two have acclimated to living separately. You cannot expect everything to fall back into place seamlessly and effortlessly. There will be a period of time where you two need to get used to each other again. For some, it’s a matter of a day or two. For others, it takes weeks or months. Take things day by day and slowly. Few people talk openly about the adjustment period, but know that this is a normal thing and it’s okay if it has some ups and downs. Keep the lines of communication open, and if the adjustment seems very difficult, consider talking with a professional (a marriage counselor, a chaplain, etc). There’s NO shame in talking to a professional, and you may only need professional help for a very short time. If this is your first homecoming as a married couple, this may be your most difficult adjustment period because you don’t know what to expect or how to handle the readjustment.
– Your loved one may be returning from an extremely stressful experience. You, the one at home, must keep that in mind. Perhaps your loved one lost friends and coworkers while overseas. Perhaps something traumatic happened to him – and perhaps you don’t even know about the traumatic event. Your loved one may require days, weeks, and even months (if not years) to decompress. This is normal. Watch for signs of unprovoked anger, fear, trouble sleeping, and other changes in your loved one. If you see those things, help them seek professional help. There is no shame in seeking help, and professional help will ensure a good longterm outcome.
– Both of you have learned to live in separate spaces and it can be awkward and strange to live together again. By the time my husband comes home, I often feel like I live alone and someone is invading my space. I love him and I want him home with me more then anything, but it is a strange feeling to suddenly have a “roommate”. Conversely, your loved one could feel like he’s a stranger in his own home. You and your family have developed routines that don’t require his presence and life has gone on without him. He may feel like he doesn’t belong there. Many service members report this. I don’t have a fix for you because this is one of those things that is unique to every couple. If you’re both aware that these feelings might happen, I think you’re half way to fixing it. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t get defensive if he expresses feelings of being a stranger in your home.
– Do not make hard and fast plans for the first week that your loved one is home, and I strongly recommend that you do not plan any homecoming parties for at least a week following homecoming. Parties and big gatherings sound like a great idea, and probably your whole family wants an opportunity to welcome him home ASAP. However, those events can be VERY overwhelming to someone who is trying to acclimate to being home. Even the most family-oriented people can find family gatherings very stressful immediately after returning home. Plan the big events later. Give your loved one time to relax. If you’re a planner like me, come up with a list of activities you could do together during the first week home so that you COULD do something everyday, but you have flexibility to roll with however your loved one is feeling that day. My husband and I usually spend the first night home in our pajamas on the couch talking over a few glasses of wine and comfort food. We need that time to reconnect, so even if our families lived in the same place as us, I think homecoming night will always be ours. We can meet the family for an informal lunch or dinner the next day.
– Making welcome home signs and decorating your house is all fun and games, but realize that most of that stuff is for you and not really for him. I decorate the house and such, so I’m guilty of this. My husband appreciates the time I put into making the signs and loves that I care enough to do it, but they’re not a big highlight of coming home — for him, his one and only highlight is being with me again, and your loved one definitely shares that feeling. So, if you want to spend time making homecoming special, you may want to spend your time elsewhere.
– If you want to do a few things to make your loved one’s homecoming extra special, try to think of things that will make him feel more at home or remind him of happy times before he left. Maybe making his favorite dinner or having favorite snacks waiting will be helpful. If you don’t want to cook the first night that he’s home, perhaps you could plan a dinner out with a relaxing walk around town, on the beach, or something similarly calming and familiar. If he really wants to see his family ASAP, perhaps plan a family party for the week following his arrival home.
– Never dismiss the feelings of your loved one. We military families have a “keep on keeping on” attitude that can turn into bulldozing over feelings and emotions that are uncomfortable or sad. If your service member comes to you with tough stuff, including a discussion about your relationship or what he’s been through on deployment, try to be open to the discussion. Conversely, after your period of adjustment, feel free to talk to them about your feelings. My husband and I always work on in our relationship following deployment, and I think that’s a very positive thing because we’re working to enhance our relationship.
– Lots of people love to hire photographers for homecoming photos. It’s extremely popular in the flight community, since many of our spouses “fly-in” to the squadron. Having a photographer there is wonderful, even if it’s just a friend who is good with an iPhone. You’ll probably want a photo or two of you when you’re reunited. On the other hand, not everyone wants to spend their money that way or they want their reunion to be more private. Don’t feel bad if you fall into those last two groups. There is a lot of pressure to show up at homecoming dressed to the 9s and holding Pinterest-worthy signs. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE A PINTEREST-WORTHY SPOUSE IN ORDER TO ADEQUATELY GREET YOUR LOVED ONE. Most service members just want quiet time with their significant other when they get home.
– Sex. Everyone jokes about homecoming sex. I think at least 75% of my friends (who are past their first or second deployment with their husband) report that there is rarely homecoming night sex. Usually, the first night is all about reconnecting on a romantic and intimate level totally beyond sex. Most people, like my husband and I, spend the night out to dinner at their favorite spot or eat take-out on the couch while talking over a bottle of wine. If it comes naturally, great. Be aware that sex might actually be the last thing on both of your minds when the day arrives and you’re finally reunited. It depends on the relationship and the people in it.
– What to wear to homecoming: wear whatever makes you feel good, but make sure you’re presentable 😉 One of my friends claims to have worn nothing but a closed trench coat, heels, and lingerie to pick-up her husband, which I think is epic and hilarious. Lots of ladies feel a lot of pressure to look sexy. There’s nothing wrong with sexy, but make sure you’re dressed for the weather. You may unexpectedly be waiting a LONG time. I try to dress cute but conservatively. Since it’s cool here, I recently picked-up my husband in black pants, black heels, and a fabulous gray sweater jacket type thing. My hair was done nicely and I wore my make-up the way he likes it. I wore jewelry he gave me, because I knew he’d notice (and he did). In times past, I’ve worn cute sundresses with flip flops and jeans with a nice top. My make-up and hair is always done. I think women feel a lot of pressure to look sexy because they want that “show” of picking-up their service member. Don’t buy into that idea. I mean, if you want to look a certain way, do it! But, don’t feel like you have to look a certain way when you pick them up. The picture below was taken at our recent homecoming.
– If you’re a family member (like a parent of a married service member or of a military spouse), here are some pointers for you: make sure you ask your loved one’s spouse what you can do to help. Bring a camera if you’re asked to come to homecoming, but I urge you to not push to be there when the boat pulls in, etc. Lots of parents might be appalled to hear me saying this, but homecoming isn’t about you … it’s about getting your loved one home and comfortable. Maybe the very best time for that person to see you is the following day, and that way you will get quality time with them and can truly reconnect. If your loved one and their spouse has kids, perhaps the most awesome thing you can do is offer to watch the kids at home while mom picks up dad! I think that’s what my husband and I would love to have happen, if we had kids. Or, perhaps you could offer to go to homecoming and corral the kids so that mom can focus on finding dad and bringing him back to greet the family. It would be awesome if you could bring over a casserole or some pre-prepared food the first week that a service member is home so that the family isn’t scrambling to cook while they’re trying to get quality time together.