A few weeks ago I received a question from a military wife who was distressed about her husband’s behavior during a recent R&R. I’ve asked Army wife Rebekah Benimoff to respond to her. Rebekah has experience and wisdom in both reintegration issues as well as combat trauma. (Her husband Roger chronicled his journey with PTSD in the book Faith Under Fire.)
Since I believe many others can benefit from this conversation, as well, below you can read the original question as well as Rebekah’s response.
Question: My husband is currently deployed in Afghanistan and has just come home for his 2 week leave. It seems as though we keep arguing about every little thing. I really didn’t want it to be like this. We were never like this before. We have grown up with each other (we got married very young) and have become such a good team and best friends. I know that there is an adjustment period that need to take place, but it is very concerning for when he comes home permanently. How do I give him his space, yet make sure everything gets done? He asked me not to make ANY plans, he just wanted a relaxing time at home with the kids and I, to sit on his couch and sleep in his bed, yet he keeps asking me what we are doing???? I have gone to all the Yellow Ribbon events and they talk about the reintegration process, but I guess this has been a true wakeup call that it is not going to be as easy for even he and I, that I expected it to be. I made one mistake when I went to kiss him on his forehead before I left for work. To be truly honest, I almost did not bend over to kiss him because I was scared I would startle him, so I was not surprised by his actions, but I really I scared him and he almost hit me in the face. He felt so bad, he was in tears most of the day. I think he didn’t expect that he would react like that. The one thing that I realized on that instance, was that his mindset was not at home still, but two weeks is not enough time to feel normal again. And maybe normal will never be like it was before and that scares me more than anything. How do we get through this successfully? And now, I have to send him back…heartbreaking to say the least.
Dear military wife,
If I were to suggest anything, it would be first and foremost, pray. Start praying now for the re-integration process, and anything else in your relationship that may be of concern. Prayer is the most powerful tool we have. Never forget that! As wives, we cannot look into our husbands heads and hearts and see the struggles, but God can. He knows your husband better than you do, better than your husband knows himself, even. It is not a bad idea to get in the habit of praying over every little decision. And every big one. Shortly after Roger came home, I began to read, The Power of A Praying Wife. This was a great book at the time, to help me develop the habit of moment by moment prayer. It also helped me become more introspective and ask myself questions like “What am I really feeling, and why am I feeling that way?”
Pray that God would give you wisdom in relating to your husband. Pray that He would heal the wounded places in both of you so that you can relate to each other better. Pray that God would show you when to speak and when to just let something go– even something really irritating. Pray that He would give you both tools to communicate needs to each other and pray that you will be able to rely on God’s strength and not your own.
Second, I would say to be prepared mentally for change. Remind yourself often that healing and adjusting to being back home takes time. I cannot emphasize this enough. I remember my husband being easily startled, as well. I also remember that when we drove anywhere, if he saw trash on the side of the road he would say, “In Iraq, that would be a bomb.” A dirty diaper in a ditch was life threatening there, and as you said, the process of transitioning from a war mindset to a “home and safe” mindset takes time. The soldiers are on high alert all the time. They never really get to completely let down their guard and it does take some time to adjust and learn to let their motor run normally when they get home. You shared that you are afraid that things will be “normal” again. Let me say that perhaps things won’t be exactly the way they were, but in time, God will help you adjust to a “New Normal”. Just like when your family expands to allow a new member and there is an adjustment process, it takes time for the whole family to adjust– some more than others– and there may be bumps along the way, but eventually, there is a “new normal”. Not the same as it was, but in so many ways, the New Normal can be better. The new normal can bring you closer, make you better as a family, as a couple. It will take some work and some understanding on your part. Remember that you can rely on Someone other than yourself for wisdom and insight.
Third, understand that each time you re-integrate it may look differently. When Roger was preparing to come home from his second deployment I thought it would be much like the first time we had to re-integrate. After all, he was in charge of the 3 month re-integration classes that all of the families in the 3rd ACR had to go through, and so we did MUCH preparing over the phone before he ever came home. He asked me about my expectations, I asked him about his. We tried to communicate as much as possible, and plan ahead, “be prepared” for the process. He said he wanted to have time to unwind. I said, I’m not sure what to expect, but I will try to tell you as soon as I know (even if I only become aware of it in the moment). We planned ahead more than most people because we went thought the process he was teaching others as he was putting the materials together. But things were often different than what both of us thought. This brings me to number four:
Be prepared to be flexible. There are so many unknowns, so many things that you can try to plan ahead for- and these preparations are wise and helpful, not to be neglected, by any means. Communicating expectations is a great way to start. As you shared in your own example: He wanted to rest, but you felt that he was relying on you to plan things. You were confused as to your role. So share expectations and anticipated needs, but remember that expectations can change, and unanticipated stresses or events can throw the best made plans off kilter. Pray as you plan– and pray as you adjust the plan to meet the needs of the moment.
On this note, I have to add that I often find myself in need of a trip to the altar. Not the altar at church, but the altar of my own heart. Like the story of Abraham where God told him to go up the mountain and offer Isaac as a sacrifice to Him. Abraham believed the promise that God had given ONLY through Isaac (He’d certainly learned that lesson the hard way). Abraham believed that God would do something, but that did not lessen the pain of the journey up the mountain. The anticipation of the difficult–no, heart breaking thing he must do. The temptation is to meet God at the altar with the one we love, and climb up there and plop down next to them. We may be saying something like, “Ok God, do your thing, and I’m here to help you along.”
Or we can leave them on the altar but keep looking for the ram in the thicket. “Alright, Lord, when are You going to provide that Way Out?” Sometimes we don’t recognize that He IS the way out. The way out of ourselves and deeper into Him.
True surrender is putting your loved one, your marriage, your future, each on the altar, acknowledging the pain of letting go, and the fear of the unknown, and choose to trust. Your husband is God’s project, not yours. Your mission is to walk faithfully where God tells you to walk , and choose to trust Him for the rest. Understand that surrender is not for God, it is for us, because surrender sets us free.
Choose to trust that God will provide what you need, when you need it. Now, let me clarify something here. Some may say, IF I could choose to trust, blink my eyes and tap my toes together like Dorothy in the wizard of OZ, and magically “just trust”, I would not be writing with these questions. That is not what I mean. When I say choose to trust I mean that you take each fear, each need, each concern to the altar each and every time it comes up. Some people picture nailing them to the cross. In moments of difficulty this can mean daily surrender, hourly even. Sometimes moment to moment. This does not mean you ignore the worries, or push them away. It means you acknowledge them and take them to the altar every time. Surrendering the fears moment by moment, all day, every day. All the while asking God to equip you and BE your strength.
Know that you are not alone. Not only are there many other military wives walking a similar road, but God will walk your own road with you. It may feel lonely at times, but you are never alone. Sometimes He holds us in his hands, and sometimes, He holds us in His heart. Draw near to Him and let Him be everything you need, moment by moment. My prayer for you is that you will discover more of Him each and every day and that you will allow Him to carry you through the difficult places in the road.