The Emotional Cycle of Deployment – Stage 6: Return adjustment and renegotiation

Michigan has over 20,000 military children and youth. It is up to communities to help support our military families by educating themselves about the unique challenges to being a military family.

The Emotional Cycle of Deployment has seven stages. Each stage is characterized by a general time frame and specific emotional challenges that may be experienced.Michigan State University Extension says that failure to successfully negotiate these stages and challenges can lead to family and individual stress and can have lasting consequences on our children, youth and families. The seven stages of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment include:

  • Stage one: Anticipation of departure
  • Stage two: Detachment and withdrawal
  • Stage three: Emotional disorganization
  • Stage four: Recovery and stabilization
  • Stage five: Anticipation of return
  • Stage six: Return Adjustment and renegotiation
  • Stage seven: Reintegration and stabilization

During the article series about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment it is important to remember that these are general time frames, reactions and challenges that may be experienced by military families during deployment. Each individual and family is unique and will experience each stage in their own unique way.

Stage six of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment is return adjustment and renegotiation. This stage generally starts about six weeks after the service member returns. During this stage the family and the service member begin to recognize that everyone has changed during the deployment. These changes may be pleasant surprises or can cause conflict among the family. During this time both the family and service member may feel overwhelmed by the attempts to reconnect and get to know each other again. It is important for everyone to recognize that there are changes that have occurred during the deployment and that they need to work together as a family to adjust to those changes. Everyone needs to remember to give each other the time and space needed to adjust to the new changes. Reconnection does not have to happen all at once but can be a gradual process that allows each family member and service member the opportunity to feel comfortable within their own family unit.

During this stage there can be many mixed emotions as families adjust to their new life with their returned service member. They can feel a wide range of emotions from happiness, excitement, anticipation and relief to anxiety, frustration, confusion and worry. Here are some tips that can support families during the return adjustment and renegotiation stage:

  • Talk about what is going on within the family and openly listen to what family members are saying. Now is the time for families to openly share how they are feeling related to their service member returning.
  • Expect there to be changes. Nothing will be perfect and that is okay. Working through the day-to-day as a family will help to strengthen bonds between each other.
  • Think positively! Look for the good in family members and situations on a daily basis.
  • Talk with your child’s or youth’s early childhood providers or school and let them know of the change at home. Make arrangements for children and youth to spend time with their service member but also keep routines as consistent as possible.
  • Don’t force relationships. Allow time for everyone to readjust. This includes both family members and your service member. Remember, readjustment doesn’t happen at all once but is an on-going process.
  • Reach out for support. If children and youth are having a difficult time adjusting then reach out for additional support from teachers, child care providers or other important adults that your child interacts with. If you or your service member is having a hard time adjusting, be sure to take time to find support for you as well.

If your family is getting ready for the deployment of a service member, check out the article Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

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