The Effects of Deployment on Military Families

Military families are also subjected to unique stressors, such as frequent geographical relocations, frequent separations of service members from families, and subsequent reorganizations of family life during reunions. One of the most disruptive stressors military families can face is the reintegration following the deployment. There are several major tasks which face returning service members when reintegrating after deployment. This paper will define each task, review possible challenges and discuss tips on how families can navigate each task successfully.

Research Paper Outline


The Effects of Deployment on Military Families



I. Overview of Topic Deployment and Military Families

A. Presentation of Problem Stress involved during the reintegration and phase and how to cope with it.

B. Purpose of Paper To help families better cope during reintegration after deployment.

II. Research findings on the problems seen in many service members returning from deployment (Drummet, Coleman, Cable, 2003) and (Pawlowski, 2005).

A. Four major tasks that service members face during reintegration (Bowling Sherman, 2008).

1. Redefining roles, Expectations, and Division of labor

2. Managing strong emotions

3. Abandoning emotional constriction and creating intimacy in relationships

4. Creating shared meaning

B. Becoming a Couple Again How to create a shared sense of purpose after deployment (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, 2004).

1. Step 1

Understand each others sense of purpose during separation.

2. Step 2

Recognize that the following concerns upon return are common, often shared or felt indirectly and will require mutual adjustment.

3. Step 3 Relationship Breakers

Most couples argue about three things sex, money and children. Being aware of these issues to divide rather than unite is key to reestablishing a shared sense of purpose.

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4. Step 4 Relationship Makers

Tips for building a shared sense of purpose and a stronger family.

C. Changes in children over the course of a deployment.

Tips on getting to know your children again (Getting to Know Your Children Again, n.d.) (Johnson et al, 2007).

1. Taking it slow and letting things happen naturally.

2. Arrange a special time to reconnect with each child.

3. Praise children for helping during the separation.

4. Slowly ease back into family routines.

5. Children should be disciplined with great care and love.

D. Application of Behaviorism Learning Theory (Ormrod, 2008).

1. Define Theory

2. Suggest Possible Applications of Theory to Problem

E. Conclusion

F. Need for more research

G. Proposal of Research Project (Renshaw, Rodrigues, Jones, 2008).

H. Rationale for Project

I. Goal of Project

J. Research Project K. Research Question

L. Method / Participants M. Measures

N. Procedures O. Data Collected/Results

P. Discussion (Dekel, Solomon, Bleich, 2005)

Q. References

The Effects of Deployment on Military Families

The images of war and military action have become more frequent recently, especially since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and crisis in the Middle East.

Our military service members are often times referred to as heroes and men and women of honor. Not only do our service members sacrifice their lives and freedom to defend the freedom of our country, but so do the families of our nations military force. Military families deal with issues common to all families, including child care, elder care, education, parenting and marital concerns, and career choices (Drummet, Coleman, Cable, 2003). However, military families are also subjected to unique stressors, such as frequent geographical relocations, irregular and long working hours, frequent separations of service members from families, and subsequent reorganizations of family life during reunions. One of the most disruptive stressors military families can face is the reintegration following the deployment. With the average deployment lasting six months or longer, it is not surprising that family separations are cited as one of the main reasons personnel are leaving the military service (Pawlowski, 2005). The main focus of this paper will be on the reunion and reintegration phase that takes place after the service member returns from deployment. A common misconception is that the difficulty of separation is instantaneously overcome when the service member returns home. Although the reunion may be joyously anticipated, it can be as challenging as the separation.

Families must now adjust to being together again, negotiate the changes in one another, and iron out the different expectations about post-deployment family life (Pawlowski, 2005). There are several major tasks which face returning service members when reintegrating after deployment. Four of the major tasks are

1) Redefining roles, expectations, and division of labor,

2) Managing strong emotions,

3) Abandoning emotional constrictions and creating intimacy in relationships, and

4) Creating shared meaning (Bowling Sherman, 2008).

The remainder of this paper will define each task, review possible challenges and discuss tips on how families can navigate each task successfully. Redefining Roles, Expectations, and Division of Labor During the deployment, the spouse left behind must assume sole responsibility for running the household and in most cases taking care of the children. The spouse has to make important decisions and take on new tasks they did not have to perform before the deployment. During the course of the deployment, the at-home spouse may also create new family routines and new ways of managing household chores.

When the service member returns home, couples will face the task of renegotiating the division of labor and decide such things as who will mow the yard, who will pay the bills, and who will do the dishes. Returning spouses may feel frustrated, because they feel an intense need to normalize their lives, but realize that they are unfamiliar with the management of the household (Drummet, Coleman, Cable, 2003). Successful navigation of this task will require flexibility and effective communication from all family members. Managing Strong Emotions Returning home from a combat zone can produce a broad spectrum of intense emotions. In the beginning, service members may experience happiness and pride as they return and reconnect with their family and friends. These positive feelings are likely to be enhanced if the service member is warmly welcomed home by his or her community (Bowling Sherman, 2008). However, when the parades and fanfare are over and the initial excitement has worn off, other strong emotions may emerge this is often referred to as the honeymoon effect. This typically occurs due to old problems not being dealt with prior to the deployment and they begin to fester and become even more substantial. Successfully completing this task will involve learning how to modulate overwhelming affect, both interpersonally and interpersonally (Bowling Sherman, 2008).

Abandoning Emotional Constriction and Creating Intimacy in Relationships

Often times in combat the only acceptable emotion to express is anger. If a service member allows himself to experience sadness, worry, fear or other vulnerable emotions it can detract from the mission and inhibit their ability to execute daily tasks required in a combat environment. Many service members make a conscious effort to be numb while deployed, to be able to function better under the stress of a combat situation. When the service member comes home, they are faced with the task of reconnecting at an emotional level with themselves and with others. In order to proceed successfully through the reintegration phase, family members must find a balance between independence and attachment to individuals in the support network they utilized during the deployment (Drummet, Coleman, Cable, 2003). If balance is not maintained, support network relationships could undermine the emotional intimacy of the family.

Creating Shared Meaning

During a deployment, both members of the couple and the children experience unique stressors and may develop a strong sense of community with people outside of the family.

Service members may develop close relationships with other service members in their units and spouses may connect with other families going through a deployment. During the reintegration phase, the family will deal with different types of adjustment. Each person is likely to create different meanings about the experiences of deployment, reintegration, combat, and the war (Bowling Sherman, 2008). Creating a shared sense of meaning can be helpful in reducing stress and fostering increased family cohesion. Coming together as a couple after a deployment is not always easy or something that just happens naturally. It requires work and an understanding that each person has grown and changed during the separation. What is important now is to come together as a couple and create a shared sense of purpose, which is essential for the well being of the family. The Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USUHS) has created 4 steps to help families create a shared sense of purpose as they go through the reintegration phase (Becoming a Couple Again, 2009).

Step 1 Understand each others sense of purpose during separation.

  • The returning service members sense of purpose has been shaped by Traumatic events that can be difficult to process and talk about Regimentation in the form of highly structured and efficient routines
  • Heightened sensory experiences including sights, sounds, and smells
  • The spouses sense of purpose has been shaped by New roles and responsibilities
  • Community support
  • Emotional changes

Step 2 Recognize that the following concerns upon return are common, often shared or felt indirectly and will require mutual adjustment


Life at home does not have the edge and adrenaline associated with combat duty, which can lead to let down, disappointment and difficulty adjusting.


Concern about having grown apart, growing close again without giving up individual growth and viewpoints, issues of fidelity, and being able to discuss these issues without causing more stress or anger are very challenging for most couples.

Step 3 Relationship Breakers

Most couples argue about three things sex, money and children. Being aware of these issues to divide rather than unite is key to reestablishing a shared sense of purpose Intimacy. This is not easily reestablished after stressful separations creating an emotional disconnect.

Partners may also experience high or low sexual interest causing disappointment, friction or a sense of rejection.


During the deployment most service members and families received additional income from tax breaks and combat pay. How this money was spent may create disagreements that disrupt the reintegration phase and break down trust in the relationship.


It is important to build upon the positive changes in the children during reintegration. The couple needs to work together to address issues of concern that need attention. The discipline of the children should now be shared and be viewed as something that can be built together rather than criticized or ignored.

Step 4 Relationship Makers

Here are some tips for building a shared sense of purpose and stronger family.


Fatigue, confusion and worry are common during the reintegration phase and will often lead to short tempers. If this happens it is a good idea for the couple to take a time-out and return to the discussion when both parties feel more relaxed. Enjoy life. Find and do activities that are fun such as a movie, family picnic, game night, or shopping. Communicate. Talk together to create a shared sense of purpose. Healthy communication should involve processing feelings, new information and relieve stress. Be positive. Having a positive attitude during reintegration is one of the most important gifts a couple can give each other and their family.

Know when to seek help. The service member and their spouse have gone through a great deal of stress, uncertainty, worry and lonesomeness that can affect their physical and mental health. If either the spouse or service member thinks the may be suffering from a physical or mental health problem it is critical for them to seek help. Changes in children over the course of a deployment can also be difficult for the returning service member to manage. During reintegration, the service member will have to get to know their children again. Children will most likely want to be close again, but they may not know what to do. According to (Johnson et al, 2007), very young children may not recognize the service member and may be afraid of him or her. Preschoolers, while happy and excited, may also express anger about the separation. Likewise, school-aged children may behave the same way. Adolescents may be defiant and disappointed by the difficulty the service member has acknowledging the changes the adolescent made during the deployment. Some tips that were developed by the University of Missouri (Getting to Know Your Children Again, 2009) include Taking it slow and letting things happen naturally.

Service members should not force their children to hug or play with them. It is important to give the children time to warm up and readjust at their own pace. Arrange a special time to reconnect with each child (have a picnic, go to the park, play a game together). Praise children for helping during the separation. Slowly ease back into family routines. Children should be disciplined with great care and love.

Application of Learning Theory

All three major learning theories can be applied to the topic of reintegration however Behaviorism is best geared to address this subject. Behaviorism focuses on the learning of tangible, observable behaviors that occur in the surrounding environment. Behaviorists believe that learning involves a behavior change and is influenced by the results of environmental events (Ormrod, 2008). During a deployment, each member of the family has changed in certain ways and developed their own way of coping with the deployment. Due to the nature of being deployed in a war zone where the threat of imminent danger is constant, the military member has been conditioned to respond to those threats in a specific manner. According to behaviorists, an organism (person) is conditioned by environmental events.

Because of the conditioning many military members will come home with a heightened sensory experience to certain sights, sounds and smells. These experiences can lead to undesirable conditioned responses such as, nightmares, increased jumpiness/jitters, and flashbacks. Many of these conditioned responses can be dealt with through extinction and counter conditioning. Another component in the Behaviorists model of learning is Operant Conditioning. The Operant Conditioning theory relates to the reintegration phase by the means of positive reinforcement and shaping. When a service member comes home after a deployment it is very important that the entire family realize that the roles of the family have been redefined, new family systems have been developed, and both the service member and the family have inevitably changed. Unfortunately, some of the changes that have occurred can be detrimental to the family. If the family integrates aspects of positive reinforcement and shaping, negative behaviors that developed during the deployment could be changed into positive behaviors.

In closing, early intervention and support during the reintegration phase will help reduce the amount of stress and negative outcomes for families. If navigated appropriately, the reintegration phase can give families an opportunity to learn more communication and coping skills, explore new roles, and enhance a sense of cohesion and shared purpose. Most models of deployment describe reintegration as the final stage the repeated redeployments in the current wars mean the service members and the families are constantly dealing with issues of reintegration and preparation. Even less research has been conducted on the impact of deployment and marital satisfaction of spouses of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans. Due to the lack of research in this area, a research study was conducted using previous research done by (Renshaw, Rodrigues, Jones, 2008). Several studies have shown that spouses of veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are at an increased risk for experiencing psychological and marital distress. However, very little is understood about the mechanisms that lead to such elevated distress in the spouses. The goal of this study is to reveal the impact deployment has on marital satisfaction, specifically in spouses of Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans.

Method Participants

The sample consisted of 50 male Marines assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment-17 (CLR-17), Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Ca that was deployed and operating in Iraq for 12 months from Dec. 2007 to Dec 2008 and their wives. The Marines and their wives completed questionnaires approximately 3 months after the Marines returned home. The wives ages ranged from 19 to 51 years, all but 3 had completed high school, and 97 were Caucasian. The Marines ages ranged from 19 to 53 years, all had completed high school, and 95 were Caucasian. These characteristics are a fair representation of CLR-17, which is 95 male and 97 Caucasian. The average length of marriage in this sample was 9 years and 7 months. Measures PTSD Checklist. This 17 item, Likert-type scale assesses symptoms of PTSD based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.) (DSM-IV). There are two versions, one specific to the military (PCL-M completed by the Marines) and one specific to civilians (PLC-C completed by the wives). The wives were directed to respond to event-specific questions on this measure in regard to having heard or thought about their spouses stressful military experience.

Each item reflects a specific DSM-IV criterion and is answered on a scale from 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely). Item scores of 3 or more are considered to represent endorsement of that item as a symptom, which indicates a possible diagnosis of PTSD on the basis of symptoms endorsed within each PTSD cluster (i.e. avoidance and hyper-arousal). A score of 44 is recommended as a cutoff for indication of PTSD in civilian populations.

Center for Epidemiologic Studies-Depression Scale (CES-D).

The CES-D is a 20 item, self-report measure of the frequency of depressive symptoms that was completed by both the Marines and wives. Total scores range from 0 to 60, with higher scores indicating higher levels of symptoms. A score of 16 has been recommended as a cutoff indicating the possible presence of depression. Combat Exposure Scale (CES). This 7 item, Likert-type scale, which measures the extent and severity of exposure to potentially traumatic combat experiences, was completed by the Marines. The overall score is calculated by weighing items according to the seriousness of the type of event.

Scores range from 1 to 41, with scores of 1 to 8 reflecting light exposure, 9 to 16 reflecting light to moderate exposure, 17 to 24 reflecting moderate exposure, 25 to 32 reflecting moderate to heavy exposure, and 33 to 41 reflecting heavy exposure. These questionnaires were chosen for this study based upon the fact that they have been widely used in other research and have high internal consistency, test-retest reliability, and convergent and discriminate validity.


Written consent was obtained from all participants. The base Chaplains office and the base Judge Advocate General (JAG) allowed the study to be conducted without military oversight in order to preserve the service members sense of confidentiality. Chaplain Kevin Smith was the Regimental Chaplain at the time of the study and served as the primary liaison between the researchers and the Marines. After returning home from deployment, all Marines in this unit (approximately 800 total) were offered several post-deployment workshops designed to help them reintegrate into civilian and family life. Those who were married (approximately 600) were offered workshops that included their spouses. Recruitment for this study happened over a 2-week period approximately 3 months after deployment, when 112 couples attended such workshops. All of the attendees were offered the opportunity to participate in the study. Out of the 112 couples, 50 volunteered to participate (45 of attendees). Marines and spouses were asked to complete all questionnaires separately and couples were paid 25 for their participation.

Wives mean score on the measures of depression and PTSD symptom severity are shown in Table 1. Their mean score on the CES-D was nearly twice that of the norm sample reported by a similar study in 2007, but less than the mean of psychiatric patients in a development sample. Slightly less than half (46.8) of wives met or exceeded the cutoff score of 16 used to show the possible presence of clinical depression. On the PCL-C, 8 wives (16) met the proposal cutoff score of 44 for civilian samples, with 7 (14) endorsing enough criteria at the moderate level of severity to warrant a diagnosis of PTSD on the basis of their responses. These percentages are similar those reported in a different study of spouses of Holocaust survivors (10 of spouses met criteria for full PTSD). Lastly, wives reported high levels of marital satisfaction on average, but 18.3 of the sample had scores of 3.5 or lower, indicating possible marital distress. Current studies of marital satisfaction in community samples have found anywhere from 6.2 to 26 of marriages are in the distressed range (Renshaw, Rodrigues, Jones, 2008). Therefore, this sample did not appear to be unusually martially distressed. As would be expected, wives self reported marital satisfaction was correlated with Marines self report of marital satisfaction. Discussion Congruent with previous research (Dekel, Solomon, Bleich, 2005), the spouses of the Marines that recently returned home from combat showed elevated levels of depressive Table 1 Means and Standards Deviations of Measures Using Marines Self-Reports, Spouses Perceptions of Marines, and Spouses Self-Reports MeasureSpouses self-report M SDSpouses perceptions of Marine M SDMarines self-report

Note CES Combat Exposure Scale PCL Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (military version for Marines self-reports and spouses perceptions of Marines civilian version for spouses self-reports) CES-D Center for Epidemiological Studies-Depression symptoms (46.8) and elevated levels of PTSD symptoms (10) as well. Although over 18 of the sample indicated possible marital distress, these percentages are in line with other similar samples and do not show unusual levels of marital distress, regardless of the elevations in psychological distress reported by this sample. The results from this study suggest the need for a greater understanding of the reactions of spouses of those who have served in combat. Apparently, perceptions of partners functioning are likely to play a role in psychological and marital functioning of many groups besides service members and their spouses. Therefore, further research of this topic, both with military couples and civilians could help further the understanding of how spouses react to their partners mental health challenges.


  • Becoming a Couple Again How to Create a Shared Sense of Purpose After Deployment. (2004). Retrieved March 25, 2009, from http//
  • Bowling, U. B., Sherman, M. D. (2008). Welcoming Them Home Supporting Service Members and Their Families in Navigating the Tasks of Reintegration. Professional Psychology Research and Practice, 39(4), 451-458.
  • Dekel, R., Solomon, Z., Bleich, A. (2005). Emotional distress and marital adjustment of Caregivers Contributions of level of impairment and appraised burden. Anxiety, Stress, And Coping, 18, 71-82.
  • Drummet, A. R., Coleman, M., Cable, S. (2003). Military Families Under Stress Implications For Family Life Education. Family Relations, 52(3), 279-287.
  • Getting to Know Your Children Again. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2009, from h HYPERLINK ttp// ttp//
  • Johnson, S. J., Sherman, M. D., Hoffman, J. S., James, L. C., Johnson, P. L., Lochman, J. E., Magee, T. N., Riggs, D. R. (2007). The Psychological Needs of U.S. Military Service Members and Their Families A Preliminary Report. American Psychological Association

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The Effects of Deployment on Military Families. (2016, May 22). Retrieved from

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