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A Closer Look for Current Conditions: A Fresh Glance at the Emotional Cycle

By: HOOAH 4 Health

The article below was written as a result of changing conditions for U.S. Soldiers and Families who are currently experiencing the emotional cycles of deployment. With its foundation in the Five Stages of Emotional Deployment, [link to article, “The Emotional Cycle of Deployment: A Military Family Perspective,”] Jennifer Morse, MD, offers the following article, in which she readdresses the standard model with new stage divisions and terminology.

As our country's operational commitments have increased throughout the world, military Families are now often faced with deployments in more rapid succession. In many situations, it is unknown when the deployment will end, increasing the anxiety and uncertainty for military Families. Whereas the previous emotional cycles of deployment may have allowed for a period between deployments of 18 months to 2 years, some military Families are now facing another deployment of the service member within 9-12 months of the member's return. Some of the military services describe 5 stages of the emotional cycles of deployment, while others describe 7 stages; however, the changes in spouses' behavior and emotions during the stages are similar. Learning about the feelings that you may experience, as well as the resources that are available to you, can help you maintain a strong military Family team.

The Seven Stage Cycle Model:

1. Anticipation of Departure - Much like the "Pre-Deployment" stage in the 5 Stage Cycle, in this stage, spouses may alternately feel denial and anticipation of loss. As reality sinks in, tempers may flare as couples attempt to take care of all the items on a Family pre-deployment checklist, while striving to make time for "memorable" moments. In the new emotional cycles of deployment, Stage 1 may begin again before a couple or Family has even had time to renegotiate a shared vision of who they are after the changes from the last deployment.

2. Detachment and Withdrawal - In this stage, service members become more and more psychologically prepared for deployment, focusing on the mission and their unit. Bonding with their fellow service members is essential to unit cohesion, but this may create emotional distance within the marriage. Sadness and anger occur as couples attempt to protect themselves from the hurt of separation. In the new emotional cycles of deployment, as this stage happens more often and more frequently, marital problems may escalate. When a husband or wife must repeatedly create emotional "distance", they may gradually shut down their emotions. It may seem easier to just feel "numb" rather than sad, but the lack of emotional connection to your spouse can lead to difficulties in a marriage.

3. Emotional Disorganization - With back to back deployments, one might think that this stage of adjusting to new responsibilities and being alone would get easier. Although a military spouse may be familiar with the routine, (s)he may also be experiencing "burn-out" and fatigue from the last deployment, and feel overwhelmed at starting this stage again.

4. Recovery and Stabilization - Here, spouses realize they are fundamentally resilient and able to cope with the deployment. They develop increased confidence and a positive outlook. With back to back deployments, however, spouses may find it hard to muster the emotional strength required, but many resources are available to provide needed support.

5. Anticipation of Return - This is generally a happy and hectic time spent preparing for the return of the service member. Spouses, children and parents of the service member need to talk about realistic plans and expectations for the return and reunion.

6. Return Adjustment and Renegotiation - Like "Post-Deployment" in the 5 Stage Cycle, couples and Families must reset their expectations and renegotiate their roles during this stage. The key to successful adjustment and renegotiation is open communication. Families also need to be prepared to deal with the effects of combat stress on the returning service member. Such stress and trauma can be difficult to deal with. Troops with combat stress are often irritable, guarded, and want to be alone. Some may use increased alcohol or drugs in a failed attempt to "numb" the emotional pain they are experiencing. Attempts at renegotiation may result in increasing marital arguments.

7. Reintegration and Stabilization -
 This stage can take up to six months as the couple and Family stabilize their relationships anew. As noted with Stage 6, the presence of combat stress can severely disrupt the stabilization process. Reintegration and stabilization can hit more roadblocks when a Family must make a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move immediately upon the return of the service member. Back to back deployments create stress as Families stabilize only to begin Stage 1 once again.

Where Can Families Find Help?

Your military service Family Support Center on the installation offers groups, classes, and counseling for a variety of issues. National Guard and Reserve Families can contact their state or regional Family Assistance Center for assistance. Military OneSource, DoD's 24/7 Call Center, 1-800-342-9647, provides access to six free private counseling sessions per problem per person with a provider in your local area for issues such as coping with deployment, reintegration, and marital and Family problems.

Local Military healthcare facilities


Online, mental health screening tools (anonymous self assessments for depression, alcohol disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder) are available online at the Mental Health Self-Assessment Program. Individuals can print the results of their assessments to take with them to a health care provider. Results and resources are listed at the end of every assessment tool. Information on TRICARE providers, Veterans' Centers, and Military OneSource is also listed.

Facts to Remember

The emotions you experience during the cycles of deployment are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation unique to the military.

If your service member experiences combat stress, it can interfere with your ability to reintegrate as a couple - seek help early rather than later.

You don't have to go it alone! Use the many resources available to you.