I Dread His Return

My husband of many years is nearing the end of two years of military deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's due to come back for good in a few months.

Everyone around me has been very sympathetic and supportive of my family during his deployment. He himself has let us all know over and over again how anxious he is to get back home and resume his life here. I get comments all the time about how difficult this must be for me and how glad I must be to know he'll be home this year. Well, actually, I am wracked with dread.
While I am anxious for him to be out of harm's way, I am not looking forward to him resuming his place at home. Our kids (teenagers) and I have created lives without him -- we have our work, school, and social schedules the way we like them.

They're different than things were when he left. My husband is a bit rigid about how he wants things done at home. The kids and I have found that we like a more relaxed approach to life. (I don't mean we've fallen into some sort of disorganized life. It's just ... different when you don't have to factor in someone who has very strong likes and dislikes.) For example, we've taken a couple of vacations that he would never have agreed to because it's not what he'd want to do. I have been able to cook whatever I want because he's not here to weigh in. I go to bed when I want, watch what I want on TV, or I don't watch it at all.

I love him -- and like him -- but when I look at what my life and my stress level is now (low) compared to what I anticipate it being when he returns, I wonder if I'm going to make it through this homecoming and re-entry into family life. And just in case anyone wonders, no, nobody else has entered the picture. The thought that "there's somebody better out there" has not entered my mind. That's the thing -- I think I want to be by myself (with the kids).

I'm wondering if this means that I am selfish. Not a good partner. A control freak.

Or (and this is what I'm hoping) is this a common feeling among military wives and husbands who get used to life for long periods without their soldier? Have any of your readers experienced anything similar? I can't talk about this with the military families we know -- word would go straight back to my husband and I don't want to hurt him needlessly if it's just cold feet.

(I should say that my husband is not career military. He's a reservist who volunteered to go active duty, so his deployments have not been against his will. But I admire him tremendously for wanting to serve, and the example it's given our kids has been a very positive one.)

– Dreading the Homecoming, Worcester

Thanks so much for sending this letter, DTH, because there are probably a lot of people out there -- military spouses and people in other long-distance relationships -- who have had similar thoughts but have been afraid to admit them. You're not a jerk. And your feelings are normal.

I remember a friend of mine coming to me for advice years ago when she was coping with her Marine husband's return from a year-long deployment. Sure, she was psyched that he was finally by her side, but she wanted to claw his eyes out for loading the dishwasher all wrong. Her husband wasn't just her husband. He was an annoying roommate who was messing up her house.
Luckily, the military has support for spouses dealing with this stuff. If you reach out, there should be a person to talk to about adjusting to real life. Actually, I recently talked to one of those people on WBUR's "Radio Boston." He was super cool.

The other thing to know is that being away changes both people in a long-distance relationship. Your husband might come home wanting to take different types of vacations. He might be excited to try the recipes that you’ve concocted while he was away. He's certainly going to be curious about the routine you've established with the kids.

Yes, he will annoy you, and no, you won't have a queen-like rule over the television, but there will be benefits to having him home that you can't even imagine right now.

My advice is to a) seek out those military helpers and b) give your husband the benefit of the doubt. You respect all that he's done over the past two years. He also respects what you accomplished while he's been away. Start thinking of his homecoming as another chapter in a marriage that will continue to require adjustments, new routines, and getting to know each other all over again. It'll be awkward but you'll figure it out together.

Readers? Is this normal? Is it something that also affects all long-distance relationships -- and people living together for the first time? How can she explain to her husband that her routines have changed? Discuss.

– Meredith