I’ve been with my husband for 16 years now. This spans his entire Air Force career, plus a year. In that time I’ve seen him off on five deployments and one yearlong remote tour to Korea. Six times. Six times I’ve done life without my partner.
But, six times I’ve been able to welcome him home.
Reintegration: If you haven’t experienced it, you’ve likely seen the reunion videos — deployed troops coming home into the loving arms of their family. Sometimes it’s a surprise, and you get goosebumps; sometimes you see these couples at the airport jumping into each others arms and your heart swells; sometimes they have kiddos, and you see the looks on their little faces and you burst into tears. Gorgeous! We love them. It warms the heart.
But what about afterwards? What about coming back together as husband and wife after not being fully present for each other for 4 to 15 months?
The reunion is always beautiful. The reintegration can be another story altogether.
In 2009, there was a popular song on the Top 40, well at least the Top 40 station in Las Vegas where we were stationed at the time. It’s called Birthday Sex by Jeremih. This sticks out in my mind because somewhere in that time, we took a road trip home to Texas. Along the drive, the lyrics of the song were all of sudden changed to “Birthday Shh” instead of “Birthday Sex” because I suppose the radio stations deemed the word “sex “inappropriate.
In our culture, we censor a lot of things for a lot of reasons, some of them for good reasons, and some for not very good reasons. Sex has always been one of those items.
There are a lot of aspects of reintegration that deserve to be talked about, but I want to hone in on just one: reintegration intimacy. Oops, yep, sex. We’re going there. We censor this sometimes. We don’t want to talk about it because it’s highly personal. But after six reintegrations and a happy marriage that is still going strong, I want to talk to you like a friend about what I’ve learned because none of this is easy.
This one’s kind of a gimme. Go to any relationship counselor ever, and he or she will tell you that communication is the key. It should be tattooed on therapists’ foreheads (except not, face tattoos are always a bad idea). But communication with your spouse is always a good idea. The idea of having sex after being apart for a long time can conjure a lot of emotions: excitement, anxiety, and frustration, to name just a few. Be honest with how you’re feeling with your partner. If possible, talk about it before he or she comes home.
I’ve had deployments where my husband was so excited to hold me and kiss me, but I felt body conscious and anxious. At the time, he thought it was because I wasn’t happy to see him when the truth was I was thrilled to see him but felt intensely unhappy about him seeing me. I was afraid of him seeing me naked; seeing me vulnerable; and not finding the version of me from the sexy letters and emails — the made up, pushed up me from video chat. I was afraid of him noticing the pounds gained and the grey hairs gained. I was certain the stress of raising our boys alone without him had added lines to my face.
But if I had just told him, “Hey, I’m nervous to take off my clothes. It’s been a rough deployment this go around. Let’s take it slow.” He would have not only been prepared, he would have been completely understanding.
Conversely, I’ve had deployments that I had a good support system in place and the anticipation of him coming home could manifest as desire and excitement instead of a haggard crawl to the finish. We’ve had a deployment where, if I could have found a way to make it appropriate, I would have met him in a trench coat and lingerie. That reunion ended up with us making out in the car in the airport parking lot.
You don’t know what your pace of intimacy will be for reintegration until the homecoming is barreling down upon you. Decide together what that pace looks like for you and also what you want versus what’s feasible. When your spouse comes home, he or she will typically be jet lagged and travel weary. Plus, the tummy issues are reeeeaaaal. So figure out where your head meets up with your body, and then you won’t be disappointed.
Which takes us to, DON’T BE DISAPPOINTED! Oh, expectations. They’re a tough one to conquer, aren’t they?
True story: When we were stationed at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts, the base had an annual Hero’s Homecoming Parade and festival to honor all of the troops who had come home in the last year. One year, this happened while my husband was in the last six weeks of a deployment. For some reason, once I got to the parade and saw all these happy “intact” families, my mind started wandering. Maybe he’s going to come home early! What if he’s here? This is probably one of those surprise reunions! Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. I just let my mind set up the world’s most ridiculous and unattainable expectation. Cut to me later that evening crying with all the drama of a soap star.
When our spouses comes home from a deployment, we desperately want to be a movie heroine who is dipped and kissed while they wear their dress uniform. And even when we do get that, we think that somehow this will translate to effortless romance when we get home. Don’t do this. I implore you. It leads to disappointment, fighting, resentment, and so on and so forth.
Expect tired and weary. Plan for low key. And in my experience, plan a slammin’ date for about two weeks after he gets back. You’ll both be more rested and relaxed, and while you’ll likely be fighting over the house and kid issues that come with reintegration, a break and some intimacy will be welcome.
No Such Thing As Normal
Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” There is no one doing reintegration sex better than you because you and your partner are unique. There is no bar you need to reach. No number of times. No amount of passion must surge for you to say, “Yeah, we made it, we’re good at this.”
You and your spouse cannot possibly compare your affection to others. So don’t even try.
Even though I’m talking to you about this, I would advise to keep this one close to the vest. Even if you’re a gal that’s down with some spicy girl talk, give reintegration its privacy. It can be easy and fun, but it also can be really difficult, and sometimes complaining (or bragging) might make things even harder (or harder to maintain).
So, talk about your feelings, pace yourself, manage your expectations, and don’t try to be like everyone else. Will it still be hard? Well, here’s hoping. 😉