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From the Spouse Calls blog:

My boyfriend was deployed to Kosovo in September, and since he’s been over there we have grown closer and become engaged. We talk daily online and on the phone. My concern is that he will have some issues when he gets home. From reading the posts on this site, I have realized the severity of what may happen. We have decided not to jump right into married life when he comes home because neither of us is sure how he’s going to be when he gets here. I want to know what kinds of things to watch for. I’d also appreciate any advice anyone may have for me about how I can ensure that his transition to home life is successful. It doesn’t sound to me like there is a lot of help from the military for coping with issues, and any alternative sources would be helpful. I have noticed changes in him since he left home, but they have all seemed positive.

— Kristin

My husband has just returned from another combat- zone deployment. Writing Spouse Calls has made me much more aware of post- traumatic stress disorder during this particular tour. While reading messages from spouses affected by post-traumatic stress disorder, I have wondered: “What if?” But “what ifs” won’t prepare me for the future.

What will prepare me is maintaining good communication with my husband and being prepared for the readjustment process.

From your letter, it seems you are on the right track with communication, and you and your boyfriend are wise to realize you will need some time to get reacquainted after deployment. Married life is a big adjustment. Sometimes it’s easier to love someone who is far away, rather than someone who leaves the cap off of the toothpaste tube.

Good communication and patience will pay off when it’s time for his homecoming. When he returns, you may want to spend every minute together, or you might need some personal space. Possibly you’ll want one when he wants the other. Be prepared for conflict, because it will arise. You’ll each have different needs and expectations. Talk about them and compromise.

Getting used to each other again is one thing. Combat trauma is another. Your boyfriend, like many veterans, could experience some type of combat- related stress and still not develop post- traumatic stress disorder. As its name implies, PTSD is a specific disorder and requires professional diagnosis.

Some symptoms of combat trauma agreed upon by professionals include disinterest in life and loved ones, excessive anger, reliving traumatic episodes and avoiding discussing deployment experiences.

Everyone processes trauma differently. Your boyfriend may experience some symptoms temporarily or have none at all. Health professionals usually advise counseling and treatment if symptoms are extreme or persist longer than a month.

With so much well-deserved focus on PTSD, we might begin to think it’s an inevitable condition for our loved ones who return from deployment. It is not.

The Department for Veteran’s Affairs’ National Center for PTSD has a fact sheet online here.

If your boyfriend experiences symptoms, even temporarily, encourage him to talk to a chaplain or a medical professional. Get counseling for yourself if you need it, even if he chooses not to.

It’s true that many couples struggling with post-deployment issues do not get all the help they need. That does not mean help is unavailable. The system is not perfect, but there are programs in place to offer assistance.

I have posted a list of links to counseling for military couples and families on the Spouse Calls blog: here..

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives and writes in Germany, where her husband is stationed at Ramstein AB. Send questions or comments to her at spousecalls@stripes.com.

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