The pre-deployment stage is characterised alternately by thoughts of denial and anticipation of loss of a loved one. As the departure date gets closer, spouses and partners can often ask: "You don't really have to go, do you?"
Eventually, the realisation of the separation to come become more apparent with the increased tempo of pre-deployment training and preparation, and the extended periods long away from home. Your loved one will start to talk more and more about the upcoming mission and their unit. This is part of the "bonding" process and is an essential part of unit cohesion that is an essential part of a safe and successful deployment. On the home front this can create an increasing sense of emotional and physical distance for military spouses and partners. In their frustration, many spouses complain: "I wish you were gone already." It is as if their loved ones are already "psychologically deployed."
As the reality of the deployment finally sinks in, families try to get their affairs in order. “Do” lists are generated dealing with all manner of things including: home repairs, security (door and window locks, burglar alarms, etc.), car maintenance, finances, child care plans and wills, to name but a few. At the same time, many couples strive for increased intimacy. Plans are made for the "best" Christmas, or the "perfect" holiday. Sometimes fears about fidelity or marital integrity are raised or may go unspoken. Other frequently voiced concerns may include: "How will the children handle the separation? Can I cope without him/her? Will my marriage survive?" In this very busy and frenetic time, resolving all these issues, completing the multitude of tasks or fulfilling high expectations often falls short.
Having a significant argument just prior to deployment is not an uncommon occurrence. For couples with a long history and who have experienced previous deployments, this argument is readily attributed to the ebb-and-flow of marital life. For younger couples, especially those experiencing an extended separation for the first time, such an argument can lead to fears that the relationship is over can lead to tremendous anxiety for both parties. In retrospect, these arguments are most likely caused by the stress of the pending separation. From a psychological perspective, it is easier to be angry than confront the pain and loss of saying goodbye for six months or more.
However, the impact of unresolved concerns can have potentially devastating consequences both in the mission areas and on the home front. A worried or preoccupied Soldier, Sailor or Airman can be easily distracted and unable to focus on essential tasks. This can lead to a serious accident or the development of a severe stress reaction. On the home front, significant spousal distress can interfere with maintaining basic routines, concentrating at work, and attending to the needs of children. At worst, this can exacerbate children's fears that the parents are unable to adequately care for them or even that the parent will not return from the mission. Adverse reactions by children can include inconsolable crying, apathy, tantrums, and other regressive behaviours.
Although easier said than done, it is often helpful for Defence Forces families and partners - in the pre-deployment stage - to discuss in detail their expectations of each other during the deployment. These expectations can include a variety of issues, to include: freedom to make independent decisions, contact with the opposite sex (fidelity), going out with friends, budgeting, child-rearing, and even how often letters will be sent or how often contact will be made with home. Failure to accurately communicate these and other expectations is frequently a source of misperception, distortion and hurt later on in the deployment. It is difficult at best to resolve major marital disagreements when face-to-face, let alone over four thousand miles apart.