Veterans can experience family and relationship problems when they return home due to the challenges of readjusting to civilian life, dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and using alcohol/opioids to numb emotions, among other things. Returning home can be particularly difficult for combat veterans because the skills and behaviors they learned to survive and function may not work at home. In addition to transitioning from military to civilian life, veterans also have to deal with the changes that happened at home in their absences. In this article, we’ll discuss the readjustment challenges facing veterans and when veterans should seek support.
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Deployment Challenges on Veterans & Families
When veterans are on deployment, they may have to desensitize themselves and ignore their emotions in order to survive the hardships of deployment and the horrors of war. They’ve lived in a different world that was focused on the training, routines, and skills that would get them through combat. These skills can become firmly ingrained due to the life and death intensity of combat and don’t go right away when veterans return home. The things that got a veteran through combat (desensitization, avoidance, and anger) can later get in the way of healthy relationships and communication at home.
Deployment undoubtedly has an impact on veterans, however, it also touches the lives of families. The spouse at home has to adjust to being the sole caretaker and the children may not understand why the veteran parent is gone. In addition to the veteran parent’s absence, communication can be sporadic making it harder to feel connected as a family. It’s not surprising then that veterans can have a hard time re-integrating because certain things have changed while they were gone. It’s normal for there to be a readjustment period as relationships are re-established but if the veteran is dealing with PTSD, it can worsen relationship problems if left untreated.
Veterans Re-Adjustment Problems
Returning home can fill veterans and their families with joy and relief but it can also cause problems later on because veterans are forced to completely change their mindset and deal with the mental burdens of combat. Because of this, they can exhibit certain behaviors that interfere with their relationships and ability to re-integrate into civilian life. It’s important to note that the length of deployment, combat proximity and frequency, age, and marital status can affect the veteran’s re-readjustment.
Types of veteran re-adjustment problems:
- Hyper-arousal: Anything that reminds the veteran of combat (loud noises, crowds, lights, etc) may trigger a state of fear and arousal. Family members may adjust their life around the veteran and attempt to reduce things that can disturb the veteran’s sense of safety.
- Anger/Quick Temper: In combat, anger can be a powerful tool to help a soldier survive but when directed at family, it can damage relationships and put everyone on edge for fear that the veteran’s anger will be set off. Family members may even start keeping things from or avoiding the veteran to circumvent angry outbursts.
- Unpredictability: The veteran may avoid plans and people and have trouble keeping a job and appointments. After repeated disappointments, family members can grow resentful and feel like they’re not important to the veteran.
- Living in Extremes: It can be all or nothing with the veteran. One minute, he is unengaged and avoids tasks and responsibilities, and the next minute, he is intensely fixated on something that takes up all of his time until he crashes and burns.
- Decision Making: Veterans can have a hard time communicating or making a decision. Veterans who were officers can end up bossing family around because they’re used to giving orders while other veterans can have a hard time making any decision, even small ones. Ultimately, it’s a breakdown in communication.
- Overreactive: Being ready and quick to react in combat can be lifesaving but when the veteran is in a constant state of alertness back home, it can negatively affect the family. Small things like something not being where it’s supposed to be or not finishing a task can make the veteran flip out. His disproportionate reactions to situations can make the family fearful.
- Isolation: The veteran disconnects from everyone and avoids social activities. In time, his isolation makes him more suspicious and paranoid of the world which feeds into controlling behavior and drives a wedge between the veteran and his family.
- Numbness: Combat often forces soldiers to ignore certain emotions in order to function and survive. While suppressing emotions is useful in combat, it can get in the way of reconnecting with family and friends. Returning home also gives veterans the time and space to process what happened to them. Since they’ve trained themselves not to feel, veterans may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb their feelings.
- Defiant: Veterans may have a hard time handling authority whether it’s by being distrustful and/or defiant. This can lead to job loss and run-ins with the law which affects the family’s emotional and financial stability.
- Pushes Away: Intimacy can be hard for veterans because it’s something that could have got them killed in combat. That’s why when they return home, veterans might push others away, keep a guard up, and be unable to share or express emotions. Veterans may even feel unworthy of love because of something they’ve seen or done in combat.
- Trust Issues: Without trust, intimacy can’t exist. Veterans can become distrustful towards others whether it’s because they followed superiors’ commands against their instincts to only end up having their trust broken or the things they experienced in combat has made them question God or humanity. In turn, being unable to trust or compromise hurts the veteran’s relationships.
If these re-adjustment problems develop or continue to get worse, veterans and their families should reach out for support from their community, a therapist, or the VA’s Vet Center Program.
Veterans’ Relationships with Spouse and Children
Depression and anxiety are common for veterans and their spouse both during and after deployment and can worsen if the veteran returns home with a physical injury and/or PTSD. Unfortunately, this can lead to violence. A 2010 study examined the rates of relationship violence among Iraq/Afghanistan war veterans with PTSD versus Vietnam veterans with PTSD. It found that Iraq/Afghanistan male veterans were about 2 to 3 times more likely to engage in violence toward their female partner and about 1.5 to 6 times more likely to experience violence from their female partners.
With children, veterans can feel regretful for missing out on big life events. It’s not unusual for veterans who returned home to have difficulty reconnecting with their child, adjusting to co-parenting, managing anger, and expressing emotion. Deployment also affects children. For example, it can cause detachment issues in toddlers to risky behaviors in teenagers. Some children may even miss out on typical childhood activities because they had to take on more responsibilities while the veteran parent was away. Deployment and home readjustment are not easy for either the veteran or family. That’s why veterans with family and relationship problems should get support immediately.
Substance Abuse and Addiction Recovery
Rates of alcohol and opioid use are increasing among veterans which are having devastating effects on families and relationships. Veterans who are having a hard time readjusting home or struggling with PTSD are more likely to use alcohol or prescription drugs to escape their problems but it only makes things worse so they end up using more, creating a destructive cycle. With effective treatment practices, however, veterans can break this cycle.
Rally Point is a TRICARE-certified provider that has veteran rehab programs located in West Palm Beach, Florida to help veterans in need recover from substance abuse and addiction. Our male-only facilities, veterans on staff, and trauma-informed care model allow us to provide a supportive community free of judgment. Call our 24/7 confidential hotline (888) 797-2559 or message us to discuss personalized treatment programs.