A Beginners Guide to the Stages of Deployment

Deployment is a common experience that many military families go through.

Every deployment looks different, from how long they are gone, to where they go, to how they will be able to communicate with you.

Start getting yourself familiar with the stages of military deployments now so that you can better understand and navigate each stage when it comes.


The pre-deployment stage consists of the moment you become aware of an upcoming deployment up until the actual deployment begins.

Lots of Emotions

Deployment becomes more than just a vague idea. It’s real and it’s emotional.

And it is completely normal to feel a huge range of emotions.

I’ve heard of everything from anger to sadness to even a bit of joy or relief. (Hey, I’m not judging!)

Lots of Questions

Once the initial shock wears off, the questions usually come next.

Where to? For how long? When does it start? How will we communicate? What will you be doing? How will you get there?…

Some units will offer a brief for spouses before deployment so they can ask questions and find support. Ask your service member to inform you if their unit offers this!

This is also an EXCELLENT time to start refining your expectations with each other.

Emotionally, physically, financially, and in terms of communication.

If they are available to chat, do you expect a phone call, even if it’s in the middle of the night?

How will your big celebrations look, like birthdays or holidays?


This refers to the time leading up to the actual deployment.

While it’s important to make logical preparations for the deployment (such as how the bills will get paid, where you’ll be living, getting a POA…), it’s also incredibly beneficial to prepare emotionally.

This can include anything from discussing romantic expectations, to connecting with other spouses within the service member’s unit, to finding a therapist, to starting a class or joining a church.

It’s honestly hard to know how you’ll “hold up” until the moment comes. But you know yourself and your family best!

Give yourself grace and patience. This waiting time can be difficult, too.


The deployment stage consists of the time between the moment the deployment begins and the moment the deployment ends.


At first, finding a “new normal” is going to be difficult.

A constant in your life was removed, and it’s completely normal to want to shut down, bury yourself in tasks, or even feel angry at your service member or the military for putting you in this position.

Allow yourself the space to feel the hurt. I know it sucks, and I know it feels like it will never end.

New Routines

At this stage, usually about a month into the deployment, you get into a new routine.

You discover that you really can do it, even though you don’t want to.

Obviously, you still miss them, but you find ways to cope, people to lean on, and you learn more about what your needs are and how to meet them.


This stage refers to the last stretch of the deployment, which could last anywhere from a week to a month.

Lots of emotions are felt (again!) about homecoming, getting your person back, and so much more.

The main emotion tends to be anticipation! Both for seeing your person again, and feeling wary about reintegration.

This is a great time to clean up your space and plan out a few dates to go on once they get back.


This stage starts at homecoming and can last for many months after the deployment ends.


Homecoming isn’t always the emotional pictures on a runway with signs. I mean, sometimes it is!

And sometimes it’s picking up your person in the middle of the night from the airport.

Or greeting them at the port in a rainstorm.

Homecoming often looks different for everyone.

Now knowing this, try not to get stuck on exactly HOW the reunion will look. This can lead to unmet expectations.

Instead, just focus on reuniting with them.

It might be a bit awkward, and that’s ok! You’ve been apart for a while, and it can almost feel like first date jitters.

Again, it’s different for everyone. It might even feel like no time passed at all.


Like all things deployment, this experience is vastly different for everyone.

For some families, it feels like their return is messing up the rhythm they got into.

For others, there’s a lot of disagreements and fighting.

For others, their person fits back in perfectly like the last puzzle piece.

And sometimes, it can feel like all of those things within one day!

Once this stage begins, don’t expect everything to go back to how it was in a day, or a week, or even a month.

A new normal doesn’t have to be a bad thing!

Give yourself (and your service member) grace and patience.

You get to relearn them, show them the growth you’ve experienced, and finally get your person back.

Still nervous about deployment? Check out this giant list of helpful deployment resources (both from the military and not!).

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