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Emotional cycle of deployment

daughters hugging father before deployment
The Emotional Cycle of Deployment is based on experience and research with military families who have experienced a more traditional long-term deployment.

Families find understanding and reassurance in this model and the suggested coping strategies, with the knowledge that many others share similar responses to this challenging experience.

Short-term deployments or separations that are more frequent and less predictable in nature can be just as disruptive and demanding on the family. Constant and continuous periods of separation and reunion may be more difficult to manage given the short periods required to readjust from one absence to the next. 


Many families who experience frequent short-term separations and reunions experience an ongoing sense of emotional disorganization challenging their ability to act and react.  


The challenge for families during these types of deployments or separations is that they have to constantly adjust and move through the stages at a much more rapid pace without the benefit of time to adjust emotionally. Regardless of the type of deployment, there are common reactions and general coping strategies that can help families deal with the absence of a loved one. The following tables compile the shared experiences of spouses, children and parents during the three phases (pre-, during, and post-deployment). As well, workshops on the cycle of deployment are often offered at Military Family Resource Centres.


Anticipation of Loss1-6 weeks prior to departure 

Provides a means to put some emotional distance between each other in preparation for living apart 

Common Reactions

  • Fluctuations in energy levels and mood 
  • Fantasizing 
  • Feelings of sadness, anger, excitement, restlessness 
  • Anxiety, tension, frustration, resentment, depression 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Feel and express all emotional responses 
  • Encourage all family members to share their feelings 
  • Involve the whole family in preparing for the separation 
  • Complete the Pre-Deployment Checklist  
  • Participate in pre-deployment briefings and activities at the local Military Family Resource Centre and MFS OUTCAN 
  • Create opportunities for warm, lasting memories such as taking pictures 
  • Set realistic goals for the deployment period 

Detachment and Withdrawal: Final week before departure 

May be the most difficult stage in many ways 

Common Reactions

  • Reduced emotional and sexual intimacy 
  • Feelings of despair, hopelessness, impatience, numbness 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Accept feelings as normal reactions to challenging circumstances 
  • Communicate as openly and as honestly as possible 
  • Be patient 
  • Keep the last day for family time 
  • Ignore rumours and rely on official sources of information 


Emotional Disorganization: First 6 weeks of deployment 

Often described as a period of restlessness  

Actual deployment, no matter how prepared families are, still comes as a shock. For the loved one at home, an initial sense of relief from the tension of preparing for deployment is followed by a feeling of being overwhelmed. The CAF member may feel lonely and frustrated at being far away from day to day living. This can be a time to gather strength for the changes to come.  

Common Reactions

  • Magical thinking— believing the impossible or unlikely 

  • Sleep and appetite disturbances 

  • Feelings of relief, guilt, anger, numbness, depression 

  • Confusion, disorganization, indecision, loneliness 

  • Vulnerability, irritability 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Communicate—keep in touch about everyday events and share feelings to maintain the emotional bond 

  • End phone calls on a positive note 

  • Help children to express their feelings and to stay in touch with letters, pictures, cards, audio/ video cassettes

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle—eat nutritiously, exercise regularly, drink plenty of water and get an adequate amount of sleep 

Recovery and Stabilization: Variable duration (6 to 12 weeks) 

Adjustment to new family patterns and routines, and reorganization of roles and responsibilities 

Common Reactions

  • Feelings of increased confidence, independence, competence, freedom, pride, isolation, anxiety, depression 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Enjoy new skills, freedom, independence  

  • Celebrate signs of positive growth in self and other family members 

  • Offer empathy and support to others 

  • Maintain regular contact through phone calls, letters, email 

  • Confide in trusted peers 

  • Seek professional counselling if feelings of depression/anxiety are threatening to overwhelm 

Anticipation of Homecoming: 6 weeks prior to return 

A time of intense apprehension and conflicting emotions  

Common Reactions

  • Increased energy and activity 

  • Sleep and appetite disturbances  

  • Feelings of joy, excitement, anxiety, apprehension, restlessness, impatience 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Share feelings of apprehension, as well as excitement and joy 
  • Share expectations and desires for the homecoming 
  • Share feelings of love and commitment 
  • Include children in planning for the homecoming celebrations 
  • Participate in preparation for reunion activities 
  • Ignore rumours and rely on official sources of information concerning return date, time and location 


Renegotiation of Relationships: First 6 weeks home 

A necessary time to refocus the relationship 

Common Reactions

  • Difficulty re-establishing emotional and sexual intimacy  

  • Feelings of excitement, disorganization, resentment, frustration 

  • Grieving loss of freedom and independence 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Communicate as openly and honestly as possible 

  • Accept feelings as normal and not a threat to the relationship • Be patient 

  • Renegotiate household roles and responsibilities to share the workload 

  • Celebrate together the personal growth each has achieved 

  • Continue to participate in a support group/ network 

  • Seek professional counselling, contact a doctor, chaplain or social worker for assistance in coping with stress 

  • Both partners should be aware of the signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and formerly deployed partner should be encouraged to seek professional help as appropriate 

Reintegration and Stabilization: 6 to 12 weeks after return 

New routines become stabilized  

Common Reactions

  • Feelings of intimacy, closeness, confidence in relationship 

General Coping Strategies 

  • Remember to follow through on promises made during deployment 

  • Spend time relaxing and enjoying time together as a family 

  • Share lessons learned with other families 

  • Identify what worked well in the planning and what could be improved for the next deployment