The Emotional Cycle of Deployment – Stage 2: Detachment and withdrawal

Learn about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment and how you can help support military children and families in your community.

As the departure date gets closer, families and their service member may start to distance themselves from one another.
As the departure date gets closer, families and their service member may start to distance themselves from one another.

Deployment can be a very difficult time for both service members and their families. Understanding the different stages of deployment can help provide a supportive environment for children and youth.

The Emotional Cycle of Deployment has seven stages. Each stage is characterized by a general time frame and specific emotional challenges that may be experienced. Michigan State University Extension says that failure to successfully negotiate these stages and challenges can lead to family and individual stress and can have lasting consequences on our children, youth and families.

The seven stages of the Emotional Cycle of Deployment include:

  1. Stage One: Anticipation of Departure
  2. Stage Two: Detachment and Withdrawal
  3. Stage Three: Emotional Disorganization
  4. Stage Four: Recovery and Stabilization
  5. Stage Five: Anticipation of Return
  6. Stage Six: Return Adjustment and Renegotiation
  7. Stage Seven: Reintegration and Stabilization

During the article series about the Emotional Cycle of Deployment, it is important to remember that these are general time frames, reactions and challenges that may be experienced by military families during deployment. Each individual and family is unique and will experience each stage in their own unique way.

Stage two is detachment and withdrawal. This stage generally starts the last week before the service member leaves. As the departure date for the service member gets closer, they become focused on preparing for their mission and may start to distance themselves from their family members. Just as the service member is preparing to leave, the family may begin distancing themselves from their service member and may act like they are already gone. As a result of this distancing, communication can become difficult. There may be an increase in arguments as both the service member and the family prepares to protect themselves from the hurt of separation.

In the case of multiple deployments, there may be a need to repeatedly create distance each time the service member leaves. This can result in service members or families feeling numb and avoiding emotional connection in order to protect themselves and make the leaving seem easier. It is important for families to understand that their reactions during deployment are very normal and are a response to a very large change in the family’s life.

This stage can be very difficult and it can be hard to navigate the range of emotions that are being experienced by families. Here are some tips that can support families during the Detachment and Withdrawal stage:

  • Share information about the upcoming deployment with important adults in your child's life so that they can help support your child during the deployment.
  • Openly communicate about the upcoming deployment. Be sure to share details at a level that is appropriate for your child's age. Try to not keep things from your child because they will want to know where mommy or daddy will be. Encourage family members to share their feelings openly.
  • Talk about expectations during the deployment. Topics such as contact frequency, parenting, decision making, and support systems are helpful to cover. Try and resolve as much as possible face-to-face when it is easier to communicate with each other.
  • Don’t take arguments and comments personally during this time. Emotions are high and family members may say things that they do not mean in reaction to the high stress levels they are experiencing. Although it can be hard to do, don’t take hurtful comments or actions to heart. Recognize that everyone can be hurting during this stage and try to be understanding and forgiving.

If your family is getting ready for the deployment of a service member, check out the article Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service member’s deployment.

You can also find additional deployment support information on theMilitary OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

Other helpful Michigan State University Extension articles:

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