Returning gulf troops get refresher course in making love, not war

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON -- All may be fair in love and war, but all is not always easy in either department.

So having declared victory in war, the U.S. military is now trying its hand at love, charting road maps to romance for returning service members and their mates who may need a little basic training for their reunions.

The "Guide to Developing and Conducting Reunion Programs," a booklet developed by the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center, offers help to military families from all branches and on all aspects of homecoming -- parenting, jealousy, post-traumatic stress disorder. Even sex.

"Leave your sexual fantasies on the plane," the guide advises. "Expect that sex may be awkward at first. Talk it over. A rule of thumb for the sexual reunion is to treat it like a honeymoon."

Delores Johnson, project coordinator and family program manager at the Army support center in Alexandria, Va., says everyone assumes intimacy returns easily to a relationship once a couple is reunited. "The reality is, for some people, it doesn't."

"Getting reacquainted again is a very difficult experience," says Chaplain Herman Keizer, deputy director of the U.S. Army Chaplaincy Service Support Agency in Washington, who helped prepare the booklet. He says one of the biggest problems with reuniting couples is their fantasy of what homecoming will be like.

"People often have fantasies of running through the high grass, beautifully dressed, embracing one another and spinning each other around -- all of a sudden swept up in ecstasy. That usually doesn't comport with what the reality is when you walk in the front door."

The chatty, frank guide is used by military chaplains and social workers in "reunion briefings" held at military posts and outreach centers. Much of the material is based on similar packages previously developed by the U.S. Navy for personnel returning from regular six-month deployments. But Chaplain Keizer says the lessons on re-establishing intimacy are especially appropriate for troops returning from Operation Desert Storm since 60 percent of today's Army is married, with an additional 20 percent involved in a serious relationship with a member of the opposite sex.

"Some people wish to be courted again before feeling comfortable resuming sexual intimacy," the booklet notes. "Some others want to have sex right away. And still others are a mixture of these two. The key is to talk and let each other know desires and feelings associated with a sexual reunion."

Sound like common sense? "When you build up a whole bunch of fantasies, common sense goes out the window," says Chaplain Keizer.

There's even a section on infidelity that includes such "common mistakes in handling infidelity" as being totally unprepared for the possibility, dumping the facts on an unprepared spouse "to relieve your own sense of guilt," or claiming that a dalliance "just happened."

The guide addresses the concerns of the "single soldier" returning home -- "Are you looking for a one-night stand (very dangerous and somewhat unrealistic nowadays) or a relationship with someone special?" But in some parts, it neglects the increasing number of military women, with tips and advice geared largely to returning male soldiers and their wives and girlfriends back home, giving parts of the package a somewhat antiquated, even sexist, tone.

For instance, wives are told to remember: "Don't grill him about real or imagined affairs. Don't poke around his belongings looking for 'clues.' Questioning your mate about infidelity can only destroy trust between the two of you. Swallow your curiosity."

Husbands, in turn, are told: ". . . no picture books or X-rated videotapes. Your wife or girlfriend might accept that the picture books and films are substitutes for her good loving while you're away. For many this interest may not fade when you're home. For your partner, your fascination with pictures of OTHER women naked may cause some misunderstanding."

Similarly, men are advised against "experimentation and new positions . . . give it time. She may be suspicious of where you learned about these ideas! (ha ha)"

Chaplain Keizer says, "We always have the disclaimer that 'he' ++ means 'he' or 'she,' " but admits that some of these lessons may need to be re-examined with today's coed military in mind.

Maj. Linda K. Jellen, chief of Army Community Services, adds that the package was put together quickly to meet the needs of Desert Storm families and would be reworked to eliminate sexist references.

Still, says Chaplain Keizer, the dynamics between couples are often the same, whether the returning service member is male or female. In the end, he says, success will depend greatly on the health of the relationship to begin with.

"If you had the kind of relationship that was good in terms of communication and sexual behavior, then re-establishing that will be fairly easy," he says. "If the relationship was in trouble, then that trouble can be exacerbated by a separation. Sometimes, absence makes the heart grow fonder of abstinence."

Reunion tips

The following are "tips for a successful reunion" between returning service members and their families from the U.S. Army's "Guide to Developing and Conducting Reunion Programs":

* Agree on plans for homecoming day and the next few days or weeks. Where do the children fit in? Are parents or in-laws coming?

* Realize the day of homecoming is very stressful. Returning spouses have had little sleep and lots of food. Perhaps you haven't slept a great deal or feel worn out preparing for homecoming. Children are excited and tend to act out.

* Plan time as a couple and as a family with the children.

* Respect each other and the job each did. Avoid the "I had it worse" game.

* Make time to rest.

* Negotiate number of social events to attend (discuss the desires of the deployed spouse to stay at home and the other spouse to want to show off his or her spouse).

Suggestions for returning service members on becoming part of your family again:

* Go slow: Do not take over when you return.

* Be strong-willed: Try not to give into children's demands because of guilt.

* Observe spouse and family: Find out what their schedule and rules are.

* Be flexible: Everything changes with time.

* Take time: Make special time to be a family and a couple.

* Don't rush your spouse and children to re-establish your relationships. Take the lead to cultivate and nurture your relationships.

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