Returning home to relationships

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Pressure and adrenaline keep you moving when you are on mission. When you get out of this stressful environment you feel relieved, but at times you may feel emotionally empty. It is really important to have realistic expectations about what it will be like to return home, and ask for help if need be.

ask for help if need be

It is not uncommon for family and friends to struggle to understand what you’re going through. For this reason, talking with colleagues who have lived similar experiences can be helpful.

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The people we meet while working in emergencies can sometimes be the most wonderful friends and colleagues one could ever imagine. During field missions, I have observed very powerful bonds between colleagues working together in intense situations and the friendships formed over just a few weeks of work can be long lasting.

I met my best friend when I was working in Bosnia and that was 12 years ago now ~OCHA colleague

However, our friends and families may not understand the shared experiences and professional relationships we have developed in these short spaces of time. They may also feel left out. We need to understand these possibilities and show that we are still invested in our ‘old’ relationships.

Absence can build emotional distance

Keeping the fire going in your relationship is a very delicate process. www_holding-hands-1031665_1920Don’t expect your partner to shower you with physical and emotional love once you walk through the door. Absence can build emotional distance and your partner will need time to adjust. You may even feel temporarily like an outsider, but do not rush to conclusions, it is a readjustment. If domestic routines have changed while you were away, resist the temptation to reverse them. Your family has their reasons for doing things in a certain way, so do not rush to change things.

Useful links on ‘returning home to relationships’


“Normal” becomes an elusive concept, as does the notion of “home”

Relationships and humanitarian work” is a pragmatic article by Dr. Linda Wagener, Psychologist, Headington Institute, where she discusses the rewarding subject of relationships and humanitarian work.

Good relationships are a source of meaning and purpose for most people. It was the one dimension that predicted well-being in every one of 132 countries studied. 


Life after the field” is an article by ‘Global aid worker‘ site that explores the internal struggle we experience as we adapt to life after returning from the field.

After moving so frequently, many of us lose our sense of “home” and, with it, our sense of identity.

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‘Reverse culture shock’ What, when, and how to cope” is an article by the expat site ‘Expatica’ about the subtleties and difficulties for expats managing the repatriation process.

expats can begin to feel frustrated or confused when their close friends and family are anything but curious and intrigued about their experience


Staying close while apart: maintaining personal relationships while deployed” is a short video by the Headington Institute on how to maintain a thriving relationship while on humanitarian assignment.

If you are the traveling spouse, take the initiative to make contact. Chances are, if you chose this line of work, separation is fairly easy for you. Resist your natural urge to disconnect and become singularly focused on the work. Your partner will appreciate it.


Services like OCHA Staff Welfare are at your disposal if you want to talk to someone who ‘gets it’ and is impartial to the situation.