Combat can hurt your marriage in a way deployment never will. Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris, 50, senior enlisted member of the Army’s Delta Force, has taken a welcome step toward more openness about marriage. According to the story in USA TODAY Faris and his wife Lisa are meeting with groups of special operations troops at the request of US Special Operations Command. The couple frankly discusses how years of combat brought their marriage past the breaking point and into the dead zone. Faris reveals that the end began all the way back in 1993 during the Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu:
“A crippling fear welled up, Faris says, and he fought to overcome it in two ways: He turned it into anger; and — more consequentially — he forced himself to accept his own death, bidding his wife and two young daughters farewell.
Faris says this helped him survive that day. But as Lisa tells the audience, the Chris that returned home from that fight was different.
“Something had died inside of him and he was there. But he wasn’t there,” Lisa says.
That change in Faris and his ability to participate in family life is the kind of thing we hear about all the time in the military community and right here on SpouseBuzz. The change doesn’t come as a result of deployment. The change seems to come from the experience of combat.
According to research conducted by the RAND Corporation, deployment itself, although stressful, is not associated with an increased risk of divorce. The theory is that deployment is like childbirth. Although it represents a big change for the family, it is expected and couples find ways to move through it and emerge stronger.
Combat—actual combat in which the service member is injured or sees a friend injured or killed, or sees the enemy injured or dead—can profoundly affect military members. This has been shown in multiple studies to result in an associated degree of lower marital satisfaction, lower confidence that the relationship would continue, and in some cases marital dissolution.
Which is sobering. But we only know for sure that combat CAN affect a marriage this way. We don’t know HOW it works. By being encouraged to tell their story, Lisa and Chris Faris are giving our community the opportunity to see one way in which the experience of repeated combat can operate on a family and how their own family is trying to get back on track. Hopefully, this openness will lead to a better ability to identify the behaviors that commonly occur with the experience of combat—like Sgt. Maj. Faris’s act of mentally bidding his family goodbye. Then we can figure out what to do next to keep people who love each other together in the best possible way.