Deployments can stress even the strongest of marriages.
Deployments can stress even the strongest of marriages. iStockphoto.com
This interview was originally broadcast on May 10, 2012.
To all appearances, Chris and Lisa Faris seemed to have it all together. He rose through the ranks of the U.S. Special Operations Command to become its top enlisted man, command sergeant major, and his wife tended to their family and many others on his long deployments.
But the true picture wasn't so pretty. Their marriage nearly dissolved. Then, in 2009, they decided to do whatever it took to make their marriage work. Now they tour the country, speaking openly about painful details and sharing difficult lessons with troops and their spouses across the country.
The Farises talk with NPR's Neal Conan about how their family broke down under the strain of multiple deployments, and the moment when Sgt. Faris realized something needed to change.
On Sgt. Faris' return from war
Read the USA Today feature on Command Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris and his wife, Lisa.
Lisa: "He seemed to lose the warmth and the family connection that he had prior to the war. ... I found him separating himself from us, kind of putting up walls to either protect himself or just, you know, in a prepared state of mind constantly ready to go to the next mission. So it became more and more so as the years passed, and unfortunately the barrier between us grew further and further apart. So it was a struggle.
"... [It was] very hard to talk about. You actually get to the point where you don't talk about it. You talk about the weather. You talk about the kids and soccer games, but you're not talking about the true issues, and that's where the breakdown is."
Chris: "The way we couch it in our talks is this isn't the elephant in the room that everybody ignores. This is the elephant in the room that everybody can see and smell and you just walk around it."
On how his deployments affected their two daughters
Lisa: "They've struggled. They couldn't understand why Dad didn't want to do the things that they wanted to do at times. They wanted to know why he separated himself, why he didn't get involved with their everyday lives.
"... They just wanted a normal life, and unfortunately the normal life they had was Mom, and so when he'd come home, they just went on with their life, and he was there, but he wasn't really there. He just went through the motions at times."
On the moment when things started to change
Chris: "I had an epiphany ... [when my youngest daughter asked] me if I knew how old she was the last time I'd been home for one of her birthdays ... And I had to look at her, and I said 'No, I don't know how old you're going to be. I know you're going to turn 18.' And she looked at me and said, 'Well, I was 10.'
"And that was pretty hard to take, to realize what all I'd missed between 10 and the [age] of 18."