Trouble on the home front? Military divorces on the rise

(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. -- As many military families can attest, the wounds of war can easily follow a soldier home.

And a growing number of husbands and wives are finding themselves in a new battlefield: their own homes.

At MacDill Air Force Base, Sgt. Maj. Chris Faris tries to draw out what the military has trained its toughest warriors to keep in - their emotions.

"I've got a bunch of combat vets sitting here saying, 'Hey, man, you're getting a little touchy-feely here. I'm not gonna share that stuff,"' Faris told an audience of fellow troops. "Well, if you don't share it, we can't identify it.

"Ten years of war, there's a lot of cynicism out there in the force, amongst you as well as your families."

Faris' wife, Lisa Faris, says he started having nightmares.

"They told him the nightmares were normal," Lisa recalled for the audience. "I didn't find it normal one night when he woke up, or I woke up, and he was on top of me, strangling me. And I was trying to wake him up and going, 'Chris, Chris, wake up. Wake up!' And he finally looks at me and says, 'What?' I'm like, 'You're strangling me.' He went, 'No, I'm not,' and rolled over and went back to sleep."

Together, Chris and Lisa tag-teamed a re-telling of their troubled marriage for the audience, in the hopes of helping other troubled couples.

"We went through so much bad as a couple that, there's got to be something good that's coming out of that," Lisa told CBS News. "And if we can cause people or affect change in their behaviors and their relationship patterns from the early stages so they don't have to go through this, it's a positive thing to do. ... It's not (just) about us at all."

"If you've been in this cycle of deploying and coming home and deploying and coming home, then you're probably in the same dew loop that we were in that led to our problems," Chris said.

Faris is the top enlisted man in the military's most elite unit, the Special Operations Command, which is housed at MacDill, though he's a member of the Army.

"My coping mechanism for combat was to think of myself as dead, to accept my death," Chris told to the audience. " ... So all those years from '93 until this war began, when my wife looked at me and said, 'Something in you has died,' and I looked at her and said, 'You're crazy, I'm still the same guy.' You know what? She was right. ... That mechanism, to me, absolutely built distance between me and my family."

After a decade of war, separation and trauma, it is a story shared by many military families.

More than 30,000 military marriages ended in divorce last year, and the military divorce rate is at its highest in ten years, according to the Pentagon.

"I love you, I love you, I love you,' he kept saying," Lisa told the audience. "And every time he'd say that, I'd cringe. I didn't want to hear it, I didn't want him to say it, I didn't want to feel it, I didn't want any part of it. And he said, 'Lisa, I will do anything it takes to make it work."'

Together, with counseling, they did make it work, healing what Chris calls "wounds of the soul."

"We're just a normal couple that has normal issues and normal arguments. And that's OK now," Chris said.

Their marriage is a work in progress, "Like any marriage," Chris said. "Like any marriage."

To see Michelle Miller's report, click on the video in the player above.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

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