We live in a society where gratification is instant, and everything, including people and relationship, is disposable. We are encouraged to “find our bliss” and move along if anything or anyone is making us unhappy — even our spouse.
Traditionally, the Christian church has attempted to encourage members to preserve marriage — to work out problems and honor marital vows. But with the advent of no- fault divorce in the 1970s, safeguards surrounding marriage began to crumble. Now the rate of divorces among the Christian community looks little different than that of their secular neighbors. The prevailing wisdom is to give up, get out, move on.
That’s why Impossible Marriages Redeemed: They Didn’t End the Story in the Middle, by religion and culture writer Leila Miller is so important. It recounts multiple true examples of couples who, when faced with the most difficult marital problems —adultery, abandonment, addiction — chose to stay in their marriages and found blessing, peace, and for many, rekindled relationship.
The book was birthed out of research done for Leila’s previous title, Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak, in which she curated responses from more than 70 people who answered a series of questions posed to adults whose parents had divorced. She felt the heartbreaking effects of parents’ divorces, told by children often decades later, were “extremely depressing.” One book club told her “it was the most traumatic book they had ever read,” she said. In Primal Loss Leila did include a ray of hope, chapter 10, which relayed the stories of some who had chosen to continue to work through the difficulties in their marriages.
Lay people and clergy alike told her they were searching for a resource to inspire struggling couples to provide hope to those who found themselves in circumstances that seem impossible. As when creating Primal Loss, Leila solicited examples through her blog and social media, which she edited and compiled to create Impossible Marriages Redeemed. She hopes pastors, counselors, friends and family members will give the book to people who are ready to throw in the towel, and that they will find hope in story after story of success, forgiveness and redemption.
Make no mistake, this book describes very real problems — so difficult that it almost defies explanation that they could be resolved. And that is one of the takeaways — these marriages would not have been restored without the grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. They all required a miraculous intervention and work of God.
“These are not normal stories of troubled marriages,” Leila stressed. “Most troubled marriages are low conflict. These are not those. My point was, if you can overcome these types of things, resolving things in a low conflict marriage should be a no-brainer. The trauma and seriousness of these issues were remarkable, yet the outcomes were amazing.”
Leila pointed out that many of the stories were written by women, not because men are inherently bad or are the ones creating the problems, but because women tend to be better at communicating their feelings and writing down their stories. In fact, she said most of her correspondence is from men who are being abandoned by their wives, validated by statistics that show women now file the majority of divorces.
Leila has been married for 30 years and is the mother of 8 children and 10 grandchildren. She believes that environment is contagious. If friends are getting divorced, “it fuels the fires of discontentment.” She cautions couples to “choose friends wisely, as people get a lot of encouragement to break up their family from their friends.” She added that the results of divorce do not translate to happiness, especially toward the end of life.
“I’m not saying that it will suddenly be wine and roses if you stay, but as in the book’s subtitle, this is the middle of the story,” Leila said. “I think of it like raising a child who has turned into a drug addict or an alcoholic, you don’t stop loving that child, even if you have to separate for a while. You hope and pray until the end. We don’t do that with our spouses, because it is easy to move one. For those who didn’t — there was a miracle at the end. There are beautiful stories of people in their golden years who found a true, deeper love than they had in the beginning.”
Leila likens a person’s sacrificial love for their spouse to that of Christ’s love for his unfaithful bride, the church, for whom he died on the cross. Her last section of the book is dedicated to those she calls the real heroes, the Standers, who chose to continue to honor their marriage vows, even if they are only spouse so doing.
She details a beautiful example of a wife who remained faithful, even though she had not seen her drug-addicted husband in the 13 years following abandonment. She prayed to honor her marital vows until he died. The Lord granted her request — she was able to be present, holding his hand, on her husband’s deathbed.
One caveat for readers who do not share Leila’s Catholic faith, many of those who responded are Catholic, and they couch their faith journey and practices in language with which a Protestant reader might be unfamiliar. A Catholic might use the phrases Adoration or praying the Rosary to describe what another might experience as worship and concerted prayer. During a time of crisis in life, it is right and in fact, crucial, to seek the power of Christ for problems bigger than ourselves. The people portrayed in this
book realized they needed God’s help, and they took action in way consistent with their church practices. We can find common ground is the agreement that the God of the Bible is the God of miracles. Whether through Catholic or Protestant practice and prayer, God can do a work to restore relationships that would otherwise be unredeemable.
A summary from Rob Marco, published in the April 24, 2020 Catholic Stand: “The family depends on marriage, which Satan himself has set out to destroy. It is the great battle of our time. Marriage is the retaining wall which keeps the family from washing out to sea, for as St. John Paul II has said: ‘As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.’ The fight to save marriages is one that is only won one couple at a time, and its significance should not be understated. Impossible Marriages Redeemed is an important contribution to that preservation.”