- "There was something in their soul, their being, that they ‘had’ to stay together...That sense of, ‘You must make it. You do not stop trying even when it all seems hopeless.’" Tweet This
- "I am so thankful that my parents decided to fight for their marriage and family...That witness to us kids of sticking it out despite the great temptation to walk away is, I think, the greatest gift they ever gave us." Tweet This
In her previous book, Primal Loss, which we covered here, Leila Miller assembled the brutally honest stories of adult children of divorce, some who spoke for the first time about the lifelong grief they suffered as a result of the breakdown of their parents’ marriages. In a new book, “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed, Miller faithfully compiles 50 stories of marital redemption—stories of once troubled marriages that have endured and overcome everything from infidelity to addiction to abandonment (or even all three). Most of the stories are recounted by a spouse, while others are shared by adults who cherish their parents’ decision to stay married despite their struggles.
The book contains a goldmine of wisdom from couples who have walked a really difficult road, sometimes together but often apart, and yet have come out on the other side stronger. Miller’s subtitle says it best: these are couples who “didn’t end the story in the middle” but persevered through seemingly impossible problems that would send most people to divorce court. As research we’ve covered on this site confirms, many couples who stay the course through the ups and downs of married life do enjoy happier unions over time. These are the kinds of marriages that are too often overlooked, the kind of marriage “war stories” that not only deserve to be heard but are perhaps needed now more than ever to give younger generations hope.
To that end, here are six lessons we can learn about staying married through the good times and bad from the true stories featured in Miller's book.
1. Stop trying to change your spouse.
“The day I accepted that my husband might not ever change,” a wife, married 50 years, wrote about her once-difficult marriage, “was the day things started to change for the better.”
Another wife shared:
I think the biggest thing is acceptance. We are two imperfect people coming together to do our best. We really have to work at taking time for each other. I also have to catch myself when I default to the ‘if he would only do this’ mindset.
2. Keep divorce off the table.
“It was precisely when I decided that divorce was not an option that my perspective changed,” one woman, married 50 years, recounted, after sharing that divorce had been her back-up plan from the beginning of her marriage:
I am convinced that if I hadn’t changed my attitude from one with a back- up plan of divorce to one of perseverance and commitment to making it work, we would not be married today.
Another woman, whose parents were married 45 years, shared about the struggles they endured, including the death of a child, infidelity, and financial ruin. As for how her parents avoided divorce, she emphasized:
There was something in their soul, their being, that they ‘had’ to stay together. It was a commitment that today seems ‘old-fashioned,’ that defies logic. That sense of, ‘You must make it. You do not stop trying even when it all seems hopeless.’
And as one wife, whose husband confessed a porn addiction, put it: "When divorce isn’t an option, all other options become more realistic. When divorce isn’t sought after, healing is."
3. Seek out supportive people who will fight for your marriage.
One woman, married 20 years, described in painful detail the slow crumbling of her marriage following the birth of a special-needs child, who needed constant medical attention. She and her husband grew increasingly distant, and he began an emotional affair, which she later discovered. However, instead of giving up, she reached out to supportive friends, priests, and family for help and support:
Knowing we were on the brink of a separation, I selectively brought a few key people into our circle of prayer and friendship…I shared my pain with two priests who knew us well, with a married couple who were friends to us both (and who would not gossip or judge), with my mother, and with my husband’s brother and his wife. Each of these trusted people wanted our marriage to survive and prosper.
Another woman, whose husband was in the military, shared how their Catholic chaplain counseled them through their troubled marriage, warning them at one point that their poor communications kills would eventually lead them to divorce if they did not get help. As she explained:
Fr. Jack helped me fit my husband into the family with excellent advice. He helped both of us unload some of our childhood insecurities and baggage. We’re still brutally honest with each other, but in a kind way—which was not the case early on. Twenty-two years, nine duty stations, and five children later, we’re still going strong. Against all odds, we’ve made it. God bless that priest.
4. Lean on the power of faith.
The couples featured in Miller’s book are Catholic, so it makes sense that faith would be a consistent theme throughout their stories of marital redemption. The majority found help and the strength to fight for their relationship through their church, relying heavily on prayer, counseling, and supportive priests and religious friends to help them keep their vow of “for better or worse.” Research, of course, confirms the power of faith and marriage, with shared prayer and frequent church attendance linked to stronger and higher-quality relationships.
One man, who was involved in an affair, wrote about the role of faith in the restoration of his marriage:
God is the only reason that I’m still in my marriage, and He’s the only reason I’m loving Marie more than when we first were married. God completely healed both of us, and we are stronger than ever in our relationship.
A wife shared how her cheating husband changed for the better following a religious conversion:
The conversion I have witnessed in my husband has been breathtaking and an answer to so many hours of prayer. I’m so grateful that I chose to stay and fight for my marriage, as it is often the case that the better comes after the worse. I lived through a dead marriage renewed, and I would relive it all over again if it gets us to where we are now.
Another husband, who struggled with a drinking problem, wrote:
Getting through a difficult marriage is not a contest of seeing how tough one can be. It is a test of faith (literally) and the opportunity to rely on and trust in God, to let Him bring you out of slavery and through the desert… Had either of us (or really, had I) looked elsewhere other than God and His Church for answers, I think I’d be a stumbling drunk, and our home would be a disaster.
5. Keep holding on to each other—especially for your children.
As one adult child of divorce wrote about her own marriage:
The thought that gives me hope, when marriage feels hard, when the past feels oppressive, is knowing what a difference my husband and I can make in the lives of our children and grandchildren. In just a couple generations, the history of heartache can change.
Another woman shared how her parents’ troubled marriage was made more difficult by her mother’s mental illness, yet her father chose to stay, and over the years, became a more tender caretaker of his wife. After 50 years of marriage, he confided in his daughter, “I love your mother now more than ever.” She added:
Let’s be honest. I know my parents had a rough marriage. I witnessed it, I lived it...But all of that fades when I contemplate their witness to marital fidelity, commitment, and, ultimately, dying to self. Their witness is now evident in the legacy of their children, each married over 20 years and counting.
Writing about her parents’ decision to stay in a not-so-perfect marriage that eventually improved with age, one woman shared:
Looking back, I am so thankful that my parents decided to fight for their marriage and family. They are still together, 40+ years later. That witness to us kids (now all adults) of sticking it out despite the great temptation to walk away is, I think, the greatest gift they ever gave us.
6. Know that choosing to stay and fight for your marriage is worth it.
One woman, married 43 years, put it best as she described the legacy of intact marriages in her family, including her own:
In the end, the staying together was better, best, and gratifying—and smart. It is not about happiness. There is a lot of comfort, love, and satisfaction, though, and yes there is happiness, but that is not the end all, be all. Whatever hell we thought we were going through was worth it. We can breathe, we are still together, we feel like warriors, we wear badges. With honor. We are married.
Alysse ElHage is Editor of the Institute for Family Studies blog.