The institution of marriage has certainly come under attack over the past couple of decades, as we have seen couples either not get married and just cohabitate, or marry and then divorce for various reasons. Our culture tends to accept most reasons for divorce, whether big or small.
Author Leila Miller is passionate about defending the institution of marriage, and she has written at book detailing stories of marriages that weather seemingly impossible storms to stay together. Leila Miller joins Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast to discuss her book, “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed: They Didn’t End the Story in the Middle.
“It used to be honor and fidelity through hardship, and you really kept your sacred promises,” says Miller. But our culture has started to say something different. “Now we’ve kind of switched the paradigm to how do you feel about things. If you’re not feeling emotionally fulfilled, if you’re not feeling happy, […] you deserve to move on and feel good in a different relationship.”
“We tend to go into a marriage thinking that this is the fulfillment of my life,” Miller continues. “All these romantic movies tell us is that it’s going to be good because now you found this soulmate. [But] this is the beginning of carrying a cross through and becoming a holier person.Bad things are going to happen on this earth because we’re not in heaven yet.”
“I think people reading will see that one thing you have to do is give your spouse that room to be a sinner, to be imperfect. And to let go of resentment. Resentment is like a drug.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Leila Miller share more about her book, “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed.
TRACI GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Not so long ago, it was common for parents to, “stay together for the kids,” but now, not so much. Our guest today is passionate about the institution of marriage, and she’s written books designed to shed light on the often-silenced experiences of children of divorce, and now on couples who have weathered the storms to stay true to their marriage vows.
Leila Miller’s newest book is “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed: They Didn’t End the Story in the Middle. It highlights inspiring stories of marriages that beat the odds through a combination of grace, hard work, perseverance, and sometimes just plain stubbornness.
Leila Miller, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
LEILA MILLER: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here with you.
TRACI GRIGGS: Your earlier book, Primal Loss, was all about giving a voice to the now adult children of divorce. Which voices are you trying to magnify in your new book?
LEILA MILLER: The new book is more stories of hope of actual couples who stay together, and you don’t hear really that much about them either. My first book was more, you know, gosh, all these adult children of divorce who don’t have a voice out there. In that book I had put at the end a few stories of hope from some of the couples who had weathered really difficult situations. And then I had a bunch of people, pastors and otherwise saying, “I need a whole book of that.” So, then I gathered a whole bunch of stories of hope from the actual spouses and had them tell their stories of how they had weathered really bad stuff all the way to redemption. I just have a whole book of those stories, which you never hear about because you usually hear that people want to move on and find their soulmate or something like that.
TRACI GRIGGS: I love that. Of course, we know that if we study public policy, there are a variety of different studies that have found that couples rarely stay unhappy. One of the folks featured in your book called divorce, “a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Why do you think this “permanent solution” is so often and quickly sought by couples?
LEILA MILLER: It’s kind of the narrative of the culture today, where it used to be, you know, honor and fidelity through hardship, and you really kept your sacred promises. Now we’ve kind of switched the paradigm to how do you feel about things. You know, if you’re not feeling emotionally fulfilled, if you’re not feeling happy, or if your partner isn’t making you feel the way you felt on your wedding day, you know what, you deserve to move on and feel good in a different relationship. So, the whole paradigm has switched and flipped on its head. And when you have not only the culture telling you that—the secular culture—but then you also have the church in many ways telling people that; then you have very little impetus to stay and work through something that’s very difficult because nobody wants to feel bad. So, unfortunately the message that people are getting is to just, “try again; move along; you know, you don’t need to suffer.” And that’s what they’re getting. And when you’re already in a difficult, vulnerable place, it’s very hard to not go along with those voices that are trying to make you feel happy again.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, Philip Lawler, of course, wrote the foreword to your book, and he refers to the couples featured in the book as heroes. So why do you think these stories of lifelong marriage are heroic?
LEILA MILLER: Yes, his forward was really something. I didn’t expect him to use that word, but what’s interesting is I had some people who’ve been in really rough marriages read his forward, and they said it just made them cry. Heroes do the uncommon thing, right? Uncommon Valor. It’s kind of like they’ll do the things that normal people in the moment wouldn’t do. The firefighter who runs up the twin towers while everyone else is running out. That’s going against the grain of what is deemed healthy or popular, so these contributors are really doing the opposite of what most people do today. It’s painful. They don’t get a whole lot of support, so the fact that they’re standing for that sacred vow that they made and that they’re not going to compromise on that makes them heroic and rare, very rare these days.
TRACI GRIGGS: Is part of the importance for couples entering into marriage this idea that divorce is not an option?
LEILA MILLER: Exactly. There’s a mindset that you can escape suffering through divorce, because now no-fault divorce makes it absolutely guaranteed. Anybody who wants out can get out, no questions asked. Now it’s a situation where you have to go in yourself with this mindset that divorce is off the table. Someone said once, “If divorce is mentioned, if divorce is an option, then divorce will happen.” But if you go into your marriage knowing there is no divorce, there’s no divorce for us, this is a permanent union, this is “my person” until the end, then everything changes because then you have to be creative. You have to think of other options, and that’s when you start to look for healing. That’s when you start to look at yourself and look at what are the possibilities here? What can I do if I know that this is my spouse for life?
And you do. You start to not have that escape clause or that exit ramp that you can just slide on out. Almost the same arguments and the same mindset of abortion where you know what you’re suffering, you just need this way out. And if you don’t ever entertain the idea of an abortion, for example, you’re going to entertain other ideas, right? You know, adoption, working it out, parenting. There are so many different ways you can go. Same thing with divorce. You’re just going to cut off that one avenue that is not going to be open to you, and you’re going to find other options. And that’s when things start to open up and God’s grace kind of starts to really flow.
TRACI GRIGGS: What were some of the common struggles experienced by couples in your book that caused them to think about divorce?
LEILA MILLER: So in the book, boy, a lot of infidelity, pornography, addiction is huge. Alcoholism, you know, that’s a big theme in the book. Just really difficult situations; financial ruin in some cases. You know, in some cases the adultery might have been more than one wave of adultery. You know, where they made-up and things got better and then 10 years later he had another affair, or she bankrupted the family the second time, you know? There are a lot of ongoing issues, and you watch as they get through them. You watch what they decide to do, how they decide to respond. And it’s just so compelling because usually not only does the spouse respond in some way to the grace that the person who’s trying to preserve the marriage brings, but the person his or herself who isn’t maybe the guilty one also starts to change, and then the marriage starts to change.
TRACI GRIGGS: Did you find some guiding principles for couples to try to avoid some of the pitfalls before their marriages get to a place where they are at a breaking point?
LEILA MILLER: You know, I think people reading will see that one thing you have to do is give your spouse that room to be a sinner, to be imperfect. I mean, none of us is perfect, and we tend to think we’re really wonderful and that our spouse is the problem. In some cases that’s really glaringly true perhaps, but in other cases I noticed that a lot of the people who, when they started to really examine the dynamic of the marriage, they realized, wait a minute, I had a hand in the disintegration of this marriage. There’s something here that I did too, but I’m not looking at myself; I’m just focusing on the bad spouse.
And so one thing I noticed that halfway through editing this book, I realized, I’m reading a bunch of conversion stories basically. And all of these folks started to look at themselves. They started to take the focus off the spouse, and then they also started forgiveness. Forgiveness is huge. Someone coming and reading this would say maybe I need to soften just a bit before there are problems. A lot of women too, there’s a feminist thread of people just being fed this idea that we’re supposed to be in competition with our husbands. You know, we’re supposed to be getting what we want and kind of coming up against them and butting heads rather than being their partner, you know, someone who’s there to be a soft place to land. And so there’s some of that which makes you realize maybe I need to be, from the beginning, more forgiving, and then God will forgive me. You know, and more loving and more realizing this is my person; this is the person I’ve vowed to love forever, rather than let me see what I can get and let me see how if he or she fails me, how I can get really angry about that. It’s just what God has always hoped for His people and what Christ has said. It is to forgive and to love.
TRACI GRIGGS: What about the extended family and friends of these couples? Do they play a role in the success of these marriages?
LEILA MILLER: Huge, and sadly I would say in many cases they played a role in wanting to deconstruct the family. So, we really have to be very careful all around. The voices are going to be sympathetic, but usually in a way that is, “We love you so much; we don’t want to see you suffering.” And then they’ll pile on the person who is offending, you know, “You shouldn’t have to put up with that.” This is terrible. And then in some of the cases you have these wonderfully wise family members who would come in and say, “Don’t let his or her sin make you sin.” Or one woman was told by her, I think it was her sister, to remember, “what a fantastic father,” her husband was, cause she couldn’t see anything good about him at that point. And that just was one person who gave her a little light to not see her husband as just you know, the enemy and to bring her back. Her heart softened. And I always say to everyone, “You can be the one voice in the family or in the circle of friends who isn’t just there to encourage a divorce, or encourage someone to move on and find someone that is going to treat you better.” That type of thing. Just one voice is all a person might need to save a family, and then redeem the family into something much more beautiful than it even was at the beginning.
TRACI GRIGGS: You discuss in your book the importance of “mourning what is lost,” when a marriage encounters some devastating challenges as you’ve already mentioned. What do you mean by that?
LEILA MILLER: We tend to go into a marriage thinking that this is the fulfillment of my life, like now that I’m married, now that I found this person, and this is especially true of women, now that I found this person, I can rest in joy. I can just be happy because this is what all the romcoms; you know all these romantic movies tell us is that it’s going to be good because now you found this soulmate. It kind of ends at the wedding, and you’re supposed to just, I guess, rest on your laurels. It’s never been that way. It never will be that way, and our mothers and forefathers knew that it wasn’t that way. This is the beginning of carrying a cross through and becoming a holier person. But you have to be able to understand that whatever image you had of this marriage is never, and it never was going to be what your marriage was. You have to let that go and realize, okay, “I’m married to a sinner; I’m a sinner.” Bad things are going to happen on this earth because we’re not in heaven yet.
And then letting go of that because otherwise you have such a resentment. Like this isn’t what I signed up for. Resentment is like a drug. You know, you start to feel self-righteous. You start to feel like I know best. I should have had this, and now it’s this person’s fault that I don’t have this. And then you keep feeding yourself with that resentment because it makes you feel like you’re right. And so you have to let go of whatever that image was you thought you had of your marriage and what you thought it was going to be. And then you have to be in the present and say, “This is my marriage, and now what can I do?” And once you let go of that, it’s actually a great burden that is lifted from you, and a great burden that is lifted from your spouse. And then you can live in the moment and in God’s grace and figure out what He’s doing with your marriage rather than what you insist with your control you think it should be. It’s actually very freeing.
TRACI GRIGGS: How wonderful. Well, we’re just about out of time for this week, but before we go, Leila, where can our listeners go to get a copy of your lovely new book, “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed?
LEILA MILLER: It’s available on Amazon, and that’s generally where you’re going to get either the Kindle or the paperback. And the reason I self-published is because I always want to make sure that people can get a copy for free if they need it because I’m able to give out a PDF copy if someone can’t afford it, so I keep the rights to the book. If anyone also wants to email me at Leilamiller.net, that’s like my site. So again, you get it on Amazon, or if you can’t afford a book, I will make sure that you get one for free.
TRACI GRIGGS: Well, that is so great. So again, Leila Miller, author of “Impossible” Marriages Redeemed: They Didn’t End the Story in the Middle. Thank you so much for being with us this week on Family Policy Matters.