Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Posts tagged ‘divorce’

40 Consequences of Adultery

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by David Boehi — Family Life Ministries

If I committed adultery…

  1. My relationship with God would suffer from a break in fellowship.
  2. I would need to seek forgiveness from my Lord.
  3. I would suffer from the emotional consequences of guilt.
  4. I would spend countless hours replaying the failure.
  5. My spouse would suffer the scars of this abuse more deeply than I could begin to describe.
  6. My spouse would spend countless hours in counseling.
  7. My spouse’s recovery would be long and painful.
  8. My spouse’s pain would grieve me deeply and compound my own suffering and shame.
  9. Our marriage relationship would suffer a break in trust, fellowship, and intimacy.
  10. In our marriage, we would be together, yet feel great loneliness.
  11. The reputation of my family would suffer loss.
  12. My children would be deeply disappointed and bewildered.
  13. My grandchildren would not understand.
  14. My friends would be disappointed and would question my integrity.
  15. My employment or job performance would be affected.
  16. My witness among neighbors would become worthless.
  17. My witness to my family would be worthless.
  18. My testimony among my spouse’s family would be damaged.
  19. My service in ministry would be damaged.
  20. My ability to work within the church would be damaged.
  21. I would suffer God’s discipline.
  22. Satan would be thrilled at my failure.
  23. Satan would work overtime to be sure my shame never departed.
  24. My spouse might divorce me.
  25. My children might never speak to me.
  26. Our mutual friends would shy away from us and break fellowship.
  27. I would bring emotional pain to the person with whom I committed adultery.
  28. I would bring reproach upon the person with whom I committed adultery.
  29. If my affair partner is married, that person’s spouse might attempt to bring harm.
  30. My affair partner’s spouse might divorce her.
  31. An unwanted child could be produced.
  32. My part in conception might trigger an abortion, the killing of an innocent child.
  33. Disease might result.
  34. Some might conclude that all Christians are hypocrites.
  35. My business could fail because I couldn’t be trusted.
  36. My leadership among those I have led in the past might also be diminished in impact.
  37. My zeal for ministry would suffer and possibly result in others not continuing in ministry.
  38. My health would suffer.
  39. I might have to start life over again.
  40. This same sin might be visited upon my family for four generations.

It’s a pretty sobering list, isn’t it? What’s even more sobering is that many people will consider these consequences and still proceed in their sin. The fantasy is more important to them than the reality.

The biggest benefit of this list may be in helping us realize the need to set up strict safeguards to ensure that we are faithful in our marriage commitment. If I am convinced of what adultery would do to me and to my family, I will watch my wandering eyes, guard my thought life, and avoid any situations that could put me in harm’s way.

The fantasy is just not worth it.

This Behavior Is The #1 Predictor Of Divorce, And You’re Guilty Of It

SOURCE:  Brittany Wong/Huffington Post

Your body language speaks volumes.

Ever catch yourself rolling your eyes at your partner or getting a little too sarcastic during a conversation?

Those seemingly small behaviors are not that innocent after all.

According to renowned researcher John Gottman, contemptuous behavior like eye-rolling, sarcasm and name-calling is the number one predictor of divorce.

For 40 years, the University of Washington psychology professor and his team at the Gottman Institute have studied couples’ interactions to determine the key predictors of divorce — or as Gottman calls them, “the four horsemen of the apocalypse.”

Contempt is the number one sign, followed by criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling (emotionally withdrawing from your partner.)

So how do you curb contempt in your own marriage and stave off divorce? Below, experts share seven things you can do to keep contempt in check.

1. Realize that delivery is everything.

“Remember, it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes all the difference. Contempt often comes in the form of name-calling, snickering, sarcasm, eye-rolling and long heavy sighs. Like a poison, it can erode the trust and safety in your relationship and bring your marriage to a slow death. Your goal is to be heard. You need to present your message in a way that makes this happen without doing damage to the relationship.” — Christine Wilke, a marriage therapist based in Easton, Pennsylvania

2. Ban the word “whatever” from your vocabulary.

“When you say ‘whatever’ to your partner, you’re basically saying you’re not going to listen to them. This sends them a message that whatever they’re talking about is unimportant and has no merit to you. This is the last thing you want your spouse to hear. Sending messages (even indirectly through contempt) that they’re not important will end a relationship pretty quickly.” — Aaron Anderson, a Denver, Colorado-based marriage and family therapist

3. Stay clear of sarcasm and mean-spirited jokes.

“Avoid sarcasm and comments like, ‘I’ll bet you do!’ or ‘Oh, that was super funny” in a rude tone of voice. While you’re at it, don’t make jokes at the expense of your partner or make universal comments about his or her gender (‘You would say that — you’re a guy’).” — LeMel Firestone-Palerm, a marriage and family therapist

4. Don’t live in the past.

“Most couples start showing contempt because they have let a lot of little things build up. To avoid contempt all together, you need to stay current in your communications along the way. If you’re unhappy about something, say it directly. Also, acknowledge the valid complaints your partner has about you — you’ll probably be less self-righteous the next time you fight.” – authors of The Heart of the Fight: A Couple’s Guide to Fifteen Common Fights, What They Really Mean, and How They Can Bring You Closer

5. Watch your body language.

“If you find yourself rolling your eyes or smirking, it is a signal that your relationship could be headed for trouble. Try taking a break from each other if things get heated, or try focusing on positive aspects that you like about your partner.” — Chelli Pumphrey, a counselor based in Denver, Colorado

6. Don’t ever tell your spouse, “you’re overreacting.”

“When you say your S.O. is overreacting, what you’re really saying is that their feelings are unimportant to you. Instead of telling your partner that they’re overreacting, listen to their point of view. Try to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel that way. They have those feelings for a reason.” — Aaron Anderson

7. If you find yourself being contemptuous, stop and take a deep breath.

“Make it your goal to become aware of what contempt is. Then find out specifically what it looks like in your marriage. When you feel the urge to go there, take a deep breath, and say ‘stop’ quietly to yourself. Find another way to make your point. Contempt is a bad habit like smoking or nail biting. With work, you can break it.” — Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California

When Your Marriage Needs Help

SOURCE:  Taken from the series — When Your Marriage Needs Help/Focus on the Family

Is My Marriage Worth Saving?

Without a doubt, your marriage is worth saving!

Though all marriages can’t be saved, divorce does not typically solve personal or relational dysfunctions. For couples with children, it is important to understand that research validates the fact that most children do not want their parents to divorce, in spite of their parents’ arguments and basic problems. In fact, one of the number one fears of children in the United States, ages 4 to 16, is the fear that their parents will divorce.1

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a psychologist and one of the nation’s premier divorce researchers, conducted a 25-year research study following 131 children of divorce. She states:

Twenty-five years after their parents’ divorce, children remembered loneliness, fear and terror! Adults like to believe that children are aware of their parents’ unhappiness, expect the divorce and are relieved when it happens. However, that is a myth; and what children actually conclude is if one parent can leave another, then they both could leave me. As a society we like to think that divorce is a transient grief, a minor upheaval in a child’s life. This is also a myth; and as divorcing parents go through transition, their children live in transition.2

Dr. John Gottman provides interesting research findings that suggest why it is important to save your marriage. He states, “The chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent. Half of all divorces will occur in the first seven years. The divorce rate for second marriages is as much as 10 percent higher than for first-timers.”

 He goes on to explain:

Numerous research projects show that happily married couples have a far lower rate for physical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression, psychosis, addictions, etc. and live four years longer than people who end their marriages. The chance of getting divorced remains so high that it makes sense for all married couples to put extra effort into their marriages to keep them strong.3

According to a national study (the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey), more than three-fifths of divorced Americans say they wish they or their spouses had worked harder to save their marriages (see fatherhood.org).

Findings from a study of unhappy marriages conducted by the Institute for American Values showed that there was no evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were typically any happier than unhappily married people who stayed married. Even more dramatically, the researchers also found that two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed together reported that their marriages were happy five years later.4

When people hear about these findings, their response typically is:

All that research is well and good; but I have tried everything I know to do, and my spouse simply will not agree to get help. I have cried, begged, threatened and pleaded, but nothing works. So what do I do? I can’t do it on my own. There is nothing else I can do.

Maybe there is.

  1. Schachter, Dr. Robert and Carole McCauley, When Your Child Is Afraid, (Simon and Schuster, 1988).
  2. Wallerstein, Judith, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce – The 25 Year Landmark Study, (Hyperion Publishers, 2000).
  3. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (Three Rivers Press, 1999).
  4. “Does Divorce Make People Happy?” (Institute for American Values, 2002).

When a Spouse Won’t Get Help

Three of the most common reasons one spouse gives the other for not seeking help in the marriage follow:

  • “We don’t have that kind of problem” or “Our problems are really not that bad.” That’s the denial response. The fact is, if your spouse requests counseling, your marriage is probably worse off than you think. Your spouse is apparently in enough pain to seek relief from it in some way. If your spouse is hurting to the point of taking this action, you need to join him or her in solving the problem. If your spouse has a problem, you have a problem.
  • “We can’t afford it.” Most Americans can afford whatever they really want. If we can afford cell phones, hobbies, cable TV, eating out, health club memberships, daily visits to Starbuck’s and designer clothes, we can afford marriage counseling or an intensive designed to save our marriage. A question to seriously consider is: “Can I/we afford not to go to counseling?” If you don’t go to counseling, what will be the outcome? Can you live for the rest of your married life with the outcome?
  • Another common reason your spouse might reject counseling is that he or she simply is not hurting as much as you are. Your spouse is not where you are on the pain scale. The typical response shown by the motivated spouse is a sense of frustration or unhealthy responses such as nagging, pouting, arguing, accusing, angry outbursts or simply being bitter. But unhealthy responses like these only cause wounds to deepen and the other spouse to move further away from the relationship. You can’t “nag” your spouse into getting help.

On the spiritual side, a possible factor that could prevent you or your spouse from getting needed help is pride. Many marriages are failing and are eventually destroyed because one or both partners are too prideful to admit that they have a problem and may be wrong. The same tenacity and stubbornness that often keeps a person in a marriage can lead to a level of pride that prevents that person from receiving the proper help when in trouble. If you think you are too proud to ask for help or feel too proud to face the embarrassment, you are too proud. Pride can stand in the way of progress like a sentry guarding a castle. Nothing can get past it or move beyond it.

One of the greatest things you can do for a troubled marriage is to be willing to say, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry and I realize this problem has a lot to do with me.” This attitude is the opposite of a prideful attitude. It says, “I know I must be willing to change if I expect my spouse to change. I will do whatever it takes to save and change my marriage.” This could mean committing time, money and energy to a counseling relationship that will hold you accountable for your growth and progress.

A heart dominated by pride says, “I would rather allow my marriage to die than admit I am wrong.” A heart driven by biblical love and commitment says:

I will do whatever it takes to salvage and rebuild my marriage. I will give up everything I own. I will change jobs. I will mortgage the house. I will do whatever it takes, because I know my marriage is that important to our children and our children’s children.

 Can You Do It Alone?

What if one spouse is willing to go to counseling and the other is not? Should the willing spouse go to counseling or seek help without the other? In most cases, the answer is definitely yes. Your marriage can be helped immensely if you initiate change.

When one spouse stops trying to change his or her partner and stops pointing fingers, making accusations, and withholding affection and attention, the energy often shifts to self-improvement. When you make positive changes, it allows positive changes to occur in your spouse.

The fact is, you cannot change your spouse, but you can change yourself. Often the most obvious point of movement in a conflicted marriage is self-movement. Changes you make to improve yourself and marriage can effectively produce healthy responses in the other spouse.

Sometimes the best way to change your spouse is to model positive change in your own life. You can encourage your spouse to communicate better by learning to communicate better yourself. You can coach your spouse to respect you by respecting him or her first. You can teach your spouse to stop complaining with a bitter spirit by breaking a pattern of complaining and developing a new spirit.

Your husband or wife may not be willing to read books, go to seminars or go to counseling at this stage; but if you take the first step, your changes may positively influence him or her.

Think of your decision in practical economic terms. Ask yourself: If I take no course of action or even pursue divorce, how economically advantageous will that be? The cost of divorce in the United States can average anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. A majority of couples who divorce find themselves living on half of their pre-divorce income. After divorce, many single women are forced to live below the poverty line while attempting to raise their children.

Divorce is not the answer to most problems. Divorce is not the best solution to being unhappy or unfulfilled. It typically creates more problems than you can ever imagine and will have a long-term effect on your children, as well as generations to come. Therefore, the question is: “Can you afford not to go to counseling?” From a practical standpoint, it may be like asking, “Should I have heart surgery if I know that I will die if I don’t have it?” If your doctor says you will live in pain the rest of your life or that you will die, can you afford not to have the surgery?

Common Mistakes in Approaching Your Spouse

  • Showing disrespect. As Sharon realized, you can’t change a person by tearing him or her down. There’s only one response for that kind of approach: negative. Think about it. How do you feel when others treat you disrespectfully? Does it make you want to do something for them? Does it make you want to show affection? No. Showing disrespect will only alienate your spouse to the idea of seeking help.
  • Losing control of your anger. Anger is often a way of punishing your spouse when he or she does not give you what you want. It’s not only ineffective in producing a long-term change in how your spouse behaves, it also destroys any threads of love or feelings that may still be evident. Sure, if your spouse doesn’t respond to your requests, the temptation exists to respond in anger; but if you don’t get the response you want, getting angry and sparking a heated argument won’t help.
  • Blaming your spouse. Don’t accuse or point fingers. Don’t resort to exaggerated or over-generalized language such as: “You always act like this! You never do what I ask you to do. You just don’t care anymore. It’s always your fault. You always do this or always do that.” That type of language isn’t valuable in solving the problem. It only creates more issues to deal with and more wounds to heal in the future.

Approaching Your Spouse the Right Way

  • Begin by approaching your spouse at the right time and in the right manner. Choose a time when he or she is not distracted or too stressed or tired.
  • Approach your spouse in a non-confrontational manner. An angry tone of voice or condescending “parent to child” approach will only cause him or her to shut down.
  • Make sure you bring up the topic in a non-threatening way. If your communication pattern has digressed to the point that when you bring up this topic, your spouse becomes defensive and “blows up,” you may consider writing him or her a letter to be read when you are not present. This gives your spouse time to think about what was said and respond without all the emotions.
  • Don’t say, “You need counseling.” Recognize and admit that “we” have a problem, and it must be addressed as a team.

You may try statements like the following to encourage your mate to join you in getting help for your marriage:

  • I’m concerned that if we allow this problem to continue, it will only get worse. I can’t go on like we have been. I need the help more than anything. I know you are uncomfortable with this, but so am I. It’s embarrassing and even frightening to me. I realize, however, that if we keep doing the same things in our marriage, we’ll get the same results.
  • We need outside intervention and direction. It’s like being in a strange city and asking others for directions. Locals know the area. They know the correct path to take, and which roads are easy ones and which roads are dangerous and difficult. A trained Christian therapist knows the way around, has been trained and is capable of helping with issues and dangers that we can’t deal with on our own.
  • I know God wants us to do better in our marriage, and our children deserve a more stable home environment than this. It’s obvious that if we don’t get help, we are making the decision to continue in a painful marriage. I believe there is hope for us and it is possible to have a healthy marriage like we used to.
  • I love you with all my heart, but I am tired and need your help and support on this. If you won’t go for yourself, would you go with me? Let’s talk about it after dinner tonight.

These non-threatening approaches take some of the pressure and blame off the other partner. They typically open doors to the possibility of getting help instead of closing doors by using negative approaches.

When Grandparents Divorce

SOURCE:  Susan Newman, Ph.D./Grandparents.com

Divorce may be common, but that doesn’t make it any easier to tell grandchildren about yours.

Since the 1960s, we’ve all watched divorce “morph,” as Newsweek put it in a 2008 cover story, “from something shocking, even shameful, into a routine fact of American life.”  Today, half of all American grandchildren have at least one set of divorced grandparents, reports Merril Silverstein, a University of Southern California sociologist who specializes in family and intergenerational relations.

If you and your spouse are getting divorced, and have already completed the wrenching task of telling your adult children, then it’s time to sit down for a talk with your grandchildren. You need to break the news that the grandparents they’ve always known as a twosome are splitting up. Since the odds are that your grandchildren probably already have friends with divorced parents or grandparents, the news might not be devastating to them. But it may still come as a shock. And as much as you may be tempted to pass the job of telling the kids to your son or daughter, your grandchildren deserve to hear the news directly from you — and ideally, from both you and your estranged spouse, if at all possible.

Do’s and Don’ts

* Choose a calm, unrushed time to talk with the children, preferably on a day when you have a few hours to spare with them.

* When you have your talk, don’t try to gloss over the situation or pretend there won’t be changes in their lives. Children can tell when something is not “right” — and when you’re not being entirely honest with them.

* It’s a good idea to have the children’s parents in the room with you to show family solidarity and to help you answer whatever questions the children might have.

* Be prepared for older grandchildren to ask questions about the possibility of grandma or grandpa having new relationships. Always give honest responses, without going into details you’re not comfortable discussing.

* Don’t bash your ex, or soon-to-be ex, no matter how furious you may be. That person is still your grandchild’s grandparent and your son or daughter’s parent, and you should want to preserve those relationships — as well as your own — by avoiding negativity.

* Try to keep your emotions in check. If a grandchild asks if you are unhappy, admit that you are, but avoid expressing bitterness or anger. Let your son or daughter take over the conversation if it becomes too difficult for you.

What to Say

Keep your explanations as brief and simple as possible, and put them in terms appropriate for your grandchildren’s ages:

Grandpa/grandma and I have decided to live apart. It’s no one’s fault. We both love you dearly, and we will always be your grandparents. You can call either one of us anytime if you need to, just like before.

Grandchildren may be worried that they are going to lose one or both of you because of the divorce. Address those concerns — whether or not they raise them — by reassuring them that, “You will see both of us as much as always,” if that’s the truth, “but we won’t visit you together.” Or if your former spouse is moving away, tell the children, “Grandpa/grandma is moving, so you will see him/her a little less. But you and I will continue to do all the fun things we have always done.”

Ask your grandchildren if they have questions for you, but be prepared in advance to answer some of the most likely ones, such as:

Why did you divorce?
What does it mean for me?
Will Mommy and Daddy get divorced too?

When you’re finished talking, remind the children that they can ask you other questions whenever they need to.

Moving On

Stay out of your ex’s relationship with the grandchildren. If you ever interfere at all, it should only be to encourage your ex to be more involved with his or her grandchildren. Similarly, you should always accept invitations to family gatherings even if your ex is going to be there. Drum up the fortitude to keep things as close to “normal,” at least for an afternoon, if that’s what your adult children request of you. It may be difficult initially to be at the same celebrations, but you’ll find ways to enjoy yourself with your grandchildren.

The bottom line is that your bond with your grandchildren remains unchanged. You will still be the doting relative and backup support system they’ve always known. You’ll continue to make the pancakes they love or work with them in the yard or complete puzzles together. And by remaining as present as ever in the lives of your children and grandchildren, you reinforce your love, encouragement, and enthusiasm for everything they do. Some things simply don’t change, no matter what.

To the Sons and Daughters of Divorce

SOURCE:  Paul Maxwell/Desiring God

Few things are more traumatic than a car accident — 2,000 pounds of steel and glass bending and scraping, with no respect for the limits or boundaries of the human body inside. There’s a path of healing that every victim of a serious accident must take.

Children with divorced parents have experienced a different kind of violent, traumatic collision. And every child of divorce must likewise walk a path of healing. It will, of course look different for different sons and daughters, but no one can deny that the emotional and relational bleeding needs attention, likely long after the papers are filed.

A chorus of adults with long-divorced parents will dismiss in unison: “I’m not broken, thanks very much. I’m not a project. I’m fine. It’s not even a big deal. I’m not a victim, and it certainly doesn’t deserve this much attention.”

I totally get that.  Depending on the day, I might say the same thing if I read my first two paragraphs.

My parents divorced when I was nine. I’m not a victim, but the break still broke me. It wounded me in ways I could not control. Years later, because I didn’t have the resources to work through things as a nine-year-old boy, certain forms of brokenness seem native and normal to me.

Divorce “attacks the self, because the self is formed within the belonging and meaning provided by the family. When it is destroyed, the threat of lost place and lost purpose becomes a reality. Without place or purpose, one becomes a lost self” (Andrew Root, Children of Divorce, 21). More than losing myself, though, I lost the ability to relate to my heavenly Father. I certainly didn’t think that God had anything to say, or even cared, about the mangled, overturned vehicle in our living room. I’m sometimes still tempted to think that way today. But he does. He speaks. And he cares.

Right now, we’re just focusing on what you (and I) experienced, and how you can heal. This isn’t meant to judge divorced parents, or to deter parents from getting divorced for legitimate reasons (abuse or adultery). The point is to see how, as children of divorce, Jesus Christ is a light in dark places, a hope for the broken, confused, and lonely. We will piece together some themes from Scripture to explain how God understands and relates to children of divorce, in ten points.

Divorce Does Affect You

1. Everyone in a family is organically, emotionally, spiritually connected.

Paul explains, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). While not the main point of the text (primarily speaking about marriage between a believer and unbeliever), we can note three things:

  1. The family is a unit — an organically connected singular entity (“because of his wife . . . because of her husband . . . as it is”).
  2. The child’s spiritual well-being is interwoven with the integrity of their parents’ marital well-being (“made holy . . . made holy . . . they are holy”).
  3. A broken marriage, therefore, has breaking effects on the child (“Otherwise your children would be unclean”).

2. For a child, experiencing a divorce is experiencing a violent storm.

Malachi argues, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” (Malachi 2:15). Ah, yes. “What was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” In the Hebrew, “A child of God.” What does the child experience? The Lord enters the scene to explain what happens to a child when parents fail to guard their marriage “in the spirit”: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Malachi 2:16). There is always violence in divorce — a scary, violent, destructive storm within and all around the family.

Divorce Tears What Cannot Be Torn

3. Divorce does not just separate parents.

“So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). “I know.” We use a metaphor for divorce: “It’s like getting gum out of a rug. It can’t fully be done.” Okay. We forget that the spouses aren’t the only ones who get “separated.” The gum metaphor certainly doesn’t capture what happens to a child of a divorce. A marriage can be separated, at least in some ways; A child cannot. A child is an irreducible unit — a singularity cannot be separated from itself. And yet, we are. What the parents experience relationally, the child experiences internally.

4. Divorce separates you from you.

So when your parents — your first example and measure of relational unity and security — were separated, you were torn in a way that a human is not built to be torn. There is no “gum” and “rug.” There’s just you. You’re one “thing,” and now you feel like you’ve been cracked in half into two things. Even if you don’t experience the emotion explicitly, you still feel and experience and respond to the tension, because the separation is real.

Regardless of whether the divorce was justified or biblical — completely aside from any of those questions — divorce was a violence you experienced. What man “separates” in divorce happens to you, too. What happens between Mom and Dad happens in you. “There is no soundness in my flesh . . . because of the tumult of my heart” (Psalm 38:7–8). The effects are far-reaching, often more than we are immediately aware. Depression, anxiety, addiction, anger, compulsions, and distractions, are all possible effects of being torn, and very often, we are not even aware that these things might be related to the “accident.”

Facing Brokenness is Freedom

5. Brokenness is not unrighteousness.

Scripture uses many different metaphors to speak ethically, but theologians have used at least two terms that are relevant here: the “forensic” and the “renovative.” The “forensic” is legal. It’s declarative. It’s right and wrong. Scripture uses the terms “righteous” and “unrighteous” for the forensic (Acts 24:15). The “renovative” is felt — it’s inside of you. It is helpful and hurtful. Scripture uses the terms “holy” (1 Timothy 2:8) and “broken” (Psalm 44:19; Psalm 69:20; Proverbs 29:1; Ephesians 4:22). To put it in a crass and reductionistic way, the forensic is the external evaluation, and the renovative is the internal state of affairs. In order to heal, we need to be able to distinguish between our brokennesses.

6. You didn’t do anything wrong, but you still have to heal.

Popular therapy for children of divorce will say again and again, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” That’s a forensic category. And it’s true. Your parents’ divorce is not your fault. But, unfortunately and tragically, it still breaks you. You are still, in a real way — in an on-the-ground, in-your-fibers sense — overwhelmed by weight too heavy to lift and twisted in knots too complex to untie in a single counseling session.

The choice given to the child of divorce is not whether or not they should experience the brokenness of their parents’ divorce, but whether they will consciously process or unconsciously suppress the breaking. Henri Nouwen explains, “What is forgotten is unavailable, and what is unavailable cannot be healed.” Likewise, to intentionally face the reality of being broken is not to face defeat, but healing.

Facing God After Divorced Parents

7. Marriage and divorce communicate something about God’s love.

Parents represent in a priestly and prophetic way, for good or ill, Christ’s attitude toward their children (Ephesians 6:1-4). This happens, not only in the direct relationship of parent-to-child, but in an exemplary and indirect way in the public, parent-to-parent relationship lived before the eyes of the child (Ephesians 5:25-33).

And so, in divorce, parents communicate a view of God’s love that speaks more powerfully than words. It is important to recognize, then, that there will always be a painful proverb in the back of your head that has its root in that experience. It’s not the same for everyone.

“Love doesn’t last.”
“Failure in love is always my fault.”
“I need marriage to escape my loneliness.”
“I will never get married.”
“God’s ready to leave me any moment.”
“My love isn’t enough to keep people together.”
“I’m not enough.”

All lies.

But lies are powerful when they have good material to work with. Divorce is a fertile ground for lies of justified self-hatred. Children of divorce, myself included, have always searched too hard for love. Like the song goes, “I fall in love too easily; I fall in love too fast; I fall in love too terribly hard for love to ever last.” We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.

8. God’s has a special affection for you.

What do we see in the texts we’ve looked at so far? A condemnation of the divorced? No. It’s not even about that. What do we see? God’s caring hand for the child. For you. Even if you’re an adult. These texts are God speaking, and naming violence that you’ve experienced. Malachi 2:15 is God saying, “You’ve been in a car accident, and you need to heal.” He says, “I’m looking after you. My eye is on you. You are my child.”

We see God’s protective care for children of divorce. We see the structures that he has set up to care for the weak, and his grief over the violence that breaking these structures does. God is the lifter of weight. He is the untier of knots. His specialty is in redeeming — in healing, restoring, and strengthening. His forte is in trauma, and in complex pain — not always in fixing or explaining right away, but in being-with (Isaiah 43:2).

He has a singular and unique affection for you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). That verse probably means nothing to you. In fact, it may make God feel further away. The ‘father’ pictures in Scripture have never been anything but painful for you. That doesn’t change the fact that God does show perfect and intimate compassion to you the way a good father should. He does.

Facing Others After Divorced Parents

9. God is building you to help others.

Through sorrow and tragedy, God gives you an awareness of the world. A sixteen-year-old with divorced parents is, in a sense, more aware of the world around them than the same sixteen-year-old without divorced parents. We all fight through adversity, of whatever kind, so that we can fight for the weak down the road.

“If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter” (Proverbs 24:10–11).

These verses flip suffering on its head. If we had divorced parents as a child (and faint, because it’s too much for us), it is so that we can rescue others when we’ve been made strong. In the end (and even in the midst) of your healing path awaits a unique strength that will not only deliver you, but will allow you to carry others through the same journey, fighting the same voices, healing the same wounds, building the same faith and perseverance.

10. Reach out to others who have walked this hard path.

Ernest Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” To put it tritely, experiencing the divorce of parents is just really, really hard. There’s no escaping that. It comes with tears. It comes with being very afraid. It comes with anger. You carry the bitter weight of having divorced parents.

I don’t presume to know your situation, what your parents are like, or what your family has gone through. All I know is that it must be extremely painful, and that God knows your pain. By his grace, it will not destroy you, but make you stronger (Isaiah 42:3–5). Paul realized that he went through an affliction “so that [he] may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:4). He is a man who once “despaired of life itself” who now “[does] not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1). He learned to be strong because he was weak (2 Corinthians 12:9), and God is still using him to comfort Christians in chronic and excruciating pain all over the world.

I don’t think I have found more help in my own journey of healing than in seeking help from others who have walked the same paths — who have had to do the hard work of finding Christ through the weeds of having divorced parents. Look for other sons and daughters — of God, and of divorced parents — and walk with them.

You are not pathetic. You are not alone. You deserve to be deeply loved, and you are deeply loved by God. He will carry and keep you.

 

Jesus on Divorce

SOURCE: John MacArthur

It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. – Matthew 5:31–32

Jesus no more approves of divorce than did Moses (cf. Matt. 19:6). Adultery, another reality God never condoned, is the only reason under the law that allows for dissolving of a marriage, with the guilty party to be put to death (Lev. 20:10). Because Jesus mentions this here and again in Matthew 19:9, God must have allowed divorce to replace execution as the penalty for adultery at some time during Israel’s history.

Divorce is never commanded; it is always a last resort, allowed when unrepentant immorality has exhausted the patience of the innocent spouse. This merciful concession to human sinfulness logically implies that God also permits remarriage. Divorce’s purpose is to show mercy to the guilty party, not to sentence the innocent party to a life of loneliness. If you are innocent and have strived to maintain your marriage, you are free to remarry if your spouse insists on continued adultery or divorce.

Jesus does not demand divorce in all cases of unchastity (immorality, primarily adultery in this context), but simply points out that divorce and remarriage on other grounds results in adultery.

Our Lord wants to set the record straight that God still hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and that His ideal remains a monogamous, lifelong marriage. But as a gracious concession to those innocent spouses whose partners have defiled the marriage, He allows divorce for believers for the reason of immorality. (Paul later added the second reason of desertion, 1 Cor. 7:15.)

DIVORCE: The Eruption

SOURCE:  Dennis/Barbara Rainey_Family Life

Splitting Headache 

“For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel.
Malachi 2:16

This poem was written by Jen Abbas, then an 18-year-old child of divorce. I’ve arranged it a little differently on this page than it appears in her book, Generation EX, to make it fit. Its message is too important to allow form to quiet its voice.

Listen to “The Eruption.”

Divorce is like a trembling earthquake,
The world shakes, rumbling with rage,
And all the anger, guilt, and frustrations
That have been festering for so long below the surface
Suddenly spew upward in an inferno of hate or apathy.
At times the earth calms and you think the turmoil is over,
Settled, stable, but then the cycle begins again,
Repeating, repeating, repeating.
You are weary, you want to rest,
And that is when you realize the shaking has stopped,
But there is an eerie feeling lurking in the air.
You are hesitant to believe anything anymore,
You are so tired after struggling for so long,
And so you rest on the one solid patch of land,
Only to watch it split in two,
Two separate, distinct parts that will never come together again.
Each new patch supports part of you,
And as you watch, they pull away.

This is the type of poem that breaks my heart because it represents so many children who are torn apart by divorce. No matter what you are experiencing in your marriage, and no matter how tough it is, just remember the impact that staying together will have on your children.

My Loveless Marriage

SOURCE:  Judy Bodmer/Today’s Christian Woman

Why divorce wasn’t the answer to my emptiness.

I lay in bed staring at the darkness. My husband, Larry, was snoring softly beside me. We’d just had another fight. I could hardly remember what had started it, but I knew we’d both said ugly, hateful things. Nothing had been resolved. We’d just gotten tired. Now he slept and I lay here, feeling utterly alone.

I crawled out of bed to check on our two sons. David, such a handful while awake, looked like an angel even though his face was sticky from the ice cream he’d eaten earlier. I pulled Matthew’s covers back on his small body and smoothed his blond head. He needed a haircut. Working full-time, with two small sons to referee and a house to keep clean, I never had enough time to do it all.

Something drew me to the window. I could see the lights from downtown Seattle. So many people. What were they doing? Were they as lonely as I was? Was there anyone out there who cared? God, I cried, help me find the strength to leave.

Hitting the Wall

After ten years of marriage, I wanted out. Our love hadn’t died in the heat of this battle or any other battle. It had died at the bottom of a wall it couldn’t climb.

I remember clearly the day I laid the first brick. We’d been married nine months. We went to a movie and I waited for Larry to reach over and take my hand, thus proving the magic was still there. But he didn’t and, as the movie progressed, I grew hurt and angry. He shrugged it off, surprised I was upset over such a little thing. To him it was nothing; to me it was the first sign our love wasn’t perfect.

As the years passed, I added more bricks. When we were first married, he called me every day from work. But slowly those phone calls grew further apart and finally stopped. When I brought it up, he started calling again, but it wasn’t the same. When we watched TV in the evening, he’d fall asleep. When we went out for dinner, he couldn’t think of anything to say. His days off were measured by how much he got done—chores, work, and the children took priority. I got the crumbs, and I was starving.

I felt guilty for feeling the way I did; he wasn’t abusive, he didn’t run around with other women, he didn’t drink or do drugs. He came home every night and worked hard to support our family. Despite this, the wall grew, built with bricks of buried anger, unmet needs, silences, and cold shoulders. The marriage books we read made things worse; counseling confused the issues.

Divorce seemed like the only answer. It would give me a chance to start over and find the right person. Yes, it would be hard on the children, but when I was finally happy, I’d be a better parent. In the long run, it would be better for all of us.

Divorce’s Price Tag

Before taking that big step, I asked myself some key questions. First, would a divorce make me happier? Somewhere I read that people who divorce tend to remarry the same kind of person, that the root of unhappiness isn’t in the people we marry but in ourselves. When I looked at my husband, I knew this was true. The trait in Larry that drew me to him—his calm exterior—also drove me crazy. He never complained, criticized, or caused a fuss. The downside was that when situations arose when he should get angry, he didn’t. Once he was cheated in a business deal. I wanted him to confront the man who’d lied to him, but he wouldn’t. His love of peace kept him from standing up for himself, making me think he was a moral marshmallow. But if I divorced Larry, I knew I’d marry someone with his same peaceful demeanor. And if I did, my problems would be multiplied by his kids, my kids, child support, and custody battles.

I took a long, hard look at the single mothers I knew. They were exhausted and lonely. There was no one to help soothe crying babies, entertain toddlers, shuttle kids to practices, or help with the house, yard, and car.

Could I afford a divorce financially? The average divorce, according to my paralegal friend, costs about $12,000. My salary was good, but when I looked at our household expenses, there would be hardly enough money to live on, let alone extra money to pay lawyers.

Would my children really be better off in the long run? I looked at the children of my friends who’d divorced. Many of these kids started getting into trouble: staying out all night, drinking, doing drugs, and running away. Most of them were angry and blamed themselves for their parents’ split. They took it out on their mother. The father became the hero because he wasn’t doing the disciplining. Instead, he brought presents, bought a hot car, and took them fun places the mother couldn’t afford. Studies show that even 25 years after a split, children can still have significant emotional problems stemming from their parents’ divorce.

What about my friends? I assumed they’d be there for me, but was I being realistic? Four of my friends divorced in one year—I didn’t see any of them now. Two of them disappeared, one began leading a lifestyle I couldn’t support, and another dated men I didn’t care for. Even with the best of intentions, if I divorced, I’d probably lose many, if not all, of my friends.

God showed me I might escape my current pain, but in the long run, divorce extracted a high price. One I wasn’t willing to pay.

Fanning the Flames

But I refused to settle for the status quo. From experience, I knew I couldn’t change my husband. There was only one person I could change: me. Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the plank our of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). I got involved in a women’s Bible study and started applying what I learned. Before I read a passage, I asked God to examine me. After many sessions on my face before him, honestly asking for forgiveness, I started to change. I became less critical and more forgiving. I stopped taking everything Larry said and did so personally.

I tried new things—taking a writing class, asking a new friend to lunch, volunteering at school. With Larry’s blessing, I quit my job to stay home with our children, even though it meant cutting our income in half.

From 1 Corinthians 13, I discovered love isn’t a feeling but an action. I decided to treat Larry with love, even though I didn’t feel like it. Instead of pointing out his shortcomings, I told him the things he did right. Instead of reading books to see what Larry should be doing differently, I read to discover how I could be a better wife, mother, and friend.

My change in attitude had an amazing effect on Larry. He began spending more time with me. When I stopped overreacting to his comments, he felt freer to share more with me.

My decision to stay went against everything the world told me. Jesus promised, “I have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). I decided if God was my God, then I could trust this promise. I asked him to restore my love.

Rekindled

The love I thought had died didn’t return in a week, a month, or even in a year. There were times I wanted to give up. But I clung to God’s promise that he would give me the desire of my heart.

One weekend Larry and I went away. Before we left, we prayed and drew a line in the sand. Everything that had happened before was over; this was a new beginning. That weekend I experienced a new passion for my husband. The flame I thought was dead was rekindled.

Today when I sit in church worshiping God, I shudder at what I almost threw away. Larry and I laugh over things that used to drive me nuts, like his falling asleep in front of the TV. I can tell Larry anything, and he listens. Just yesterday he sent me a fax just to tell me he loves me.

At night when we lay curled up together, I reach over and touch him just to reassure myself he’s still there. The love I have is strong. It’s born out of suffering and obedience. The pain, tears, and struggles to get to this point were worth it for these rich rewards. There is hope for loveless marriages. Our relationship is living proof.

————————————————————————————————————————

Judy Bodmer, author of When Love Dies: How to Save a Hopeless Marriage (Thomas Nelson), lives in Washington.

Post-Wedding Regrets: “What have I done?”

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

So you wake up soon after your wedding day—maybe it was a couple hours after the wedding, maybe a couple weeks—and say, “What have I done?”

There are many painful things we experience in life. This one weighs in as one of the most painful.

You feel as though you have just received a life sentence or (maybe) a death sentence. Ironically, though recently married, you feel more alone than ever.

Aloneness in marriage is just the worst.

Your temptation is to reboot the system. You made a bad decision, now you want to take it back. You consider seeking an annulment (I know people who have tried it). You figure that God doesn’t hold us accountable for stupid decisions, so we can leave the marriage.

Or… you avoid compounding what was perhaps a poor decision (to marry) with another poor decision (to leave the marriage), and… you consider your God.

Please don’t think that I am minimizing the challenges in front of you. I have witnessed people going through it and seen that the path can be hard and sometimes long. But I have also seen God’s mercy poured out on willing spouses—our Father is well-known for demonstrating great power in our weakness.

Things are not always as they seem. When people have regretted their decision to marry—and they might have good reasons for such regrets—the resulting humility and calling out to the Lord for help is downright glorious. That alone is beauty out of ashes.

Here are some helpful things I have heard from those who have gone before you.

Ask for prayer and wisdom from someone who will do more than simply commiserate.

This is normal protocol in the Christian life, but that doesn’t mean it comes naturally. No one enjoys asking for help, and it is especially hard to acknowledge personal struggles in marriage. But followers of Jesus speak with our Lord about difficult things and we speak with each other. Most people I have talked to have spoken to a wise friend about their difficulties. In doing this they were not tattling on their spouses; they were seeking wisdom about how to go forward.

Be careful about focusing on your regrets, and even be careful about focusing on your marriage. 

Your goal is to grow in the knowledge of Jesus and discover how children of God are to thrive. John 10:10 is still for you: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” This full life, of course, is much better than having whatever we want. Your goal is to catch a vision for the contentment that Paul found in Jesus (Phil. 4:11-12). He is telling you a great secret: Jesus is enough.

Bring more scrutiny to yourself than to your spouse. 

You might have to raise difficult issues with your spouse. The only way you can do this is to first develop expertise in putting your own sins and weaknesses under the microscope while you see your spouse’s with something less than twenty-twenty vision (Matt.7:3-5). Ugh. This one might take a miracle.

Search for the good in your spouse.

By the good I mean anything that resembles, no matter how faintly, the true Father of all. When you live with someone long enough you will certainly see the person’s sins, but you will also see things that are praiseworthy. If you can’t see anything good, maybe it’s because you just don’t like your spouse and it is hard to find anything good in someone you don’t like. Consider forgiving your spouse for accumulated wrongs and start over.

Then, after these steps, talk about your marriage with your spouse.

If you are planning to lead with “I wish I never married you,” then you should go back and review the other steps again. Aim to be concrete (what are the top two specific problems). Aim to be hopeful. Those who are praying for you can help you on this one.

No one will tell you that everything will soon be great. Actually, that isn’t quite true. I know some who might because that is their particular experience. Most veterans won’t be so rosy, but they will tell you that the struggle is worth it, and many would say that it was exactly what they needed.

Busting the Myths of a Christian Marriage

One couple thought being Christians would save them from marital problems. Their naïve beliefs made everything worse.

“Larry, we have to talk,” I said as my husband prepared to go to work. Our argument from the night before still hung in the air. “There’s something wrong with our marriage.”

“Judy, I have to go,” Larry said, clearly irritated.

“Don’t you love me?” I asked.

“Sure I do. I have employees waiting to be let in.”

“Larry, if you love me, why don’t I feel it?” I needed him to put his arms around me and reassure me.

But he didn’t. He just walked out the door.

What had happened to us?

Two years before, when we’d committed our lives to Jesus Christ, Larry and I had been like newlyweds again. I was sure with God as our partner, our journey through life would be smooth.

But it wasn’t. Our first child, Matthew, who was born shortly after we became Christians, needed major surgery when he was six weeks old. A few months later, Larry lost his job. I thought about going to work, but then discovered I was pregnant again. I was scared and needed Larry to reassure me, but he couldn’t because he was dealing with his own fears.

We started to fight, sometimes over the stupidest things, such as the way he read the newspaper or ate his cereal. I felt guilty for my angry outbursts. Christians didn’t act that way, I reasoned. So in the name of peace, I swallowed my feelings and prayed God would make Larry more thoughtful, open, loving, and romantic. But with each passing year, our fights grew in frequency and intensity. We became like strangers sharing a house.

I slogged through two years hoping things would change for the better, but they didn’t. Surely this wasn’t what God wanted, yet I could see no hope of happiness with this man.

In the heat of one of our arguments I said “divorce.” Larry hardly winced. Maybe it was the solution to our problems.

At the end of my rope, I confided in my sister Barbara how unhappy I was. She and her husband, Dave, arranged for us to attend a weekend marriage retreat. They took our kids and even paid the deposit. While both Larry and I knew it was a waste of time and money, we figured this would prove to everyone that we’d tried.

During that weekend, one of the speakers talked about his fear of being unable to live up to everyone’s expectations. After that session, each couple had some time to communicate with each other their thoughts about what the speaker had said. In a rare moment of courage, Larry dropped his defenses and shared how he identified with the speaker and how hard it was to please me, his employees, his customers, his friends, and his family. He even told me about the pain of unmet expectations he carried from his childhood. As I listened to his openness, I could feel the wall I’d built toward him over the years begin to come down. Through several tearful conversations that weekend, we were able to forgive each other for the pain and hurt we’d caused and start over.

But it wasn’t until we realized how naïve we’d been—thinking that because we were Christians our marriage would be perfect—were we able to uncover the myths we’d bought into. While we realized many of these myths were well-meaning, they were destroying our marriage! After that weekend, Larry and I spent several years blasting these seven myths and uncovering the truth.

Here’s what we discovered.

Myth #1

If I have a daily quiet time and attend church regularly, I’ll have a happy marriage.

In church I’d often hear that if I’d spend time with God every morning and study the Bible, my life and marriage would go well. So I started a daily quiet time, began memorizing Scripture, and joined a women’s Bible study. I believed these “religious” acts would help my marriage be all I wanted. But when nothing changed and, in fact, things seemed to get worse, not only did I become disillusioned with our marriage, I also began to question my relationship with God.

This is the truth: Every couple goes through tough times—even Christians.

Jesus clearly states that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Does that mean it doesn’t make any difference whether we read our Bibles and attend church? No. While God didn’t take away those painful times, and he didn’t always answer our prayers in the way we’d assumed, he used our trouble to focus and mature us through our prayers and Bible studies.

Myth #2

Our marriage will be divorce-proof if we’re both Christians.

This belief left us feeling ashamed when we stood at the brink of divorce. We didn’t think anyone would understand, so we waited to go for help until it was almost too late.

The truth is: Being a Christian doesn’t guarantee you won’t get divorced.

Larry and I believed that because we were Christ-followers we’d live a fairy-tale life. Christian therapist Roy Austin calls this “magical thinking” and believes many Christian couples struggle with it. He says, “‘Magical thinking’ leaves couples less prepared for the rigors of marriage.” This may explain why Christian pollster George Barna has found that the divorce rate among born-again Christians is now the same as for non-Christians. If Larry and I had understood this truth, we might have gone for help sooner. Today we are open and honest about our hard years when speaking to young married groups, which they’ve found both eye-opening and helpful. We just wish someone had told us this truth.

Myth #3

Scriptures can be a simple guide for our marriage.

One of the hot issues with which Larry and I dealt was who should handle the money. We thought that to be scripturally correct Larry should pay the bills and balance the checkbook. He always felt pressured by the time it took to do this. Since he handled all our money, I never knew how much I had to spend on groceries and clothes. This added to an already tense situation.

Here’s the truth: Scripture can be a valuable guide for our daily living—as long as we don’t misinterpret what it says.

Intensive Bible study taught us that God intends for us to be one unit, submitting to each other and working together for the good of the whole. That means using our giftedness. Right now, I have more time available to handle our daily financial tasks. There have been other times when Larry took this responsibility. We’ve also learned that together we make better decisions than we do individually.

Myth #4

We need to keep our marital problems to ourselves.

When I joined a women’s Bible study, everyone I met looked happy and put together. I knew no one would understand that Larry and I sometimes said ugly, hurtful things to each other, so I kept quiet about what was happening in our marriage.

But the truth is: God created us as social beings to live in community where we can help each other.

That weekend retreat opened my eyes. It was a couple daring to be open with us about their problems that began the healing in us. In James it says we are to confess our sins to each other so that we can pray for each other and be healed (5:16). By keeping quiet, I hindered the healing that could have come from sharing with these other women who may have been just as afraid as I was to share what they were going through.

Myth #5

Christian couples don’t fight.

I thought “peace” meant no fighting and so I denied my negative feelings. I’d let things build until I exploded over something trivial.

Here’s the truth: It’s okay to fight.

In the Bible it says, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26–27). At that weekend retreat, we were challenged to bring up whatever was bothering us within 24 hours or forget it. When I got home, I decided to try it. At breakfast Larry sat reading the paper, ignoring me. It bothered me that the paper seemed more important than I did. In the past I would’ve buried my anger, but instead I said, “I feel angry that you’re reading the paper instead of talking to me.” To my amazement, Larry put down the paper, apologized, and we had a nice conversation while we ate our cereal. I was pleased it worked so well. Of course, it didn’t always, but just saying the words, “I feel angry,” helped defuse much of the feelings I’d been carrying around for so many years. It was like keeping the blackboard wiped clean. And then when we did argue, it was over one subject, not ten.

Myth #6

I need to pray for God to change my husband.

I spent much time in prayer begging God to change my husband. I knew we’d be happy if only Larry were different. But to my dismay, as much as I prayed, I didn’t see any significant changes in him.

The truth is: God wants to change me first.

My prayer life changed dramatically after I finally got the message of Matthew 7:1-5: I was a hypocrite, trying to take the speck out of my husband’s eye, when all the time I had this log in my own eye. That log was so huge I couldn’t see what I was doing to my husband. God revealed to me that my judgmental attitude drove Larry away and hurt him deeply, the exact opposite of what I wanted. That day I prayed a new way. I prayed for God to reveal my sins. As he did, I asked him to forgive me and to help me change. Instead of shame, I felt clean and whole. Slowly, God peeled off layers of old, rotten thinking, and beliefs and bitterness that were destroying my marriage. I began to “see” my husband in a new light and told him of the positive things I saw in him. This encouraged Larry and helped him grow into a godlier husband. It also allowed me to accept some of his “faults” that I never thought I could.

Myth #7

My husband should be stronger in his faith than I am.

Early in our Christian walk, a woman told me that when her husband became a Christian he instantly became patient, loving, and romantic. I looked at Larry and wondered why his conversion hadn’t made a bigger difference in our marriage. I decided it was because he wasn’t spiritual enough, and so I began a mission of helping him grow in his faith. I gave him books, left him notes, and dragged him to all sorts of conferences and seminars.

But the truth is: We each grow toward Christ in our own way and time.

I was critical of my husband’s lack of spiritual leadership, which caused me to push and Larry to retreat. Finally, God convicted me that I wasn’t responsible for Larry’s spiritual life. It was hard, but I backed off. That’s when Larry felt God calling him to get serious about his relationship with Christ and he grew in leaps and bounds. While it took time, now Larry’s the strong leader and loving husband I’ve always wanted.

Larry and I survived those early years of mythical thinking. Now, after 33 years of marriage, Larry makes my coffee every morning, prays with me, listens to my gripes, gives me encouragement in my struggles, and accepts all my quirky ways. It hasn’t been the easy journey I thought it would be, but our love is richer for having struggled. I thank God every day for the reality of my marriage.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Judy Bodmer, author of When Love Dies (Thomas Nelson), lives in Washington state.

Q&A: Is There Hope For A Narcissistic Spouse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband has been emotionally and verbally abusive from the start. We have been married almost 7 years and have a beautiful 2 year old son. I have been trying everything within my power (counseling, using tactics to stop abuse when it’s happening, anti-depressants) to “fix” my destructive marriage. In March of last year, I finally told him exactly what I thought our problem was: that he was abusive. At that time, he received that surprisingly well. Obviously God had gone before me and prepared his heart for that.

However, 6 months later I wasn’t really seeing changes and I was noticing he was giving himself a lot of slack with going to his therapy appointments, etc. So I took things up a notch. I wrote him a letter asking him to examine those behaviors and attitudes and left with our son for the weekend for him to process that in peace. What I had hoped for upon my return was a sincere apology and a renewed sense of wanting to do the right thing for our family. What I got was anger thrown at me

A week later, I asked him to move out for a separation. I was absolutely at my wit’s end. I was still hoping that he could be rattled, that the Lord was trying to get through to him through these steps I was taking.

It’s been a little over 3 months now and I am still not really seeing the key changes I would like to see, such as a sincerely apologetic heart, ownership over the harm he has done and even a willingness to let me be mad. There’s a lot more to our story than I can inundate you with here, but I feel that our marriage cannot be saved. I feel like divorce is imminent.

One of the therapists we have seen believes he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I don’t want to just “give up” on my marriage. It feels like I am a failure. I know I have done wrong as well. I know that this isn’t ALL his fault, but at a certain point it does feel like the problems of abuse and self-centeredness need to be broken before any of the other issues can be addressed. I’m at a loss. I know you can’t tell me whether or not you think I should divorce from reading these few paragraphs, but I am wondering if you can speak more to the NPD factor and how long you think it takes for safety to return (referring to your series on “Can This Marriage Be Saved”). I just don’t feel safe, but I don’t want to deny an opportunity for safety to grow.

Answer: Let me begin by saying I applaud your courage for trying to do things that will change the destructive dynamics of your marriage. Safety is essential for any relationship to be healthy. If you aren’t safe to be yourself, to share your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way, or to disagree without fear of punishment or retaliation, then you can’t fix what’s wrong because it’s not even safe to talk about it

You mention that you have done wrong too. There are no perfect spouses. All marriages have things that are wrong with them, but when the marriage is relatively healthy, the husband and wife will look at their part, apologize, make amends and work toward corrections.

Let me ask you this, are any of those “wrongs” that you say you are guilty of safety issues? For example, have you not respected a time-out when your husband is getting heated and wants to end the conversation for a period of time? Or perhaps you’ve shamed and criticized him when he’s expressed his opinion or tried to disagree? If so, you can take responsibility for those things and work to change. Since you have a two year old child, the two of you must communicate around finances, issues regarding your son and visitation, and if you haven’t practiced safety in those interactions, then you can start there. Safety involves respecting boundaries, stopping destructive interactions when the other person says stop and taking responsibility for your own actions when you’ve crossed the line and scared or hurt the other person. (For those who want to read more from my 3 part article “Can This Marriage Be Saved,” go to http://www.christiancounseling.com and click on Leslie’s blog).

But your question is directed to help about the diagnosis of NPD and whether or not that is a “curable” problem. There are many people with NPD who are highly talented, successful people who often have a fan base of admirers and people willing to give themselves to him or her because of the afterglow it affords by being associated with such a successful person. The narcissist’s entitlement mindset seems more excusable or justified because of his or her success.

However, when a person is NPD and is rather ordinary, he or she still feels entitled and becomes disgruntled when people aren’t treating them as special as they feel they deserve. From a purely secular point of view, NPD is one of the hardest disorders to treat primarily because the narcissist never sees himself as “the problem”. Therefore they rarely present themselves for treatment. They may go to marriage counseling, but it is always their spouse’s lack of love, lack of support or lack of care that becomes the issue. They often portray themselves as the victims of emotional abuse.

If or when the therapist tries to get the narcissistic person to reflect honestly on himself or his or her behavior, there is usually great resistance, excuse making, blame shifting, or termination of treatment. If you don’t think you have a problem, if you won’t listen to someone who gives you feedback and if you refuse to look within, there is not a high probability that you will change.

A narcissist doesn’t know how to love another person as a separate person. For a narcissist, another person’s sole purpose is to be an object who will love and admire them. In other words, you become nourishment to meet their NEEDS. When you cease nourishing them, they will discard you and move on to new food (another person).

When they say that they love you, what they mean is I love how you love me. When you love them well, then you are wonderful, the best thing that ever happened to them. When you fail to love them well (as you always will), then you have a price to pay. A person with NPD finds it impossible to put themselves in someone else’s shoes (empathy) and has little compassion for anyone other than themselves. A narcissist gets into a relationship to be adored, admired, and loved, not to love or to sacrifice themselves for someone else.

That said, there are times when someone is in so much pain they are willing to hear and look and reevaluate who they are and how they’ve seen themselves and others. In these cases, the road to transformation is long and slow but change can happen. God is in the business of changing hearts and transforming lives. Yet the paradox that is hard for us to live with when we’re married to someone with NPD is that God doesn’t change us without our permission.

For you, if you choose to stay with him, understand that you will always give more than you receive. He will be unhappy with you when you are unable to meet his demands and expectations and will often be rude, sarcastic, judgmental and abusive telling you so. Develop a good support system outside your marriage. Find other things to do that give your life meaning and fulfillment. Don’t pine for a husband who will cherish you for you. That doesn’t mean that people with NPD can’t be fun loving and kind when they want to be, but there is always something in it for them.

A while back, one of our readers of this blog recommended a website http://www.narcissismcured.com which was started by a woman who is married to a narcissist. She is not a therapist, but she claims she worked to figure out how to change herself and in doing so, her husband began to change as well. I can’t validate their story (they live in Australia), but I’ve read some of her material and think she offers some helpful perspectives and strategies for you to keep sane in the midst of staying married to a man who has a deeply entrenched problem.

If you Google narcissism, you will also find other helpful material on the web as well as support groups for people who live with or are related to a narcissistic person. One of the things I always tell people is that truthful information can be very helpful in making wise decisions. Before you end your marriage, make sure you have done all you can to stay safely as well as sanely.

Can This Marriage Be Saved? (Part 1)

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

As biblical counselors our goal is to help marriages stay together but we must be careful to not be like the priests in Jeremiahs’ day who healed God’s people superficially by saying peace, peace, when there was no peace.

When working with couples in destructive and abusive marriages, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes to put their marriage back together in a godly way.  And, if one of them won’t do the work required, then what?  Do we encourage them to stay legally together even if they’re relationally separated or divorced?

God gives us a means for healing damaged relationships, but his blueprint is not unilateral.  Healing a destructive marriage can never be the sole responsibility of one person in the relationship.   It always takes two people willing to work to achieve godly change.  There needs to be forgiveness sought, and forgiveness granted.  There needs to be amends made and a willingness to rebuild trust.  There needs to be constructive feedback given and willingly received.  When one person refuses to participate or take responsibility for his or her part, healing or restoration of the relationship cannot fully take place.

As biblical counselors, working with individuals and couples in destructive marriages, I want to give you a few mile markers that will help you identify where you are on the healing journey or whether or not you’re even on the right path toward getting there. [I’m] going to talk about the importance of safety.

Safety

Safety in an intimate relationship such as marriage must never be underestimated. You cannot put a marriage together in a healthy way if one person in the marriage feels afraid of the other. Without question, whenever there has been any kind of physical abuse, destruction of property, and/or threats against one’s self or others there is no safety.

Shirley e-mailed me.  She wrote, “My biblical counselor says that I must allow my husband back into the home if we want our marriage to heal. He said, ‘How can we work on our marriage when we’re not living together?’

“What are your concerns about him moving back home?”  I asked.

“We’ve been separated for over a year after he gave me a black eye. It wasn’t the first time he hit me, but it was the worst. I never pressed charges or called the police, but I told him he’d have to move out. Honestly, I haven’t seen any real change in him. My counselor says that Ray is changing.  He hasn’t hit me for a long time. I agreed, but his underlying attitudes of entitlement are still there.”

“Give me a few examples,” I said.

“He badgers me to give in to him when I disagree. When he visits with the kids at the house and I tell him I’m tired and I want him to leave, he says I’m selfish and only thinking about myself. He thinks it’s okay if he walks into our house without knocking even though I’ve asked him not to.  If he won’t respect my requests when we’re separated, how will he do it if he moves back home? “

“He won’t. ” I said. “Either he’s not willing to respect you or he’s not capable of doing it but either way you are not safe until he learns to do this.  Please, stick up for yourself with your counselor.  Before you can work on the marriage, your husband need to value the importance of your safety and demonstrate that he can control himself and honor your feelings and boundaries without badgering or retaliation.  If he won’t do this much, you cannot go any further to repair your relationship. ”

There are other issues of safety that also must be resolved to some degree if a marriage is going to be wisely restored. For example, Kathy still loves her husband despite his sins against her. She longs for Jeff to be the man she knows he could be. Yet she must not throw caution to the side and be fully reconciled with Jeff without the proper safety measures in place.  She knows Jeff has a problem with sexual addiction.  He has a long history of pornography, affairs, prostitutes and one night stands.

Does God ask Kathy to ignore these dangers to her health and safety in order to reconcile her marriage?  Or, is it both in her and Jeff’s best interest that she stay firm and not resume sexual intimacy with Jeff until he gets a clean bill of health as well as demonstrates a change of heart and some progress in his change of habits?

In a different situation, Gina’s husband, Matthew, feels entitled to keep his income in a separate bank account with only his name on it.  He gives Gina an allowance each week for household expenses but requires her to give him give a detailed account of everything she spends.  Gina is an RN, but she and Matthew agreed it was best for her to stay home with their four children.  Gina does not feel safe financially or emotionally.  She feels like a child when she has to give an account, yet Matthew refuses to let Gina know what he’s spending.  He says it’s his money.  Gina feels vulnerable and scared whenever Matthew travels, especially overseas.  What if something happened to him and she ran out of cash?  When she’s expressed her concerns to Matthew, he tells her not to worry, nothing will happen to him.

Legally Gina is an adult and considered an equal partner in their financial responsibilities, yet she has no voice, no power, and no idea what is happening with their assets. Should she submit to Matthew when he says she’s not allowed to have a credit card even though she’s never been irresponsible with money?   Gina’s observed Matthew being deceitful at times in his business expenses. What if Matthew has been deceitful in other ways?  What if he has underreported their income tax?  Gina would be held equally responsible even if she didn’t know.   What if he is not paying their mortgage or their home equity loan faithfully?   The financial consequences of his irresponsibility would fall equally on her shoulders. Gina and Matthew will never have a healthy marriage if these issues aren’t discussed with the underlying imbalance of power and control changed.

I’m dismayed by the number of people helpers, pastors, lay counselors, marriage mentors and professional counselors who don’t understand safety issues must come first. There can be no constructive conversation about other marital issues nor can there be any joint marital counseling  if one person has no say or isn’t safe to tell the truth or disagree without fear of physical, emotional, sexual, financial or spiritual retaliation.

Loss: Divorce Brings Grief … and Changes

SOURCE:  Living Free

“Who are those who fear the Lord? He will show them the path they should choose …” Psalm 25:12 NLT

Divorce is the ultimate relationship loss. When marriage problems end in separation and divorce, the loss is experienced by the entire family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as custody and child support battles rage long after the initial disruption.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making choices. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have a choice in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give into despair … or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life? Will you walk in fear … or will you place your faith in God to guide you and help you?

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to him, he will guide you in making those choices … he will give you the courage you need … and he will restore your hope. With him all things are possible.

Lord, forgive me for the poor choices in the past. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family, for me and, most of all, the one that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name …

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

These thoughts were drawn from …

Handling Loss and Grief: How to Face Losses in Life and Grieve Christianly by Raymond T. Brock, Ed.D.

Building Intimacy in Marriage

SOURCE:  Dan Allender

What I want to offer you is a simple thought.

To the degree you hide and blame, you will ruin the very thing that you most deeply desire. To the degree that you open your heart and give to the other, particularly in the context of some of your hardest moments, you will have the opportunity to develop true and lasting intimacy.

What is intimacy?

It is the delectable pleasure that promises, through heart and body, that love conquers death. In most worlds, we’re looking at a 52-percent probability of divorce in a first marriage. Seventy percent in a second. Ninety percent in a third. We live in a world of marital death. And given that, what will not only keep the two of you together, but actually bring you pleasure—the pleasure that is, indeed, a promise that death does not win, that love conquers death? That’s what our hearts most deeply desire.

To do that kind of work, we’ve got to walk into the depths of what seems counterintuitive: we must enter the suffering of the other. To stand with that person, share in whatever way we can with them in their suffering, and to have a heart to bless them rather than to flee from them or blame them.

The Curse

I believe that every one of us struggles with what Genesis 3:16-19 points us to. This is reality for every man and every woman. As daughters of Eve, as sons of Adam, we all struggle with what came as a consequence of intimacy being broken with God and one another:

Then [God] said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.”

That’s not happy news. The reality to be a woman in this world is that you suffer what your mother Eve suffered. And to be a man in this world means you suffer what your father Adam suffered. What did they suffer? Two things for each.

First, for women, you will have pain in childbearing. Does that mean that if you do not have children you have been released from the curse? Absolutely not. This literally means you will have pain in childbearing. But even more, what I believe the passage is inviting us to consider is that a woman’s heart is relational. A woman’s heart gives birth to relationships. A woman’s heart is to expand and to grow and to see fruitfulness in the way that she lives. And what’s the byproduct of the fall? Every woman will have pain in relationships. There will be a certain loneliness and agony that will be there in all her relationships.

Second, we see that there will be tension in her marriage. That her desire will be powerful and his response to her desire will be to try and control her. We see the word translated “desire” again in the same form in Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you” (NIV). The word desire there seems to imply something empty, craving, desperate. In the heart of every woman is a desperation, a craving, a loneliness that desires to be assuaged by something that will deeply satisfy her heart. And a man’s response to a woman who’s hungry is that he feels out of control and desires to make sure that she is silenced, so that he is not unnerved by her desire. He’ll try to master, to control her through intimidation, through fear, through shame, through withdrawal to make her pay. We’ve got two themes—hide, blame. Hide. Blame. He doesn’t want to deal with her emptiness. He hides. It comes to him and exposes him; he blames.

In summary, the core issue for every woman from this passage is this question: Am I too much? Am I too much for my father, for my boyfriend, for my husband? Because I have more energy, more passion, more desire, more hurt, more anger than it seems the men in my world have the capacity to address. Far more often, men want women to turn down that pain, that heartache, that desire, and the Scriptures call that ruling, controlling. That is not good. That tension is a result of the Fall.

What’s the reality for men? Two things again. There is no such category as low-hanging fruit. Every day you will go out into the world and you will scrape to make a living. Irrespective of how well off you are, how large your bank account is, there will always be enough uncertainty in our world that you cannot escape, and all labor is fraught with sweat and blood. Nothing comes easy for a man.

Second, whatever a man achieves will eventually turn to dust. Nothing lasts. Nothing will be yours for eternity. And so for a man the core question is this: Am I enough? Do I have enough intelligence? Do I have enough strength? Do I have enough wisdom? Do I have enough ability to make it in a world like ours?

Can you see the tension between men and women? Whether married or not: I’m too much. I’m not enough. And in that interplay, with the tension of loneliness and the issues of my failure and futility, the natural response for every single one of us is to step away, hide, cover, and eventually turn and blame.

Hiding and Blaming

As a therapist, no one calls me with good news. I don’t like the phone. So in the years before caller ID, when the phone would ring, I could be three feet away and my wife could be fifteen feet away. I would look at my wife with that very plaintive male look. And my wife, who struggles like any other woman with the fear of loneliness, would hear that Please do this for me, and she would go answer the phone. I would feel relieved because at least I’d have 15 to 20 seconds to figure out what to do with the phone call.

When she’d answer the phone and say, “Oh, hi, Fred,” I’d hear Fred’s voice or I’d hear his name, and I would gesture to her. She would respond and say to Fred, “Oh, I’m sorry. Dan’s not available.” Or at times, sadly, she would say, “I’m sorry. He’s not here.” I think she meant psychologically, but nonetheless, she deceived on my behalf to allow me to escape that sense of being caught in something I didn’t want to have to handle.

I remember this day so very well. The phone rang. I did that same little thing. She came over, answered it, and said, “Oh, hi, Fred.” And I began that gesture. She said to Fred, “I’m sorry. Dan is shaking so violently before me that I’m not sure what he would like to do with the phone call. So I’m going to put it down and let him decide.” She walked away, and as she did I tracked her. I knew exactly where she was going.

I picked up the phone. “Hey, Fred. How are you?” We had a little conversation, quite pleasant. After we hung up I tracked her. I followed her. I sort of opened the door she was behind. I didn’t throw it open, but I opened it with force, and I stepped in. One foot in, one out, just a nice, safe position. I said, “What were you thinking?” My tone made clear that I was blaming her. I had already begun the violence against her.

She was reading a book. And she held up the book’s spine so I could see. The title was Bold Love, a book that I wrote. And she said, “I was reading something that I find to be quite brilliant and helpful and yet something that I see you seldom attempt to live.” At that point I was furious. I was befuddled and furious, and all I could do was fume for a moment or two and then storm away.

Intimacy and Pain

In those moments, most of us have conflict. We have hurt. We have misunderstanding. We shut down. We escape. Maybe we blame for a season. But because we love each other, eventually it sort of dissipates. We get back together and say, “I love you. I’m sorry. Shouldn’t have said that.” It’s not resolved. We’ve really not addressed much of anything at all. Over months, years, decades, those kinds of small nicks and wounds begin to create a kind of dissipation of energy and heart.

How do divorces occur? Seldom did somebody just wake up one morning going, “I don’t love you and I don’t want to be married to you.” It is over that slow tectonic movement where all of a sudden one day you wake up. You’ve been drifting for so very long that in many ways you’re sleeping with an enemy. And yet you love each other. Yet you’re friends. And yet there is nothing really left in your life of true intimacy.

How do we keep that from happening in our marriages? It is not that complex. And yet, indeed, it is not easy. We must stand in one another’s pain. I have to invite my wife into the world in which, no matter what successes or failures I’ve known, there’s not a single day of my life where I feel like I can do well. There’s always a doubt, always a question, always the thought that I really am a poser. What am I going to do with those questions? Well, I’ve got enough confidence and bravado, at least externally, that I can sort of bluff my way through the world. But nobody knows as clearly and deeply as my wife that below that bravado is a whole lot of hurt and shame and pain. What does it mean for me to invite my wife into my struggle with confidence, my struggle with performance, my fear of failure and futility?

Equally, my wife must invite me into her loneliness. The problem is, many times I’m the cause of her loneliness. She was lonely before I married her, and I’ve increased it. Do you see the possibility for tension? Blame. Shift of blame. Backing away. Our task is so very, very important that we have to have the courage to enter the suffering of the other. We’re called to stand with each other in humbling, humiliating, hard moments. Ones in which we naturally run, hide, and then turn and blame.

The Curse Lifter

Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.” Jesus has entered into all the loneliness that a woman will ever suffer. How else do you understand this phrase, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Matthew 27:46)? And Jesus knows the sense of futility and failure that every man feels. He allowed himself to become a public spectacle of failure and shame, knows what it is to be mocked before the world. His whole creation turned against him in blame and contempt.

In the midst of our own struggles with one another, our hearts open when we bring in Jesus and his presence, when we say I am alone and I feel curses, and yet he had all of my curse. To know that freedom—I will never bear the curse that he, indeed, has borne on my behalf—opens my heart to at least a new stance with my wife. I can begin to say, “I don’t know what to say, what to do, how to rebuild. But I do know this, I must deal with my heart first.” As I begin to name where I have fled and where I have blamed, I begin to call forth in you the blessing that I have harmed you and I want to enter your hurt. I don’t know how to do it well, and I’ll fail even as I do so. But I will not quit and I will not walk away, and we will come to know one another more richly and deeply than we have before.

The world is looking at our marriages. In many ways it has already come to the judgment that we are no different from our so-called secular counterparts, not only in terms of the rate of divorce but the rate of emptiness in our lives. It is our unique gift and call to be witnesses that the humility of desire and the commitment to move toward one another will bring a goodness that we could never have created on our own by doing kind things for one another. Christ has borne all that we will ever suffer, and we have the privilege of entering the heart of suffering of the other in order to bring blessing.

Together, may you have a taste in the midst of very hard moments of what it means to move, to stand, to speak, and to bless rather than to hide and blame.

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Excerpted from a sermon by Dan Allender, delivered at Willow Creek Community Church, February 5-6, 2011.

The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage

SOURCE:  Meg Jay/New York Times

The Counseling Moment Editor’s Note:  The author of this article, Meg Jay, seems to embrace a very secular worldview and holds some troublesome personal opinions with which I disagree.  Nonetheless, the research she discusses does truthfully portray destructive relational aspects of cohabitation which are in sync with God’s Word and warning about sexual behaviors practiced outside of marriage which are to be reserved for the marriage covenant.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

AT 32, one of my clients (I’ll call her Jennifer) had a lavish wine-country wedding. By then, Jennifer and her boyfriend had lived together for more than four years. The event was attended by the couple’s friends, families and two dogs.

When Jennifer started therapy with me less than a year later, she was looking for a divorce lawyer. “I spent more time planning my wedding than I spent happily married,” she sobbed. Most disheartening to Jennifer was that she’d tried to do everything right. “My parents got married young so, of course, they got divorced. We lived together! How did this happen?”

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages – and more likely to divorce – than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

Researchers originally attributed the cohabitation effect to selection, or the idea that cohabitors were less conventional about marriage and thus more open to divorce. As cohabitation has become a norm, however, studies have shown that the effect is not entirely explained by individual characteristics like religion, education or politics. Research suggests that at least some of the risks may lie in cohabitation itself.

As Jennifer and I worked to answer her question, “How did this happen?” we talked about how she and her boyfriend went from dating to cohabiting. Her response was consistent with studies reporting that most couples say it “just happened.”

“We were sleeping over at each other’s places all the time,” she said. “We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

She was talking about what researchers call “sliding, not deciding.” Moving from dating to sleeping over to sleeping over a lot to cohabitation can be a gradual slope, one not marked by rings or ceremonies or sometimes even a conversation. Couples bypass talking about why they want to live together and what it will mean.

WHEN researchers ask cohabitors these questions, partners often have different, unspoken – even unconscious – agendas. Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.

Sliding into cohabitation wouldn’t be a problem if sliding out were as easy. But it isn’t. Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off. In fact, cohabitation can be exactly like that. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in.

Lock-in is the decreased likelihood to search for, or change to, another option once an investment in something has been made. The greater the setup costs, the less likely we are to move to another, even better, situation, especially when faced with switching costs, or the time, money and effort it requires to make a change.

Cohabitation is loaded with setup and switching costs. Living together can be fun and economical, and the setup costs are subtly woven in. After years of living among roommates’ junky old stuff, couples happily split the rent on a nice one-bedroom apartment. They share wireless and pets and enjoy shopping for new furniture together. Later, these setup and switching costs have an impact on how likely they are to leave.

Jennifer said she never really felt that her boyfriend was committed to her.  “I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife,” she said. “We had all this furniture. We had our dogs and all the same friends. It just made it really, really difficult to break up. Then it was like we got married because we were living together once we got into our 30s.”

I’ve had other clients who also wish they hadn’t sunk years of their 20s into relationships that would have lasted only months had they not been living together. Others want to feel committed to their partners, yet they are confused about whether they have consciously chosen their mates. Founding relationships on convenience or ambiguity can interfere with the process of claiming the people we love. A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment or marriage.

The unfavorable connection between cohabitation and divorce does seem to be lessening, however, according to a report released last month by the Department of Health and Human Services. More good news is that a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of Americans saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage.

This shared and serious view of cohabitation may go a long way toward further attenuating the cohabitation effect because the most recent research suggests that serial cohabitators, couples with differing levels of commitment and those who use cohabitation as a test are most at risk for poor relationship quality and eventual relationship dissolution.

Cohabitation is here to stay, and there are things young adults can do to protect their relationships from the cohabitation effect. It’s important to discuss each person’s motivation and commitment level beforehand and, even better, to view cohabitation as an intentional step toward, rather than a convenient test for marriage or partnership.

It also makes sense to anticipate and regularly evaluate constraints that may keep you from leaving.

I am not for or against living together, but I am for young adults knowing that, far from safeguarding against divorce and unhappiness, moving in with someone can increase your chances of making a mistake – or of spending too much time on a mistake. A mentor of mine used to say, “The best time to work on someone’s marriage is before he or she has one,” and in our era, that may mean before cohabitation.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author of “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – and How to Make the Most of Them Now.”

8 Lies That Destroy Marriage

SOURCE:  Bill Elliff/Family Life Ministry

Imagine meeting with an engaged couple a few weeks before they are married. With excitement they describe how they met and how their relationship developed. The husband-to-be proudly describes how he set up a perfect romantic evening so he could pop the big question.

Then they surprise you by saying, “We want to get married and have some children. At first we will feel a lot of love for each other. Then we’ll start arguing and hating each other. In a few years, we’ll get a divorce.”

Who would enter marriage intending to get a divorce? And yet, divorce is occurring at alarming rates. A large number of people in my church have been hurt deeply by divorce—they’ve been divorced themselves, or they’ve felt the pain of a parent or relative divorcing.

As common as divorce is, I’m convinced that most of them could be avoided. Mark this down on the tablet of your heart: Every wrong behavior begins with believing a lie. Our culture promotes many deceptions that can quickly destroy a marriage. Here are eight:

Lie #1. “My happiness is the most important thing about my marriage.”  

As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many people have justified breaking up their marriages by saying, “I have to do this. God just wants me to be happy.”

But according to God’s Word, a spouse’s individual happiness is not the purpose for marriage.

The Bible says in Colossians 3:17: “Whatever you do in word or deed,” do for the glory of God. While all parts of creation are to glorify God, mankind was made in God’s very image. Through marriage, husbands and wives are to reflect His character and have children who will reflect His character … all the way to the end of time.

Every marriage knows unhappiness. Every marriage knows conflict. Every marriage knows difficulty. But everyone can be joyful in their marriage by focusing on God’s purposes and His glory instead of individual happiness.

Lie #2. “If I don’t love my spouse any longer, I should get a divorce.”   

It’s a tragedy to lose love in marriage. But the loss of human love can teach us to access a deeper love—the very love of God Himself. That love is patient and kind … it never fails (1 Corinthians 13). It even cares for its enemies.

When human love dies in a marriage, a couple can enter into one of the most exciting adventures they’ll ever have: learning how to love each other with God’s love. Romans 5:5 tells us that this very love “has been poured out within our hearts, through the Holy Spirit.”

Lie #3. “My private immorality does not affect my marriage.”

A lot of people think, I can view pornography in the privacy of my home. It’s just me and my magazine, or computer … it doesn’t affect my marriage.

Oneness in marriage is hijacked by sexual immorality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?”

In the 21st century, there are many ways to join oneself with a prostitute: physically, through the pages of a magazine, on a computer’s video screen, etc. Paul’s advice is the same today as it was thousands of years ago: Flee immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18).

If you take your emotional and sexual energy and spend it on someone else, there will be nothing left for your spouse. Those who continually view pornography or engage in sexual fantasies are isolating themselves.

Lie #4. “My sin (or my spouse’s sin) is so bad that I need to get a divorce.”

The truth is God can fix our failures—any failure. The Bible says to forgive one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven us (Colossians. 3:13).

“But,” you ask, “Doesn’t Matthew 19:9 say that God allows divorce in the case of sexual immorality?” Yes. I believe that it does—when there is an extended period of unrepentance. Yet, nowhere in that passage does God demand divorce. When there is sexual sin, we should seek to redeem the marriage and so illustrate the unfathomable forgiveness of God.

Some of the greatest life messages I know are the marriages of people who have repented from sexual sin and spouses who have forgiven them. Their lives today are living testimonies to the truth found in Joel 2:25: “… I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.”

Lie #5. “I married the wrong person.”

Many people have told me, for example, that they are free to divorce because they married an unbeliever. “I thought he/she would become a Christian, but that didn’t happen. We need to get a divorce.” They recall that they knew it was a mistake, but they married anyway—hoping it would work out. Others claim that they just married someone who wasn’t a good match, someone who wasn’t a true “soul mate.”

A wrong start in marriage does not justify another wrong step. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good,” says Romans 8:28, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

God tells us not to be poured into the world’s mold. Instead we are to be transformed and that begins in our minds. By doing this, God will give us exactly what we need for our lives. God’s will for us is good, acceptable, and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Here’s the key for those who are now married: The Bible clearly says do not divorce (with the exception for extended, unrepentant sexual immorality). God can take even the worst things of life and work them together for good if we will just trust Him.

Lie #6. “My spouse and I are incompatible.” 

I don’t know a lot of husbands and wives who are truly compatible when they get married. In marriage, God joins together two flawed people.

If I will respond correctly to my spouse’s weaknesses, then God can teach me forgiveness, grace, unconditional love, mercy, humility, and brokenness. The life of a person who believes in Jesus Christ is developed by responses to not only happy things, but also to difficulties. And those very difficulties include weaknesses.

That is why we are told in Colossians 3:12-13 to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other.” My spouse’s weaknesses are not hindrances. Instead, they are the doorway to spiritual growth. This is a liberating truth.

If I will respond to my spouse’s shortcomings with unconditional acceptance, my love won’t be based on performance. I won’t say, “You need to live up to these expectations.” I will be able to accept my spouse, weaknesses and all. And that acceptance will swing open the door of change for not only my spouse, but also for me.

Lie #7. “Breaking the marriage covenant won’t hurt me or my children.”

When divorce enters a family, there are always scars. I know this firsthand; although I was an adult when my father committed adultery and divorced my mother, decades later there are still effects. Many consequences of divorce never go away.

Blake Hudspeth, our church’s youth pastor, also understands the pain of divorce. He was 5 years old when his parents divorced, and it was hard for him to understand God as Father and to trust people. “The people I trusted the most split up.” He also found it difficult to accept love from others “because I didn’t know if they truly loved me.” And Blake developed a fear of marriage. “Am I going to follow the trend of divorce, because my parents and grandparents divorced?”

Blake’s father even wrote him and said, “This was the worst decision I made in my life. It was bad. It hurt you. It hurt our family. When I divorced your mom, I divorced our family because I broke a covenant that we were a part of.”

Blake says that his parents (who both remarried) have embraced the gospel, resulting in him readily accepting advice and encouragement from them. “Watching the gospel play out … with my mom and dad was huge,” he says.

Lie #8. “There’s no hope for my marriage—it can’t be fixed.” 

This may be the most devastating lie of all. Because in more than four decades of counseling couples, I’ve seen God do the seeming impossible thousands of times. In a dying marriage, He just needs two willing parties. God knows how to get us out of the messes we get ourselves into.

I tell these couples about people like Chuck and Ann, who were involved in drugs and alcohol before God restored their home. Or Lee and Greg, who were engaged in multiple affairs. God brought them back to Christ and to each other. Now they have six children and a marriage ministry. Or Jim and Carol who had taken off their wedding rings and were living in separate bedrooms and about to live in separate worlds when God redeemed them.

If you begin to think, There is no hope for my marriage, realize that, “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

We must combat the lies about marriage. The truth will set us free (John 8:32). God can fix anything!

Divorce: The Ultimate Relationship Wound and Loss

SOURCE:  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Divorce: Despair or Trust?

Divorce is the ultimate relationship wound and loss.

When marriage problems end in separation and then divorce, the loss is deeply experienced not only by the couple, but also by the entire family. It even impacts friends and often the coworkers of that family. Divorce can leave the family in suspended animation as battles usually rage for many years after.

Recovering from divorce involves working through a grieving process, much like when a spouse has died. It also involves making decisions. You might not have had a choice in getting a divorce, but you do have choices in your response. Will you hold on to bitterness and anger … or will you forgive? Will you give up and give in to despair …or will you trust Jesus to help you rebuild your life on Him and not on your marriage or your spouse? Will you walk in fear … or will you be courageous to face the future God has for you? Do you trust you, marriage, your ex-, or God?

Satan and your flesh, filled with insecurities and hurt, will try to influence your me-centered focus to give up, to feel like a failure, to feel no hope is possible, and that you’ve lost everything. You have to resist these lies and distortions. Remember, Satan is the Great Deceiver. This is the only character trait he has to present and relate to the truth.

Divorce can bring one of the most intense pains possible into a person’s life. But you don’t have to go through it alone. Jesus loves you and wants to help you. If you will commit your ways to Him, the Holy Spirit will guide you in making those hard decisions … He will give you the courage and peace you need to be clear-minded … and He will restore your hope. With God, all things are possible.

Today, if you are thinking about divorce, STOP! Get some wise counsel as this is not God’s plan, (but sometimes acceptable) and therefore will be a nightmare for you and a lot of loss for many.

If you are divorced, dive into the Bible and get to a church based Divorce Recovery group so you can process and heal using Biblical truths and lenses. If you are a child from divorced parents, really examine the lies that divorce embeds in your mind about you, your parents, and relationships. If you know people in these situations, be there to help them genuinely heal and see God and life more clearly, because Satan really uses divorce to suck the soul out of people and make them his puppets. If you are married, commit to grow your marriage and express your love to your spouse. Life is your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, forgive me for the poor decisions I have made in the past. I know divorce saddens You. My hurt and loss seem unbearable at times. Please help me access the strength, power, peace, and comfort You provide to overcome. I know that through You, I will not just overcome, but even thrive as a result of learning through these experiences to put all my eggs in Your basket alone. Right now I have to make so many decisions. I need your help. Help me to choose the right path … the one that is right for my family and for me, and most of all the path that pleases You. I pray this and all prayers in the name of the One who shows us what step to take next, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

Who, then, is the man that fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.

Psalm 25:12

 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 147:3

 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

Matthew 19:6

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

[After Divorce] Do’s and Don’ts in Your New Relationship

SOURCE:   Kathy Leonard/www.divorcecare.org

If you are confident that you are spiritually and emotionally ready for a new relationship (and your pastor and other mature Christian friends agree), these practical suggestions could help you avoid some problems that often lead to remarriage failures.

 Don’t date people whose divorces are not final

Gary Richmond, author of The Divorce Decision, advises: “Your very first question for the other person should be, ‘Is your divorce final?’ If the answer is no, then avoid that person like you would avoid the plague because anything could happen. That person could go back to his or her first mate and reconcile (this happens more often than you would think). You could also get enmeshed in their legal problems, which sometimes never find an end. You have no idea as to how long you will have to be dating a married person, and until the divorce is final, you are dating a married person, and it’s not appropriate.

“Also, this person is not healed. The reality is that a person whose divorce is not final is not going to need anything but nurses and doctors for a while, and you, if you’re wise or well, don’t need to be dating someone who is sick. You’ll catch it again.”

You may be tempted to date a person who is still in the divorce process. That person may seem strong and well. Perhaps he or she has been in the divorce process for over a year. Every reason stated above by Gary Richmond is an excellent reason to avoid that relationship or to put it on hold. Remember how easy it is in the divorce process to push down hurts and losses and to try and put a Band-Aid over wounds instead of facing them and feeling them. True healing is difficult; it takes a relationship with Jesus Christ, and it takes time.

Now, more than ever, you need to be completely in touch with God. Spend extra amounts of time sitting quietly and listening to Him. Pay attention to wisdom from God’s Word, mature Christian friends and Christian books. Surrender completely to Him: “Say a quiet yes to God and he’ll be there in no time. Quit dabbling in sin. Purify your inner life. Quit playing the field” (James 4:8 The Message Bible).

You may feel that this relationship is right. Be sure that your feelings line up with God’s plan for both of you. Your relationship will be better, stronger and deeper if you both follow God’s plan and pursue it in His timing.

Do make a list of character qualities that you require

The next suggestion to help you develop a successful new relationship is to make a list of character qualities that you require in a person you want to develop a relationship with. You are worth every good quality that you list, and God wants the best for you. If the new person falls short of some of these characteristics, then you need to prayerfully consider if God is leading this relationship.

After you have listed good characteristics, then list the qualities of your former spouse that drove you crazy in the first marriage or that were just plain wrong. The person you date or marry should be mostly free of these qualities. Do not fool yourself into thinking you will feel different this time because it is a different person.

Gary Richmond says, “It’s a fact that we are drawn to the same type of person over and over again, which means you have to make an effort to say, ‘I will not be drawn to this kind of person again. There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.'”

It is easy to fall back into old patterns of thinking and behaviors when seeking a new relationship. Think carefully about Gary Richmond’s statement that says, “There is going to have to be more substance of character, and I’m going to have to view that.” Be certain that the new person has demonstrated time and time again the strong character traits that you have listed as prerequisites for a relationship with you. For instance, if honesty, dependability and no abusive language are character traits you feel are crucial in a mate, then give the relationship ample time for you to discover if the person is honest, if he or she can be counted on and if he or she uses encouraging and supportive words. Don’t ever compromise your beliefs when you choose to be in a new relationship.

Follow the advice of Matthew 5:37 when it comes to standing by your beliefs: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” If God wants you to have a new relationship, He has a person planned for you who is kind, godly and true.

 Do pay attention to the parental relationship

When you are considering a new relationship, be sure to examine how the person you are interested in relates to his or her parents. “Honor your father and your mother as the LORD your God has commanded you,” says Deuteronomy 5:16, “so that you may live long and that it may go well with you.”

Gary Richmond suggests that you “take a close look at that person’s relationship with his or her parents. It will be a reflection, not only of the parents’ relationship with each other, but also of that person’s respect for elders and for the opposite sex. If you see an emptiness or loneliness in the parental relationship or if you see disrespect, then you’ll know the person you are dating may not have the skills to relate to you the way you want to be related to.”

And you, in turn, may need to consider how you relate to your own parents.

 Don’t marry a person in debt

If you are seeking a new relationship, make sure you know how well the other person manages money. You should not marry a person who is deeply in debt. Wait until the bills are paid off.

“If you are really wise, you will look carefully at the financial practices of the person that you are getting intimately involved with,” admonishes Gary Richmond.

Financial management can be a difficult subject in any relationship, but it is important to discuss money and not be naïve in a new relationship. Especially if you are considering remarriage, your new partner should be open with you about his or her financial practices, debts and investments.

God’s Word on debt is, “Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:7-8).

 Do understand your differences

You should also examine the similarities and differences between you and the other person.

“You need to look closely at having some things in common. If all you can base your relationship on is physical attraction, it just will wear thin in the same way that a roller coaster gets increasingly less exciting the more you ride it,” says Gary Richmond.

Some things in a marriage are extremely important to have in common; for instance, your beliefs about God, ideas about raising children and convictions about honesty, commitment and faithfulness. It is also important that you share interests, hobbies and ideas about how to spend free time. You do not need to or necessarily want to share every activity with your mate—you are a unique individual with special talents and tastes—but you do want to be able to have meaningful and stimulating conversations about more than just your relationship. The person you are interested in should not only be a romantic interest, but also a friend, someone you have things in common with.

 “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul” (Proverbs 27:9).

Why Endure a Pain-Filled Marriage?

Editors Note:  The author of this article states he was inspired by reading a review of three new books about Abraham Lincoln (Books and Culture, Sept./Oct., 1995, p. 6).

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by John Piper

Lincoln’s marriage was a mess, and accepting the pain brought deep strength in the long run.

I write this not because it is wrong to seek refuge from physical abuse, but because, short of that, millions of marriages end over the agony of heartbreaking disappointments and frustrations. They do not need to, and there is much gain in embracing the pain for Christ and his kingdom.

Our culture has made it acceptable (and therefore easier to justify) divorce on the basis of emotional pain.  Historically, the misery of painful emotions was not a sanction of divorce in most cultures.  Marriage durability—with or without emotional pain—was valued above emotional tranquility, for the sake of the children and the stability of society.  In Christianity such rugged, enduring marriage, through pain and heartache, is rooted in the marriage of God to his rebellious people whom he has never finally cast off.

“Your husband is your Maker … For the Lord has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one’s youth when she is rejected,” says your God. “For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Isaiah 54:5-7).

Lincoln brought debilities into his marriage to Mary Todd.  He was emotionally withdrawn and prized reason over passion.  She said that he “was not a demonstrative man … When he felt most deeply, he expressed the least.”  He was absent, emotionally or physically, most of the time.  Before his presidency, for years he spent four months each year away from home on the judicial circuit.  He was indulgent with the children and left their management almost entirely to his wife.

Mary often flew into rages.  “She pushed Lincoln relentlessly to seek high public office; she complained endlessly about poverty; she overran her budget shamelessly, both in Springfield and in the White House;  she abused servants as if they were slaves (and ragged on Lincoln when he tried to pay them extra on the side);  she assaulted him on more than one occasion (with firewood, with potatoes);  she probably once chased him with a knife through their backyard in Springfield;  and she treated his casual contacts with attractive females as a direct threat, while herself flirting constantly and dressing to kill.

A regular visitor to the White House wrote of Mrs. Lincoln that ‘she was vain, passionately fond of dress and wore her dresses shorter at the top and longer at the train than even fashions demanded.  She had great pride in her elegant neck and bust, and grieved the president greatly by her constant display of her person and her fine clothes.’”

It was a pain-filled marriage.  The familiar lines in his face and the somber countenance reveal more than the stress of civil war.  But the two stayed married.  They kept at least that part of their vows.  They embraced the pain, even if they could not or would not remove it.

What was the gain?  God will give the final answer.

But here are two historical assessments:

1) How was it that Lincoln, when president, could work so effectively with the rampant egos who filled his administration?  “The long years of dealing with his tempestuous wife helped prepare Lincoln for handling the difficult people he encountered as president.”  In other words, a whole nation benefited from his embracing the pain.

2) “Over the slow fires of misery that he learned to keep banked and under heavy pressure deep within him, his innate qualities of patience, tolerance, forbearance, and forgiveness were tempered and refined.” America can be glad that Abraham Lincoln did not run from the fires of misery in his marriage. There were resources for healing he did not know.   But when they fail, embracing the fire is better than escape.

Why Stay in a Difficult Marriage?

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Dawn Yrene

Quiet miracles happen even in the most tumultuous unions

“Divorce isn’t the unforgivable sin,” my friend hinted, not so subtly. I had just expressed my deep remorse over marrying a man with whom I had little in common.

Kevin and I had been proof that opposites attract. He was the wild type—a tattooed, leather-clad biker. His first love had been his Harley until he had met Christ, six months before meeting me. To be honest, Christ and the Harley still vied for first place. His closet was filled with bike parts, and the motorcycle “herself” rested in the middle of his living room when not in use.

I, on the other hand, was a straight-laced evangelical who listened to Christian music, worked a Christian job, and spoke Christianese. I had my own idols, though, and at age 26, marriage was becoming one of them.

Kevin and I met at a Christian singles’ retreat. Both of us were there because of a roommate’s persuasion. By the end of the retreat, I had found a new friend in Kevin, “but that’s all,” I assured myself. We were too different ever to be more: I was having a tough time sleeping in a tent, but I had seen him napping while sitting on his motorcycle. This was a true biker!

When Kevin asked for my phone number, I was surprised. Our next outing was a rainy Fourth of July fishing trip. We arrived back in town soaked but with a pleasant memory. Kevin talked little, but when he did, it was often about the Bible. He had a refreshing realness about him. He was a baby Christian, and as babies tend to do, he brought a fresh perspective to life—especially my spiritual life.

We began attending a Bible study and praying together. After a few months, he proposed. Yet despite all the good memories we were making, we were also beginning to disagree often. I assured myself that marriage would make us “one” on issues such as childrearing, spending, and the many other significant differences between us.

As any married person could have told me, that wasn’t a logical assumption.

Till Trials Do Us Part?

Marriage magnified our differences. Kevin’s focus on me began to take his eyes off Jesus. My hopes for a blissful marriage and a friend who would always be there did the same to me.

Sometimes we idolized each other, looking to each other to fill the empty places we should have let Christ fill. We also fought regularly. Though Kevin could say sweet things, he also knew how to make me feel low—even abused. I was surprised to see myself, the “good little Christian,” becoming hateful and vengeful. I began pondering my friend’s advice. After all, Christians aren’t perfect. What if I married the wrong person? Why stay married if it’s all about fighting? Why stay imprisoned when a simple divorce could mean freedom? Why be unhappy?

Amid all my questioning, a still, small voice kept reminding me of what I had prayed shortly before meeting Kevin. “Lord, instead of looking for a man who fits my list of wants, give me to a man who needs me as his helper, as Adam needed Eve.” Despite our differences, Kevin needed a helper, and the helper God had selected was me. And I needed Kevin—to balance me, challenge me, and cause me to trust God. Through the painful trials of marriage, God was purifying me, teaching me to obey even when it wasn’t comfortable, and rewarding me in quiet ways only I could see.

Nearly 13 years and five children later, my difficult marriage has brought happiness I never imagined and pain I never knew I could endure. Kevin has a growing relationship with Christ, as do I. Idolatry has been replaced by awe over God’s forgiveness. Brokenness and thankfulness have replaced abusive language and behavior. Answered prayer has turned a marriage that was an embarrassment to God’s kingdom into a testimony of His power.

Kevin and I are still more like black and white than gray. We need Christ to hold us together. But our roller-coaster ride has shown me that, contrary to worldly opinions, there are good reasons for staying in a difficult marriage. Here are several of those reasons.

Staying Power

WE ALL HAVE PRISONS.  Many situations can make us feel trapped: a nagging temptation, a tormented past, sickness, poverty, loneliness—or a difficult marriage. The Apostle Paul showed us what to do when there’s no way out: While in prison, he worshiped God (Acts 16:25). Being bound to an incompatible spouse doesn’t have to stop us from thanking God, experiencing peace, and receiving the His good gifts daily.

Divorcing my husband would ultimately be exchanging one prison for another. Bitterness and unforgiveness would create their own kind of trap. As Richard Lovelace wrote long ago, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” Could I, like Paul, rejoice in my prison cell?

DIFFICULTIES MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE.  We all hate suffering. But without it, who would we be? Looking at the lives of two biblical kings, a father and son, we get a glimpse. David lived a life of warfare, moving from one battle to the next. Yet at the end of David’s life, he worshiped so joyfully that he ignited a revival throughout Israel.

His son Solomon, in contrast, received from his father a productive and peaceful kingdom. He enjoyed peace, wealth, and whatever he wanted. Yet Ecclesiastes suggests that Solomon’s easy life led him to depression, cynicism, and weak faith.

DIFFICULTIES STRENGTHEN OUR PRAYER LIVES.  The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. Yet He hasn’t made marriage particularly easy. It’s only by crying out to God in our inadequacy that difficult marriages can change and grow. During our darkest moments, the psalms remind us that God understands our feelings and will help. In my marriage, the times forgiveness has been hardest have also been the times I have seen God’s rewards in the most amazing ways. Isaiah 64:4-5 says,

No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right.

My marriage is undeniably better when I pray for my spouse. With this incentive, I’ve learned to pray for everything from simple blessings such as God’s mercy and peace in our house, to complicated requests such as how to communicate in a way Kevin will understand. I’ve even learned to pray things I don’t really want to pray, such as for me to recognize my sin and for God to change me into the wife Kevin needs.

STAYING MARRIED TEACHES US HOW TO FORGIVE.  If there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s how to seek and grant forgiveness. Kevin, who had suffered through two divorces as an unbeliever, recently told me how freeing it is to be able to ask forgiveness and receive it. In his previous marriages, the word forgiveness was never mentioned. I’ve also learned firsthand the truth of Christ’s words in Lk. 7:47:

Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

When I truly forgive Kevin for hurts he regrets causing, his love for me grows. In the same way, I love him more when he sets me free from the debts I owe him.

Often it comes down to a simple choice: Will I hold on to bitterness, or will I love Jesus enough to put another person’s needs before my own—even if that person has wounded me to the core? Will I be kind to a spouse who doesn’t return my kindness because the Lover of my soul asks me to, or will I bail out? If I put my spouse in the place of God, then when he utterly fails, I may give up on him, even despise him. But if he is a gift from God—a part of my walk with Christ—someone who can test my love for God on a regular basis, I will be able to forgive even when he seriously disappoints me.

THERE’S A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT…BUT ISN’T.  A difficult marriage can seem like a mistake—but it may not be.  A spouse may be the best person to teach us to die to self (Mk. 8:35).  Males and females have different needs and wants when it comes to sex, communication—even TV preferences! In marriages where the list goes much further, including preferences in food (health versus junk), holiday traditions, denominational affiliations, and cultural backgrounds, divorce may, at times, seem to be the right choice.  But Prov. 14:12 says that sometimes what seems right leads to death. Kevin’s and my differences have caused many tears, especially in trying to raise happy, emotionally healthy children.  But if we trust God, we can believe that divorce, while it may seem logical at times, would only destroy the good results God wants to produce in us.

FEELINGS THAT HAVE FADED MAY RETURN.  Some couples find that bitterness and resentment have made it impossible to love one another. But Jesus said, “All things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27). Both Kevin and I have reached low points where it seemed we could never love each other again. Miraculously, our union has become such a team, such a friendship, and such a wonderful romance that we feel unworthy and amazed at God’s ability to restore. Utter hatred can become passionate love when we submit those feelings to God, and obedience overrides the desire of the moment.

MY MARRIAGE SHOULDN’T BE MY ENTIRE LIFE.  God has jobs, talents, and good works (Eph. 2:10) planned for each of us. In a bad marriage, God may bring relief through an outside occupation or a specific calling. He may use our hurts to minister to others who suffer. Focusing only on our marriages—good or bad—can cause us to miss out on the good God wants to do through us and for us in other areas of our lives.

I CAN CHOOSE TO SEE THE GOOD IN MY SPOUSE.  Every situation and person has good and bad aspects on which we can choose to focus. First Thessalonians 5:18 says to give thanks in allsituations.

When I wanted our yard fenced a few years ago, Kevin and I disagreed. He didn’t feel we could afford it. I wanted protection for our kids. Finally, he put up a six-foot chain-link fence—after I had told him I didn’t like chain link.

Years later, when I look at that fence, I can feel angry at my husband’s choice or thank God that Kevin sacrificed his time, sweat, and money to keep our children safe. I can also remember that men and women often think they’ve communicated clearly, when the opposite sex heard a completely different message. Maybe Kevin didn’t realize that chain link was that big of a deal to me. Maybe it was on sale. Maybe he tuned out during that part of the conversation. When marriage is tough, there’s still an opportunity to find my spouse’s good qualities and thank God for them—despite the imperfections.

Marriage by the Book

In an age in which counselors tell us to get out of “poisonous relationships” and even well-meaning friends say divorce is OK, I can remember the words of an old, yet living book. I can remember that it’s not really about my marriage to a man, but to the Bridegroom. If I love Him, I’ll obey by loving my spouse. In doing that, I find—strangely—that my difficult marriage can become a delight. And while God doesn’t promise that, He does ask if I am willing to die so that I can find real life in losing mine. I must admit such obedience doesn’t come easily.

Thankfully, Kevin’s Harley no longer resides in the living room. He sold it a year after we married to pay bills from our daughter’s birth. Now, we have a pet rabbit and five rowdy little children in its place. Lately, Kevin has been browsing the internet for another motorcycle. I don’t know what I’d do if he brought it into our living room. But with God’s help, we’ve made it over enough hurdles that I hope we wouldn’t let a little thing like a Harley in the living room get in the way of a happy marriage. With all our differences, we make too good a team for that.

In fact, I’ve come to believe that differences and difficulties are a recipe for truly great marriages. Differences may make marital harmony more difficult to achieve. But when two people with varying strengths come together, wanting to obey God and allowing Him to be strong where they are weak, the marriage that results becomes a powerful force for good in this world and a great reason for unbelievers to believe.

Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views

SOURCE:  Adapted from the book by Carl Laney, William Heth, Thomas Edgar and Larry Richards

The following are summary notes gleaned by Dr. Randall Johnson from the book, Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views.

The authors of this book each present one of four standard arguments about the validity of divorce and/or remarriage based on Scriptural support.  You can overview the following notes about each position and assess your own position about this important and complicated topic.  It is suggested you consider obtaining the book for greater detail and insight into these positions.

No Divorce, No Remarriage (Laney)

Three Requirements for Marriage:

-a public act of leaving one’s family to establish a new home

-a permanent bond or partnership as husband and wife

-sexual union to become one flesh (sexual union does not make a marriage without the preceding requirements, but all sexual union results in two people becoming one flesh; sexual gratification is not an end in itself but designed to produce children)

Definition of Marriage:  God’s act of joining a man and a woman in a permanent, covenanted, one-flesh relationship.

The vow or promise makes the obligation binding, making faithfulness to one’s word a priority in spite of the personal cost.

Deuteronomy 24

Increased laxity regarding divorce and remarriage among the Hebrews necessitated this legislation.

The legislation does not institute or approve divorce, but merely treats it as a practice already known and existing.

Its intent is not to give legal sanction to divorce but to prohibit the remarriage of a man to his divorced wife if there is an intervening marriage on her part.

It’s unlikely that the matter of indecency (nakedness) refers to adultery because was punishable by death.

Her second marriage defiles her making it similar to adultery.

A certificate of divorce (which typically read “you are free to marry any man”) was not required by the text but noted as the custom to protect the rejected wife from further responsibility to her husband and from his interference in a subsequent marriage.

The prohibition against remarrying the divorced wife after her second marriage is to prevent bringing guilt of sin upon the land of Israel because it would be tantamount to marrying his sister (a one flesh relationship still existing in some sense) and that this was designed to discourage divorces.

Other Passages on Divorce in the Old Testament

A divorced woman could not marry a priest (Lev. 21:7) suggesting that there was a measure of moral or ceremonial defilement associated with her.

In Ezra 10, the word “put away” could mean merely a legal separation rather than a divorce.  We should not assume that the Gentile wives remarried or that the Jewish men remarried.  Either way, this passage is not designed to provide us with a Biblical pattern for divorce and remarriage.  We cannot conclude that it is okay to divorce an unbelieving spouse because this would contradict 1 Cor. 7:12,13.

God hates divorce, not the divorced person, because it comes from treachery toward women and violation of one’s vows, and makes raising a godly family very difficult.

Jesus’ Teaching

Because Jesus rejects both the Hillel (more liberal view of Dt. 24) and Shammai (adultery only view of Dt. 24) schools by pointing out that God’s original intent was no divorce period, we should focus on God’s original plan instead of the concession Moses (and God?) makes because of hard hearts.

Jesus opposed the teachers of his day by labeling divorce and remarriage as adultery, since the legal divorce does not dissolve the actual marriage created by God, except in the case of porneia.

Porneia does not mean adultery (this would make Jesus’ view the same as the school of Shammai), nor general sexual sin (this would make his view more liberal than Shammai), nor violation of the betrothal period (the context is consummated marriage, not betrothal), but marriage within the prohibited relationships of Lev. 18:6-18.

Even in the case of divorce for porneia there is no allowance for remarriage.  Jesus’ remarks about becoming a eunuch for the kingdom may refer to remaining unmarried after divorce.

The adultery of marrying a divorced person is not a continual sin, but a one-time transgression.  Confessing the sin but continuing the marriage is the least guilty course of action, though those who choose to end their wrongfully created marriage are to be respected.

Paul’s Teaching

1 Cor. 7:10-11 is Paul’s interpretation of Jesus that divorce (the words “leave” and “send away” both mean divorce) is not permitted.

Paul recognized however that believers do divorce and so he left them only the options of remaining unmarried (for life) or remarrying one another.

A believer is not to divorce his unbelieving spouse, but if the unbeliever refuses to live with the believer he or she is not under obligation to prevent it, and is not free to remarry another.

Remarriage is only allowed if the former partner dies.

Divorce, But No Remarriage (Heth)

Genesis 1&2

The words “leave” and “cleave” are covenant terminology (Hosea did not divorce his wife but stopped living together with her as husband and wife, and so neither did God abandon the covenant with Israel); “one flesh” does not refer primarily to the sexual union nor the child from their relationship, but speaks of the husband and wife becoming closely related in kinship (marriage requires both covenant and consummation).

The aloneness that marriage is designed to take away is not “loneliness” or lack of companionship, but the need for help in perpetuating the human race and cultivating and governing the earth.

Leviticus 18

These forbidden unions (whether marital or otherwise) for affinities of marriage (also described as “flesh of his flesh” in the Hebrew) indicate that the one flesh of Gen. 2:24 equals becoming one kin or blood relation through marriage.

Though the kinship aspect of marriage does not continue after the death of a spouse, the circle of relationships established by marriage endure beyond death.  If that is the case, they continue beyond divorce, also.  The only exception is the law of levirate marriage (Dt. 25) or sororate marriage (Lev. 18:18).

Deuteronomy 24

The words for divorce here do not carry the weight of the view that the marriage bond is completely dissolved.

The issue at stake in this legislation is a man divorcing his wife legally (for some uncleanness short of adultery) and not being required to pay her dowry back, and then remarrying her after she has been divorced illegally (her husband dislikes her) or her second husband dying, resulting in her receiving her dowry back and other penalties, thus trying to profit from her new-found wealth after he had declared her unclean.  He cannot now declare that wrong and remarry her.  This is an abomination because it is a violation of the law, Thou shalt not steal.  Thus the legislation says nothing about the ability of divorce to “dissolve” the one-flesh relationship and make remarriage allowable.

Ezra 9 & 10

This is not a justification for remarriage because Ezra did not view these intermarriages as real marriages.  They were strictly forbidden by the Law.  The evils which flow from such unions are the responsibility of those who make them.  This was a nullification of illegitimate relationships.

These unions posed a threat to the nation of Israel of incurring God’s wrath.

Ezra does not use the normal word for marry but talks about the men “taking” wives and “giving them a dwelling” though they were foreigners.

Ezra’s prayer (9:2 with 9:14) shows he did not consider intermarriage to have actually occurred.  They could not put away legal “wives” if they had made a covenant in the presence of God.  Ezra might have been justified in asking for death for taking a foreign wife (Numbers 25:6-15) but mercifully only asked for divorce.

Just because the Old Covenant allowed for remarriage, this does not speak to the New Testament restrictions stemming from Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus’ Teaching

Jesus’ disciples responded to his teachings with shock at how strict they were.

Matthew 5 merely indicates that the man who divorces his wife who is already unfaithful has not caused her to commit adultery by marrying her next partner.  She did that.  It does not grant him permission to remarry.  Jesus’ statement immediately following that whoever marries the divorced woman commits adultery suggests that Jesus never sanctioned remarriage after divorce even for marital unfaithfulness.

The modern notion of divorce as a “dissolution” of the marital relationship with the possibility of remarriage afterwards was unheard of in the early Christian centuries.  This view must have gone back to Jesus himself.

Sexual sin in marriage does not dissolve the marriage bond.  If it did, divorce would be a requirement in such cases, or, if the spouse forgave the offender and wanted to take him or her back, a new marriage covenant would be required.  But marriage is not constituted solely on the basis of sexual union, and unfaithfulness is not even the most detrimental impact possible on the marriage relationship (consider battering).

The exceptive clause means, in light of the first century Jewish marriage laws and the ongoing debate between Hillel and Shammai, that the man is relieved of responsibility for the divorce and its consequences if his wife is adulterous.  It does not sanction remarriage.

Jesus is not saying that porneia is the only grounds for separating from a spouse but is only taking note of a situation that his disciples would encounter in the face of Jewish marriage customs that did not permit but demanded the divorce of an unfaithful wife.  If someone divorced a spouse for a single act of marital unfaithfulness today Jesus would call that person hard-hearted.

The exception clause in 19:9, “except for marital unfaithfulness,” does not have to be applied to both parts of the statement, divorce and remarriage, except if one presupposes already that Jesus permits remarriage.  The early Greek fathers did limit it to the divorce segment.

The discussion that follows Jesus’ statement seems to confirm Jesus’ teaching on the indissolubility of marriage in verses 4-9.  Unbelievers cannot accept Jesus’ teaching, he says, but when his disciples act like unbelievers in their objection to his strict teaching, they must understand that he will give them help to accept and obey it.  Continence in the face of a broken marriage is possible, just as it is possible for eunuchs to do so, especially with God’s help, as is given to those who become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.

The Mark and Luke accounts of Jesus’ teaching do not include the exception clause because the general tenor of Jesus’ teaching is that there is no right to remarry.

Paul’s teaching

Paul does not mention sexual sin as a valid reason for remarriage for the believer.  He or she must remain unmarried or be reconciled.

The believer whose unbelieving spouse does not want to be married is not under bondage to remain married or prevent the breaking up of a mixed marriage with all the means at his disposal, but this does not give freedom to remarry for the following reasons: (1) church fathers did not see this as permission to remarry. (2) Paul never uses douloō in reference to the biblical-legal aspect of marriage that can only be broken by death, he uses deō. (3) if Paul did not permit a Christian divorced by a Christian to remarry, why would he allow a Christian divorced by a non-Christian to remarry.  The bond is a creation ordinance that cannot be broken. (4) Paul’s whole argument centers on his strict adherence to the Lord’s command that a believer should not divorce. (5) Paul uses the same word for divorce in v.15 as he does in v.11 where it is clear that remarriage is not permitted. (6) Just as v.11 offers the hope of reconciliation if there is not remarriage, v.16 offers hope of the unbeliever’s conversion if there no remarriage. (7) The principle of vv.17-24 immediately following is the one should not change his or her status, which should include remarriage.

Divorce & Remarriage for Adultery or Desertion (Edgar)

Common Misconceptions

The Bible clearly prohibits divorce.  In fact, of the nine passages usually referred to on this subject (Genesis 2:24; Deuteronomy 24:1-4; Malachi 2:6-16; Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18; Romans 7:1-6, and 1 Corinthians 7:10-15) four seem to allow for some kind of divorce and remarriage and none definitively states that divorce and remarriage are never allowable.

Marriage is unbreakable or indissoluble.  No biblical passage directly states such a concept.  The concept of “one flesh” being equivalent to “blood relative” and therefore permanent is an invalid inference.  Its use in 1 Cor. 6:6 to describe sexual relations with a prostitute can hardly be referring to an indissoluble relationship, especially one which disallows marriage to another.  If it means “blood relative” then marriage creates an incestuous relationship, so it cannot be equivalent to it in the full sense and therefore cannot be used to argue for the indissolubility of marriage.  Even if it did mean “blood relative” and implied a permanent relationship, the fact that persons are blood relatives does not restrict them from marriage to others.  Dt. 24 clearly teaches that a divorced woman is so completely severed from her first husband that she can marry anyone else but her first husband without incurring God’s displeasure.

Matthew 19:9

It is a clear statement, not complex or strange.

Those who would exclude remarriage from Jesus’ exception would have the verse refer to both some who divorce (all those except for fornication) and all who divorce and then remarry, but this is grammatically impossible.  The main verb is “commits adultery” and is described by the relative clause “whoever divorces is wife except for fornication and marries another.”  These have to be the same individual.  Thus, the one who divorces his wife except for fornication is the same one who commits adultery.  This verse does not discuss the individual who merely divorces and does not remarry.  The fact that the church fathers denied remarriage is poor proof since they were frequently unreliable on matters of marriage and Scripture is our only authority.

Consider the sentence, “Whoever drives on this road except an ambulance driver on call and exceeds the speed limit is breaking the law.”  If interpreted as the no divorce/no remarriage view does, it would contain two propositions:  (a) anyone who drives on this road except an ambulance driver on call is breaking the law, and (b) to drive on this road and exceed the speed limit (including ambulance drivers on call) is breaking the law.  But both statements are actually contrary to the real meaning.  The problem is trying to interpret this statement with two different individuals in mind.  But that is grammatically impossible.  It is just as wrong to teach from Mt. 19 that all who remarry (including those divorced for fornication) are adulterers.  Jesus definitely states that the subject of the verb “divorces” is someone who divorces for some reason other than fornication.  One who divorces for fornication is not mentioned.  The verse can only say, therefore, “Some (not all) divorcees who remarry commit adultery.”  The one who divorces due to the exception and the marries another does not commit adultery.

The exception refers to adultery.  Even though porneia can mean any form of illicit sex, because it is used in this context of illicit sex on the part of the wife, it most probably refers to adultery.  The common word used for women in illicit sex is porneia, whereas the most common term used for men in illicit sex is moichao.  The words are therefore synonyms in this context.  It is unreasonable to imply that the term porneia indicates a meaning other than adultery.

There is no negative implication that the person who divorces his wife for adultery is spiritually deficient and should have forgiven his spouse.  But Jesus teaches that it is not wrong.  Jesus does not require divorce, but it is without stigma.  Jesus regards fidelity in marriage as far more important than the formal institution itself.

To argue that the exception clause is only recorded in Matthew because of his Jewish audience and Mark omits it because it does not apply to Gentiles loses sight of the fact that Jesus said it to the Pharisees, and implies that Mark is giving a false impression.  Mark must be assuming the exception even though he does not state it.  When in Mark 8:12 Jesus says, “There shall no sign be given to this generation,” but in Matthew he adds, “except the sign of the prophet Jonah,” these do not contradict each other and the normal response is to note that Matthew has the more full account.  The clearest account is the longer account.

Porneia cannot refer to an invalid mixed marriage because to allow divorce on such grounds contradicts Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7 that such marriages are valid and should not be dissolved.  Nor can it refer to unfaithfulness during betrothal because the question being answered and the passages appealed to are all talking about marriage, not pre-marriage, and if it is argued that betrothal was as binding as marriage, then what Jesus teaches applies as well to marriage.  It cannot refer to an invalid incestuous marriage because if no dissolution of a one flesh relationship is possible, on their view of things, neither could this one flesh relationship be dissolved, even if it is considered immoral.  So is the “one flesh” relationship with the prostitute (1 Cor. 6), but God still considers it “one flesh.”  And would Jesus allow that the husband is not guilty if he divorces her when he must have known she was a blood relative?  Besides, there is no evidence to link the meaning of porneia to incestuous marriage.

Divorce and Remarriage for Desertion

Though the verb deō is used and not douloō the two verbs are approximately the same and deō is possibly stronger and its meaning must be determined by context.  Because Paul states the if the unbeliever is willing to stay you must not divorce him, it is reasonable to assume that if the unbeliever is unwilling to stay you may divorce him.  Besides, if the unbeliever chooses to leave, the believer hardly has a choice to stop a divorce.  And a biblically valid divorce should allow for remarriage.  Though it is not definitely stated that desertion by a believing spouse would allow for remarriage there is no substantial difference between the validity of marriage to a believer compared to an unbeliever.

The following teaching that one is not to change his or her status does not pertain to remarriage but to any marriage.  But if you desire to marry you do not sin.

Divorce & Remarriage under a Variety of Circumstances (Richards)

Malachi 2

It is not the case that God hates every divorce, but the divorce of a wife by his partner that is motivated by selfishness and is disloyal to his devoted wife.

Matthew 19

The context of this passage indicates that Jesus’ intent is to dispose of their legalism as a ground of spiritual pride and expose the shallowness of every Pharisee-like approach to faith.

“Is it lawful?”  Instead of asking what grounds legitimize divorce they should have asked, “How can a troubled marriage be saved?”  If we who minister the Word of God did a better job preaching how to live with others in God’s way we might not have the plague of divorces.

“In the beginning the Creator”  This was God’s ideal for marriage, a gift to bond two people together in a wondrous unity that enables each to enrich the life of the other.  He did not go back to creation to lay the foundation for a new, stricter law.

“Because your hearts were hard”  God has given permission in Moses’ law for human beings to take a course of action that actually goes against his own ideal.  If God treated human frailty so graciously in the old covenant, how can we in the age of grace treat it so legalistically?  How can we deny divorce to those few whose suffering cries out that their marriages, too, should end?

“Let not man separate”  This is not spoken to couples considering divorce but to leaders who assumed that divorce was a matter for an ecclesiastical court.  Human judges are not competent and have no right to say “this marriage can or can’t be put asunder.”  Dt. 24 indicates that the couple did not need to come to a court but determined the divorce on their own.  Modern pastors similarly have no right to make these judgments.  It must be a personal decision only as a last resort and with a heartfelt desire to know God’s will.

“Anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery”  A comparison with Mt. 5 indicates that Jesus is teaching that though divorce and remarriage are permissible, they are sinful.  Since we cannot be sure what porneia means, we must view any divorce and remarriage as involving sin and adultery.  We must not justify ourselves or pretend that something terrible has not happened.  Just as Jesus, however, does not recommend legislation prohibiting lust or anger (what motivates adultery and murder), so he does not here create legislation against divorce and remarriage.  It does not result in an adulterous state, only an act, and it is forgivable.

Though 1 Cor. 7:10 seems to allow no exceptions for divorce, v.11 immediately begins discussion of exceptions and how to handle it if you divorce.

The Truth About Divorce

When the going gets tough in marriage, many people take what they believe is the easy way out.

by Cheryl Scruggs (Author of: I Do Again)

When the going gets tough in marriage, many people take what they believe is the easy way out, assuming that the answer to finding true joy and happiness is separating from one’s spouse, finding someone new, or divorcing.

When pain, hurt, discord, selfishness or unhappiness make their way into one’s heart, many convince themselves that divorce will free them. Yet exactly the opposite is true. Let’s look at the false freedom we think we will obtain by walking away from an unfulfilling marriage.

What does divorce really look like?

If they can just get through the court dates and all the paperwork, the spouse who wants out thinks it will be incredibly liberating. We fail to recognize the ramifications of divorce until we experience it. For a while, it may seem pleasant or enjoyable to be away from the spouse that “made you miserable.” But speaking from experience, divorce is awful!

We had what you might call a “model” divorce. We shared the kids well, rarely fought and maintained a friendship “for the girls’ sake” during our divorced years.

And it was still awful! Our lives never felt settled. Why? God never intended for our marriage to end or our family to be broken.

” ‘I hate divorce,’  says the LORD God of Israel.” (Malachi 2:16)

How does divorce affect you?

For Jeff and me, a sense of unsettledness permeated our post-divorce lives, which were often characterized by a lack of order or stability. We found it hard to rest. There were constant reminders of how fractured our family was: birthdays; sports and school activities; when the kids got sick; or simply being around intact families.

Parents splitting custody have the constant challenge of working out visitation while balancing the emotions of children. Our girls often mentioned not feeling settled or relaxed, because the next location change was constantly in the back of their minds.

The following excerpt from our book, I Do Again, describes the state of my heart the day our divorce was final:

August 21, 1992. The worst day of my life.

Ten years after walking down the aisle as a young, hope-filled bride, I walked into a courtroom to claim a different kind of hope: liberation from my awful marriage. This was the day I’d obtain the freedom to be with my new love, the soul mate I thought I’d finally found. Today I’d hold in my hands the piece of paper I’d been coveting, the ticket to a whole new and much better life. I stood in front of the judge and told him I wanted a divorce.

Earlier that morning, the alarm had gone off and I lay in bed for a moment, groggy with sleep. Something’s happening today. What is it? I tried to clear the fog from my brain and then my heart gave a little lurch as I remembered. Today’s the day!

I waited for the excitement to kick in. You’re free today, Cheryl! You’ve been waiting for this for so long! But I felt heavy and unable to move. What is wrong with me?

The morning passed in a haze as I readied Brittany and Lauren for preschool and got the three of us out the door. I tried to ignore the dull ache in my stomach. Breakfast was out of the question and it was all I could do to sip a cup of coffee.

After dropping off the girls, I sat in traffic on my way to the Collin County Courthouse in McKinney, Texas. With a few moments to think, I tried talking some sense into myself. Buck up, girl! This is what you wanted… the day you’ve been waiting for! You’re finally going to be happy.

For the tiniest moment, I glimpsed a truth I didn’t want to see, through a crack in the strong façade I’d built around myself. What if I was making a mistake? What if the warnings from my traitorous stomach were trying to tell me something?

No.

I won’t go there. I’m almost to the courthouse  — I’m about to get what I wanted. I’ve always worked so hard, and getting what I want has never come easily. Right now, what I want is freedom and by gosh, I am going to get it. I can’t allow any negative thoughts to distract me.

The cold institutional hallway of the courthouse gave me shivers as I stood waiting for an elevator. Although the hustle and bustle of people surrounded me, I had never felt more alone. But I had on a classy suit and stylish heels and my patented smile, and I maintained my composure like a pro. Nobody would know I had the least bit of emotion in me, while in reality the feelings swirled about my head and heart and I just wanted to go back home, pull the covers up and pretend my life did not exist.

I met my attorney at the door of the courtroom.

“Good morning.” His voice was low and smooth, all business. His eyebrow raised. “Today’s the day.”

I nodded, uncharacteristically mute.

I don’t remember what happened next. I suppose there were other cases before the judge, other lives being turned upside down. All I know for sure is that my internal battle was raging and I fought to keep it quiet, to disregard it altogether, and make sure the cool detached expression remained plastered to my face.

Finally it was my turn, and I stood trembling visibly next to my lawyer, facing the judge. Words were spoken, questions were asked. Did I want a divorce? Yes.

But at the moment, I couldn’t remember why.

The judge wanted to know why my husband wasn’t there. How could I tell him that Jeff had not wanted the divorce? That he’d fought against it? Through tears and hurt he’d pleaded with me to change my mind. He prayed for reconciliation. He hoped for another chance. He yearned for my heart to soften. But he lost.

At that instant standing in the courtroom, I felt like the most horrible person. I wanted to turn to the strangers around me and let them know I was a good person. I really was. I loved being a wife and wanted to be a good one. I absolutely loved being a mom. Yet I could not go on in the emptiness… or in the dreadful lack of intimacy. I was dedicated and loyal, trustworthy and sweet. But I could not see any other way out of the excruciating pain I had felt for years. I had worked it out in my mind, and saw no other option but to escape and start over. I knew I would have a label now, even in Jeff’s mind, of being an adulterer and a mean person. But the truth was I was broken and hurting. How do I tell everyone this when my actions seemed to say the opposite?

“Jeff needed to work today,” I told the judge, who nodded. I don’t think he believed it for a second.

Jeff was at the office, all right. I stood in front of the bench, wondering what was running through his mind as he sat at his desk attempting to work. Would he cry? Was he angry? How was he dealing with the fact his marriage and family were being ripped apart? How did he feel knowing he would soon officially be a single, divorced dad?

And what right had I to be worried about any of that? I was the cause of it. It was a little late for me to be worried about Jeff’s feelings.

Divorce granted.” The gavel went down with an authoritative thud. Was it my imagination or did the judge look a little sad? Perhaps disappointed. I wondered what it must be like to preside over the dissolution of families all day long. That word—dissolution—so cold and impersonal. I think the judge knew better. I think he knew he was seeing devastation… wreckage… sorrow… and there was nothing he could do but bang his gavel.

The sound of that gavel nearly did me in. My hand went to my chest as I felt my heart explode into a kind of palpitation I’d never felt before. The urge to throw up became overwhelming and it took every ounce of willpower to steady myself and walk to the rear of the courtroom.

My echoing footsteps seemed to pound in my head as I walked down the dreary hallway. Next to me, my attorney was oblivious, moving quickly as always, focused on his dinner plans or his next case. He stopped when we reached the front entrance to the courthouse. At the top of the steps he offered his hand.

“Congratulations,” he said, offering up a satisfied I-just-won-a-case smile.

“Mmm hmm…” I shook his hand, but could not muster up a response.

Congratulations. Did I deserve that? Did he? Something told me the answer was no. But this was what I’d wanted, fought for, worked toward. And here it was.

An Affair: ‘The Beginning of the End’

The fatal blow to any marriage is an adulterous affair where one or both spouses think they “finally found his/her soul mate.”

by Cheryl Scruggs (Author of: I Do Again)

The fatal blow to any marriage is an adulterous affair where one or both spouses think they “finally found his/her soul mate.” Once convinced that he/she married the wrong person or that God put someone new in his/her life, the idea of divorce can take root and grow. Blinded by the deception of the affair, most people have no idea how they got there.

How does an affair start?

Many of us who have fallen prey to an adulterous affair did not see it coming. We were blindsided, and – before we knew it – were involved emotionally, physically or both, with a person other than our spouse. Many times the other person is a complete stranger, but the sudden emotional or physical connection deceived us into thinking we had known them all of our life. This new “love” was the missing puzzle piece to our happiness – or so we thought.

In most cases, no one intentionally seeks after an affair that could potentially destroy their marriage. Forming such a connection to someone else may seem unlikely, but may be easier than you realize. All it takes is one conversation, one innocent flirtation or one look. If you are vulnerable, the ball is rolling.

How do we succumb to an affair?

Easily! Like me, most of us never dream we are capable of such sin. Unfortunately, we are both capable and susceptible. I gave in because I was not guarding my heart. It never crossed my mind to be cautious about my relationships with other men because I never realized I could be so vulnerable. I started having an “innocent” conversation with an acquaintance of mine. I felt compelled to share with him the unfulfilled state of my marriage. Yet that evening was the beginning of the end of my marriage. I quickly developed a deep emotional connection with a man I barely knew! I falsely sensed that I was falling in love with a stranger.

I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I craved his voice. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.  I was duped and falling fast. Within a matter of days, the negative feelings I had long been having for Jeff reached a heightened level. I somehow “knew” I didn’t love him and told him so.

Jeff was flabbergasted and caught completely off guard! What could have gone so terribly wrong overnight? In truth, I was completely deceived and I could not see  it. When Jeff asked if there was someone else, I denied it. The truth is that I’d allowed my heart to be stolen.

When do the symptoms start?

The warning signs often appear long before the actual fall into adultery: when our thoughts begin to derail; when we fail to take negative thoughts captive, constructively deal with them, and face the issues in our marriage. The emotional and physical disconnect is subtle and sometimes goes unnoticed until we find ourselves in the arms of another person.

What are some of the symptoms?

Symptoms are not easily pinpointed, but once you become aware, they are easy to recognize. Here are a few:

  • Unexplained discontent with your spouse
  • Feelings of being trapped in your marriage
  • An overwhelming sense that your needs are not being met
  • A desire to be away from your spouse
  • A reluctance to spend time at home
  • Fantasies about being married to someone else
  • Comparing your marriage to other marriages
  • Attraction to someone of the opposite sex
  • A constant preoccupation with  someone else
  • An unhealthy attachment to a coworker, friend or acquaintance of the opposite sex

How do you combat the temptation of an affair?

Once the temptation of an affair presents itself, many people focus on getting out of their marriage. They choose to stop working on their existing relationship and focus, instead, on this new and exciting relationship.

God gives us every opportunity to walk away from temptation, but many of us choose to walk toward it instead. God also offers us guidance and direction when we are tempted to have an affair. Most important, He reminds us that adultery is a sin.

We must not ignore this fact, rationalizing why we deserve to have an affair or why we think it is right. Bottom line: We do not deserve it, and it is wrong! Period.

To guard against this, two important things are necessary. First, submit to God’s Word instead of to the temptation. Ask God to show you the truth and what is right in His eyes. Second, share your struggles with a trustworthy friend, pastor or counselor! When a secret is brought into the light, the excitement of it lessens.

I regret not having told someone. It may have saved my marriage.

Divorce Begins With Deception

Lies lure us away from God’s plan for marriage, as we depend more on what our culture says rather than what the Bible instructs us. This being the case, why are we so surprised by the number of divorces?

by Cheryl Scruggs (Author of: I Do Again)

Marriages ending in divorce are at a pandemic level. Lies lure us away from God’s plan for marriage, as we depend more on what our culture says rather than what the Bible instructs us. This being the case, why are we so surprised by the number of divorces?

Many types of deception lead us into the hands of divorce. Again, John 10:10 reminds us: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy … “, and Satan desires to destroy your marriage.

What types of deception are we talking about?

When we begin to feel disgruntled in our marriage, negative or faulty thoughts begin to formulate about our spouse or our marriage. We begin to believe the lies swirling through our head. We convince ourselves that “the grass must be greener on the other side”; that “this is not the same man or woman I married”; or that “I must have married the wrong person.” When this begins to happen, it is important to remember 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Many times, blinded by love, we falsely perceive the object of our affection as nearly flawless. Yet in marriage, our weaknesses, and our spouse’s, eventually surface.

Deception #1 – We married the wrong person

Instead of accepting these “less than attractive” things about our spouse, we often feel duped. We may begin to convince ourselves we married the wrong person. Warning: Allowing these thoughts to fester and penetrate your heart could cause your thoughts to spiral out of control and can set your marriage up for failure! You might begin to pull away from your spouse emotionally and/or physically, without even knowing it. I experienced this. Part of the deception, for me, was not addressing my thoughts properly, and not realizing how I was pulling away. My heart was growing hard, yet I was oblivious.

We all, at one time or another, wonder if we married the right person. We must guard our hearts when feeling disconnected from our spouse. If disconnect happens, we often convince ourselves that we somehow messed up and missed out on marrying our “soul mate.”

Is there such a thing as a soul mate? A soul mate is someone with whom we can share deep feelings and attitudes. Marriage takes work, and learning to share deep feelings and attitudes is part of the work necessary to enjoy intimacy in marriage. Jeff and I frequently remind other couples that when they got married, their spouse became the right person! According to Scripture, when you said “I do,” you became a one-flesh union, and, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6).

Deception #2 – We misunderstand love

Often we think we understand what love is supposed to look like, and enter marriage with our own definition. This definition may have been influenced by the examples we had growing up, the shows or movies we watched, the music we listened to or even relationships we’ve experienced. We tend to spend a great deal of time comparing our fabricated definition of love with the love we think we are experiencing – or not experiencing – in our marriage. How we judge love is often based on our own definition, rather than the Bible’s definition.

Deception #3 – We believe we deserve to be happy

Focusing on our own happiness is a shallow approach, especially compared to God’s greater plan for our life. God is OK with us being happy, but His greatest desire is for us to seek Him and glorify Him in all that we say and do. With this in mind, as we seek to glorify God with our lives, joy and contentment become a byproduct of this obedience.

I prefer the word contentment over “happy,” because I believe discontentment prevails in our culture. Is it realistic for us to be content in all circumstances? Philippians 4:11(ESV) says: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” It is possible to be content, but it takes hard work.

How does this play into your marriage? When you feel discontent or unhappy, what do you do with it? Do you start making a laundry list of all the things your spouse is doing wrong? Do you emotionally and/or physically disengage? Do you try to fix things by passively addressing it without your spouse knowing of your discontent? Have you ever entertained the idea that you need to examine your own heart? Do you ever go to God with your discontentment and ask Him what He is trying to teach you?

Asking yourself these questions can help you discern your own heart and confront these lies before they potentially destroy your marriage. Why do we believe these lies? Many times, it is because we want to. Romantic movies, TV shows, music – and our sinful thoughts – cause our thinking to become distorted. Many people (yes, Christians) convince themselves that they are hearing a message from God telling them to get out of their marriage, or that there is a better spouse out there for them. They often feel they deserve freedom and happiness. Yet where in the Bible does it say we deserve anything?

When and how do we succumb to deception? We are capable of giving way to temptation at anytime. When we do not understand God’s plan for marriage, are not reading God’s Word, are not in healthy Christian community, are feeling unloved, or are emotionally or physically deprived, we can succumb very easily.

Lastly, we must guard ourselves into thinking we are incapable of being deceived.

A Spiritual Mismatch In Marriage–and the God Who Sees

Adapted from an article by:  Janel Breitenstein/Familly Life Today

A Long, Slow Obedience —-

A few weeks ago I found myself with my forehead on my bedroom wall, portable phone to my ear. It was one of those brow-creasing, gut-wrenching, I need wisdom please, Lord! conversations with a friend whose voice was breaking from the yoke of stress.

For nearly a decade now, she had braved a marital rollercoaster. Her husband did acknowledge Jesus. But from the sound of it, his desire for Christ collided with significant dysfunctions from his past and present. He ultimately had a hard time transferring his faith into his marriage. She knew she wasn’t guiltless; we chatted at length about her own contributions to the tense, complicated situation. But it seemed that for her husband, the responsibility of cherishing and nourishing his wife like Christ does His bride–the church–wasn’t on his radar screen yet.

As I stood there, now hand to forehead, praying out loud for her into the receiver, my thoughts became consumed with the magnitude of her daily burden. Yet I was transfixed by her staggering opportunity. She wielded the chance to constantly showcase the gospel to her husband, to her kids, to a watching world, and to a Father who sees what is done in secret (Matthew 6:4,6). In her I was reminded of the God who ardently watches and cares for her, as He did for a discarded Hagar in the Canaanite wilderness.

I began to digest what the gospel in this particular pair of jeans looked like. I thought of the choices she would be making over and over in the nitty-gritty moments of life: when she was asking about his day, for example. Or disciplining their boys. Or folding his socks again. Or agreeing on a movie. Or assembling dinner. Or when one of them had a bad day.

In a thousand decisions, she’d be resolving to love her husband as God has loved her. While she (and I) were still His adversary, God loved us–chose our lives in place of His own. He set aside His rights, status, all the love and honor He deserved, and wrapped himself in every reality of serving us … to the point of death.

My friend remembered well the fractured home she’d come from. And for the sake of her young boys and their future marriages, for the love of her husband, and for sheer obedience to God, she’s going to rise every day to shed what was easy (if divorce can be truthfully so named) for what is eternally and presently better.

She may well not be able to thrive in the harmony of teamwork with her husband, and she may be infrequently respected and appreciated. Her needs and longings may not be met, and her dreams may not unfold to reality. She will be offering her body to a person with whom she doesn’t feel wholly connected or known.

Unless God chooses to change the heart of her spouse, she’s looking at a long, slow obedience.

But I trust it won’t stop there. I’m praying that she’ll love this man with her heart, not out of sheer compulsion. Because that’s how we were loved by God. I’m praying God will saturate her with devotion to the husband He’s given her. That she will look out for her husband’s needs, bear his sorrows, hail his triumphs. I’m asking God that just as Jesus served us because “God so loved“–her husband will be served; be so loved.

Any marriage offers occasions on an everyday basis to say, “I choose you. I set aside what I need–or want or deserve–for you.” But I think God must have a unique, filling love and strength for those who, day following day, immerse themselves and their wills in less-than-loving marriages.

He knows intimately their spiritual singleness in the middle of marriage. He witnesses–and intervenes–in the challenges of single parenting of the spiritual sort. He grasps the loss of well-kept hopes for true marital partnership: collaborating for a higher purpose, honing one another in a race toward the Cross.

I trust that in the cavities created by my friend’s marriage, God will be her more-than-sufficient husband, loving her. Buoying her. Empowering her. He’s been where she is, and He drew her with His relentless kindness.

What does the Bible really teach about divorce?

(Adapted from: Christianity Today online 10/05/07 – by David Instone-Brewer)

What Does the Bible Say?

The New Testament presents a problem in understanding both what the text says about divorce and its pastoral implications. Jesus appears to say that divorce is allowed only if adultery has occurred: “Whoever divorces a wife, except for sexual indecency, and remarries, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9). However, this has been interpreted in many different ways. Most say that Jesus allows divorce only for adultery. But some argue that Jesus originally didn’t allow even that. Only in Matthew does he offer an out from marriage: “except for sexual indecency.” Beyond what Jesus says, Paul also allows divorce. He permits it for abandonment by a nonbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12-15). Many theologians add this as a second ground for divorce.

Yet some pastors have found this teaching difficult to accept, because it seems so impractical—even cruel in certain situations. It suggests there can be no divorce for physical or emotional abuse, and Paul even seems to forbid separation (1 Cor. 7:10).

As a result, some Christians quietly ignore this seemingly “impractical” biblical teaching or find ways around it. For example, they suggest that when Jesus talked about “sexual immorality,” perhaps he included other things like abuse. Or when Paul talked about abandonment by a nonbeliever, perhaps he included any behavior that is not supportive of the marriage or abandonment by anyone who is acting like a nonbeliever. Many have welcomed such stretching of Scripture because they couldn’t accept what they believed the text apparently said.

But does the literal text mean what we think it does? While doing doctoral studies at Cambridge, I likely read every surviving writing of the rabbis of Jesus’ time. I “got inside their heads” enough to begin to understand them. When I began working as a pastor and was confronted almost immediately with divorced men and women who wanted to remarry, my first response was to re-read the Bible. I’d read the biblical texts on divorce many times in the past, but I found something strange as I did so again. They now said something I hadn’t heard before I read the rabbis!

‘Any Cause’ Divorce

The texts hadn’t changed, but my knowledge of the language and culture in which they were written had. I was now reading them like a first-century Jew would have read them, and this time those confusing passages made more sense. My book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church (InterVarsity Press), is a summary of several academic papers and books I began writing with this new understanding of what Jesus taught.

One of my most dramatic findings concerns a question the Pharisees asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause?” (Matt. 19:3). This question reminded me that a few decades before Jesus, some rabbis (the Hillelites) had invented a new form of divorce called the “any cause” divorce. By the time of Jesus, this “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the literal Old Testament grounds for divorce.

The “any cause” divorce was invented from a single word in Deuteronomy 24:1. Moses allowed divorce for “a cause of immorality,” or, more literally, “a thing of nakedness.” Most Jews recognized that this unusual phrase was talking about adultery. But the Hillelite rabbis wondered why Moses had added the word “thing” or “cause” when he only needed to use the word “immorality.” They decided this extra word implied another ground for divorce—divorce for “a cause.” They argued that anything, including a burnt meal or wrinkles not there when you married your wife, could be a cause! The text, they said, taught that divorce was allowed both for adultery and for “any cause.”

Another group of rabbis (the Shammaites) disagreed with this interpretation. They said Moses’ words were a single phrase that referred to no type of divorce “except immorality”—and therefore the new “any cause” divorces were invalid. These opposing views were well known to all first-century Jews. And the Pharisees wanted to know where Jesus stood. “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any cause?” they asked. In other words: “Is it lawful for us to use the ‘any cause’ divorce?”

When Jesus answered with a resounding no, he wasn’t condemning “divorce for any cause,” but rather the newly invented “any cause” divorce. Jesus agreed firmly with the second group that the phrase didn’t mean divorce was allowable for “immorality” and for “any cause,” but that Deutermonomy 24:1 referred to no type of divorce “except immorality.”

This was a shocking statement for the crowd and for the disciples. It meant they couldn’t get a divorce whenever they wanted it—there had to be a lawful cause. It also meant that virtually every divorced man or women was not really divorced, because most of them had “any cause” divorces. Luke and Matthew summarized the whole debate in one sentence: Any divorced person who remarried was committing adultery (Matt. 5:32; Luke 16:18), because they were still married. The fact that they said “any divorced person” instead of “virtually all divorced people” is typical Jewish hyperbole—like Mark saying that “everyone” in Jerusalem came to be baptized by John (Mark 1:5). It may not be obvious to us, but their first readers understood clearly what they meant.

Within a few decades, however, no one understood these terms any more. Language often changes quickly (as I found out when my children first heard the Flintstones sing about “a gay old time”). The early church, and even Jewish rabbis, forgot what the “any cause” divorce was, because soon after the days of Jesus, it became the only type of divorce on offer. It was simply called divorce. This meant that when Jesus condemned “divorce for ‘any cause,’ ” later generations thought he meant “divorce for any cause.”

Reaffirming marriage

Now that we know what Jesus did reject, we can also see what he didn’t reject. He wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament—he was rejecting a faulty Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament. He defended the true meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1. And there is one other surprising thing he didn’t reject: Jesus didn’t reject the other ground for divorce in the Old Testament, which all Jews accepted.

Although the church forgot the other cause for divorce, every Jew in Jesus’ day knew about Exodus 21:10-11, which allowed divorce for neglect. Before rabbis introduced the “any cause” divorce, this was probably the most common type. Exodus says that everyone, even a slave wife, had three rights within marriage—the rights to food, clothing, and love. If these were neglected, the wronged spouse had the right to seek freedom from that marriage. Even women could, and did, get divorces for neglect—though the man still had to write out the divorce certificate. Rabbis said he had to do it voluntarily, so if he resisted, the courts had him beaten till he volunteered!

These three rights became the basis of Jewish marriage vows—we find them listed in marriage certificates discovered near the Dead Sea. In later Jewish and Christian marriages, the language became more formal, such as “love, honor, and keep.” These vows, together with a vow of sexual faithfulness, have always been the basis for marriage. Thus, the vows we make when we marry correspond directly to the biblical grounds for divorce.

The three provisions of food, clothing, and love were understood literally by the Jews. The wife had to cook and sew, while the husband provided food and materials, or money. They both had to provide the emotional support of marital love, though they could abstain from sex for short periods. Paul taught the same thing. He said that married couples owed each other love (1 Cor. 7:3-5) and material support (1 Cor. 7:33-34). He didn’t say that neglect of these rights was the basis of divorce because he didn’t need to—it was stated on the marriage certificate. Anyone who was neglected, in terms of emotional support or physical support, could legally claim a divorce.

Divorce for neglect included divorce for abuse, because this was extreme neglect. There was no question about that end of the spectrum of neglect, but what about the other end? What about abandonment, which was merely a kind of passive neglect? This was an uncertain matter, so Paul deals with it. He says to all believers that they may not abandon their partners, and if they have done so, they should return (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In the case of someone who is abandoned by an unbeliever—someone who won’t obey the command to return—he says that the abandoned person is “no longer bound.”  Anyone in first-century Palestine reading this phrase would think immediately of the wording at the end of all Jewish, and most Roman, divorce certificates: “You are free to marry anyone you wish.”

Putting all this together gives us a clear and consistent set of rules for divorce and remarriage. Divorce is only allowed for a limited number of grounds that are found in the Old Testament and affirmed in the New Testament:

  • Adultery (in Deuteronomy 24:1, affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19)
  • Emotional and physical neglect (in Exodus 21:10-11, affirmed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7)
  • Abandonment and abuse (included in neglect, as affirmed in 1 Corinthians 7)

Jewish couples listed these biblical grounds for divorce in their marriage vows. We reiterate them as love, honor, and keep and be faithful to each other. When these vows were broken, it threatened to break up the marriage. As in any broken contract, the wronged party had the right to say, “I forgive you; let’s carry on,” or, “I can’t go on, because this marriage is broken.”

Therefore, while divorce should never happen, God allows it (and subsequent remarriage) when your partner breaks the marriage vows.

Reading the Bible and ancient Jewish documents side-by-side helped me understand much more of the Bible’s teaching about divorce and marriage, not all of which I can summarize here. Dusty scraps of parchment rescued from synagogue rubbish rooms, desert caves, and neglected scholarly collections shone fresh light on the New Testament.

Theologians who have long felt that divorce should be allowed for abuse and abandonment may be vindicated. And, more importantly, victims of broken marriages can see that God’s law is both practical and loving.

Tag Cloud