Wifey Wednesday: What Does Til Death Do Us Part Mean?

Christian Marriage Advice

It’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! I introduce a topic, and then you follow up either by commenting or by writing your own post and then linking up!
'Wedding - Relaxing couple' photo (c) 2009, Ben Luckman - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/
Today I want to tackle a tough one, one that I’ve been mulling over a bunch for the last few years. And that question is: What does til death do us part mean?

When you married, you pledged that. But so often, five, ten, fifteen years down the road you decide you’ve had enough. I know so many women who are in just awful relationships. He pays no attention to her, he’s never home, he speaks in condescending tones, he’s lazy. I know other men who are control freaks, who nitpick about their wife’s weight, or her clothes, or her housekeeping. And they’re horrible to live with. And I find myself thinking, “she’s not honestly expected to stay in that, is she?” She’s miserable in her marriage.

Now please, I know many of you completely believe “Til Death Do Us Part”, and your inclination is to make a snap judgment. But think of some of the women who are likely reading this. They’re extremely lonely. They cry almost everyday. They’ve sought out counseling because the marriage is so difficult. They’re worried about their kids. If you haven’t walked through that, please don’t just assume that you know the answer. Just bear with me for a minute.

I speak at marriage conferences with my husband, and my passion is to see marriages restored, strengthened, and thriving. I have seen relationships go from a place where he is bordering on cruel to where he has become tender, at least around the edges. God can do anything. But for most women who are in the midst of that heartache, it isn’t so easy. Nothing is changing.

They desperately want to leave. They want a new start at life, where no one is telling them what to do, criticizing them, or perhaps worse, ignoring them. I know some women who have prayed for their husbands to have affairs so that they would have biblical justification in leaving him. And I have talked to other women who have said that they find the whole affair justification strange, because having a one night stand is not nearly as bad as what her husband does to her on a daily basis, but her friend with a husband who had a fling can leave, and she can’t. It doesn’t seem fair.

No, it doesn’t. But here’s the thing: God never promised it would be. And He never promised that any of us would have easy lives. I really struggle with the idea that divorce is off limits when I talk to some of these women, because I truly feel for them, and I truly do think their husbands are horrible. But we have to go back to Scripture. Can Christians divorce?

My reading is this: if he has a one night stand, you probably shouldn’t leave, but if he has cheated on your continuously, he has been the one to end the marriage, not you, and if you leave now, you are perfectly justified. I also believe, though this one isn’t as Scriptural, that if you are being physically abused, or if your children are being abused, you are justified in leaving. We are not asked to sacrifice our lives, or our children’s lives, on the marriage altar. And as for addictions, sometimes we have no choice to protect the family than to leave.

That doesn’t mean that in all these cases we need to divorce. I know one woman who left her husband a decade ago because he was addicted to gambling. She is still single, and they have never divorced. She just felt she needed to get her kids out of the situation.

Often, though, when we are trying to justify leaving, we will build up our husband’s sins, and say that they encompass abuse or addictions. And since nobody actually sees what goes on inside your house, I don’t think anybody is really in the position to challenge this that much. I certainly wouldn’t, because I don’t think we can really judge others when it comes to this. So I am not trying to judge anybody, but I would say that you need to be very careful if you’re going down this road.

Marriage, you see, was not meant to be fair. One Christian writer I know well told me that she left her husband because he had violated his marriage vows to love her. He had an anger problem, and even though he wasn’t abusive, he was often angry and sullen, and he criticized her, and demanded sex all the time. She felt that the Christian view of marriage was “oneness”. We have been made one, we treat each other with respect and love, and God intended for us to be connected. When that hasn’t happened, as in her case, then you’re justified in leaving.

I don’t believe this. Yes, God intended marriage ideally to be a certain way, but He never says anywhere in Scripture that if the ideal is not met we are welcome to violate our vows. When you marry, you make a vow before God. God takes that seriously. I don’t think we understand that because we live in a society where fulfillment and happiness are the prime goals. To continue in a relationship which drains your spirit rather than fills it seems like a sin in and of itself.

But for whatever reason, God made marriage this way. He gave only a very narrow excuse for leaving, and even then, He doesn’t command us to leave. He just leaves the door open, should we choose to do so. And He says, very clearly, “God hates divorce”. We need to get that in our heads. God wanted relationships to be permanent, even if they are far from perfect. Commitment matters. Stability matters.

Why? Because when we commit, we teach our children to commit. We create a society that is based on grace rather than performance. We leave room for God to work. We learn to rely on God in our hard times, rather than thinking another person can fill our voids. We learn to compromise, to accommodate, to give. We become less selfish.

And perhaps there’s a bigger reason. How about, quite simply, because God said so. That is what I am teaching my kids about their future marriages: you stay married because God said so. You don’t look for a way out. Divorce is so hard on kids, even when that divorce is justified. It usually leaves one or the other of you down the wrong path. I have seen divorces occur in my family where one of them became promiscuous and alcoholic after the divorce, which likely would not have happened had they stayed together, because they had stability. Take that stability away and everything falls apart. Marriage increases holiness, even if the husband appears petty, mean, or clueless.

The question becomes, then, “If God wants me to stay, then how am I going to manage it? What can I do to make my life bearable?” And that’s a good question to ask, because it forces us to go to God. It forces us to ask Him to be our peace. It also forces us to confront the real issues in our marriage and make an honest stab at fixing them, whether it means counseling, or a lot of prayer, or persistence.

I don’t think it’s easy. When these women in hard situations come to me and say, “I hate my marriage” and explain why, I want to say, “You’re right. You should leave.” Their husbands don’t deserve them. But I can’t say that, because I just don’t think it’s true biblically. I may think it should be true, but it isn’t. And at some point we have to submit.

Some people in this life will have much more difficulty than others. It seems unfair to stay in a rotten marriage when those around you have great ones. But things happen. Some people have children born with disabilities. Some people have health issues in their 30s. Some people are born into violent societies. Life is not fair. You can’t make it fair by doing something that God explicitly said not to do.

That, then, is my philosophy. When we vow Til Death Do Us Part, we mean it. God means it. And there is no Get out of Jail card. At the same time, I would never tell a woman that what she did was wrong, because like I said, I can’t see into your particular home. I don’t think we are to judge others in this regard. But I do think we need to preach this louder: no divorce. Absolutely no divorce. And if people realized that, perhaps they’d be more careful about who they married.

Here’s a bit of encouragement, though. In large scale studies of marriages, they have found that couples who split were less likely to be happy five years later than people who stayed together, even if their marriages were equally miserable. And even better, 78% of couples who had miserable marriages rated their marriages as wonderful five years later. The act of committing to riding it out made them happy. So if you’re going through a rough time, it likely will not always be like this. And no matter what, God is there to help you, to heal you, to comfort you, and to change you (and minister to him). If you’re miserable, throw yourself on Him. Wrestle with Him. He can take it. And ask Him to provide you with an escape from your misery–even if that escape is actually within your marriage!


  1. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks for these words Sheila. My husband and I have been going through some tough times lately but I have stuck to my promise of "Til death do us part" and have been reminded by my closest friends to just pray and seek God's peace and guidance. Nothing I do or say can make things better…only God can work in our lives and bring back the feelings of love and "oneness" that we felt when we got married. The way I look at it, we chose to get married, which means that at one time we did have strong feelings for one another. It is only the circumstances around us that have led to negative feelings and emotions and we can either choose to dwell and focus on those negative thoughts or change them to what God would want us to focus on….the blessings we have in one another. My husband may not always say the nicest things to me, treat me well or tell me he loves me right now but I know that if I focus on being the wife that God wants me to be and look to Him for my joy and strength, He will get us through this.
    I agree that I'd rather weather this storm with Jesus by my side than walk away and go against God's teaching.
    So thanks again for these words and the reminder and encouragment to put God first and see what He can do before giving up!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks for these words Sheila. My husband and I have been going through some tough times lately but I have stuck to my promise of "Til death do us part" and have been reminded by my closest friends to just pray and seek God's peace and guidance. Nothing I do or say can make things better…only God can work in our lives and bring back the feelings of love and "oneness" that we felt when we got married. The way I look at it, we chose to get married, which means that at one time we did have strong feelings for one another. It is only the circumstances around us that have led to negative feelings and emotions and we can either choose to dwell and focus on those negative thoughts or change them to what God would want us to focus on….the blessings we have in one another. My husband may not always say the nicest things to me, treat me well or tell me he loves me right now but I know that if I focus on being the wife that God wants me to be and look to Him for my joy and strength, He will get us through this.
    I agree that I'd rather weather this storm with Jesus by my side than walk away and go against God's teaching.
    So thanks again for these words and the reminder and encouragment to put God first and see what He can do before giving up!!

  3. >No linky today? I posted here: http://www.theshadesofpink.com/2010/06/wifey-wednesday-as-long-as-we-both.html
    Although it's not overly eloquent (Scooby Doo is playing in my ear and I can't concentrate HA!).

  4. >Sheri–Sorry! I don't know why it wasn't showing up, but I fiddled around with the code and then suddenly it was there! I entered your link.

    Anonymous–I'm glad you took the post so well. I really don't mean to be flippant about those who are in difficult marriages, because I can't imagine much worse (at least in our society). But I do believe God is bigger than any of your problems, and I'm so glad you're trusting in Him!

  5. >great perspective–it is so easy to try to justify what we want or would make our lives "better" but thanks for sticking with the biblical standpoint on this.

  6. >I agree, a very difficult topic. Such a fine line to walk. It's so much easier when both parties are Christians who seek to follow God's will. Everything outside of that is such a gray area.

  7. >Sheila, thank you for this wonderful post. About a year ago I heard a radio segment of "Building relationships" with Gary Chapman in which they talked about the Marriage Prayer. Ever since I'm praying this prayer and it changed my life. Here is the prayer:
    "Father, I said 'til death do us part' —I want to mean it.
    Help me to love you more than him
    and more than anyone or anything else.
    Help me to bring him into your presence today.
    Make us one, like you are three-in-one.
    I want to hear him, support him, and serve him
    so he would love you more
    and we can bring you glory. Amen"

  8. Anonymous says:

    >I know so many women who are in just awful relationships. He pays no attention to her, he's never home, he speaks in condescending tones, he's lazy.

    They're extremely lonely. They cry almost everyday. They've sought out counseling because the marriage is so difficult. They're worried about their kids.


    Thanks Sheila.
    I am in thr process rigyht now on planniong on moving out with my 2 children. He is never home, addicted to gambling and he does not love or cherish or honour the girls or I. They struggle with hating men, one daughgter has uttered a suicide threat, that same daughter waa cutting herself.

    There was an incident of physical abuse last year. He has a history of being irrational and angry.

    The girls are getting older and they are out and about with friends, at conferencves, etc. I am alone and lonely SO much!

    A single mom friend of mind said she is loonely too, but I ahve a husband, which makes it sadder.

    He used to be a Christian but fell away from God 10+ years ago. I feel like a single mom. It really is not going to affect his day to day life when one daughter goes off to university in 3 months.

    He provides nothing but a roof. He manipulates and takes advantage of and is not compassionate at all when it comes to my multiple health issues.

    I know what God says about divorce. I will not divorce him.

    It is going to be hard but the scales have tipped for me.

    This is not a life.

  9. >To the last Anonymous commenter:

    I so hurt for you. That is so awful and so lonely, and I want to reiterate that when we're dealing with addictive personalities, which it sounds like your husband is, I do believe separation is often the wisest choice. If your daughters are becoming self-destructive because of his behaviour, and if he is endangering the family with his gambling (which it sounds like he is), then you need to think of them first.

    It doesn't lessen the heartache for you, I know. I wish I could do something to make him change, but none of us can. It is so hard writing a post like this because I do NOT have a husband like yours, and I don't want to preach to those who are in difficult marriages. But yours does sound like leaving is the smartest thing to do (like my friend that I mentioned in the post).

    In James Dobson's book Love Must Be Tough, he also makes the point that many men who are violating the covenants of their marriages will not change until they are forced to–by the wife doing something abrupt like this. So pray, surround yourself with friends, and ask God to build you up and your girls up. And in the process, perhaps God will get through to your husband, too!

  10. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks for the encouragement and support, Sheila. I really appreciate it.

    I will be sitting down to talk to him about this soon. Circumstances with our mortgage coming up for renewal are forcing me to talk to him about leaving because I will not sign a new mortgage with him. (If we then sold the house shortly after there are huge penalties.) I think it best that the house be sold. This is forcing me to talk to him. I was planning on just leaving while he was on a trip.

    But if we talk about it and agree on things, then I can start packing instead of having to do it in a very short period of time.

    Prayerfully we can be civil and amicable about it. That leaves the door open for reconciliation. My heart is wanting to close the door forever, but I know that is not what God wants. I want to want what God wants.

    But I know that IF he decides he wants his wife and family back it is going to be a LONG road of change.

    I am not sure he does though. He is very much living like he is single. We shall see.

    May I ask for your prayers?

  11. >Absolutely! And I think sitting down and talking about it is a good idea–but you probably need some help first to get your thoughts together. Maybe talk to a mentor?

    I also love what you said about leaving the door open for reconciliation, even though it's hard. Often that reconciliation doesn't happen for years, but I really believe there is nothing more beautiful in this world than a life restored, grace personified, Christ's transformation. It is when it seems the most impossible that it is also the most beautiful, precisely because it is so far gone.

    I really did think Dobson had a lot of good things to say in Love Must Be Tough about how to protect you and your kids when your husband is acting destructively–and how to best prompt transformation and reconciliation (if it's possible). But the neat thing about what Dobson recommends is that even if that reconciliation doesn't happen, you and the children are still in a better place spiritually and emotionally. It's a book specifically about affairs, but I think it's applicable to addictions or to men who just seem intent on getting out of the relationship without thinking it through.

    I have prayed for you, and will continue to do so.

  12. Anonymous says:

    >Thanks again Sheila.

    I am getting advice from a few select people including an older couple whose wisdom and advice I respect. Just a few people in my home church know. A couple of other friends who do not live where I do know too. All of these people are Christians and some of them have kinown both of us since before we got married in 1989.

    The women at the women's centre have lots of good help and resources and advice. This is what thay do. But I am aware of filtering their advice through a spiritual lens.

    Thanks again for your words ofencouragement and especially your prayers!

  13. Anonymous says:

    >I am a woman who is now out of a destructive relationship thanks to divorce. I didn't want a divorce — my parents have been married almost 49 years and when I said I do, I expected to stay together forever too.

    But the abuse started shortly after we were married. He hit me and I fought back (thinking this was like wrestling with my brothers). It wasn't.

    I didn't tell people but they knew things weren't right.

    On several occasions (at least three) I know he cheated but I took him back. He was diagnosed with bipolar mood disorder and so we went to the psychiatrist and I made sure he took his pills. But still — you never knew when — I would get punched in the head or the door would get kicked or the wall would get yet another hole.

    After 13 years, it was too much… I had a 7 year old and an 18 month old and one day I woke up and said I'm not going to live like this anymore.

    He moved out and life is 100% better… It's been over 3 years and only recently have I begun to feel the heavy weight lifted from my shoulder. I am free.

    Free to love again. Free to be a good Mother to my children. Free to rediscover my dreams again. And free to forgive myself for getting divorced.

    As one dear friend said, "YOU didn't fail. Your MARRIAGE failed."

    That helped me a lot to put it in that perspective.

    No, I don't think people should get divorced but don't tell women who are suffering in a dysfunctional marriage that the Bible says they have to stay. Unless you've "walked in my moccasins" (as the old saying goes), you don't understand how terrible life can be.

    Thank God he forgives and has a Plan B — and that life can be good again!

    Denise in Saskatchewan, Canada

  14. >Denise in Saskatchewan–

    I'm glad you're doing so well, and that God has blessed you!

    To tell you the truth, though, I don't know very many people in Christian circles who would say that you should stay married if you're being abused. I would say that it's the exact opposite–that most people believe that if you're being abused, you should get out, for your own safety and for your kids' safety. That's certainly what I said in this article.

    I don't think you have to stay in an abusive marriage at all. What I did say in the article, though, is that I think we do have to stay in other marriages, even dysfunctional ones. We're all dysfunctional to some extent, and I think too many people today are looking for justification to leave, instead of taking a good, hard look at what commitment really means.

    It's not easy, but it was God who said it, not me.

    So to reiterate what I said in the article: if he is having affairs, if he's abusive, if he's addictive, you usually have little choice but to leave, and if you leave. It's not those relationships that are in the grey area.

    It's those where you're just not happy that are the problem. And that's really what I was addressing.

    I'm glad people who are in abusive relationships are now able to get out, with the church's blessing, when the truth is known. At least that's been the case in the churches that I have been a part of.

  15. Shelia–I know this is an older post, but I was reading it from Pinterest the other day and it encouraged my heart yet again. So I shared it at the Salt and Light link up this week. (http://www.becomingagodlywife.com/blog-hop/salt-light-16/) Thank you!
    Jamie (@va_grown) recently posted…Fluffy, Peeping, Houseguests…the Daily Farm Adventures {48}My Profile

  16. Anonymous says:

    Hi Sheila….

    I was hoping you can give me some advice… I have been married 17 years and we have two boys 12 and 9. I would say we are happily married with room for improvement. However just recently my husband started debating with the idea of just wanting to be by himself. And as of 2 weeks ago he decided that that he definitely wants out of our marriage and wants to be alone. He wants to come and go as he pleases. However will continue to support the boys and i because we will always be his family and he loves us very much. Soon after his decision he told our boys of what is going to happen and of course they are confused and frightened. He doesn’t have any set plans yet. We still live together except that I now sleep in another room. We no longer wear our rings. Fortunately he isn’t blaming me or is rude. He hasn’t told anyone about his way of thinking. Not sure why. I don’t think he is having an affair. However he fast a female friend he met a year and a half ago. She is separated from her husband with 4 kids. They talk and text everyday all day! When I confronted her she reassured me there was nothing but pure friendship between them and nothing more. However my husband says he does care for Her And I Feel She Does too. Although I don’t think there is anything beyond this it is very threatening to me. My husband and I have always been able to work things out together. But with her in the picture I think it allows him to not confront the situation. He just never wants to talk about it or deal with it. After some researching I believe he is going through a midlife crisis with maybe a little depression. My thing is he is not willing to seek help and everything I read says I should back off and let this take its course but this is so confusing for me and the boys… they are so scared of us getting a divorce. I don’t know what to do. I certainly don’t want wait it out because I feel my boys will only suffer more and needless to say this is very painful. My boys and i cry all the time. My husband hates that he is putting us through this. I really think he is fighting some internal stuff. I don’t believe he really wants to leave. The boys and I have pleaded with him but he doesn’t sway. At this point the boys and i are in limbo not knowing how this will turn out. I pray constantly that God will do a miracle quickly. I plan to seek consueling soon for the boys and I. Any suggestions from you on this matter would be greatly appreciated! And prayers are very welcomed!
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi there! I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this. How scary and heartbreaking!

      I don’t know what to tell you do because I’ve read of two different approaches, very opposite, that have worked. One woman just pretended that her husband hadn’t said anything at all, and went on with her daily life, and was nice to him, and eventually he came around. She didn’t believe in his heart he wanted to leave, and so she left room for him. I’m not sure that usually works, though.

      Other people let the guy experience the consequences of his actions, and that’s usually the route I’d recommend. The book Love Must Be Tough goes through this in detail, and I think it’s very biblical.

      But I don’t know which route will work best in your situation. I’d talk to a friend and get her to pray with you and really seek God’s guidance. One thing, though: I don’t think it’s fair for your husband to want to keep it a secret. That sounds like he knows he’s doing something wrong, but he doesn’t want anyone else to know it. Well, you don’t get that privilege, in my opinion. But I’d read the book, and talk to a friend and pray. And I’ll pray that God will give you some direct guidance.

    • Alchemist says:

      I’m so sorry you are going through this. It sounds terrible.

      Does he have any strong male Christian friends you can talk to? Or maybe the elders in your church (if they are good elders and he respects them) or the pastor?

      Sounds like someone needs to kick him under his butt. And it can’t be you. Sounds like he needs a strong Christian man to tell him what’s what and hold him accountable. Men are often quite harsh at dealing with each others bad behavior. And much more effective that a woman can dream to be.

  17. I’ve had insight into a friend’s marriage that has me questioning whether God honors severely broken marriages. If a couple lives seperate lives within the home, never sharing intimacy, meals or conversation, despising one another in their hearts, then what’s the point? I’m not talking lifes ups and downs, stormy times. I’m talking decades of lifeless existance. If this couple stood before God today and held up that marriage license, would He honor it? Would He state the obvious, You’ve been divorced in your hearts for years. To say they stuck it out and did the right thing almost seems like legalism when the truth is far from honorable. What are we as Christians teaching our children about love and marriage if we live in these situations? I believe God could change this marriage if the couple themsrlves were willing. Otherwise they live lives that selfishly affect their children negatively for years to come. For the first time in my life as a Christian I believe this couple might as well divorce. They already are and are fooling themselves with the legalism of a manmade document. Am I out to lunch and speaking blasphemy?

    • I really do understand what you’re saying. Staying committed to the marriage must mean more than staying committed to living in the same house. Otherwise, like you said, what’s the point?

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  1. […] you can say, “I am sticking with my husband through thick and thin,” you will always be testing him. “Does he measure up? Is he meeting my needs?” […]

  2. […] I have to put my regular caveat in here: I know some marriages can’t be saved. I am not saying you should stay with an abusive spouse, or with someone who has serial affairs. […]

  3. […] culture has established that the basis of marriage is this lovely romantic feeling, rather than a simple commitment. And we need to get back to the idea that you made a commitment. So stick with it. […]

  4. […] every relationship there are times when splitting up seems like the only option. Certainly in cases of abuse or chronic infidelity this may be the case. But overall, I believe […]

  5. […] that’s not necessarily true, and verbal abuse is such an amorphous term. I have known women who have left their husbands who justify it, saying he was “verbally abusive” towards me and the kids, because the church allows […]

  6. […] if you married someone who isn’t like this, I’m not saying you should divorce! Absolutely not. You just have some relationship problems. Work on your friendship first, because […]

  7. […] shouldn’t publish this because you’re permitting divorce”, because I’m not. Read here and here to see that. But marriages are in turmoil, and I want to offer all the practical help I […]

  8. […] God hates divorce, but where Christians err is that we often think that the proper response then when a spouse starts talking about divorce is to try to do everything possible to appease that spouse. Appeasing, though, doesn’t work, and can cause us to do things that God wouldn’t want us to do. We may put up with things like affairs, or we stop respecting ourselves or our kids because we don’t want to rock the boat. What we do need to do is to show proper love. […]

  9. […] argument is flawed, because while God said marriage should be like this, He never invalidated marriages that were not like that. Indeed, in Corinthians Paul even tells women married to men who aren’t Christians to stay if […]

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