Why I’m Anti-Divorce and Pro-Remarriage

Thoughts on the biblical grounds for divorce, what it says about remarriage, and to value both marriage AND divorced people in the church.

On Tuesday I made quite a stir on Facebook when I wrote about divorce and remarriage. In regards to this post on when you should give up trying to get your ex back, I wrote:

I’m having to delete a lot of comments on the blog today from people saying that divorce is never a biblical option. I find that sad. I know God hates divorce–but He hates people being wounded and abused and betrayed, too. And Jesus gave us some reasons for divorce. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I am very pro-marriage and anti-divorce, but more importantly I’m pro-truth and pro-healing. If a marriage is based on abuse, manipulation, and lies, then that is not God-honouring, either. Most of these situations are not black and white; they are grey, and I believe God’s grace is there for us. If I let those comments through, I fear that they will do emotional damage to the very hurt and wounded people whose marriages have fallen apart who wind up at my site. We need to be pointed towards following God in the situation we find ourselves in now, not being yelled at for very tortured decisions we made earlier.

The outpouring was immense, and so I thought I should do a follow-up and explain what I really think about divorce and remarriage. Please keep in mind that I am not a theologian. I have just thought about this a lot and prayed through it, and this is what I believe.

Divorce Is a Last Resort–and there are only a few reasons for it

I am absolutely anti-divorce. I’ve written that the vow matters. I’ve questioned whether women are leaving marriages too fast. I’ve said that sometimes we live in a loveless marriage–and we need to find a way to get through that.

However, with that said, I am also fully aware that sometimes divorce is necessary, and sometimes divorce happens when you didn’t want it to. My father left my mother. My mother certainly never wanted to divorce, and it pulled the rug out right under her. But divorce wasn’t her choice.

Then there are those who live in a physically dangerous marriage, or an emotionally destructive marriage. For them, too, divorce was likely not what they wanted–but they had no option.

What are biblical grounds for divorce?

The Bible lists two: adultery and abandonment.

Adultery

Matthew 19:9 says:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

Abandonment

Then 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 says this:

If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.(emphasis mine)

Clearly Paul here is saying that if a spouse leaves you, you are no longer bound.

Notice anything that isn’t mentioned here? You’ve got it:

What about Abuse?

And this is where I get really uncomfortable and why I started deleting those comments. The divorce “purists”, as I will call them, read the Matthew passage (and seem to ignore the Corinthians passage) and say that the only acceptable reason for divorce is adultery. Because Jesus gave us no other reason, then there can be no other reason.

To them I would ask this:

Why do you believe abortion is wrong?

It’s because we’ve inferred an awful lot from a few verses. Abortion itself isn’t mentioned in the Bible because it wasn’t relevant for the culture. So the Bible doesn’t speak directly about it, yet pretty much all Christians fight against it for one simple reason: Because of what we know about God from the rest of Scripture. He knew us while we were yet unformed in our mother’s womb, and He planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He planned good works for us before the foundation of the earth (Ephesians 2:10). God is love. The rest of Scripture speaks to the sanctity of life. The Bible doesn’t mention lots of things we struggle with today–pornography, career choices, education choices–because these weren’t talked about or relevant then. But we can still infer from the Bible what godly decisions are.

So what, then, can we infer from the rest of Scripture about living in an abusive marriage? Does God expect us to stay?

Absolutely not. Read the Old Testament prophets and you come away with the overwhelming impression of a God who goes to battle for the downtrodden and who notices injustice. We serve a God who hates abuse in all its forms.

Why I'm Anti-Divorce But Pro-Remarriage: Divorce is always a last resort--but God does allow it, and wants us to fluorish afterwards, if we have been walking through a horrible marriage.

God Cares About Children

And here’s an important point: living in an abusive marriage, even if the woman is willing to put up with it, harms the children. Over and over again in Scripture God talks about rescuing children from those who would mistreat them (see Luke 17:2).

If staying in a marriage to an abusive person, or staying in a marriage to an alcoholic or drug addict, would hurt a child, then God does not want that.

I do believe that the word abuse is thrown around a little too quickly today, and I’ve written what is abuse and what is not. Not all yelling is abusive; it depends on the pattern, the effect, and the bigger picture. But emotional, sexual, and physical abuse are real and they are not God’s plan for His children.

One important point, though: We often believe that “kids are only happy if the parents are happy, so if the parents’ marriage is unhappy, it’s better to divorce.” Not true. Researcher Judith Wallerstein found that kids who grew up in an unhappy marriage (even a loveless marriage) fared better than kids who grew up with divorced parents. The effect of parents’ unhappiness on the kids is not a legitimate reason to divorce–except in one case. Studies also showed that children who grew up in violent or abusive marriages did better if the parents did divorce. So if you’re just unhappy in your marriage, it’s better for the kids if you stick with it and make it work. If you’re being abused or you’re in a high-conflict marriage, it’s not.

God Cares About Sin

Another theme of Scripture is that God cares about the heart, not appearances. Divorce purists seem to stress the form over the heart–as long as the two people are technically married, God is happy. But no, God doesn’t want appearances. God wants changed hearts and changed lives! Here’s what I wrote in another post, Are You a Spouse or an Enabler?:

If your spouse is acting in such a way that they are denying a vital part of themselves and a vital part of the Christian life–like responsibility or intimacy or community–then doing nothing about it enables that spouse to avoid any impetus for spiritual growth.

Churches should be places where the wounded come to find healing, not where the wounded come to give them cover so they can avoid healing.

And yet all too often that is what we’ve done–we hate divorce so much that we ignore the other side: God does not want an army of wounded, damaged people. He wants wholeness. And so we must deal with people who are refusing to confront huge issues.

In that post I show what the Bible says we should do if a spouse is sinning. One of the Facebook commenters on Tuesday wrote this:

One truth that I believe that is overlooked or dismissed by people who are quick to judge those of us who have suffered through divorce (it was a heartrending and crushing experience) is that pleasing God and being like Him is not about keeping up appearances. God looks at the heart, and in light of that reality a true divorce has happened long before any secular legal actions have been taken – or can happen even when no actions are taken. A dead marriage is equal to a divorce in all the ways that are visible and valuable to God, and it’s sad to me to see married couples who obviously despise one another or (perhaps worse) are completely indifferent – especially if children are involved and being hurt by their parents’ situation. I am a child of Christian divorce as well and our young lives were fraught with secret abuse, sadness and confusion until my father (a well-educated preacher who led a double life) left my mom and abandoned us. Life was hard and sad growing up after that too, and I felt very mixed emotions of relief, abandonment and guilt once our father was gone. However, I was nothing but glad for my mom because she had done all she could to be a good wife, and had been so mistreated and disrespected by him in every area you could imagine – she didnt deserve that.

Scripture does not contradict Scripture. We aren’t told in one place to confront sin and live blameless lives and look to the heart and then told in another place to just keep the form in place and ignore sin. The heart matters. And if someone is sinning so much, either through abuse or adultery or an addiction or a refusal to work, then this must be dealt with.

Love Must Be ToughNone of this means that divorce is necessary in these cases; usually, I believe, a separation is a better tool. If a spouse is addicted to porn, or refusing to work, or an alcoholic, or gambling away the paycheque, then a separation says, “you need to shape up and this will no longer be tolerated.” That’s what James Dobson recommends in Love Must Be Tough. And, ironically, it’s this separation that often kickstarts real change which leads to reconciliation. That’s what Leslie Vernick also shows in her book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, for those living in emotionally, spiritually, or physically abusive marriages.

Why Does God Hate Divorce?

Divorce “purists” point to the verse that God hates divorce as proof that we should not divorce except in the rarest circumstances. But here’s the thing–I think we would all agree. In fact, most divorced people would be the first to say that God hates divorce, because they hate divorce, too. They know how awful it is. They’re anti-divorce too!

The more important question, then, is WHY does God hate divorce?

I do not believe that He hates divorce because people who divorce are somehow worse sinners. I believe He hates divorce because He loves us so much, and He knows the severe trauma of divorce. He knows the havoc it wreaks on our hearts. He knows what it does to the children. And He knows what a culture of divorce does to undermine the culture of marriage and family and commitment. Divorce has major ripple effects.

So God hates divorce because of its effects–not because divorce is any worse sin. We know that if one is guilty of breaking one part of the law, one is guilty of breaking the whole law. We are all sinners. I believe that when it says, “God hates divorce”, it’s really saying that if your husband left you or beat you or made your marriage unbearable, and you are weeping buckets of tears, that God is weeping those tears with you.

The Beauty of Grace and Living in the Present

I’ve explained why I believe that adultery, abuse, abandonment, and other major sins that endanger the whole family (like addictions or refusal to work) are grounds for separation and/or divorce.

But what if you don’t have those?

Another commenter wrote:

I’m divorced. No excuses, no Biblically sound reason. I was young, stupid, and a big ol’ sinner. He didn’t beat me or abuse me in any way. However, it’s done. It’s in the past and I feel absolutely certain that it is forgiven like any number of other sins in my past. I was wrong but that awesomely mighty God forgave it AND was generous enough to send me a husband who loves me and doesn’t judge my past.

She did not have biblical grounds for divorce, and she knows that. But now she is a believer, and that means that she is a new creation. And you can’t turn back the clock, and God does not intend you to. Why is that we say some sins can be forgiven but not others? Paul was a murderer, yet God still used him. David was an adulterer, yet God still used him (and his son through Bathsheba). Indeed, that adulterous relationship is in Jesus’ line.

God hates divorce–but there is grace.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionSo if you divorced in the past, and then became a believer, are you supposed to reconcile with your husband? I believe that, if possible, you should try. That’s what Juana Mikels did in Choosing Him All Over Again, and God showed them tremendous grace.

But that does not always work. Sometimes you can’t reconcile because he doesn’t want to, or he’s moved on. So then what?

What About Remarriage?

Divorce purists will also say that remarriage is never an option. God may have given us grounds for divorce, but not remarriage.

However, I don’t believe this is true for two reasons. In the Matthew verse quoted above, Jesus said:

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

That means that if you divorce and marry another and it was because of sexual immorality, you are not committing adultery. So if you had grounds for divorce, you also have grounds for remarriage.

Yes, it says “whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Luke 16:18), but you can’t look at that verse without also looking at this one. Jesus obviously was carving out an exception.

And in Corinthians, Paul wrote that the husband or wife was no longer bound if they were abandoned. They aren’t bound anymore–therefore they can remarry.

The Cultural Reason for Remarriage

Why isn’t the Bible more obvious that remarriage after divorce is okay? Because it was just assumed. In those days a woman was either under her father’s care or under her husband’s care. There was no way for an adult single woman to make a living. That’s why caring for widows was such a huge deal in the New Testament church. For Jesus to allow divorce, then, meant that He was also allowing remarriage. He would not allow divorce just to consign women to desperation and abject poverty. People simply had to remarry.

I know many of you who are here on this site are remarried–and want to make these remarriages work. I welcome you here; and I hope that I can help you with just that! I never want you to feel that because you are not on your first marriage that you are somehow inferior. God wants you to honour Him in the here and now.

And so that’s where I’m at: I’m anti-divorce, because I think it should be the last resort, and only in certain circumstances. But if divorce has been inevitable for you, then I wish you great happiness and intimacy with someone else, if God brings someone into your life.

The comment with the most likes was one from my friend Kathy, whom I know in real life. I’d like to leave you with it:

As a divorced person myself (with what I understand to be a biblical divorce–abandoned by an unbelieving spouse who was committing adultery), and someone who desperately wanted her marriage back, I feel the weight & sting of those who think in judgmental terms as if their own sin issues are minor compared to a divorce. I always jokingly say that divorce is the unpardonable sin in the church, but sadly, it seems far too often that it is looked at in that way. I have done my share of study on the topic of divorce and remarriage as a biblical counsellor, but also as someone who hoped to be married again one day, but only if it did not offend God. As far as I can understand in my simplistic way, God has allowed for remarriage in my circumstance. I was blessed with the offer of marriage just over two years ago from a wonderful Christian man who took divorce and remarriage as seriously as I, and also did his research (and by the way, he was widowed after 36 years of marriage so no divorce on his record). We consulted many “wise counsellors” and studied God’s Word before taking on our vows of marriage because again, we did not want to be out of step with God. We are convinced God is the author of our love story, but should we find that in our fallible state we were mistaken, is not the blood of Christ valid even on this? I believe we should take marriage, divorce, and remarriage very, very seriously, but I also believe we must approach it all with truth IN LOVE. Divorce seems to just be one of those divisive issues, and invokes much emotion, but hopefully it will not invoke undue unkindness from those of us who have been shown unfathomable love.

Blessings on all of you.

 

Reader Question: When Do I Give Up Trying to Get My Ex Back?

When do I give up on my ex-husband? Thoughts on when to stop trying to reconcile and move onWhen should you give up on trying to get your ex back?

Every Monday I like to put up a Reader Question and take a stab at answering it. I know most of my readers are married (this is a Christian marriage blog, after all), but a lot of people in crisis marriages also land on this blog. So there are plenty of separated/divorced people who also send in questions. And here’s a heartbreaking one that I’d like to tackle today:

I’ve been divorced for 8 years, and during all that time I have tried to reconcile with my husband. It’s just not working, but I’m scared to move on. When do I give up on my ex? When have I done enough? And what if I really want it to work?

I want to start by telling you a story.

When I was just getting started writing and speaking, in my early 30s, I was asked to come and speak to a MOPS group. I gave a talk about how to keep your priorities in order and how to feel as if you’re making a difference even in the diaper/temper tantrum years. The talk went well, and at the end everyone was mingling around eating some snacks.

An older woman who hadn’t been in the talk approached me. She explained that she was a grandma, and as a way of serving her daughter she acted as one of the baby-sitters for MOPS, so her daughter could enjoy the socialization and the teaching. So she asked me for a synopsis of what I had said, and I gave it to her.

She smiled as I explained, and nodded vigorously. “Oh, that’s so wonderful that you’re teaching these young women to rely on God in everything. I’ve had to learn that in the last few years. My husband left out of the blue 5 years ago to be with another woman. He spread lies about me and turned many in my family against me. It was so difficult. I lost my house and so much of my self-esteem.”

My heart went out to this poor woman. That’s so awful to have a spouse betray you like that!

But then she said this,

“But God has promised me that my marriage will be restored. I read verses about how God restores what is broken. I put them on post-in notes all over my apartment, so that when I doubt I can read them and know that God will bring him back. I pray all the time about it. And I have peace that one day my marriage will be saved.”

And at this point I felt distinctly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what to say, though, and so I left. But while driving home it suddenly hit me what I should have said. I don’t know who that woman is, and so I could never communicate this to her. But now, when I speak, I always share to the audience what I wish I could have shared to the woman:

“I am glad that you have faith that God can bring your husband back. But do you have faith even if he doesn’t?”

Do you have faith even if God doesn't answer your prayers as you would like?

Because isn’t that the point? God needs to be the centre of our faith and not a reconciliation. That’s why this truth is so important:

Your life needs to become about God, not about winning your ex back

That doesn’t mean that God WON’T bring your ex back. But ultimately, after you have been through such a trauma, you are really hurt. You’re beaten down. And you’re often desperate to get the marriage back together, thinking that this will fix your broken heart. But it won’t, because that kind of pain can only be fixed by God. And once He does this great healing work, so that you know that whatever happens, God will carry you, then you are whole again. You are strong again.

And if your marriage has any chance of working again, you need to be whole and you need to be strong.

Ironically, your marriage’s best hope is for you to let go of your marriage and cling to God. To do that doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on the idea of reconciliation. It’s just saying that your faith if based on God, not on your marriage, and that you know that you will be okay.

Let go of the dream of your ex-husband and get real

When a marriage breaks up there is usually a reason. In my story, the husband had left his wife. I don’t know what is happening with my reader, but I know many on this blog have had to separate with husbands who wouldn’t give up a pornography addiction, or who refused to work and squandered money, or who had affairs. But even though they couldn’t live like that anymore, these women often have difficulty letting go of the dream of their husband.

They could still see the potential–they could still see what the marriage could be like if their husbands would just get their act together. And because of that dream, these women had a difficult time moving on.

Letting go of the dream does not mean that you let go of the idea of reconciliation. But you need to stop living in the “what ifs” and start living with what is real.

Be honest about where you are at and where your husband is at, and reconciliation is not a healthy or wise idea right now, then put it out of your mind and focus on the now.

I am not saying that this is easy. This is likely the most heart-wrenching thing you will ever have to do your whole life. You can’t do it alone; you need a good church community and good friends around you–and often a good counselor. But it is the wise thing to do.

What is the right thing for me to do in the here and now?

If reconciliation isn’t possible, because your husband hasn’t gotten real about the steps that he needs to take, then you need to start living in the here and now and take steps to make your own life better as it is in the present.

Get some schooling or get a job if you have to support yourself and your children. Find a great church to be involved in and start serving. Start an exercise regimen to help you feel better about yourself. Move closer to other support systems that you will need, if necessary. Get your finances in order. In other words, do things that will help you so that if things stay exactly the way they are right now, you (and your children) will be in a better position. If you refuse to do these things because to do so seems like you’re saying “the relationship is really over”, then in the long run you’ll likely hurt yourself.

Love Must Be ToughLook, sometimes if a relationship is in really bad shape, the best way to turn it around is to give someone a big jolt and help them to realize the consequences of their actions. If he knows you are waiting in the wings to take him back at a moment’s notice, what incentive does he have to get his life together? But if he realizes, “she’s serious. We’re not getting back together until things change,” then he might do something.

That’s what the book Love Must Be Tough teaches you, and I highly recommend it for people in this situation. It shows how the worst thing that you can do is to show your ex that you’re always available to him, that you’ll always take him back, that you’re always there. Groveling does not work. Having sex with him when he comes over to visit you, when he’s not showing any kind of remorse, will not work. You need to show him, “this is who I am without you, and even though I don’t want to be alone and even though I’d rather be with you, I will choose to be without you and I will get on with my life until you show me that you want a real marriage.”

But when do I date again?

Ultimately, though, what I think women are really asking is, “when is it okay for me to date again? When can I actually move on?”

I can’t answer that one for you, except in generalities. Every situation is different. In some cases there are definite biblical grounds for divorce, and in some there really aren’t. (That being said, even if there aren’t grounds, if he has abandoned you by not reconciling, then that becomes a biblical ground, in and of itself.) In some cases he has made a lot of progress, or he is fixing things, and you do need to wait and give him a chance.

I had a friend who left a marriage, telling everyone it was because of his porn use and his cheating. The problem was that these things had been in the past, and he was working at making them better. Soon after she left him she started dating someone else, and she is now remarried. She claimed she had biblical grounds, but the fact was that he was getting right with God at the point where she started dating. That is not right.

One rule of thumb: I think it’s dangerous to get into a new relationship too soon. I’d give it at least a year and a half, if not two years, after a split with no sign of reconciliation. You need to give him time to change his mind, but you also need to give yourself time to heal, because otherwise you’ll be going into a new relationship with a lot of baggage.

That’s not set in stone, but I do think it’s wise to give some time, and likely the more the better.

Does God ever bring about reconciliation?

Absolutely! In fact, if you want a great story of reconciliation, my friend Juana Mikels has just written a book called Choosing Him All Over Again, where she shares her story.

Choosing Him All Over Again: A Story of Romance and RedemptionThirty-five years ago Juana left her husband. He didn’t give her what she needed, he didn’t know how to show her love, and they were drifting apart so fast she didn’t think there was anything left. They had only been married for two years, but it had all gone downhill.

A few months after their break-up, Juana started attending a Bible study. She became a Christian, and realized that the break-up was not her husband’s fault. It was hers as well. She hadn’t given selflessly in the marriage. She hadn’t loved him properly. And now she wanted him back!

There was just one problem. He was seeing someone else and had no interest in reconciling. Juana had hurt him too much.

So now what was she to do? She continued to draw closer to God and decided to just show her husband unconditional love. And after months and months of that, her husband’s heart began to soften. It took a long time to rebuild the marriage that Juana had already torn down, but God did it as He slowly started to change Juana’s attitude.

It’s a great story of hope–check it out here!

So, yes, God can rescue marriages. In fact, God loves picking up broken pieces and molding them back together again. He’s in the healing business. But sometimes the thing that He wants to heal is YOU, not your marriage. So chase after God now, and focus on God, not just on your marriage. And then, no matter what happens, you will find you still are strong.

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Wifey Wednesday: How to Keep Your Self-Respect

How to keep your self respect if your husband is threatening to leave the marriage
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! Today I want to talk about keeping your self-respect in marriage when your husband is treating you badly.

Ever feel like a doormat?

Too many of us allow us to become doormats in our marriages.

I know several women whose husbands are unhappy in marriage. Their husbands blame the wives for everything, but are unwilling to do anything to grow the marriage (date nights, counseling, even just communicating). They won’t tell their wives what the real issue is. Instead, they act miserable, constantly threaten to leave, and even text other women or flirt with other people.

The wives are so petrified the husbands will leave that they turn themselves inside out to try to make sure that there is nothing in their behaviour that the husband could object to.

This isn’t a gender thing–I know women who have done the same thing to their husbands. But in the two relationships I’m thinking of right now, it’s the husband who is threatening to leave. In one case, he circles apartments in the “To Rent” section of the newspaper. He leaves budgets for two households lying around. And his wife is terrified.

Now, I have spoken at length in this blog about how you have to learn to show your spouse love in their language, and how we need to make sure that we are loving our spouses, even if they are not showing us love. But that does not mean that I think we should be doormats or lose our self-respect.

My mother, for instance, when she was married, tolerated really horrible behaviour on the part of my dad, because she was so scared of being left alone. And in the end, all that bending over backwards did absolutely nothing. She has since become such a strong, wise woman of God, so God brought tremendous good out of a bad period of our life. But looking back, she wishes she had more backbone.

When you bend over backwards and try so hard to become what the other person wants, you cease being yourself.

You’re not looking to be what God wants you to be; you’re looking to be what you think your husband wants you to be, and those are not necessarily the same thing.

A truly intimate marriage relationship is based on two individuals who can cling to each other, confide in each other, talk to one another, and feel like partners. If you don’t feel like your husband’s partner, but instead feel like his maid or his slave or even his mother, then you’re not building a good marriage. You’re pushing him farther away from real intimacy.

Love Must Be ToughJames Dobson talked about this well in his book Love Must Be Tough. His central thesis was this: the whole way we do marriage counseling is backwards, because in the vast majority of troubled marriages, only one person is willing to work on things. The other doesn’t care if they’re hurting the spouse. They don’t care how the spouse feels. They don’t care what happens to the relationship, because they’ve become completely caught up in what they want.

So they’re not going to go to counseling.

So what do you do if you want to work on the relationship but your husband doesn’t, and can’t even admit there’s a problem?

Dobson says you need to do have them feel the consequences of their actions, because that’s the only way out of the selfish fantasy land they’re in. They believe that they can keep daydreaming about leaving, and threatening to leave, and talk about being unhappy, because you’ll sit there and take it and bend over backwards to try to satisfy them.

Stop bending over backwards, and show them what it will be like if they follow through and leave.

Protect yourself and keep your self-respect, because a person cannot fall in love again with someone who has become a doormat and who no longer values herself.

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.

Proper love always points people to God; inappropriate love allows people to act in an unChristlike manner. (click to tweet!)

Real Love Points People to God; if you're needy, though, you let others get away with unChristlike behavior.

When we love inappropriately, by allowing people to walk all over us, we actually encourage them to go further from God. We need to show people that if they leave, life will be difficult, but they need to make a choice. We need to stop tolerating affairs, or pornography, or flirtations, or addictions, or things which will eventually ruin the marriage anyway. The best way to help your husband get over pornography is actually to not tolerate it.

If you’re in this kind of a marriage, I’d recommend both Love Must Be Tough and Boundaries. Both books show what is your responsibility in a difficult relationship, and what is not. And remember: the best way to get positive change in a marriage is often through realistic consequences, not by becoming a doormat!

Now I know this is controversial, and I know there is a thin line between pushing someone away and calmly showing consequences. I know we are called to be gracious and to forgive, but I also don’t believe we were called to tolerate indecision or evil. So if you have any pointers on how to walk that fine line, and do what’s right, please leave a comment!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

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Wifey Wednesday: Christians Do Have Unhappy Marriages

 

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! I’m taking the summer a little slowly, so I’ve asked Tammy Rhoden to guest post for us today. Here’s Tammy’s story:

As a Christian woman entering a marriage in which I was equally yoked, I expected to live happily ever after once the rings slipped over our fingers. I didn’t believe our marriage would be tainted by the worldly issues of non-believers. I knew there would be a few bumps in the road but overall I wasn’t worried. I thought God made marriage to bring happiness to believing men and women.

DSC_0101photo © 2007 Tom Reynolds | more info (via: Wylio)

But it hasn’t been perfect. Actually, there have been far more imperfect moments than not. There have been many heartbreaking moments as well. Moments when I cried out to God and asked Him how He had allowed me to make such an awful mistake! There have been times when I haven’t known who I was madder with; Bobby, myself, or God. How had the marriage that I thought was the one every Christian woman was destined to have, turned so sour? Was I not good enough? Had I not paid enough? Would I never finish reaping the harvest of the bad past I had sown? Where was my happiness? I felt betrayed by my husband yes, but more so by God. I felt He had let me down.

I contemplated at times whether I should be able to get out of this marriage. I bargained on occasion with God trying to get Him to work on my behalf. Often I picked myself up by the proverbial bootstraps and got down to the business of saving my marriage. Never during any of these times did I find lasting happiness. Happiness was that elusive emotion that seemed to flit in and out of my marriage but I could never get a handle on so it would remain. What was wrong with us? We are Christians. Why weren’t we happy?

Then slowly I began to see things differently. I’m not sure when but over time, I noticed I was changing. Previously, I bought in to the whole idea that seems rather prevalent in the Christian world, that when two believers marry, their marriage should be a good one. After all, if two people are professing to love God then it follows that two people want to please God by living as He directs. So, it’s all good and they as Christians are destined to live happily ever after.

That really isn’t always the case, though. We want marriage to be a union with another person that brings us happiness but the truth is, God’s Word doesn’t say that marriage is designed to bring us happiness. In fact it says that it will be an area of struggle and hardship. Genesis3:16 He told the Woman: “You’ll want to please your husband, but he’ll lord it over you.”At some point, I began to realize that I weighed almost every moment of my marriage on a happiness scale. Because there is no standard unit of happiness in marriage, I often found my scale too light. When I was feeling let down numerous times a day because my scales were always off, it only makes sense that my heart was beginning to develop defense tactics to keep from being hurt so often. As my heart began to harden, it became easier for the enemy to whisper more and more darkness into my ear.

As my heart grew harder and colder and wrapped itself tighter within layers of defensive repellent; I found it harder to respect my husband. When a wife doesn’t respect her husband, she finds it hard to submit or to have sex, whether out of spite or lack of desire. When a husband feels emasculated and lonely, he uses emotional distance to cope. Things continue to feed off each other and spiral out of control until each spouse’s heart is so hard they not only fall into further sin and treat each other more poorly, but they are no longer of use to God in many ways that they once were.People tend to expect marriage to bring them happiness even though God never promised it would. Satan desires to harden the hearts of Christians so they aren’t able to be used by God as He would like. Satan knows we use how our spouse makes us feel as a happiness gage and when we aren’t happy, we begin to try to fix that. When we try to fix our spouse, we begin to have marital problems because our “fixing” stems from selfish desires and expectations of happiness that we believe our spouse should provide. As we criticize each other and try to change each other or begin to seek happiness outside our marriage, our hearts are hardened and become less usable by God for His ultimate purpose, which is to bring all things in the universe together under Christ.

Here’s a thought: if Satan attacks married people first and foremost through their spouses, in order to render their hearts useless to God, doesn’t it make sense that two strong believing Christians may have more problems within their marriage than non-believers?
Does this mean that I think Christians should just settle for a poor marriage if they are in one or that they shouldn’t strive for their marriage to be all it can be? No! But I also think that we as Christians should begin taking seriously the role God intended us to play in this world. He expects us all to share the Gospel and to play large parts in bringing everything in the universe together under Christ. We often forget that and instead get caught up in thinking about our marital happiness. We need to remember that as well as pursuing happiness in our marriage, we need to pursue joy in Christ. This is how we find it possible to love our spouse with the agape love of Jesus, making us capable of fulfilling God’s purpose.
I have begun to measure the moments of my marriage with a different tool. I no longer use my happiness scale but rather ask myself if the moment has done or is doing anything to further God’s purpose. If I find that it has, I celebrate and thank God for His goodness and grace. If I find that it was lacking, then I look back through the lens of self-examination, held by the Holy Spirit and try to discover where I fell short. I try not to think about where Bobby may have fallen short because God uses us as individuals and we are accountable as individuals.
Since I have begun to make personal, heart changing, spiritual choices in the way I deal with my unhappiness, Bobby has begun to turn around a lot in areas he personally felt he needed to improve in. We have identified who our enemy really is and we know it’s not each other.
Is everything hunky dory now? Well, things are still a work in progress and I think they may remain that way in one sense or another, maybe until death do us part. As for happiness; I can say that the joy I am experiencing more regularly in my life surpasses earthly happiness by far. Joy is what I have the most of but I am also happy more often than not as I am no longer feeling let down most of the time. My perspective of what marriage is supposed to offer me, has changed to align itself with a more godly vision and that makes a huge difference in the happiness scale!

Tammy Rhoden is a Christian Life Coach and Speaker. She offers one-on-one and group coaching as well as workshops, seminars, and lectures designed to support women in facilitating change in their lives that are in agreement with God’s Word. Areas of support include but aren’t limited to marriage, children, career, finances, weight loss, setting boundaries, forgiveness, making friends, and time management. Please visit Tammy’s site, Jesus is My Host of Hope, to learn more about her, or find her on Facebook!

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Write your own Wifey Wednesday post that links back to here, and then leave the link of THAT POST in the Mcklinky below. Thanks!

Wifey Wednesday: Are You Expecting the Impossible?

 

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!


Photo by Easywebsites.ky

You may have heard it said before that “the enemy of the best is the good”. The French philosopher Voltaire made it famous (though he said it in French!), and it’s famous because it’s so true. Often we get so caught up doing good things that we miss the best. We miss our priorites.

But that being said, I think the reverse can also be true. Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good. When the best is more a fairy-tale ideal than a reality, then it can become the enemy of making any kind of real progress. The best can actually be a hindrance to your marriage.

Allow me to use an analogy that doesn’t have to do with marriage first to show you what I mean. A while back I caused a ruckus in the comments section of this blog because I insinuated that there were things that women could do to reduce the chance of sexual assault, and we should teach these to our daughters. I never said that we could eliminate rape–but I said that we could reduce it.

People kept taking issue with me, so I kept writing follow-up posts, and the comments grew worse and worse. One commenter really summed up the other side perfectly. She said (and I paraphrase):

Women should be able to wear whatever they want and go wherever they want. You should be talking to the men, not to the women!

She was a little ruder than that, but I’ll leave out the colorful language.

What a strange comment, though. OF COURSE women should be able to wear what they want and do what they want without getting raped. We should live in a world where there is no abuse, no rape, no children in poverty, no wars, and no violence. But we don’t live in that world. And since we don’t, what steps can we take to protect ourselves?

They were focusing so much on what SHOULD be that they refused to acknowledge that there were any steps you could take to make our present life, the one we are living in right now, even the least bit better. It was all or nothing.


Have you ever felt that way about your marriage? I once knew a woman who eventually left her husband, who explained it to me this way:

God created marriage to be a joining of two human beings–an institution where we’re able to communicate, and love, and respect, and share ideas and share vision and purpose. He created marriage to build us up, not to tear us down. He created marriage to be part of our fulfillment, not part of our destruction. My husband didn’t know how to communicate. He never listened to me. He never talked to me; he only ever talked past me. He used sex just to satisfy himself. In other words, it wasn’t actually a marriage. And so I ended it.

I have no doubt that her marriage was extremely difficult, but do you see the problem with her position? She was saying that because her marriage was not one in which two individuals were completely joined, it was thus not a marriage. God intended marriage to be fulfilling; it was not, therefore the argument about whether one had biblical grounds to divorce was moot because this wasn’t even marriage!

Her 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 they can–and these marriages are obviously not a complete joining of minds and ideals.

This woman was looking for the best; she didn’t find it, so therefore she invalidated everything else.

Many of us enter marriage with similar thoughts. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we can completely bear our souls. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we are unconditionally cherished. Marriage SHOULD be a place where we find our best friend. Then, when the should doesn’t happen, we give up. That’s how things SHOULD be, and we can’t settle for second best. We don’t look at little changes that we could make to grow the marriage, or to grow our communication, because we figure that he is just hopeless. He’s so out of touch with what a husband should be, that growth is well nigh impossible.

None of us is perfect, though, and I think we need a different strategy. If your husband isn’t a good communicator, or sulks constantly, or watches too much TV (or plays too many video games), or never spends any time with the kids, that doesn’t invalidate your marriage, and it doesn’t mean that things can’t get better. After all, by staying away from drunken parties, girls can drastically reduce their risk of date rape. Similarly, by learning new communication techniques, you can drastically reduce your risk of growing apart and ending the relationship. You can do things to move in the right direction, even if those things won’t give you 100% change. They can still make your life significantly better.

What I would suggest, then, is that we stop looking at what marriage is supposed to be in the ideal, and we start looking at what we can do to make things better. In other words, quit focusing so much on the destination, and focus instead on the direction. Move forward, even if it’s slowly, and you will eventually get there. Focus so much on the finish line, and how far it is away from your current position, and you can quickly lose heart.

This applies to aspects of marriage, too. I was at a place in our marriage once where everything was going really well–except sex. It’s not that it was horrible; it just wasn’t what it was supposed to be, according to the media and all the sermons I heard about how God created sex to be wonderful. For a few years, I gave up. It’s not that we didn’t make love; it’s just that my attitude was one of: “this just isn’t for me. It’s all for him, and I’ll just get through it.” I believed that if it wasn’t the ideal, then I had been gypped, and there was no point in even trying.

It was only when I had an attitude shift where I started to ask whether I could believe that it could get better–even if it was slowly. When I made the mental shift, then the way I acted also changed.

Whether it’s in your marriage as a whole or in individual parts of your marriage, don’t give up because you haven’t reached the ideal. Ask God to help you make baby steps, because those steps can add up! Ask Him to give you a new heart to grow, even if it’s slowly, because moving in the right direction gives you a new attitude or outlook on your marriage which is so much more energizing.

Whatever you do, don’t let the best become an enemy of that real, helpful change.

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!