When is it permissible to leave your marriage after your spouse has seriously broken the marriage covenant?

I’ve been talking all week about big marriage problems (Phew! It’s been a big week. Don’t worry; next week we’re moving on to how to love your husband and have fun with him!). And I thought I’d end the week with this question from a reader.

I have caught my husband (a part time pastor, full time soldier) in yet another affair. This has happened before and I found out many years later and most recently, they are emotional affairs, online sex chats, porn use, etc. He’s a textbook narcissist, and I just want a divorce at this point. He won’t grant me one without a fight and tries to justify everything he has done using “scriptural reference” and turning the situations back to being my fault. I finally told a trusted friend/counselor a few months ago. I’ve kept the secrets so long (16 years) out of fear and shame. Is it time to just call it done? Our son is 12 and I’m worried he will turn into his father from living with him for so long.

I am so sorry for this woman. I really am. It’s heartbreaking especially when the man is “in the ministry” and claims to be working for God. Here’s another question that’s similar (though without the pastoral aspect):

My wife has been varying in a double life for over a decade. When we married she was a Christian and I was not. About 4 years ago while my wife was acting out with an ex boyfriend I hit rock bottom and came to Christ. It changed my life. I became a better husband and father. Life went well with my wife for several years but her addiction came back again and a few months ago I caught her having an affair. She has since been diagnosed as a sex and romance addict. She is starting a treatment program but she is almost the only female addict in groups of male sex addicts. She knows what she needs to do and tells me she loves me more than anything and really wants her family. But she is continuing to see her affair partner but begging me to stay because she just knows that her affair will be over soon as she goes through recovery. Now that it is all out in the open she is communicating better than she ever has, but I still have next to zero trust. The bible says I can leave due to her infidelity. However I also understand the stores of Hosea. I do feel an overwhelming pressure to help her to recover. I love your blog and would love to hear what you have to say about this.

Let me share with you some wisdom that I learned from a man who had worked in marriage ministry his whole life.

He said, “when there is a marriage problem and both people are willing to work at it, then no matter how big the problem is, that marriage has a 95% chance of making it and turning out well. But if only one person is willing to work at it? Then that marriage only has a 50% chance of making it, no matter how small the problem is.”

The moral of the story?

You can’t fix a marriage on your own.

You just can’t.

Now, there is no formula for what you should do now. Sometimes God asks us to wait, because He is doing something incredible behind the scenes and it just will take more time. And sometimes God frees us to move on. I can’t tell you what to do, because I don’t know your situation. And that’s why we have to draw very close to God in these hard times so that we can hear His voice.

But I will point you to some posts on difficult marriages that can help you think through this issue right now.

Can I give up on my marriage?

You’ve done everything. You’ve bent over backwards. And still your spouse doesn’t seem to be changing. Should you give up and move on?

How to Be a Spouse, Not an Enabler

In many ways, this was the post that inspired my book 9 Thoughts that Can Change a Marriage. The day I wrote this was the day I started to think differently about marriage. Up until then I was really focused on how to show your husband love. On that day, I realized that being truly loving meant wanting the best for your spouse, and the best meant pointing them to God, not enabling sin. Sometimes we have to take a stance. And this may be the most important post these readers read!

But along with it, I challenge  you to read 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. It gets to the heart of how we can act in marriage so that we point people to Jesus in our everyday life, rather than acting in such a way that we excuse sin. And it helps us reveal the dark sides of our own hearts, too. Plus it’s likely my most honest book–I share so many of my own personal struggles. So I encourage you to check it out!

51ARlATfBaL - When Can I Leave My Marriage? How to Know if You've Done Enough

When is it okay to give up trying to get my ex back?

If you’ve been separated for a time, is it okay to move on? What if you believe that marriage is for life? Is there a point where you can say, “I’m moving on, no matter what my ex does?”

I’m living in a loveless marriage. What do I do?

What if you’re in a loveless marriage and your spouse doesn’t seem to care about you at all. How do you move forward? Do you have to stay?

Why I’m Anti-Divorce, but Pro-Remarriage

If you’re wondering if divorce is ever okay, and if you’re permitted to leave, here are my thoughts on the issue.

Discovering Your Spouse is Having an Affair

You’ve discovered the affair. Now what’s your next step? What do you do? Here are some thoughts (and some book suggestions) that help you make wise decisions at these difficult moments.

I hope those will help. And please know–we pray for all of you everyday. We get so many emails like this into the inbox each and every day of the year, and we can’t answer them all personally. But I know so many of you reading this blog are dealing with this. Just know that we care. We feel overwhelmed sometimes, but we care.

And if you’re a regular reader, but you AREN’T dealing with this right now, could you say a prayer, too? Just for all the hurting people who are reading this blog? And then maybe leave a comment, to let people know that they are being prayed for?

I know it’s a lonely road. I wish there were more I could do. This is so, so hard. But we do care. And God sees. And He cares deeply, too. Never doubt that.

When Can I Leave My Marriage?

SheilaSidebarAboutMe - When Can I Leave My Marriage? How to Know if You've Done Enough Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 27 years and happily married for 22! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books. About sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
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