When the Pharisees asked Jesus in Matthew 19, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?”, Jesus lamented that divorce is not what God intended for marriage. But he also explained that divorce was given to Moses because of the hardness of the human heart. It does not take much convincing to see that hard heartedness still persists today.
Simply put, some behaviors can break marriages permanently. Usually such behaviors build over time, and a first step to healthier boundaries and greater safety may be separation. It may begin with simple distance, and then progress to a legal agreement. You may need to protect not only your kids but also your legal assets. The goal of the separation is both to insure your safety as well as to test the commitment of the erring spouse. One hopes a separation will end in health and reconciliation, but it may also end in permanent divorce. Divorce is never the ideal, but there are times when the hardness of a spouse’s heart suggest that it might be necessary.
Hitting is never, ever, allowed or acceptable. If you or your children are in danger, call the Domestic Violence Hotline and get out. Take the initiative and seek shelter from abuse. We are all made in God’s image and should not subject that image to abuse. Submitting ourselves to physical or verbal abuse devalues our identity as image bearers of God. The emotional abuse of being repeatedly lied to erodes trust and destroys relationships. Allowing abuse to persist without boundaries communicates to the abuser that this behavior is acceptable and invites more disrespect. It also allows the abuser to fail to get help and get better. Any cycle of abuse needs to be broken if healing is to be found. And when an abuser is unrepentant and unwilling or unable to change, hard boundaries can be necessary.
Addictive behavior is dangerous to everyone that it touches. A spouse addicted to porn, gambling, or drugs sets an unhealthy model for children and then endangers them directly. If your bank account is cleared out to support an addiction or your children are being driven around by an intoxicated parent, it is destructive to your family. Boundaries need to be placed around addictive behaviors. If a spouse is willing to seek treatment and honor boundaries related to recovery, you can work on getting well together. But if a spouse is unwilling to seek treatment and work on treating both the addiction and the underlying causes, hard boundaries may ultimately be necessary to shield you or your children from harm.
1 Corinthians 7:15 talks about letting an unbelieving spouse walk away if they have had enough. A believing spouse is encouraged to stick with a marriage if their unbelieving partner is willing, but if an unbelieving spouse walks away, the Bible says the remaining spouse should not be “enslaved” to a marriage with an absent spouse. Abandonment can break a marriage. If your unbelieving spouse has no willingness to persist in the marriage, your paths may need to diverge.
Adultery is extremely destructive to marriage. It’s an obvious violation of marital vows, even explicitly mentioned in scripture as one of the ways marriages break. Yet, marriages can survive past affairs and move toward restored trust and intimacy. But such restoration can happen only if the couple is fully re-committed to each other. The unfaithful spouse must sever the ties of infidelity and change behaviors that led to it. Both spouses will likely need significant counseling together to rebuild their trust. A marriage requires the intimacy of a husband and wife alone. There is no ability to move forward if a third parties remain involved.
As soon as your marriage feels like it’s in trouble, getting advice from a counselor is a wise choice. A counselor can guide you through what’s normal for stressed couples and help you navigate good choices around bad behavior. And when you have invested the time and energy into seeking earnestly to repair your relationship without success, a counselor can also help you recognize when your relationship is no longer salvageable, but has instead become destructive. A marriage that damages more than it helps is a hard truth, but one that is easier to live with if you can honestly say that you tried every means at your disposal to work toward healing.
It is difficult to fix a relationship when you are the only one working at it. Bearing the burden of trying to repair a marriage alone can work for a time. All marriages have seasons where things are difficult and we sacrifice for our spouses. But over the long haul, a one-sided marriage will only result in burnout and probably expose you to unhealthy behaviors. Carrying the full weight of your relationship is an ineffective long term solution. A licensed counselor can help you see when the burden has become too much.
Marriages break, and deciding precisely when to end a marriage is never easy. Divorce is not what God intended for marriage, but sometimes it is the best way forward. It’s never easy, but God will not leave you alone in your pain. He will walk with you even through the dark valley of marital conflict, and by leaning on him, you can find hope and healing for moving forward.
For additional resources, our sister ministry, Kids Corner, is offering a free ebook on divorce called “God's Got You Covered.” Using biblical teaching, Kids Corner episodes, and activities, this ebook provides helpful reflections for kids and suggests usable strategies to help for kids and parents talk about divorce. http://kidscorner.reframemedia...
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra