How “no divorce ever” hurts people
Speaking of divorce (and because it’s been awhile since I got any good hate email):
If marriage is something you do for as long as you like it (a view I don’t agree with) then marriage seems like no big deal: try it, and if you fail, you bail, and try again. Of course, the research shows that this does not work – even if a person sees divorce as no big deal, the results are devastating, and each divorce reduces the odds of a good marriage in the future. In reality, divorce is more like cutting off a gangrene arm or leg – even if it’s the best choice it’s a horrible thing to do, and you carry the scars, limitations, and regret of the action for the rest of your life.
That said, a “no divorce, ever, no matter what” mentality can also causes problems. If both husband and wife feel this way, and both are committed to doing whatever it takes to make it work, then it’s okay. However, if only one person is willing to work on it, they are at the mercy – or lack of mercy – of their spouse who is not willing to do what is needed. If you look at subcultures that “don’t allow” divorce (including some churches) you don’t find as many great marriages you would expect. Sure, some are great, some good, some not so good, and so on; but you also find a higher rate of very bad marriages than in other groups. You find women dying at a younger age, more depression in women, and far more women who are deeply hurt and feeling trapped in their marriages. You also see more women who “leave the faith” so they can divorce and not become an outcast.
I am not arguing for divorce here, or for churches to be less concerned about divorce. What I am arguing for is being far more concerned about marriages being good and healthy for every husband and wife. If a man or woman is abusive, addicted, involved in adultery, or abusing their children, and the churches only (or primary) response is to tell that person’s spouse that they “are not allowed to divorce” then the church is enabling the wrong behaviour, and tacitly approving of more of the same.
How can a church (or denomination) preach passages against divorce while failing to preach passages that tell husbands and wives what they should be doing? How does an individual or church have the moral authority to tell someone to not divorce when they refuse to tell the clearly wrong spouse they need to change? Don’t hide behind “privacy” or “not getting involved” – neither of these are concepts you can support biblically.
If we want to reduce divorce in the church, we need to do it by working to strengthen and heal marriages. We need to do it by trying to delay marriages when couples are not ready, and by stopping engagments that are clearly train wrecks in the making. We need to support newly-weds, and come alongside any marriage in trouble. We need to tell folks that failing to be a loving spouse is a sin. We need to call folks on marital sin and short fallings. If we did more of this, we would not need to do nearly as much telling folks they should not divorce, and we would not become jailers for folks in abusive, destructive, and toxic marriages.
Bottom line: Trying to keep folks where they don’t want to be is far more difficult and far less successful than trying to make where they are a place they want to be.
The personal implication: If you are relying on “she knows she can’t leave me” to keep your marriage, you are in a very bad place.
Image Credit: © Nikolai Sorokin | Dreamstime.com