“Divorce should be the last option for believers.” You’ve probably heard, perhaps even spoken, those words.
A few weeks ago, I changed the direction of this website and ministry. In a kinda big way.
I talked about the new direction and my reasons in this blog post: Why I’ve Deleted My Books, Courses, and Over 200 Blog Posts.
The gist of it: I’m now pro-healthy marriage, not just pro-marriage. (And this blog post explains the difference.)
I was blown away by everyone’s response – a lot of grace and love. It was a tough article to share, and I had braced myself for possible backlash and well-deserved criticism.
A few people didn’t think my explanation was necessary. Others left the community.
But I’m over here grateful for the love and understanding extended to me. I read the emails, private messages, and hundreds of FB comments from that initial post.
If you’re still here, still reading this, I want you to know I see you and your presence blesses me.
My new direction isn’t for everyone, though I wish it were. I’ve been blogging for over ten years, and people followed me for the hopeful, encouraging marriage stuff. I get it if the new direction sounds too heavy.
Truth be told though, I believe we folks in healthy marriages desperately need to know how harmful dynamics in marriage look like.
It’s easy to be in a silo when everything is working out for us. And by “everything working out,” I mean healthy marriages do not have one person trying to destroy the other through overt or covert destructive habits.
People in healthy marriages don’t intuitively know what destruction in marriage feels like. And our ignorance can be costly.
So we need to educate ourselves because
1. We need to deepen our own intimacy as we let go of erroneous teachings and beliefs.
2 We need to be equipped to better support those in our communities in harmful marriages. (“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking..” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.)
Which brings us to today’s thoughts on divorce.
Should Divorce Be The Very Last Option?
In the last few weeks, I’ve heard it often repeated that divorce should be the very last option for couples.
After reading a couple of those, I have realized that many believers don’t understand what they are actually stating when they say, “Divorce should be the last option for believers.”
When we say divorce should be “the very last option” for marriages where abuse and chronic neglect are present, we’re actually saying (among other things) that there should be some consensus between victim and abuser/neglector.
We’re saying the person who has violated the sacred marriage covenant should get a seat at the rescue and safety table. That they get to define when enough is enough.
Saying “people shouldn’t rush into divorce” assumes the abuser hasn’t done any rushing, that they are innocent. That by their destructive unrepentant actions, the abuser isn’t already actively breaking up the marriage.
"Physical, mental or emotional abuse in a marriage rejects God and His will for marriage (Ephesians 5:25-31), and an abuser commits spiritual adultery against God and spouse by rejecting God…having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:1-5)." Pastor Patrick Weaver
The “divorce should be a last option” thought fails to recognize that many abusers don’t actually leave their marriages. They don’t think they have a problem to begin with, so they prefer to stay while pressuring their target to accept their abuse as normal.
They have hardened hearts, and it’s impossible to talk reason with them. The boundary line for what is healthy is very blurred, even non-existent.
Asking the victim of their abuse to hang in there until they can’t anymore puts the suffering person in limbo because there’s always one more trip around the guilt and shame mountain.
What else should she do? Exactly when does she ring the “last option” bell? How much is too much? When to draw the “last option” line? And with whom?
Abuse is not a normal marriage problem, where two healthy individuals are trying to work out individual and relationship problems. Abuse in marriage often involves one person feeling entitled and another serving that entitlement.
It involves one person exerting control (directly or indirectly) over another and the other submitting to it or wondering what in the world is going on.
Abuse involves one person neglecting their responsibility, refusing to own up to their problems while their mate is breaking under the weight of carrying all the responsibility.
Do you see why “divorce should be the very last option” is super skewed?
Because the suffering spouse is already past their breaking point. They should be taking the bus out of town, but the “divorce should be the last option” mindset asks them to continue taking laps around the slaughterhouse.
Abuse, chronic abandonment, criminal behavior, and unrepentant sin are intentional destruction of God’s image-bearers.
At what point is divorce the best option?
Ultimately, the only person who gets a vote on when to walk away is the person who lives the horror of abuse.
In other words, I am not telling women to up and leave because, as we’ve shared before, women just can’t do that. See this post “But Why Doesn’t She Just Leave Him?” 40 Reasons Women Stay in Destructive Marriages.
What I’m saying is, as believers, the words we speak into these types of situations matter.
Let’s not take away people’s voices by prioritizing the institution of marriage over their safety. Let us stop assuming power where we have none.
Can Abusive People Can Change?
Absolutely. An abusive person can change. And perhaps, as a result, a marriage can be restored.
Yet, the truth is, statistically, the chances of an abusive, destructive person changing are not super high. See The Spectrum of an Abuser.
Further, just because an abusive person has changed does not mean reconciliation is even a dot on the horizon. The spouse who has been abused would be under no obligation to reconcile with her abuser, even if the abuser changed. See When Your Husband and Pastor Demand Reconciliation and Forgiveness.
Bottom-line: Divorce can be life saving (affiliate.) And I hope we can all start seeing it that way.
“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.” 1 Corinthians 7:15 NIV
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 2:6 ESV
“And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9 ESV
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