My dear friend,
I was saddened, but not wholly surprised, to hear you are thinking about divorce.
As I understand it, over the years you and your husband have argued with increasing bitterness. He doesn’t appreciate your many sacrifices on his behalf. He’s not a great provider. Glued to his phone, he ignores the kids and their needs unless you remind him. You look at old photos and cry, unable to recapture the passion you know you must have felt. It’s hard to admit, but sometimes you feel repulsed by the man you are supposed to love. The world is in crisis, and your marriage feels like one more disaster. You want out.
The world is in crisis, and your marriage feels like one more disaster. You want out.
I know you love Christ and want to serve him. You also know that God forbids divorce, except in certain cases like adultery, abuse, and abandonment (Matt. 5:23; 1 Cor. 7:15). But you are struggling. You don’t have biblical grounds for divorce, but your marriage is loveless and filled with fighting. It’s hard to imagine God wants you to stay.
This is the place where imagination is most needed. I want you to see and believe that marriage is bigger, much bigger, than our individual happiness. God himself conducted the first wedding ceremony, fashioning Eve and presenting her to Adam (Gen. 2:21–24). Even after sin entered the world, God’s good plan for marriage continued. Jesus still said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9). Divorce goes against created order, rips the cosmos.
Divorce also spoils our witness to the gospel. Marriage is a living metaphor of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:22–33). Of course, fallen husbands do not, and cannot, love their wives as deeply as Christ loves the church. And until the day sin is finally vanquished, fallen wives will struggle to submit to their husbands. We model spiritual truths imperfectly. Even so, the gospel shines through our embodied picture, sometimes loudly and sometimes softly—until divorce shatters that picture.
Perhaps your imagination still fails you. Intellectually, you understand God’s great design for marriage. At the same time, it seems impossible to remain, day after day, with this husband who continually fails you. May I offer some thoughts from hard experience?
I Have Been There
I was divorced after three children and 10 years of marriage. Since that time, almost two decades ago, I have counseled many women weathering divorce and its aftermath. I can tell you confidently that divorce is worse than you think. If you go through with divorce, you will experience extreme emotional distress, including sadness, anger, and shame. You will feel alone. Conflict with your husband will probably accelerate, pulling friends and family into the vortex. And you will lose any semblance of control over your life.
Perhaps you are prepared for personal pain. Yet I implore you, my sister, to think about your children. For children, divorce “blows up the planet.” Your children will experience catastrophic levels of emotional distress, unmitigated by the maturity of adult understanding. In addition, decades of research have shown us that children in single-parent households are more vulnerable to poverty, abuse, and school failure.
My children endured a staggering level of psychological trauma from my divorce and the subsequent custody litigation. Countless therapy appointments did little to ease their existential wounds. Today, we hug each other and thank God, with tears, that we made it to the other side. For more than a decade, that outcome was far from certain.
I can tell you confidently that divorce is worse than you think.
I also wonder whether you have counted the financial impact of divorce (Luke 14:28–32). It seems your finances are already stretched, and a source of conflict. Divorce will stretch them further, to the breaking point and beyond.
First, it is always more expensive to maintain two households. Expect your standard of living to drop immediately. You may have to live with parents, or move into a smaller apartment with roommates.
Second, it is difficult to get a divorce without attorney involvement. And lawyers are incredibly expensive. Even if you have parents or other family members willing to help now, they will soon realize that divorce is a money pit. Think home-mortgage levels of debt, but with nothing to show for it.
You may have hopes for a loving, happy relationship post-divorce, with a different man. Although some women do remarry, the grass is rarely greener on the other side. My husband, John, and I have been married for 17 years. During premarital counseling, our pastor warned us that blended family life is hard, and that second marriages have a higher rate of divorce than first marriages. We forged ahead, believing our love would beat the odds.
Solely through the grace of God, John and I did make it to the other side. Our kids are grown now, and we are happy and thankful to be married to each other. But our pastor was also right. Blended family life was very, very hard. Again, for more than a decade, the outcome was far from certain.
God hates divorce, and for good reason (Mal. 2:16). Christians must learn to hate what God hates, including divorce (Ps. 139:21-22). I urge you, in the power Christ provides, to fight tirelessly for your marriage. Trust that God has given you all the resources you need to be faithful.
Use this time to turbo-charge your private prayer and Scripture reading. Seek counsel from church elders and older, wiser believers. If your husband agrees to go with you, great. But if not, go alone. The most important battle is in your own heart, resisting the voices of envy and discontent. Beg God for strength to forgive the past, to treat your husband kindly, one day at a time, especially when he doesn’t deserve it.
The most important battle is in your own heart.
Of course, your marriage may still be torn asunder, despite your best efforts. I had to face the sad fact that restoration of my first marriage was not possible. Nonetheless, we know God’s grace is sufficient in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Even through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (an apt description of divorce), God promises to walk with us (Ps. 23:4). But for now, while your marriage still lives, there is hope (Eccl. 9:4).
For yourself, your family, and the gospel, I pray you will firmly and finally put all thought of divorce behind you. Take up your cross and follow Christ in all things (Matt. 16:24–25). He promises you will find abundant life.