Marital Betrayal Is Not Your Fault, but What’s Your Part?

When my wife of eighteen years closed the door on our marriage and drove away to meet her lover, I crumpled to the floor and sobbed uncontrollably. The news of her nine-month affair and her decision to leave me and our two children came just minutes apart, and out of nowhere. We never fought. We had just purchased a new home and had just planned the next five years of our family’s future. We had left our old marital difficulties behind and had built a strong intimacy before moving to Dallas to attend seminary. Our children openly boasted about the health of their parents’ marriage and the stability of our home. Everything was good.

Or so I thought.

The road to recovery was long and dark. I crawled at first. Then, I managed to hobble. In time, I grew strong enough to take long strides and recover from inevitable tumbles quickly. Eventually, I grew strong enough to stand up straight and ask myself a painfully difficult question: “What was my part?”

Find out how I answered that question, and how it applies to wives of porn addicts at the Breaking Free blog at CovenantEyes.com.

The Problem of Divorce

When speaking or writing on the topic of divorce, I inevitably encounter someone quoting Mal. 2:16, “For I hate divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel,” and usually with a kind of “so there!” attitude that settles a matter. This perplexed me at first. It’s like screaming at an oncologist, “Cancer is evil!”

Eventually, I came to realize that many Christians simply have no exposure to this terribly complex, deeply sorrowful issue. And to that, I say “Amen!” May nothing strip them of their innocence. Would to God the rest of us could return. Unfortunately, we must deal with life as it is.

The problem is evil. It’s terribly confusing for those who believe that God is all-powerful, sovereign over creation, and fundamentally good. God hates evil and He’s all-powerful, so why does He allow evil to continue? This “problem of evil,” as it is called by philosophers, also makes divorce difficult for believers to comprehend, especially as it relates to filing the necessary forms with the court. Continue reading “The Problem of Divorce”

Tough Love Must Stand Firm

The primary purpose for confronting a wayward spouse with his or her sin is to bring about genuine repentance (Matthew 18:15). Only then can a couple can begin the process of rebuilding trust and restoring intimacy. Unfortunately, the forgiving spouse may actually discourage repentance by becoming too eager for reconciliation. At the first sign of regret or remorse, he or she leaps to the rescue with forgiveness, only to suffer the pain of a repeat offense.

Feelings of regret and remorse are good and necessary; they often prompt genuine repentance. But feelings without actions do not produce the kind of change necessary for restoring broken relationships. While a sinning spouse wrestles with his or her conscience, the upright spouse must neither press harder for a decision nor relieve any tension created by the confrontation. Watching a loved one struggle with emotional pain can be heartrending; however, that is the time to remain steadfast, even if it feels like pouring sand into an open wound.

On the other hand, many wayward spouses respond to confrontation with hostility and then pursue their sinful paths with even greater determination. This, too, might weaken an upright spouse’s resolve, causing him or her to wonder, What’s the point of godly confrontation if nothing I do will change anything? A letter[1] from “Stephen” gave me an opportunity to clarify the purpose of godly confrontation and the need to stand fast, regardless of the sinning partner’s emotional response. Continue reading “Tough Love Must Stand Firm”

What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out

02 - Walkaway Spouse 1 Cropped (iStock_000007434507Small)

After twenty-seven years of marriage, “John” suddenly found himself the sole caretaker of a dying marriage, helplessly watching his wife move toward the door, first emotionally, then literally. Her wanting out might have made sense if he had done something wrong, but she offered no insight, other than, “she has been unhappy for 20 years and now isn’t sure that she is in love with him or wants to stay in the marriage.”

John explained his difficulty in a letter asking for suggestions on how to rescue his marriage.

She has told me that there isn’t another man and I believe that this is true. I am devastated and don’t know how to proceed. She is currently getting counseling, but doesn’t want to share information with me or to discuss details of her counseling or her feelings. I have suggested that we seek counseling together and she has told me that she doesn’t want to do that yet. She has asked me to give her time to sort things out, but has been very direct in telling me that divorce is a possible and maybe likely solution.”

Because men detest the feeling of helplessness, they typically spring into action with the best of intentions, only to reap disastrous consequences. First, they chase after the woman they fear losing, which only causes her to flee farther and faster. Then, they resort to begging, which women find even more repulsive. Finally, unable to bear uncertainty for very long, anxious husbands resolve the stalemate by pushing her out the door. Fortunately, John is wiser than most men. He recognized the futility of acting on his instincts.

I am willing to be patient while my wife works through her feelings with her counselor, but I am afraid that she will make a decision to proceed with a divorce without making an attempt to resolve things together. I don’t want to be passive and just have things happen, but I also don’t want to be demanding and drive my wife further away.”

In my book, Redemptive Divorce, I discourage passivity when one’s partner destroys the marriage by stubbornly pursuing sin, but John’s wife has not yet done anything to compromise their union. She is not involved in another relationship, she has not turned to drugs or alcohol, she has not filed for divorce, and she hasn’t moved out of their home. Instead, she has expressed deep dissatisfaction with the marriage and her husband, honestly communicated her emotions, and has even sought Christian counsel. These are positive—albeit painful—responses on her part. In John’s case, a “tough-love” confrontation is not appropriate. However, he doesn’t have to remain passive. Continue reading “What to Do When She’s Ready to Walk Out”

Legal Myth #5

Those who find themselves the sole caretaker of a dead marriage almost always struggle to overcome feelings of guilt for even considering divorce. And should they actually follow through with divorce, they typically struggle with shame for the rest of their lives. Moreover, these feelings of guilt and self-doubt are often reinforced by family, friends, and church leaders, who sincerely share a strong aversion to the divorce decree. That’s because myth #5 is perhaps the most compelling of all.

Myth #5: A legal decree of divorce separates “what God has joined together.”

 

The truth is, a divorce decree doesn’t end a marriage any more than a death certificate kills a person. Unrepentant sin renders a marriage null and void. The decree is merely a formal declaration in writing of what has already occurred in life.

Consider this letter received from “Karen.” (Naturally, I have altered her name and masked any details that would identify her.)

A little more than two years ago, my husband left me and our two small children Luke and Joy. He moved to a family member’s house in the same town while he continues to see his mistress, who lives in a nearby state. He helps to support her but he doesn’t provide financial support for our children.

What should I do? The people in my church family say that I should be patient and let the Lord convict him of his sin. They have discouraged me from going to court. Should I file for child support? Should I file for divorce?

Please help me pray. I need the Lord’s help. My husband needs to do what is right. Please pray that his mistress will realize what she’s doing to our family. My children deserve a normal life instead of this.

Karen

In truth, Karen is divorced in every respect except in the eyes of the government. In the eyes of God, she has been abandoned and is, therefore, “not under bondage” (1 Corinthians 7:15). That is to say, she is morally free to move on with her life and to remarry if she chooses, just as a widow is no longer “bound” to her husband and “free to remarry” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Filing for divorce does nothing more than inform the state, “This marriage is over because at least one person, by virtue of his or her actions, has decided to end it.” This document also helps to protect the upright spouse from the consequences of the wayward spouse’s immoral or illegal behavior. Furthermore, it safeguards the interests of the children, who have the least control of anyone involved.

In most cases, and by most standards, the marriage is “over” long before anyone declares it to the state. The mystical union has been treated with contempt, and the covenant has been run through the shredder. Unfortunately, we place such significance on the divorce decree that, if we are not careful, we can allow it to become an instrument of denial instead of a possible means of redemption. Imagine how absurd it would be for a community to refuse a death certificate merely because no one wanted to accept that a person is dead. Meanwhile, the family of the deceased cannot move forward, feeling guilty for “giving up,” yet left alone to care for a corpse as though it were alive. How much better it would be if the community could surround the upright spouse and affirm the reality that the marriage is over, and then commit themselves to helping their wounded brother or sister face the future.

Let us set aside the myth that a divorce degree separates what “God has joined together.” A marriage license does not make a marriage. God joins people together, not the State. Likewise, a divorce decree does not end a marriage; unrepentant sin does that.

Why do you think this myth remains so persuasive in the body of Christ? What can we do to dispel such myths? Until we do, local church bodies will remain powerless to deal with the real problems of people. Let me know what you think.

Legal System Myth #2

Abandoned partners are often heard to say, “I don’t believe in divorce.” This, of course, is merely the summation of a complex system of belief. Here is what they really mean to say:

My spouse may not intend to honor our vows, but I will. If this marriage ends in divorce, I will not be the guilty party. Furthermore, this dispute doesn’t belong in court; therefore, I will not enable my spouse’s sin by participating in legal action. Besides, I command the moral high ground in this situation, so I don’t have to worry about the outcome if this eventually lands in court. Any judge will see that the truth is on my side.

 Consequently, abandoned partners feel no need to contact an attorney or to respond to their mate’s legal action. Yet, eventually and without exception, they find themselves bewildered and victimized once the judge taps the gavel and signs the final decree. That’s because their entire rationale is founded upon a common myth.

Myth #2: Courts care about who is at fault in the breakup of a marriage and will favor the innocent party.

At one time, courts would only grant a divorce when one partner could prove the other to be at fault for the failure of the marriage. The grounds for divorce differed slightly in each state, but most recognized the obvious: infidelity, abandonment, abuse, or extreme neglect. Furthermore, the court would consider the severity of these grounds when awarding spousal support, child custody, and property to the innocent party. That’s because the courts considered marriage a covenant—a contract—between two people. In order to divorce, one partner had to show that the other was “in breach of contract” or “at fault” for breaking their agreement, the terms of which had been spoken before witnesses at their wedding ceremony.

Of course, the partners could mutually agree to dissolve their contract. However, unless both of them agreed to divorce, “fault” would have to be proven.

In 1970, the advent of the so-called “no-fault” divorce changed everything. As of 1985, nearly every state recognizes some form of “no-fault” divorce, which allows one party to divorce the other without having to prove “grounds.” In fact, one doesn’t even have to gain the consent of his or her spouse. The court merely declares the marriage dissolved because at least one partner claims the union is irretrievably broken and beyond hope of reconciliation.

Because neither partner is considered at fault for the failure of the marriage, neither can be punished when dividing property or deciding the fate of any children involved. All financial and practical matters of the divorce settlement depend on a number of other factors, such as how long the couple was married, the potential earning ability of each spouse, how much each partner contributed to the family’s financial status, and who provided primary care for the children. These “no-fault” statutes require the equitable distribution of all property; therefore, any settlement that divides property in such a way as to punish either spouse will not survive if challenged in court. Unfortunately, this means that someone can be guilty of infidelity, abuse, abandonment, or any number of marriage-killing behaviors, yet emerge from divorce court completely unscathed.

We can bemoan the unfairness of “no-fault” statutes—in fact, many have acknowledged that they have caused more harm than good—however, they are not likely to change soon. Therefore, we are better to deal with life as it is. At present, the courts depend upon both parties fully engaging in the process. The judge has no choice but to act on the information he or she has, so if only one partner presents his or her case, then the judge will use that that information as the basis for all decisions . . . even if that information is deceitful or incomplete. It is not uncommon for the morally guilty spouse to emerge from the courtroom with an unfair share of the family’s money, property, and even custody of the children, all because the victimized spouse failed to engage in the legal process.

It is a sad fact that we must accept as the better part of wisdom: the legal system doesn’t favor the person who is right; the legal system favors the person who is better prepared.

Look for Myths #3 and #4.

Abandoned . . . Bewildered . . . and Searching for Answers

Walkaway Spouse 1 Cropped (iStock_000007434507Small)

The following letter from a reader illustrates a very common problem among Christians.

I am facing divorce. I want to reconcile with my wife but she is unwilling at this point. I believe as followers of Jesus that there is no room for not seeking reconciliation and so I am not wanting to even participate in divorce proceedings, mostly out of hope that she will reconsider. So I am not sure even what to do. There is no adultery or abuse or any grounds. She just wants a different life without me.
 
Even if the worst happens, I want to do my best to honor the Lord, my commitment, and to offer love and forgiveness in the hope of reconciliation.

Blessings,
Steve

Naturally, I changed the man’s name to protect his identity; however, I didn’t alter the details of his circumstances. I didn’t have to. His situation is so tragically common, this letter could have come from any one of a thousand different men or women over the last couple of months. He finds himself abandoned, bewildered, and timidly trusting that no response is the best response.

Continue reading “Abandoned . . . Bewildered . . . and Searching for Answers”