When you married, you pledged that you would stay together until death do you part.
Now I know many of you completely believed that then, and you still do today.
But other women are really struggling with this. They’re extremely lonely. They cry almost everyday. They’ve sought out counseling because the marriage is so difficult. They’re worried about their kids.
They want a new start at life, where no one is telling them what to do, criticizing them, or perhaps worse, ignoring them. I know some women who have prayed for their husbands to have affairs so that they would have biblical justification in leaving him. And I have talked to other women who have said that they find the whole affair justification strange, because having a one night stand is not nearly as bad as what her husband does to her on a daily basis, but her friend with a husband who had a fling can leave, and she can’t. It doesn’t seem fair.
No, it doesn’t. But here’s the thing: God never promised it would be. I really struggle with the idea that divorce is off limits when I talk to some of these women, because I truly feel for them, and I truly do think their husbands are horrible.
However, just because your marriage is horrible is not justification for ending it. One Christian writer I know well told me that she left her husband because he had violated his marriage vows to love her. He had an anger problem, and even though he wasn’t abusive, he was often angry and sullen, and demanded sex all the time. She felt that the Christian view of marriage was “oneness”. We have been made one, we treat each other with respect and love, and God intended for us to be connected. When that hasn’t happened, as in her case, then you’re justified in leaving.
I don’t believe this. Yes, God intended marriage ideally to be a certain way, but He never says anywhere in Scripture that if the ideal is not met we are welcome to violate our vows. When you marry, you make a vow before God. God takes that seriously. I don’t think we understand that because we live in a society where fulfillment and happiness are the prime goals. To continue in a relationship which drains your spirit rather than fills it seems like a sin in and of itself.
But for whatever reason, God made marriage this way. He gave only a very narrow excuse for leaving, and even then, He doesn’t command us to leave. He just leaves the door open, should we choose to do so. God wanted relationships to be permanent, even if they are far from perfect. Commitment matters. Stability matters.
Why? Because when we commit, we teach our children to commit. We create a society that is based on grace rather than performance. We leave room for God to work. We learn to rely on God in our hard times, rather than thinking another person can fill our voids. We learn to compromise, to accommodate, to give. We become less selfish.
And perhaps there’s a bigger reason. How about, quite simply, because God said so. That is what I am teaching my kids about their future marriages: you stay married because God said so. You don’t look for a way out. Divorce is so hard on kids, even when that divorce is justified. It usually leaves one or the other of you down the wrong path. I have seen divorces occur in my family where one of them became promiscuous and alcoholic after the divorce, which likely would not have happened had they stayed together, because they had stability. Take that stability away and everything falls apart. Marriage increases holiness, even if the husband appears petty, mean, or clueless.
The question becomes, then, “If God wants me to stay, then how am I going to manage it? What can I do to make my life bearable?” And that’s a good question to ask, because it forces us to go to God. It forces us to ask Him to be our peace. It also forces us to confront the real issues in our marriage and make an honest stab at fixing them, whether it means counseling, or a lot of prayer, or persistence.
I don’t think it’s easy. When these women in hard situations come to me, I want to say, “You’re right. You should leave.” Their husbands don’t deserve them. But I can’t say that, because I just don’t think it’s true biblically.
Here’s a bit of encouragement, though. In large scale studies of marriages, they have found that couples who split were less likely to be happy five years later than people who stayed together, even if their marriages were equally miserable. And even better, 78% of couples who had miserable marriages rated their marriages as wonderful five years later. The act of committing to riding it out made them happy. So if you’re going through a rough time, it likely will not always be like this. And no matter what, God is there to help you, to heal you, to comfort you, and to change you (and minister to him). If you’re miserable, throw yourself on Him. Wrestle with Him. He can take it. And ask Him to provide you with an escape from your misery–even if that escape is actually within your marriage!
Sheila writes more about marriage at her To Love, Honor and Vacuum blog! (http://tolovehonorandvacuum.com). She loves great conversations about how we can strengthen family and make this world resemble God’s heart. Her newest book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, will be out in January with Zondervan.