Monday, February 13, 2012

Preparing for Marriage or Divorce

My views about marriage and divorce have been refined in recent years.

When Deb and I were engaged, we decided that the word “divorce” would never be an option. Like every marriage, we’ve gone through trials, coming out stronger and closer on the other side of each relational bump-in-the-road. It’s not been easy, but as we celebrate our 20th anniversary this month I can say without hesitation that it’s been worth it! I love her intensely and would not want to have spent these past couple decades with anyone else.

So for all intents and purposes, the word “divorce” was not in my vocabulary, and whenever I’ve heard of a couple considering the option, I’ve just wanted to yell something to encourage them to hang in there, to find the good thing that God has for them in the marriage, to not settle for just an “okay” marriage, and to fight for a great marriage! Now, in my heart, I know that God really does work all things together for good, but I’ve also come to understand just how depraved people can be. When a married couple, in unison, turn to God in their troubles, He always brings healing, usually with individual conviction and repentance.

For husbands, this can often mean apologizing for our insensitivity… for being “right” when we should be listening… or for worse, harder-to-forgive actions. For most men, it involves repenting for loving ourselves more than our wives. Instead of meeting a woman’s basic need to feel cherished, we can leave her feeling unloved. That’s part of the reason why the Bible commands men to love their wives as Christ loved the Church… pretty high, self-sacrificing standard!

For wives, there are different challenges. Men have a basic need to be admired, and as a guy, I can tell you it’s much easier to be admired by people who don’t know your flaws. No one’s perfect (apart from Jesus), and husbands need to be respected despite imperfections. A man needs to know that he can share his doubts without losing respect or support. When the Bible talks about wives “submitting” to their husbands, it uses a Greek word that means “get underneath and push him up”. Women have an equally tough assignment!

Now the above paragraphs are fundamentals to marriage that are often difficult to fully grasp and even harder to put into action as a life-long commitment. But what about when the other partner has blatantly and repeatedly betrayed the trust? Abuse… adultery… addictions... while these have always been part of the human condition, I’m convinced the exception has become common-place! Early in my marriage and my Christian walk, I didn’t have a frame of reference for these issues and their impacts upon marriage. Unfortunately, I have seen these tear people, marriages, and families apart.

There’s no one simple answer to addressing these issues, but if a marriage is to succeed two things need to happen:
  1. the destructive behavior needs to be corrected and
  2. the trust needs to be rebuilt.
Often, a preliminary step needs to happen: the offending party needs to grasp their need for healing, and their spouse needs to create a safe environment for the family, which can even involve a physical separation. I firmly believe that a separation should be a commitment to bring healing and restoration to a marriage rather than as a “test divorce”.  It takes courage and strength to walk this path, but it may be the only road to healing. In all honesty it may still lead to divorce, but the commitment to bring healing needs to be greater than enabling the destructive behavior. It’s a tough love, an honest love, and a worthwhile investment.

It was never God’s desire for couples to divorce, but He does allow for it because of the hardness of our hearts. (Matt 19:8) Still, if we truly believe that God works all things together for good, we can trust that He will bring about good from every effort to bring healing in a marriage. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it – God intended marriage to be a good thing, and we need to join Him in making it good!

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (