Christian divorce can be confusing for everyone. Fellow Christians don’t know what to say and church staff can be lost as to how to help. This means opportunities to support healing may be missed. This series of 4 posts dispels myths about divorce and intends to inspire the church and its members to reach out to those who hurt from divorce with understanding, compassion and the redemptive love of God. This is part 1 of the series.
As Christian leaders dealing with those facing divorce we challenge each person in a marriage to give 100 percent to making the marriage work. But, are there times when a single 100% won’t carry a marriage? Sadly, there are.
Why this Myth?
When we talk with someone who is in a divorce, we want to do what we can to support the healing of the relationship. We know each person in the marriage is responsible for making the marriage work. So, it can be easy to conclude that if either person puts in enough effort and prayer, that person can see to it that the marriage is fixed. I know from my own experience that isn’t true.
The myth that one person can give 100% and save his or her marriage without the cooperation of his or her spouse is unrealistic. It’s a belief that sets us up to hold a person accountable for the wrongdoings of their marriage partner. This is both unfair and potentially spiritually and emotionally damaging.
The Problem with this Myth
To hold one person accountable for fixing a marriage that is drowning due to his or her spouse’s neglect, abuse, or addictive behavior is unreasonable and hurtful. It further victimizes the victim. It also misses an opportunity to share the grace and compassion of Christ.
Be a Better Wife.
Ruth was being abused by her husband, emotionally and spiritually. She also sensed that things were escalating and that she was at risk for physical abuse. When she approached someone at her church for help, she was told that she needed to work on being a better wife and to submit to her husband in order to save her marriage.
Ruth received no help in coping with her situation. Worse yet, she was held accountable for the abusive behavior of her spouse and told to return to a potentially dangerous situation. When she finally decided that for own safety she needed to leave the marriage, she clearly perceived that the church blamed her for a situation she did not create. The truth was that she had been dedicated to her marriage and endured abuse for far too long from a man who did not begin to love her as Christ loved the church.
The Man is Responsible for Keeping His Family Together
Tom’s wife left him. She said she just wasn’t happy and that the new guy she’d found was making a lot more money. Tom was crushed. He knew he had been a good husband. He pleaded with her to come back and he prayed to God to save his marriage.
When Tom sought pastoral counseling, the pastor told him that it was the husband’s responsibility to fix it when a marriage faltered. He also told Tom that divorce was a sin and that he would never be able to remarry if his wife divorced him. The clear message rang through that Christian divorce was plain wrong.
When I first met Tom he was in a state of hopeless despair. Rarely have I ever seen anyone that tightly wound. He couldn’t make his wife return. That reality combined with his pastor’s expectations left him feeling doomed and permanently labeled as a failure. He was sure he could never be right with God again.
I believe the pastor’s desire to save marriages was well-intended but missed the reality of Tom’s situation. Because the pastor believed the myth that one person can always single-handedly save a marriage, he held Tom accountable for solving a problem he had no control over. In doing so, he inadvertently left this already hurting man feeling defeated and hopeless rather than encouraging him with the good news that God would redeem his life no matter what choices his estranged wife made.
Keeping a Balanced Approach
With God’s help and the willing participation of each person, God can work miracles in a marriage. And, sometimes, one person’s change of direction can in fact precipitate the revival of a marriage. But, we need to recognize that it’s a myth to believe that every person who is facing a divorce can fix his or her marriage without any sincere, ongoing, prayerful effort from his or her spouse.
Having been through a divorce myself I can tell you that divorce is awful. I think that’s why God hates divorce, it hurts his children. Having been married for over 30 years to my second husband, I can verify that a healthy marriage is preferable by far and worth every bit of effort.
Crush this Myth
Divorce is a reality in our society, including in our churches. If we in the church can overcome the myth that one person who gives 100% can fix all the problems in a marriage, even when their spouse isn’t on board, we can stop victimizing people who are already victims. We will stop implying to people that they should be able to somehow fix devastating problems caused by their spouse. We will instead be able to encourage them to give their all to saving their marriages, including seeking counseling, but at the same time not hold them accountable for those things over which they have no control.
At that point, we can share God’s grace. We can draw close to the brokenhearted. We can minister and encourage them with the truth that God still loves them and has a plan for them to have a future and a hope…even if divorce becomes or is their reality.
NOTE: Names in this article are fictitious but represent typical stories.
Other Topics in this Series on Myths:
- Myth: Pray, God Will Definitely Save Your Marriage
- Myth: Divorced People are Second-Rate Christians
- Myth: Accepting Divorce Shows a Lack of Faith
About the Author:
Renee Smith Ettline is founder of After Divorce Ministries, LLC, author of Peace after Divorce, and creator of the Peace after Divorce Workshop. Her Peace after Divorce Workshop group study is offered across denominational lines throughout the U.S.
Start a Peace after Divorce Workshop
Christian Divorce Group Ministry at Your Church
CLICK HERE to Learn More
Disclaimer: Posts are for spiritual and life encouragement and informational purposes only. The content is not a substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Reliance on any information provided by this website is solely at your own discretion and risk. This website does not advocate divorce. However, divorce is a reality in our society. Our goal is to bring faith-based hope, and encouragement to those whose lives are touched by its unsettling effects. Life strategies are for personal reflection and consideration. This website does not recommend or endorse any specific products mentioned on the site.