There are many times when a husband or wife does all they can to save their marriage but their spouse is focused on getting a divorce or some form of separation. What is the wife to do when the husband simply is not interested in a relationship with her any longer? What is a husband to do when his wife is no longer in love with him and us pursuing her own interests instead of the marriage relationship? These are real questions that many husbands and wives face. What are they to do when their marriage is falling apart with no salvation insight?
The purpose of this article is primarily to give encouragement and hope to those who are in an unhappy and dissolving marriage. Be encouraged if your spouse is focused on a divorce or shows no interest in the marriage relationship any longer. Be encouraged because you can still have a happy and fulfilling life regardless of what happens with your marriage.
The Reality of Divorce
Many couples, even Christian couples, end their marriage by getting a divorce. Jesus told us that divorce was never the intent of God. The ideal marriage is one where the husband and wife are together until one of them dies. However, I have observed many couples who were married and probably should not have been. Sometimes people are married for emotional reasons instead of truly considering the covenant they are making with their spouse. Some people are not objective when it comes to deciding to get married to a person and that may cause many problems within the marriage.
The reality is that many marriages end in divorce. I believe that sometimes that is the optimal solution for the unreconcilable bad marriage. Let me explain. There are many times when the wife works very hard to save her marriage, but her husband simply is no longer interested. There are many times when the husband desperately tries to save his marriage, but his wife has moved on emotionally and no longer desires to be with him.
The word divorce means, “the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body.” (From the Oxford dictionary). In other words, marriage is legally ended. However, there are two aspects of marriage with respect to Christianity. There is a spiritual component and the legal component. The spiritual component is the joining of the two as one flesh as noted in Genesis.
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 (NKJV)
There was no man-made legal system of marriage at the time God brought the woman to the man to be “one flesh.” In the world, we need a legal system because people need to be governed due to their inherent sin nature. We see this in the Law of God in the Old Testament where God established laws on worship, personal conduct, and much more. It is therefore very possible that a couple in a bad marriage either were never one flesh, even though they were legally married, or they have gradually drifted apart.
Therefore, not only should much thought be given to making that vow, but the couple should continually be aware of that vow to fuel the effectiveness of the marriage. What I mean by that is that the couple should remain committed to the marriage relationship regardless of the condition of the marriage at any given time. Couples naturally grow apart with respect to emotional closeness or the concept of love (emotional love). The husband and wife should have and maintain the mindset that they will do all they can to uphold the union that they promised each other.
There are exceptions to this, which Jesus mentioned. Jesus said the sexual immorality is grounds for a divorce, i.e., dissolving of the marriage.
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?” 4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” 8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 19:3-9 (NKJV)
See also Deuteronomy 24:1-5.
So, even though the divorce was not God’s original design for marriage, it is something that happens frequently today within the Christian community and outside of it. What happens if your spouse insists on divorcing you? Do you force the continuance of the bad marriage or allow your spouse to leave, i.e., divorce you? I should point out here that unless there is infidelity in the marriage, you should not seek divorce. We should also consider that there are other grounds for separation and possibly divorce, such as physical abuse. No one should stay with someone that is beating them, for example.
The expedient thing to do if you find yourself being divorced by your spouse is to move on. Don’t allow the divorce to allow you to think less of yourself or to think that God has abandoned you. God is still with you and he will never leave you. Move on with your life. Should you get married again? I can’t answer that. However, Jesus says that the original marriage is still in tack unless there is valid grounds for the divorce.
The point is that you should not seek to divorce your spouse. Instead, the husband and wife should work to reconcile any issues that come between them. I would also add that a man and a woman should take great care when deciding to marry someone. Marriage should not be entered into precariously or quickly. However, if you do find yourself being divorced by your spouse, then still fight for your marriage. If this does not work, then the only thing you can do is to move on after your spouse divorces you.
Jesus said that unless a divorce happens because of infidelity, then the marriage is not really dissolved. He said that man should not sever what God has put together. This highlights again that there is more to the marriage union than a legal document. The question we should ask ourselves is the meaning of infidelity or sexual immorality.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, infidelity means the action or state of being unfaithful to a spouse or other sexual partner. The keyword is “unfaithful.” I believe that infidelity is more than the mere act of having sex with someone besides your spouse, i.e., adultery. In some or many cases, infidelity has already occurred in the marriage before the adultery occurred (See my article, “How to Handle a Sexually Immoral Sexless Marriage” for more on this concept). I see infidelity in this more bird’s-eye context because of the marriage vows. The typical or traditional marriage vows between a husband and wife contains the following promises.
- To have each other faithfully
- To be faithful when healthy and when sick
- To be faithful when rich or when poor
- To be faithful in good times and bad times, i.e., for better or for worse
- To love and cherish
- To pledge (commit) oneself to your spouse
From the promises made in the typical or traditional vow, we see that there are many opportunities for infidelity besides sexual. A wife can be unfaithful to her husband long before he finds himself in the arms of another or has otherwise replaced his wife with some other activity that provides him the needs that he has, e.g., respect, value, honor, etc. A husband can be unfaithful to his wife long before she checks out of the relationship and moves on to something else to give her happiness even if she does not commit adultery.
Infidelity can precede the sexual act of adultery. A man may commit adultery against his wife if he has been rejected by her for years. He finds himself gradually moving away from her emotionally and towards another woman that meet the needs that his wife is not meeting. Likewise, a husband can be unfaithful to his wife if he neglects her consistently causing her needs to go unmet.
Therefore, a wife has already experienced infidelity from her husband long before she finds herself in the arms and bed of another man. Likewise, the husband has already experienced infidelity from his wife long before he commits adultery. Understand that this does not in any way condone the act of adultery. I am merely suggesting that infidelity does not occur when adultery happens, but instead may have happened long before by the spouse of the adulterer. Remember that the couple promised to have, love and cherish each other. It is expected that they will be faithful to each other with regard to sex, among other things. When something as critical as sex is violated in the marriage, then bad things can quickly happen.
The good thing about this is that it is much easier to rectify this type of infidelity before it grows into adultery. It is easier for a husband and wife to identify issues and rectify them before resentment and other ill feelings bring about adultery or possibly divorce.
Be Committed To Keep Your Vows
It appears to me that first, people get married without truly thinking it through. They get married too soon without really knowing who they are marrying and if they truly want to commit to that person. Secondly, once married, people tend not to specifically work on their marriage. People will study and work hard for promotions, a business, or hobby, but neglect to work on something as important as their marriage relationship.
Once married, it is important that the husband and wife are committed to the marriage and to uphold the vows they made to each other. The important thing to realize is that commitment transcends emotions, i.e., romantic love. There are going to be times when you don’t feel love for your spouse. That man may get on your last nerve or that woman may drive you crazy. Even in those situations, you must remain committed to the union. It is by this commitment from the husband and wife that the feelings of love are re-ignited and maintained.
What does this commitment I speak of look like in a marriage? This commitment will cause you to forgo your pride and talk to your spouse when there are issues. This commitment will cause you to take seriously any objections or problems that your spouse identifies that involve you. This commitment will cause you to evaluate your marriage relationship regularly. It will cause you to be honest with your spouse and to create an emotional environment where your spouse can be honest with you.
If the husband and wife are committed to their marriage relationship, then other things have much less chance of getting between them to corrupt or poison the union. Their commitment will keep things like the children, job, business, church, hobbies, ignorance, or self-interests get between them.
The Lopsided Union
In an ideal world, the husband and wife will remain committed to each other, work out their marital issues, and grow their marriage to an increasing state of happiness. However, in reality, this doesn’t happen all the time. In my observations, many marriages are lopsided. That means that either the husband or the wife are trying to make the marriage work and the spouse is not doing the same.
Marriage may become lopsided right from the beginning when the husband or the wife is not truly committed to the union, but rather to what the union can provide them. For example, a wife may decide to marry a man because it will provide her a safe home and someone to do “heavy lifting” so to speak. A husband may decide to marry a woman because he wants someone to cook and clean the house. She may be serious about the marriage and truly want a united life with her husband and likewise in the former scenario. A lopsided marriage occurs when only one is purposely working to strengthen the union.
A lopsided union is a fertile ground for infidelity (in the way I defined it previously). For example, the husband may work to create a great marriage by trying to talk to his wife, being open to his wife, learning about marriage and what makes a good one, etc. The wife may go day to day doing the functional things like cleaning the house, working, dealing with the children, etc. She does not put the time to work at her marriage.
The lopsided marriage will produce resentment, bad feelings, and separation in one form or another. Intimacy will decrease over time. Quality time spent together will wane and communications between husband and wife will be about everything else besides their relationship. One will inadvertently neglect their spouse regularly causing the seeds of infidelity to be planted and germinate.
Therefore, the husband and wife should guard against a lopsided marriage relationship by ensuring that they are both working to strengthen the union. This will help avoid the marriage from becoming worse and help to divorce-proof it.
The Bad Marriage
So, what happens if you have tried to build a healthy and strong marriage union and your spouse just doesn’t get on board with that undertaking? What if you find yourself in a bad marriage that has lasted for 10, 20, or even 30 plus years? What should you do? I could give you the standard answers such as to pray, ask God for guidance, don’t give up, keep trying to make things better, etc. However, I’ll bet you’ve been doing that during your marriage. Now what? Do you finally give up and call it quits to salvage the rest of your life? Do you stay unhappy in a bad marriage and hope for the best?
Now, of course, I cannot tell you what to do especially since every situation and person is different. However, I would encourage you to continue to attempt honest conversations with your spouse. You may come to a point where any more pursuits for a healthy marriage is unlikely to produce a favorable result. You may be at a point where your spouse has truly given up on the relationship or you have become so frustrated that there is nothing else that you can do to make things better.
Pursue God Even More
Paul said that a married person is concerned about their spouse whereas the unmarried only has to concern himself with the Lord.
32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord–how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world–how he may please his wife. 1 Corinthians 7:32-33 (NKJV)
A married person’s concerns are divided between the Lord and their spouse. If the marriage is bad and efforts to make it better fail, then it is even more important for you to pursue God that much more. It is with God’s power that the marriage has a chance of getting better. More importantly, it is with God that you can continue and accomplish great things according to your purpose. Don’t allow a bad marriage to affect your relationship with God.
If your marriage does get better, then great. If your marriage does not get better then you know that you are with God and it is he who can turn your life around whether your spouse is with you or not.
Pursue Your Dreams
I can tell you that I believe that you should always pursue your dreams. I believe that God has given you a purpose on this earth and that you should not allow a bad marriage to jeopardize fulfilling that purpose. There may come a time when you have to leave your spouse behind so to speak. That doesn’t mean you divorce him or her or that you start neglecting them. It simply means that you ensure that you fulfill your God-given purpose. Always pursue your dreams.
Protect yourself from adultery. The Bible warns us about adultery, and we should be careful to heed those warnings. Adultery can destroy your ministry, marriage, and life, and hinder you from accomplishing your dream or purpose. Do not commit adultery regardless of how sexually neglectful your spouse is.
The marriage relationship, good or bad, should never hinder one from accomplishing their purpose. With that said, I suggest that you scale back on your efforts to repair the marriage if it has been many years with no success and put more time into fulfilling your God-given purpose. Spend more time pursuing your dream while monitoring the pulse of your marriage and take the opportunities to move it to a better state when possible. There comes a point in your life and marriage where you have to resolve the fact that your spouse is simply not with you and most likely won’t be unless something drastic happens. If he or she has not joined you after 15, 20, or 30 plus years, then chances are they will not do so now.
Therefore, pursue your dreams and be all that God wants you to be. Don’t give up on your marriage, but at the same time scale back on your reconciliation efforts to spend more time accomplishing your dreams and fulfilling your purpose.
Do Your Best for Your Children
If your marriage has produced children, then always do your best for them. Don’t allow a bad marriage to affect the proper raising of your children. They should not have to suffer more than they already are because of a bad marriage. Do your best for them regardless of your spouse’s commitment to the marriage—to you.
Even if your marriage ends in separation or divorce, do not allow that to affect your relationship with your children. If you have visitation rights, then use them to edify your children as best you can. Do not waste energy by complaining about your former spouse or degrading him/her to your children.
THE BLAMELESS Marriage
One of the things that I believe that you should vehemently avoid is blaming your spouse for the condition of the marriage. Playing the blame game is extremely counter-productive and it causes you to nurture any stress about the marriage and/or your spouse.
First of all, in most cases, both the husband and the wife contribute to the state of the marriage, both bad and good ones. Your spouse may be responding to something that you are doing or perhaps a behavior of yours and you are taking their response as their feelings against you or the like. Consider always your part in the condition of the marriage. Now, there are some exceptions to this such as physical abuse. However, in most cases, you played a part in the condition of your marriage.
In addition to not blaming your spouse for the condition of the marriage, don’t blame yourself. It is easy to believe that a bad marriage or even a divorce is your fault. Perhaps you really did have a lot to do with the bad marriage, but as I said above, both husband and wife contribute to the state of the marriage. A husband may be seemingly critical of his wife, but it is the responsibility of the wife to tell him how she feels about that. It is possible that he is not aware that he is being critical and instead, is just communicating with his wife the same way he communicates with everyone else.
Blaming yourself also produces a guilt trip that you really do not need in your marriage relationship or your life in general. Take where you are now and work with that to make things better. Your spouse may have very ill feelings against you for how you’ve treated them. Remember that it took time for those ill feelings to develop and it will take time for those same feelings to dissipate.
Don’t blame others either. Don’t convince yourself or make the case to your spouse that your in-laws have created a bad marriage. It is true that in-laws or anyone with a relationship with you or your spouse can negatively influence the marriage relationship. However, blaming them for the condition of the marriage is pointless. The state of the marriage is determined ultimately by the husband and the wife. Either one can protect the marriage from in-laws, friends, the church, etc.
Many marriages end in divorce, including Christian marriages. The ideal thing to do is to first, as best you can, ensure that you really want to commit to a marriage relationship with the person you are considering marrying. Once married, work to make the marriage relationship a great one. Do not take the relationship for granted as many do. Remember your marriage vows and work to keep them. When things get tough and challenges arise, they remain committed to your marriage and do all you can to resolve those issues.
If you do find yourself in a bad marriage relationship, then do the best you can. You may have to scale back on trying hard to make a good marriage relationship if your spouse isn’t cooperating and is not interested. However, still, be aware of opportunities and changes in your spouse that may indicate that he or she is opening up to trying again.
Pursue God. What this means is to pursue and develop your personal relationship with God. Spend more time in fellowship, reading and meditating on God’s word, and in prayer. Do not allow a bad marriage to hinder your pursuit of God and to establish an intimate relationship with him.
Pursue your dreams. Ideally, we would love for our spouse to be with us as we pursue our dreams. However, sometimes that does not happen. You may find that your spouse has no interest in the things that you want to accomplish. That should not stop you from pursuing your dreams though. Move forward in accomplishing the purpose that God has given you by pursuing your dreams (I believe God gave us the dreams, i.e., goals). After all, you are responsible for your own happiness.
Always remain open to the chance that things would get better in your marriage if you have not been divorced. Consider that your spouse may be responding to something that you have been doing for years and just never told you. Perhaps if you work on yourself and begin to change the way you do things and relate to people, then your spouse may begin to respond to that change causing things to gradually get better.
Be encouraged. After watching people go through divorces and bad marriages, and even dealing with challenges in my own marriage, it is imperative that you establish and maintain a positive attitude about your life. Never forfeit your life for the sake of a bad marriage or divorce. Ensure your own happiness. With God you can do all things, so do it. If things work out between you and your spouse, then great. If not, then know that your life can still be great without them. Do not neglect your relationship with God nor yourself!