Americans love marriage, and deeply religious Americans arguably love it more than anyone. The U.S. has one of the highest marriage rates of any peer country. As a nation we love tales of romance and true love. We lionize the nuclear family. And even though we don't look much like the 1950s anymore, most of us look down on tabloid scandals of cheating, quickie weddings, and lack of commitment. Society and churches put a lot of pressure on people to stay married. If you were brought up with traditional values, your parents likely propelled you toward marriage. (Nothing wrong with that! I love being married.) That's the path for most people even today. Our friends, workplaces, churches, and even the government rewards it. For example, we have more than 1,000 federal statutes that favor married adults over single adults. So from the day we're born we've gotten messages praising marriage and condemning divorce. And many of these messages are well-meaning.
Those messages become destructive when directed at people who are in seriously distressed marriages. I'm talking about the 40% of marriages that include adultery, physical abuse, severe substance abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment and severe neglect. In these situations, these messages are actually harmful.
Researchers have found (to their surprise) that deeply religious people stay in horrible marriages longer and endure far worse abuse than average. In the face of marriage-endangering behavior, many religious people double down and try harder. They pray. They fast. They go to their pastor. They try be kinder, more forgiving, more sexually available, less argumentative, blaming themselves and bending over backwards to save their marriage. But a long time passes, and none of these things work.
Others might walk away, but these devout people just put their head down and charge through life trying to make the best of a bad situation. Sometimes the marriage improves. Sometimes the vulnerable spouse puts their foot down and says "No more," and gives consequences for bad behavior. And often that's enough to turn the marriage around. But when it doesn't—when a selfish person feels entitled to control you and have their own way—these marriages can become dangerous
Let's look at those messages and see if they apply to your destructive marriage.
Myths of Divorce: You're divorcing because...
Myth 1: You just fell out of love.
TRUTH: No. Many divorces are life-saving.
Myth 2: You just don’t take God-ordained marriage seriously.
TRUTH: Life-saving divorcees took marriage very seriously. Their spouse didn’t—with their actions, not just their words.
Myth 3: You just didn’t try hard enough.
TRUTH: People in the most destructive marriages try harder, and longer, than most people.
Myth 4: You didn’t attend church enough.
TRUTH: Churchgoing doesn’t make dangerous marriages safe, and it doesn’t make dangerous spouses magically change.
Myth 5: Christians have to forgive over and over again, forever.
TRUTH: Christians can forgive and get out of a destructive marriage.
Myth 6: You’re exaggerating! We’d all know if your spouse was that bad.
TRUTH: It is almost impossible to spot dangerous spouses from outside of the marriage.
Myth 7: It’s your fault, because “it takes two to tango.”
TRUTH: It only takes one destructive spouse to make a marriage dangerous.
Myth 8: It’s your fault, because you’re not perfect, either.
TRUTH: We don’t have to be perfect before we call for a stop to abuse and cruelty.
Myth 9: You can’t demand good treatment. Christians have no rights.
TRUTH: It is godly and biblical to call for justice and loving treatment, for ourselves and others.
Myth 10: It’s your fault, because you didn’t give your spouse enough sex.
TRUTH: Cheating or sexual abuse is never justified. Your spouse’s sexual addiction or deviance can’t be fixed by giving them more sex.
Myth 11: It’s your fault, because you deserve punishment.
TRUTH: No one deserves abuse or cruelty—ever. God calls us to love one another, not mistreat and betray each other.
Myth 12: It’s your fault, because you didn’t submit enough.
TRUTH: Submission doesn’t prevent abuse. If there is abuse, commanding more submission makes things worse, not better.
Myth 13: The person who files for divorce caused the divorce.
TRUTH: The person who betrays, abuses, and breaks the vows is the one who caused the divorce.
Myth 14: Divorcing bestows a curse on your family.
TRUTH: A life-saving divorce brings God’s freedom to the family, not a curse.
Myth 15: God will heal your marriage if you pray enough.
TRUTH: God does not promise to heal all marriages in answer to our prayers. Sometimes, he answers our prayers by helping us get out of a marriage when it turns dangerous.
Myth 16: It’s God’s will for you to suffer quietly in your marriage.
TRUTH: God’s will is for justice, love, and truth to be lifted high—not for his children to live in silent suffering and bondage.
Myth 17: Marriage is God’s best way to mature you.
TRUTH: God matures us in many ways, not only through marriage. He can mature us through a life-saving divorce and through rebuilding our lives afterward.
Myth 18: God forbids all divorce, and divorce is the unpardonable sin.
TRUTH: Scripture shows that God gives permission for divorce.
Myth 19: Your divorce will shatter the image of Christ and the church.
TRUTH: No human being is powerful enough to shatter the image of Christ and the church. Abuse and betrayal dishonor Christ, not life-saving divorces.
Myth 20: If you are godly, you can marry any Christian, and it will work.
TRUTH: It matters whom you marry, because a healthy marriage takes two to build, not just one.
Myth 21: Divorce will destroy your children. You should stay for the sake of your kids.
TRUTH: Dangerous marriages harm children by making them victims of cruelty, or witnesses of it. Life-saving divorce can get them to safety and help them to thrive.
Myth 22: It takes two parents to raise good kids.
TRUTH: Single parents and stepparents can do as good a job of raising healthy kids as anyone else.
Myth 23: You can’t divorce your spouse, because they don’t know any better.
TRUTH: We can put a stop to abuse even when the abuser doesn’t “get it.” We can love someone, and leave our dangerous marriage to them, at the same time.
Myth 24: If you stay and suffer, you might save your spouse, and you will glorify Christ.
TRUTH: Your spouse is not abusing you because of your faith, and Christ is not glorified by your anguish. Staying and suffering is no guarantee you'll win an abusive spouse to Christ
Myth 25: You can only divorce if they hit you.
TRUTH: Emotional/verbal abuse, financial abuse, and spiritual abuse are all unacceptable forms of treatment and are grounds for divorce, both from a biblical and legal perspective.
Myth 26: Husbands must cleanse and sanctify their wives.
TRUTH: Jesus cleanses and sanctifies us, not our spouses. Husbands cannot and should not try to take the place of Jesus in their spouse’s life.
Myth 27: You cannot divorce because you are one flesh and have a soul tie.
TRUTH: Our bond with the Lord is eternal and cannot be ended.
To you, dear friend: So if these myths torment you, making you second- and third- and fourth-guess yourself, cling to God’s truth.
The abuse, neglect, infidelity, or other immorality is not your fault.
You tried hard enough—and then some! You've gone to counseling, you've set boundaries, you've carried out consequences. There is nothing more you can do. Your kids are not likely to be ruined forever if you get a life-saving divorce. Eight in ten children come out with no serious lifelong problems socially, emotionally or psychologically. God will not punish you for divorcing. On the contrary, he will help you through, and he will help you heal afterward.
Don’t live in silent suffering, captive to the bad behavior of your spouse, mired in perpetual disrespect, contempt, or misery. You are valuable to Jesus.
Let God’s truth set you free.
To pastors and church leaders:
Devout people keep their marriage problems hidden. They keep praying for a miracle. So there's a good chance someone you know (maybe it's you) has never told their pastor, or anyone at church, about the abuse, infidelity, gambling addiction, or pedophilia. And when the problems become volcanic, and the vulnerable spouse — the one who invested and sacrificed themselves repeatedly — finally crumbles under the strain, no one believes them. If you want to help spouses in distress, please read Chapter 8 of the Life-Saving Divorce book.
©2020 Gretchen Baskerville. All rights reserved.
These 27 myths are taken from the book, The Life-Saving Divorce: Hope for People Leaving Destructive Marriages," by Gretchen Baskerville. For an explanation of each myth, plus examples and ways to answer when friends and family accuse you of giving up early, see Chapter 3. This book is for Christians (and other people of faith) who are trapped in destructive marriages, as well as for pastors, counselors, and other church leaders who wish to improve their counseling skills. See what other people say about this book: Read reviews on Goodreads.
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