Is Divorce the Answer?
DIVORCES are increasing at an alarming rate. In the United States they now exceed the number of marriages and the general growth of the population. Some states have a “no-fault” arrangement through which couples can obtain a divorce more rapidly than ever, without either one bringing a charge of blame against the other. In this way one marriage was recently terminated within two and a half minutes.
Why are so many marriages breaking up? Some blame the “moral breakdown,” the economic independence of women and the “communication gap” between husband and wife. But frequently the problem is simply disappointment with one’s partner. A woman complained: “I just cannot respect my husband.” A man lamented: “My wife is not submissive.” Others say: “We just don’t love each other and can’t live together any longer.”
A writer for The Wall Street Journal pointed to another reason for the breakup of marriages: “Men and women are pursuing romance but are frequently unwilling to cope with the often unromantic demands of marriage.” This was the case with a wife who recently walked out on her husband and twelve-year-old daughter. She said of her marital responsibilities: “I felt so burdened . . . even for the responsibility of three meals a day and shopping.” Some look to divorce as the solution to problems like these. But is it really the answer?
Divorce May Increase Problems
What do you think? Did that woman really solve her problem? Does walking out on her family free her from the need to do shopping and to prepare meals? Also, will a person who works only to provide for herself find as much satisfaction as one whose labors directly benefit someone else?
Let us reflect on some of the reasons why people marry in the first place. An important reason is their need for close companionship. Will divorce answer one’s need for this? Even if a divorced person takes up living with someone out of wedlock, the feeling of genuinely belonging to each other will be missing. How can either party to such a consensual relationship be certain that the other will not walk out? Such an arrangement lacks the security of real marriage.
Another reason why people marry is to satisfy the desire for sexual relations. If they get a divorce, will they be able to fulfill this need in a way that permits them to retain their self-respect? It may be that divorce will create worse problems than those it solves.
Some of the most serious complications of divorce arise when children are involved. A psychiatrist said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that a child’s reaction to the loss of a parent can be compared to what his reaction might be to the loss of an eye or an arm.”
Justice Martin Evans recounted a heartrending case: “The doors of my courtroom were pushed open recently, and a divorced couple entered, tugging at the hands of a three-year-old boy between them. The three moved toward the bench for a custody hearing. As they did so, the child was struggling with his little strength to pull his parents’ hands together—to make peace between them.” People contemplating divorce should think seriously about these matters before making their decision.
The Bible Gives a Balanced View
God is well aware of the complications that can arise from divorce. His Word, therefore, takes a balanced view of these matters. The Bible urges couples to view marriage as a permanent arrangement. Jesus said that a husband should “stick to his wife.”—Matt. 19:5.
But if problems arise, what should one do? Well, in your own experience, have you found that people who run away from their problems usually solve them? How much better to face the difficulties and work to solve them!
But what if a married person becomes an adulterer or a homosexual? Does the Bible say that the partner has to stay with such a person until death? No. As shown at Matthew 19:9, Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.” So divorce is permitted if “fornication” has taken place. The Greek word porneía, here translated “fornication,” means immoral sexual relations, either with someone of the opposite sex other than one’s mate or someone of the same sex, whether natural or unnatural and perverted. Under such circumstances the innocent mate is free to obtain a divorce and remarry if he so desires. Of course, he is under no obligation to do so.
Coping with Minor Irritations
Problems in marriage do not usually begin with anything as serious as adultery. Minor irritations often start things going in a wrong direction. One may experience a measure of disappointment at the partner’s shortcomings. Differences of personality may cause individuals to view things differently, giving rise to disagreements. Some may have developed personal habits before marriage that are irritating to the other. These matters can be worked out by applying the principle at Ephesians 5:21: “Be in subjection to one another.” That means to cultivate the quality of unselfishness, to subordinate one’s own personal interest in favor of the other. There can be pleasure in doing this when there is a noble end in view.
Also, keep in mind Ecclesiastes 7:20: “For there is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.” When irritations occur, who can say he does not contribute to the problem in some way? Is it not usually true that both share some measure of blame? Will you be honest enough with yourself and your mate to admit that this is so? When problems come up, it is very important to be willing to discuss them together. In fact, the Bible encourages doing this on the very same day. Ephesians 4:26 counsels: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” Have you been applying that counsel in your life?
The Role of Husband and Wife
Some marital problems arise because of the confusion as to what are the respective roles of husband and wife in the marriage relationship. To clear up the confusion, there is need for an authoritative standard that both parties recognize. The Bible fills this need.
At Ephesians 5:22, 23, we read: “Let wives be in subjection to their husbands as to the Lord, because a husband is head of his wife.” Keep in mind that the family is a small organization. Any organization needs someone to make major decisions and accept responsibility for them. The Bible places this responsibility on husbands.
But this does not authorize any man to act as a dictator toward his wife. His wife’s subjection to him should remind him that he, too, is subject to someone. First Corinthians 11:3 says: “But I want you to know that the head of every man is the Christ.” Christ Jesus observes how husbands act toward their mates. Husbands are wise if they heed the counsel at Ephesians 5:33: “Let each one of you individually so love his wife as he does himself.”
But wives, too, have responsibilities. After discussing what is expected of husbands, Ephesians 5:33 continues: “On the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.” Wives should also be “sound in mind, chaste, workers at home, good.”—Titus 2:5.
A Marriage That Did Not Break Up
But what about you? Would applying these Bible principles improve your marriage situation‘? Note the experience of a couple whose problems had been building up during the sixteen years of their marriage. The wife relates:
“Finally everything seemed to go wrong. We just could not seem to bear up any longer under the strain of everyday living. We could not get along or agree about anything. We decided to separate for a while and we agreed that if we didn’t feel differently after being apart, we would get a divorce.”
Then this couple spoke to a man in a similar situation to theirs. “With tears in his eyes he begged us not to separate. He told us how unhappy he had been, living in a hotel alone and missing his children.”
This man felt that religion might help them, so he invited them to the Pentecostal church. But is the solution simply a matter of going to church? When the couple returned home, they knew that the answer was not there. Then they thought of Jehovah’s witnesses, with whom they had had some previous discussions. “We knew that the other churches we had been to could not help us, so we thought ‘We’ll give the Witnesses a try.’ We started a Bible study with them that very week.
“That was five months ago. We have never been happier or closer as a family than we are now. All four children study the Bible with us, and we are learning to use it as our guide. With a guide like that, how can you go wrong?”
But would this be only a temporary reprieve from their marriage problems? What would the future bring?
Two years later the husband and wife declared: “As to our marriage situation, it has never been better, and our happiness grows along with our spiritual growth.” What was it that caused their difficulty in the past? The wife explains:
“Looking back, it is easy to see our main problems came from my not being in proper subjection or having deep respect for my husband as the Bible says I should. Also, he was too devoted to his secular work and neglected his other responsibilities to his family. The strain of having children in the midst of wickedness was having its effect too. Just having children does not mean that you know how to raise them! We desperately needed all the counsel we found in the Bible as a guide for raising children.
“We naturally are enjoying married life more, and life in general. We have a bright future and a common goal to work for. We have an unfailing source of information to base decisions on. Really, the truth has remade our entire lives!”
Is your marriage weighed down with problems? Divorce is not likely to be the answer. Many couples have been helped to remold their marriages completely by learning and applying Bible principles. It can work for you, too.