Why Divorce Must Be An Option, Christian or Not


Image courtesy of JCOterhal, used under Creative Commons

The power of choice

Years ago I came to what felt like a dead-end in a job I had previously loved. As the months passed I grew more and more frustrated and would occasionally call a friend and complain to him about how miserable I was and how trapped I felt. I would go on about how I could be making more money in certain other jobs. One evening he replied, “Then you are there because you choose to be. If you know you could get another job making more money, then you have simply chosen not to do that.” This reinvigorated me. I realized he was right. I was choosing. I was not trapped, and I was not a victim.

I still hated my job, but I felt emboldened when I realized that, for specific reasons, it was better for me to stay in that job than to leave at that time in my life. Instead of seeing the job as a trap someone had laid for me, I was able to start seeing it as a choice I had made for specific reasons, and that although I didn’t like the job, it was in my best interests to stay a while longer.

Marriage is a terrible place to be trapped

I used to tell couples that divorce must never be an option. I felt couples would run to divorce too soon if they saw divorce as even a remote possibility. I don’t give this counsel anymore. Though it’s still a good idea not to use the D word flippantly, I now believe that in order for a marriage to be healthy, divorce actually must be an option.

After all, the likelihood that you will face times of major frustration and discouragement in your marriage is extremely high. If you don’t consider divorce an option and choose to stay in the marriage, what will your attitude be? I assure you that you will feel as trapped in your marriage as I felt in my job. Maybe more. It stinks to feel trapped in a job, but you get to leave a job and go home. However, marriage is 24/7. Marriage is not something you want to feel trapped in.

On your wedding day, you made a promise to your spouse. Of course promises should be kept, but that does not mean you are trapped. You could leave if you really wanted to. Of course it would be inconvenient in many ways, but you could do it if you wanted to. Remember that you are married because you choose to be. Probably no one made you get married, and no one is making you stay married. You are where you are either because a) is it what you have chosen and what you really want for reasons only you can know; b) you are afraid of change, and divorce always means change. Of course, so does becoming the person you need to be to fix your marriage, which is why people will sometimes stay in bad marriages for decades. They are trapped not by their marriage vow, and almost certainly not by their honor (as such people will often believe), but by their fear.

Embrace that it’s your choice to divorce OR to stay married

Embracing your option to divorce helps you see that marriage is always a choice, and that choice is yours. Only when you fully realize this will you have an opportunity to feel like you are married not because you have to be but because you want to be. When you realize you are married because you want to be, you might get around to finding out why you want to be. When you discover that, you’re really onto something.

A (Virtually) Guaranteed Way to Save/Improve Your Marriage

couple silhouettePhoto courtesy of Gregory Jordan, under Creative Commons License

Marriage research has come a long way in the last twenty years. Therapists used to try to save marriages by helping couples improve their communication and conflict resolution skills. Indeed, this is still what many therapists are doing to help marriages improve. The problem is, we now know that this is not effective.

While we know that couples in happy marriages usually communicate and resolve conflict well, it turns out that is not why their marriages are happy. Their marriages are happy because they enjoy the time they spend together. Likewise, you will not fix your marriage by going to therapy and working on communication and conflict resolution skills. You will fix your marriage by learning  to have fun together.  

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Ten Naive Ideas About Marriage

birds on crossbeamPhoto courtesy of Siddy Lam via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

Most couples are naive about how challenging and sometimes difficult marriage will turn out to be. This may sound cruel but studies show that it is important to burst some of these naive marriage bubbles in order to help ensure a happy marriage. Good premarital counseling, if it does nothing else well, must succeed at this.

That is why I spend time with couples teaching them about some popular marriage myths. Here are ten of them:

Naive marriage idea #1: Our romantic love will never fade.

Truth: It will fade a LOT, especially in the first couple of years. The good news is that if you stick it out, it can be replaced by a much deeper and more substantive kind of love.

Naive marriage idea #2: I love every single thing about my partner.

Truth: No you don’t! If you answer true to this question, you either aren’t being honest with yourself, or you don’t know your partner very well. The good news is that the best relationships are built on consistent doses of reality, so moving past this will only make you stronger. Of course it could also cause you to split up, but if your relationship can’t stand up to reality, the last thing you want to do is expose it to the reality-shock that is marriage.

Naive marriage idea #3: Living together will one day help our marriage be stronger.


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The Couple Contract

rules for making a marriage contract

Most couples who seek counseling are not doing well at all. Need I say that? They are both struggling greatly. There is no safe ground, no neutral territory. They cannot build good memories together because they fight over everything, even things meant to be healthy and good. Options are very limited. In such a situation, sometimes a couple contract may be one of the few options left.

What the contract is

The couple contract is exactly what it sounds like. Spouses literally negotiate for what they need from each other and what they are willing to do for each other. This can almost never be done without a counselor or other skilled third party, because in spite of its potential, it is a disaster waiting to happen. The therapist will need to keep the couple on track and help them define their terms as clearly as possible. The couple is responsible for telling each other what they need, but it’s up to the therapist to make sure this is written down in terms that each party can actually follow. It must be clear and measurable. “I am willing to be more supportive” will not work, but “I am willing to ask you twice a day if I can help you with anything” will work just fine.

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Marriage Hope: 10 Things You Can Do TODAY If You Are in a Bad Marriage

angry couple on benchImage courtesy of Ed Yourdon via Flickr under Creative Commons License

While reading yesterday’s post you may have realized you are in a conflicted or devitalized type of marriage. The bad news about this is that these marriages end in divorce considerably more often than the other types. The good news, though, is that there may be much you can do to improve the relationship. Today I will suggest ten things you can do starting now.


1. Rate your marriage from 1-10 based on how valuable it is to you. Most marriages can be saved if both partners are willing, even marriages that partners rank a 1 or 2. Sometimes people  just tough it out because of what the Bible says. Of course it is good to care about honoring God, but if you are in a conflicted marriage, the way you are treating each other does not honor God. The question then is whether the marriage can become a God-honoring environment, or whether it needs to be dissolved.  

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