Okey-dokey, I gotta talk about this post on The Bible and Divorce over at Alpha Game.
And as my standard disclaimer when I talk about religious thought – I’m an ex-Christian and now an atheist so be advised. I don’t care about any particular belief about God / Jesus / The Flying Spaghetti Monster / The Star Goat of Thollian IV, my only interest in religion is how it affects your marriage for better or for worse. I’m not debating belief, just pointing out what I see. It’s up to you guys to figure out how well my thought meshes with your religion.
Anyway, here’s the original reader question…
My marriage is in bad shape. I have dug pretty thoroughly and do not believe there has been any actual sexual activity by my wife with anyone else. However, I have discovered other things that cause me to seriously doubt whether this marriage can ever rise to the level of mediocre. I now see her with eyes of contempt mixed with love (still). It’s a weird/unpleasant combination.
I would greatly appreciate your views on what are biblically solid grounds for divorce. I have come to the edge where I am about to prefer divorce over trying to rebuild/game up/man up/whatever. However, my preference does not matter if it violates God’s commands. I would rather suffer in obedience to God than seek pleasure in rebellion.
Minus the question of my view on biblical grounds for divorce, I hear this exact same question from a reader about twice a month. “I’ve tried everything, but I can’t divorce because I’m a Christian. What do I do?” So this isn’t an academic question to me, it’s a real world issue and I do my best to help out. Unfortunately the “no divorce” rule makes Christian men very resistant with doing what they need to do to fix their marriage. They always worry it’s going to crash and burn into a sinful divorce. So they play it far too safe and end up bringing a banana to the knife fight.
Here’s the key problem that Christians miss with their “no divorce” platform. Once you remove the possibility of divorce from the equation, there is no longer an effective consequence for what would otherwise be a genuine relationship breaking problem. Which means relationship breaking problems can never effectively be addressed and end up simply being tolerated. Oh sure you can beg and plead and pray and take her to the elders and they can frown at her yada yada yada, but that’s all just talk and making threatening gestures with the banana. Like she cares about that. Thus the “no divorce” platform can actually be a significant causal factor in a really shitty Christian marriage.
Let me explain…
Jennifer and I love each other a great deal and there’s not a whole lot we wouldn’t do for each other. But we both have a great deal of expectations about the other, that we know are simply deal breakers if broken/not met. For example, if I ever hit Jennifer in anger, I’m pretty damn sure that it’s over between us. No counseling, no thinking about it, I’m just a bit too big compared to her for her to ever relax around me again. It would be over. Jennifer can hit me once. I don’t know why that is, I think because if she ever hit me I would have earned it by not listening for way too long and generally being an asshat. But hit me twice and it’s over. Thus we have a standard of behavior and a serious consequence for breaking it. No hitting. End of discussion.
We also have an agreement that we’ll both work. Sure Jennifer and I slack off once in a while and do nothing, but that’s a rest after a long period of working. If that rest turned into a consistent pattern of one of us just slacking off and doing nothing much, that’s not going to be tolerated. We don’t have to be making a ton of money, we just can’t be permanently lazy. If lazy goes on for long enough, the other would start getting unpleasant about it. Ultimately if the other person downed tools and refused to pick them up, I don’t see that lasting much more than a couple months before divorce would be coming to the surface as a considered option. Thus we have a standard of behavior and a serious consequence for breaking it. We’ll both work and hold up our end of the marriage. End of discussion.
We also have an agreement that we’ll both stay basically attractive to each other and have a strong sex life. Jennifer knows that if she just lets herself go and/or stops being a fun sexual partner for me, I’m gonna head for the door. I also know that if I become a crappy sex partner for her, she’s not going to be able to be responsive to me the way I want her to be. I’m not going to reasonably expect her to be into me if I’ve let myself go, or if I’m cruel to her. So I treat her very well. Our marriage is a sexual relationship, that’s why we’re married. Thus we have a standard of behavior and a serious consequence for breaking it. Sexy Time is very important. End of discussion.
So our standards and willingness to enforce genuine relationship breaking issues with the ultimate consequence, means that we never actually develop those relationship breaking issues. Our willingness to divorce, averts divorce.
But, if Jennifer figured out that I would never, ever, under any circumstances divorce her because of my religious beliefs, that would allow her a lot more leeway on those standards of behavior. Maybe she could scream and yell in the kitchen about something. Maybe she could bounce a cup off my head on alternate Tuesdays. Maybe she could come home one day and tell me she just quit her job because it was all so tiring and made her unhappy. Maybe she could put on 100 pounds. Maybe she could cut me back to once a month sex. Maybe she could take all the money and go shopping for cute outfits for her little purse dog. Or maybe she could buy $1500 of Mary Kay cosmetics to “start her business” and only sell $40 worth to her mother.
Or based on the emails I get… she could do all of that at once.
Because I would never be allowed to divorce, can you see how I’m screwed? I can’t really do anything to stop myself from being trapped in this horrible marriage. I mean what I am going to do? Ground her? Be mad? Sure I can make myself look sexier and all hot, but that’s no threat if I can’t leave her and hook up with someone else. I’d have to just stick it out and love her unconditionally.
Do. Not. Want.
See how blindly being on the “no divorce” platform can ruin your marriage?
So let me come around at this from a different angle to hopefully help my Christian friends understand this better. The original guy’s key statement is this…
“I would rather suffer in obedience to God than seek pleasure in rebellion.”
Dude you have it backwards. As the Captain of the household, you are responsible for the safety, well being, happiness, and overall functionality of your household. Complaining that your wife is crappy isn’t very Captainy. My hunch is that your actual problem is that you’ve been asleep at the switch for the longest time, too frightened to actually stand up for yourself. You’ve been without effective demands for some basic standards of behavior and she’s just run riot on you. Your whole marriage is like trample porn without the nudity.* Whether you want to admit it or not, she’s always looked to you to act like the Captain. It’s not 100% her fault that you’re in this pickle. Some of it is her fault, but some of it is yours… and because the Captain is always more responsible than the First Officer, it’s more your fault than hers. The Captain is last off the ship and doesn’t ask for a legal loophole to allow him to be first to the lifeboats. That’s what being the Captain means.
Or put in Christanese… you’ve been disobedient to God the whole time you haven’t been taking responsibility for your marriage. You’re in rebellion now.
And yeah I know what Jesus said, but he wasn’t giving advice in a Marriage 2.0 world was he. Maybe he would have said something different if the wives could call the Roman soldiers in to arrest their husbands for not appreciating the meatloaf appropriately. As it was, a divorced woman in Jesus’s time was pretty much going to have to learn to turn tricks, which literally sucks… so I’m with JC on that one.
So my advice is pretty simple, put things right. Both in you and in her. Set some standards for behavior for each other. Allow time for everything to work itself out and change direction, there are no instant fixes with marriages, but you can greatly improve things. If you put in the proper effort with the right attitude, you have a reasonable chance of making things better. If you do all the right things and she proves herself to be utterly defiant and unwilling to hold up her end of the marriage agreement, that’s her choice to make and you may as well accept it. If so, then just let her go and be Gods plan for feral cat colony management.
Jennifer: The whole no divorce thing is important because you can’t over react to every little thing and reach for the divorce button. I don’t worry Athol would ever leave me for something silly, but there’s plenty that can go wrong in a marriage that isn’t cheating. We respect each other.
* No offense intended to believers of The Star Goat of Thollian IV