Does The End Justify The Means?

I’m often criticized by Christians as being either “too quick” to suggest divorce, or even “pro-divorce”.  Usually it’s not a complete slamming of me/MMSL, more of an element that makes it’s way into my final grade so to speak. MMSL is amazing and wonderful and deserves an A, but the whole willingness to divorce thing drops me to a B.

I get it. I totally understand that point of view. If you have a Christian world view, that makes sense to me that you think that way. The trouble is though, sometimes a completely genuine divorce threat works like nothing else does to unstick a stagnant marriage.

So the difficulty is that it can work, but is wrong to use. Awkward.

So let’s get real about this shall we.

There’s not too much question in my mind that a genuine divorce threat is a non-sanctioned Christian tool. I agree that you’re coming over to the dark side to try this tactic. That being said, I *very* rarely jump to an instant divorce suggestion and those cases where I do are truly horrible. The entire Phases of the MAP is designed to actually slow down the rush to judgment and get everything as good as they can be, before ever getting to a true divorce ultimatum. It’s a true last resort. Even then, it’s a true ultimatum – a choice – with a positive option for the other spouse to choose. All they have to do is act right.

It’s not simply a random nuke tossed out. It’s something that offers a clear and positive resolution if your spouse is willing to take it. So honestly I get a little ticked at being framed as “pro-divorce” or slap happy on recommending it.

So does the end justify the means?

Yes. Yes it does. If that means you’re in a happy marriage as a result, absolutely it does.

It all just needs to be controlled, managed and staged as best it can for minimal risk and maximum possible gain. If it all works out for the best, I think you’ll be able to live with it. But I do get that it’s stressful and stomach churning to think about.

You know what the REAL risk is though? One day something in your marriage is just going to get so bad, you’re going to snap anyway.

I’d rather see you get help before that happens. If you’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked, come see me.


  1. The reality is that “Christians” – I use the term loosely to apply to evangelicals and others in the US of a broad Christian umbrella – get divorced at about the same rate as non-Christians.

    I think the Christian approach is to take unresolvable marital differences to church officers (elders) so that both husband and wife can have the planks pulled from their eyes. This is essentially a nuclear option also. Most “Christians” in the US today have no respect for the doctrine of the church or church government, so maybe threatening divorce is the only option left for such people.

  2. Ain’t the end justifies the means dependent on the cost-benefit analysis? I ain’t a christian, but I have the impression there’s a lot of absolutes – don’t do it no matter what, never mind the circumstances.

  3. Hearthrose says:

    I’ll cop to being one of those who think you’re a wonderful writer, are very funny, have a *great* deal to offer… but the divorce thing, uck. Frankly, your views are *very* pro-marriage. No one expects you to play by rules you no longer endorse. What are you going to say? “You’ve done everything possible to fix your marriage, now just suffer until you die?” I mean – Christians believe that if we’re stuck in a bad situation but keep honoring our commitments, we get honor from God. We believe this is only a blip in our eternal existence. You don’t. No incentive other than your own personal honor – and you have gobs of that. You get mad props – but there’s a caveat.

    You studied for the ministry – you remember Paul saying that if Christianity isn’t true, Christians are of all men, most miserable? So. That’s cool, we signed on for that. The wisdom of God looks like foolishness to men? Yep, that too. So be it. Sometimes temporal existence sucks bunny toes. That’s just the way it is. There’s one tool in the MAP toolbox forbidden for us, and so that makes things a bit different. Don’t stress on that, we’re going to be rewarded for our faithfulness. (Or we’ll just die, whichever. My side of Pascal’s wager suits me fine).

    You get FULL props for doing some good work, putting a lot of your personal energy out there, and creating a method of personal improvement that has worked for a lot of people. Methods don’t have to be perfect, and they don’t have to be perfect for everybody. You’ve saved marriages, and you care.

    Anyway. :) I just wanted to say that I like you and you’re doing good stuff. Because being direct is a good thing. :)

    Actually if I was aligning myself with Pauline thought, I’d tell people not to get married at all.

  4. Clara K. says:

    I’m a Christian and I really don’t believe in divorce. However, I will say that sometimes life and other people can put you in a situation with no good choices. If you starve someone systematically, and rob them blind, eventually they will steal food. I’m against stealing too, but I wouldn’t begrudge that person the food they stole. Is stealing still wrong? Yeah. But there are circumstances that drove them to that decision. I think maybe divorce is similar. Perhaps the significance of it, is so that when a marriage partner is starved of what they need out of a relationship, and robbed of the ability to attain it or defend it, eventually getting to the point where divorce is mentioned is like saying, “HEY! You and I both know how bad divorce is, and what you’re doing is driving me to want it.” If divorce didn’t matter, if it had zero stigma, I think fewer partners would balk at the prospect of it. So in a way divorce has to be the “terrible not allowed no good thing” in order for it to be a realistic and motivating threat in the first place. And if you have to end up following through on that to save yourself and possibly your children from a lifetime of misery, and abuse, I would think it should be viewed very much the same as a starving man, robbed blind finally getting to the point where he needs to steal food to remain alive however much he is morally against it. No one is asking anyone to sanction stealing, rather we know the terrible severity of that person’s treatment by the behavior they were forced to choose.

  5. Ugh so many thoughts… one I recall reading in “His Needs, Her Needs: How to Affair Proof Your Marriage” that often right before their union shatters, many people become “verbal rigid” claiming they would NEVER divorce only to file papers days later:/ I think some of that may be in play here. By focusing on what you can’t do, that choice looks more and more appealing too. Allowing the possibility takes some of the pressure off. I’m not saying we should all just bank on “starter marriages” and divorce as soon as things get a tad rough BUT knowing there is an emergency exit prevents you from feeling claustrophobic. It’s kind of ironic that in a faith that upholds “free will” so much (though I know pre-destination is big too), that you have to be absolutely trapped once married. Whatever is going on, they belief in “never getting divorced” doesn’t exactly produce better outcomes:/
    I think it also hints at the larger problems of marriage within the church. Not divorcing is not for one’s own benefit but more to look respectable and have a good witness. At the church I used to attend, the other married couples all just seemed to be married because it was the thing to do as a “good” young adult. There didn’t seem to be much love among the couples and pretty much no affection- and I mean not even innocent hand holding lovey dovey stuff not just over the top horny teenager PDAs. Finish college and then immediately get married- wait a little bit to get pregnant then the whole group starts having kids like there’s something in the water. It’s not individualized- just group conformity. Oh and if you can both work 50 hrs a week PLUS go to church events 5x’s/wk, all the better. Screw personal time and/or intimacy alone with your spouse! This is a big reason I stepped away from the church. I had been to many different denominations but it all seemed counter-intuitive. Just do what you’re told and smile about it! We know overly restrictive diets aren’t ideal long term, yet that’s what Christianity was like to me- an overly restrictive diet for every aspect of life! It just makes you want to binge until you are puking all over yourself- and with the heavy emphasis on self sacrifice and martyrdom, there’s sure to be eventual victim puking which ironically could result in a swift spur of the moment divorce. IDK- hope I made some sense in my rambling…

  6. I watched the marriage of a close family member collapse and end in divorce around the time you began writing MMSL. (The husband is a pastor; to say the divorce was a shock would be an understatement.) After I found MMSL and read the Primer I thought many times, “This could have saved their marriage.” He let things go for so long without addressing them (I’m sure he had no idea how to address them) that in the end he was left with nothing – no feelings, no energy, no emotion, no will to try. How much better it would have been if he had taken steps years earlier that might have brought the marriage to a crisis/turnaround point before there was nothing left to save. So, no, I don’t like divorce or even threatening divorce. But sometimes the threat of divorce may be the final “card” that has to be played in an effort to turn things around. I often think that if my family member had moved out years earlier – not divorced, just moved out – it would have forced the issue to the point where his wife would have finally addressed their problems.

  7. GC, sounds like the end of my marriage. Glad it’s over years ago.

    My son is in his 20’s and half-way across the country. I still miss him.

  8. Damn you. Stop posting Trek clips. Every time you do, there goes an hour of my life watching more Trek clips on YouTube.

    On a more serious note, the whole Christian no divorce thing also empowers bat-shit crazy spouses to say things like “Well I guess I’m just going to have to put up with your shit and you’re going to have to put up with mine.” Translation: I’m going to keep abusing and gaslighting you until you die of a heart attack or stroke in 10 years.

  9. “Actually if I was aligning myself with Pauline thought, I’d tell people not to get married at all.”

    Couldn’t help but chuckle at the truth of this.

  10. I’m not a christian, and being a child who grew up happily with divorced parents, I can easily see that sometimes it is the better option. Though I have to say my husband I made a decision when we were 18 that we both wanted our relationship to work, and agreed we would not use ‘breaking up’ as a threat, when we were unhappy. We are now almost thirty, have been though many ups and downs, and I think it was one of the smartest decisions we made.

  11. I may consider proof reading my next post.

  12. Athol’s not a Christian writer and Christians simply have to come to grips with that.

    IMO, one of the “elephants in the room” over on the Forum is that, while Athol’s work is thoroughly grounded in human evolution, a huge chunk of the regular posters are Bible Belters who think the earth is 7,000 years old. Therefore they don’t really accept the key premise of MMSL (that women have evolved certain mechanisms over millions of years that favor alpha males); therefore they retrofit MMSL into a biblical framework that makes women secondary and inferior. This subtly changes everything and leads to different outcomes, e.g. “pushing through a hard No” or “not taking any woman’s emotions seriously,” not to mention the plain misogyny that’s always simmering over there, sometimes below the surface, sometimes in plain sight.

    Not that you asked for advice, Athol, but I’m not one to let that stop me: IMO, not only are you under no obligation whatsoever to reconcile MMSL with Christianity, you positively shouldn’t bother. It would screw the whole beautiful thing up.

  13. @Duncan – not trying to reconcile MMSL with Christianity, more worried that people who really need MMSL hit the “auto-rejection” button because they associate MMSL with an express lane to divorce.

  14. It is the the brightest red of all red pills to realize that religion, science, and everything that goes into these discussions, are not at odds but are branches of the same tree! When a Christian reader tries to tell you, dear Athol, that your teaching leans too hard on divorce, ask them to review Matthew 18:15-17. Read it, and you’ll realize two things: 1) Jesus told us that it’s best to try to work things out. And by work he meant WORK (sounds like the MAP to me!) 2) The Nuclear Option is on the table. If Christians try and try, the way Jesus teaches, and it doesn’t work out, treating someone like a “non-believer” means kick them to the curb!

    Also, for what it’s worth, there’s absolutley nothing that NEEDS to be reconciled. I sit in Bible study every Sunday and think “I think that idea was in the Primer” or “That sounds just like Roosh” or “Wasn’t that on Chateau?”

  15. Hi Athol, I wouldn’t consider your message at all pro divorce. Quite the opposite, I find You and Jennifer’s marriage hugely inspirational as to how to keep the fresh eroticism in a long term relationship. Different people will always interpret and take what they need to from it, and you can never be all things to all people. But you can trust that your audience will find you. We are still reading the primer and are loving all the sexy moves inspiration, and how to extend playful d/s outside of the Bedroom. We are looking for more fun within daily life, and I think you and Jennifer demonstrate that and express it in a refreshingly honest way. I love that your message is not just theory, it is backed up by your own story and your own experiences, it makes for far more interesting reading.

  16. @Athol Kay: Gotcha, and I know MMSL isn’t an express lane to divorce. Quite the contrary. But for it to work you have to be ready to play the divorce card without bluffing, and that’s always going to be a problem for certain Christians.

  17. This is the only blog post I have read on your blog. I am a Christian. I have a hard time with people who put us in a box. My husband and I went to counseling to save our marriage (not because we believed divorce was a sin, but because not trying would throw away 20 years of marriage). First we went to a non-Christian based marriage counselor. She told my husband that it didn’t matter where he got his appetite, as long as he came home for dinner. As a Christian I didn’t agree, but you know marriage counseling is a time to give and take. Well, while we were going to counseling, my husband started having an affair. We worked (it was hard) to save our marriage. Later we went to Christian counseling, because I had so much depression and anger. Our counselor recommended that we do outside reading. One of the books he had me read was “LOVE MUST BE TOUGH” by James Dopson, a Christian counselor. The book started out by warning me NOT to share the book with my husband. It changed my whole way of acting. I stopped acting like I would die if he left me. I started acting like I would like it if we could make it, but I’d do ok if we couldn’t work things out. I started making list of all our property (incase things didn’t work out it would already be done). I divided our Christmas ornaments up so that the things that were more about his interest, and the ones that were more about mine would be separate (“just in case”). I did my doubting and crying by myself. I spoke to my almost grown daughter about what I was doing, because she had already had to face possible divorced parents before. I did not want her to worry. I told her that I would act indifferent and more secure to save our marriage. I gave her the book and told her she could read it, but to keep it hidden. My husband was then so nervous that “I” would leave him. It turned the tables, and saved my marriage. Years later, I almost lost my husband due to his illness. I didn’t leave the hospital but for less than an hour every few days. They gave me a room as he was on a vent for 21 days. After that, I faced my part in our history. I decided I wanted to be a better wife, as he had started being a better husband. I looked up submissive on Google, and found a whole new world. Our life is better, more secure than ever. We’ve been married 35 years. So you see.. Christian or Not.. There are good and bad in counselors, just like any other professions. Read the book, you’ll be surprised how much it says the same thing your saying.. and look at the copyright. You’ll be surprised at how long it’s been around. I wish I had found it earlier. God bless you and yours, Belle L.

  18. James Dobson not Dopson.

  19. I am a Christian. I think divorce is horrible and not at all in God’s plan.

    I used to believe I would do whatever was necessary to save a marriage and that divorce would be absolutely off the table.

    I don’t believe that anymore.

    I endorse Clara K’s comment above that sometimes, life and other people’s conduct put you into a situation where there are no good choices. In some situations, divorce might be the option which, although it’s bad and not an easy choice, is the “least bad” option. A wife who treats a man horribly, willfully refuses sex for months or years on end, or cheats unrepentantly? Myself, I’d rather write her a child support check and stay unmarried the rest of my life.

  20. That clip is from the single best episode of television I’ve ever seen. Seasons 5-7 shine, but that single episode was top notch.

  21. Passing Stranger says:

    a) there’s a huge difference between “divorce” and “threat of divorce when nothing else works to get their attention on fixing the marriage”.

    b) divorce is a no-no, but is explicitly allowed in case of infidelity. I suspect that any marriage that gets to the point where Athol recommends divorce, could reasonably be construed to suffer from infidelity–either actively (sleeping with someone else) or passively (failing to live up to obligations within the marriage).

  22. Athol, I’ve gotta say I love your stuff. As a Christ follower I have to say you are very much pro marriage. And for those who think you are too quick to throw in the divorce card, well I would say many of them probably haven’t been there.

    You have cleverly found a niche that appeals to secular and Christian circles. I anticipate your new book will be HUGE! You are doing a good work! Keep it up!

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