7 Steps to a Successful Divorce

This lesson reviews what not to do if you want to succeed at marriage.
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Let us begin with statistics about divorce in general.

  • The divorce rate in America is roughly 40-50% based on current projections.
  • According to researcher Jennifer Baker of Forest Institute of Professional Psychology, the divorce rate for first marriages is 41%, for second marriages is 60%, and for third marriages is 73%.
  • According to sociologists, childless couples have a 66% rate of divorce.

The most disturbing statistic about divorce, however, is the one that sees conservative Christian groups with the highest divorce rate among religious groups, even higher than the divorce rate among atheists (Barna Group: Evangelical Christian Research and Survey Organization). After 38 years of ministry I am sad to report that my experience in dealing with couples bears out the truth of these statistics. Unfortunately, when I look back over my own ministry I see that even after having received counseling, more couples have decided to go ahead and divorce than remain married despite their problems.

If you look at the various websites that provide information on the causes for such an increase in the divorce stats, they will point to things like the rise of the number of women in the workforce, or the demands of two careers on families, or the facility and low cost of divorce itself. One writer, in noting that the highest rates of divorce occurred in "Bible Belt" states like Oklahoma, concluded that the Christian religion was somehow to blame for the many broken marriages in America. My own theory is that people who divorce usually break the time-tested rules established by God for a happy and successful marriage.

This is why the title of this chapter is, 7 Steps to a Successful Divorce. I have given it this title because it seems that people who end up divorcing, purposefully do all the things that will guarantee marriage failure while refusing to do the things that lead to success. So, if you want a successful divorce, here are the can't-miss steps you need to take.

Step #1 - Do Not Leave

In Genesis 2:24a the Bible explains the natural progression that takes place when two people are joined together in marriage and a new family unit emerges. It says:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother

The reason to leave father and mother is not because we have a job, we are old enough to make our own decisions or we disagree about things. There is a natural bond between parents and children that remains even when they become adults. However, when a son or daughter marries there is a leaving (Hebrew word here means to loosen or forsake) the parental bond in order to form a new bond or union with our spouse.

A successful divorce down the line, therefore, requires that you not leave your parents, but somehow graft them into your new union. Sometimes it is the child that does this by not taking on the role of husband or wife but simply treating the marriage like an extension of their parental family. Many times it is the parents who, with good intentions, interfere by not allowing their child or their child's spouse to form a completely independent unit.

There is a role for parents to play, but it is a supportive one, one of example and encouragement. However, too many young people marry and assume that their mothers will raise their children and their fathers will provide leadership and support, because they are too immature to take on their own responsibilities for married life. In addition to this, too many parents enable their children's immaturity and self-centeredness out of a misplaced fear that they might suffer if they (the parents) do not smooth out every bump on the road of life.

44% of first marriages fail and one of the common denominators in these broken unions is the unwillingness of young people to leave and work out their married lives on their own. So, if you want a successful divorce, see to it that you do everything you can to manage your children's marriage relationship; and young marrieds, make sure you never leave home.

Step #2 - Do Not Cleave

That same passage in Genesis 2:24 goes on to say:

...shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife.

The word cleave means to cling or to stick to. For example, you are in a sailboat being tossed by 80 mph winds and huge waves, you cling (cleave) to the rail or main mast so that you will not be swept overboard. In a marriage, that cleaving is the creation of a special intimacy that no one can penetrate because it is off-limits to everyone else except the two partners. You create it though honest, constant, complete and loving communication.

A successful divorce, however, requires that you circumvent any attempt at clinging, cleaving or communication. Make sure that your spouse is the last to know anything that is going on. Always confide your feelings to your Facebook friends or co-workers instead of your spouse, and spare no effort to give your spouse the impression that they are not a priority.

Many cleave to their jobs, their cars, hobbies, friends, anything or anyone except the one that they originally left their parents in order to cleave/cling to. Successful divorcees report that the break-up was no big deal because they did not feel that they were very important anyways. Jesus said, "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). If you want to succeed at divorce, work at making your spouse anything but your first priority in human relationships, and you cannot miss.

Step #3 - Do Violate (The One Flesh Principle)

In Genesis 2:24-25, the Bible says,

...and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

This simple phrase encompasses the entire mystery, beauty and sacredness of the sexual relationship that takes place within the framework of marriage. It is within this one flesh union that the couple experiences its deepest feelings of love, intimacy, pleasure, reassurance and comfort. Author Tim Gardner in his book, Sacred Sex, (WaterBrook, 2002) says that sex is holy and is in some ways a foretaste of heaven. If this be so, those who seek to successfully divorce need to find ways to violate this one flesh principle.

In other words, try to add something else to the basic standard of one man bonded to one woman. For example, try bringing porn into the mix, or be unfaithful emotionally or physically with someone else. Perhaps you can use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip to get your way. By all means, make sure you always focus on your own needs first because every successful divorce has unfulfilled sexual needs as a basic component.

Step #4 - Do Not Multiply

The very first command God gave to man and woman was, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28). Do you think there is any relationship between the fact that in American society women are having fewer children and having them later in life and the rate of divorce? In 2010 the United States recorded its lowest birthrate in a century, at 13 births per 1000 people (Huffington Post - 9/7/11). This is not enough to replace our population at the current level. This may be one reason that 66% of divorces happen to childless couples.

Successful divorcing requires a commitment to worldly things like careers, toys and self-fulfillment, not time-consuming things like children, family and home-building.

Step #5 - Do Not Submit

So far I have spoken in general terms about what either spouse can do to sabotage their marriage, but now I would like to get gender specific and start with the ladies. Girls, whatever you do, make sure that you undermine any attempt by your husband to take seriously what Paul the Apostle says:

22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
- Ephesians 5:22-24

If your husband has any intention of becoming a spiritual or moral leader, or gives any evidence that he wants to serve as provider and protector, make sure you remind him that these are outdated ideas that have no place in today's real world. Let him know that no man will ever tell you what to do. Show him your paycheck as proof of your independence. Never let anyone see or even think that you count on him to lead you as well as your family. And if, perchance, he has many personal issues and weaknesses, and is not a natural leader, then do not encourage or facilitate his leadership. Rather, see to it that you step into the void and take charge yourself. Do not let an opportunity go by to remind him that he is not the leader and you are not in submission to him. And here is the tipping point, always broadcast these things to your family and friends so they are aware that you are not a woman in submission.

Follow these patterns of behavior and you will guarantee your unhappiness and eventual divorce.

Step #6 - Do Not Love

Is it not interesting that in the New Testament the only time God commands love within a marriage, it is to men?

28So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.
- Ephesians 5:28-29

I do not know why only men are encouraged to love their wives as they love their own bodies. Maybe it is because He knows that sinful men's tendencies would be to love themselves first. A woman's nature draws her to sacrificial love as she bears and raises children. Men, on the other hand, have no such natural tendency. They have to learn it.

The successful divorced male, therefore, has to constantly give in to his natural inclination to use and consume. He must remain focused on himself and what makes him feel good. He needs to concentrate on what will satisfy and protect his fragile ego. He is required to invest in those things that will support his interior image of himself as a real man in a man's world. To successfully divorce he must avoid spiritual leadership by example, avoid claiming his rightful position in the family given to him by God, and avoid making any sacrifice of time, money, or effort that benefits only his wife or children and not himself.

Of course, not sharing his thoughts and feelings, getting angry when his sexual needs are not met, and assuming he is never at fault and never needs forgiveness are just bonus items that speed the divorce process along.

Married life, among other things, has been designed to teach men how to love. Refusing to learn this lesson is the fastest road to divorce.

Step #7 - Do Not Seek (Help)

I have given some general principles and some gender specific ones, and now one last idea intended for the couple. To make sure that there is no chance that your marriage survives and spoils your divorce, do not get any meaningful help. God knows that when you take two sinful human beings and set them into a lifetime commitment of marriage there are going to be problems. This is why Paul spends a considerable amount of time in I Corinthians discussing the various issues surrounding trouble in marriage. He even gives counsel about what couples should do when things get really bad.

1Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- I Corinthians 7:1-5

Obviously, there were troubled marriages in the church at Corinth and the brethren sought help from the Apostle about these matters. But if you want to successfully divorce, why reach out for help? You might wreck your divorce. If you are serious about divorce then you will need to concentrate on ways of getting out of your marriage instead of ways of staying in your marriage. Another tactic to spoil any reconciliation would be to start a relationship with someone else instead of working on the one you have with your spouse. Perhaps you can round up a posse of people who can sympathize with you and make your spouse the common enemy. And, my personal favorite, tell everybody who is willing to listen what a lousy marriage you have.

Now, I repeat the essence of step seven, whatever you do, do not get qualified, certified, longterm help because it may just work and spoil the divorce. Of course, you can do what most people do to calm their conscience: visit your clergyman a few times once the marriage is terminal and see if he can perform a miracle in resurrecting a dead relationship. This will help in the future when people ask if you tried counseling. You can say, "We even went to see our minister but it did not work." Under no circumstances, however, are you to try heroic measures to save your marriage in the way you would try to save your life if you had cancer. Successful divorces are difficult to accomplish in the face of six months of intense counseling with a professional therapist working with a couple determined to save their marriage.


Well, there you have it, seven steps to a successful divorce: six do not's and one do.

  1. Do Not Leave Parents: Allow them to interfere or replace your partner in priority.
  2. Do Not Cleave to Your Spouse: Make sure to love something else first.
  3. Do Violate the One Flesh Principle: Allow someone or something else to share your sexual intimacy.
  4. Do Not Multiply: Make something else the focus of your married life other than family.
  5. Do Not Submit: Follow the world's advice on the role of women instead of God's word.
  6. Do Not Love: Refuse to be the sacrificial leader of your home.
  7. Do Not Get Help: Look for excuses to break your vows instead of getting real help to keep them.

Of course, for the record, you know that the last thing I ever want for anyone is for their marriage to end in divorce. However, we have to realize that if we follow the steps that lead to divorce, this is where we will end up. It is amazing to me that year after year I see people who know the Lord, believe and know His word, refuse to follow His instructions in order to build strong marriages: do leave parents and cleave first and foremost to your spouse; Do not violate in any way the one flesh principle; Do multiply and build your marriage, home and family on God's promises in His word; Do take on the roles assigned by God for men and women in marriage; When there are problems, do everything you can to heal your relationship.

Divorce is a terrible thing and quite painful as many who have been touched by divorce know. Thankfully we have the grace of God and mercy in the cross of Christ to wash away our failures and sins in every area of life, including the sin of divorce. But why go through the pain and heartache? Why risk our souls with such a sin? God's word tells us how to succeed at marriage, not divorce.

There are thousands of books and seminars each trying to explain how to have happy marriages, and I applaud these efforts. In the end, however, they all boil down to the simple things laid out in this chapter. God has not given us another plan.

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