We are familiar with the high number of divorces that take place here in America (Approx. 50%). Of course, these are only percentages and figures, but the numbers became more meaningful for me when my wife told me about the kids at her school. Lise used to work as an elementary school secretary and part of her job was to monitor the pick up of children by their parents when they were sick or had other appointments. She explained that each child had a file and in that file were the special instructions as to who was or was not permitted to take the child home from school. These included ex-husbands or wives, abusive boyfriends, angry grandparents and adoptive parents who, after adopting children, had since divorced. The list, she said, went on and on. Many times these warring couples would bring their battles right into the school as they struggled to maintain custody of their child. I wish I could say these were isolated cases, but unfortunately children who had their biological parents happily working together to raise them were the exception, not the rule.
There has always been marital strife and divorce, this is nothing new. The major difference today is that many couples do not make the effort to work things out for the sake of their children (which requires self-denial) like troubled couples used to do. The present generation has simply added children to the list of casualties stemming from divorce.
The purpose of this chapter is to offer some advice on how to avoid divorce altogether, advice that comes from God's word as well as from the experience of those who have had successful marriages. In this chapter my comments will be directed towards those who are not married so they can avoid the pitfalls that lead to divorce when they eventually marry. In the next chapter I will direct my comments to those who are already married and how they can divorce-proof their relationship.
Next to becoming a Christian, getting married will be or is already the most significant action you will take that impacts your life. Next to getting married, getting divorced is the most significant negative thing you will do (aside from being convicted and imprisoned for committing a crime) that impacts your life. Marriage is important, and divorce is a very real threat, even for Christian couples and so they need to protect themselves against it.
In my counseling work I often visit with couples who are planning to marry. Many times after visiting with them and hearing their stories my advice is, "Don't do it!" Some people should not marry each other, some people should just wait, and most people should look carefully and deal with the signs that spell trouble before they marry. Based on this experience and that of other counselors (Dick Marcrear: Central Dallas Marriage Workshop), here are seven suggestions for helping you avoid a divorce even before you say, "I do."
If you desire a Christian home and family, do not even consider marrying someone who is not a strong Christian. The purpose of dating is to find someone to love and who can return that love. Any number of people can fit that description. You can become involved with almost anyone if that is your only criterion.
The purpose of marriage, for a Christian, is to establish a Christian home and family who will together serve the Lord through His church. In II Corinthians, Paul says that we should not be bound together with unbelievers (II Corinthians 6:14). His point is that in trying to worship God properly we should not be bound with pagans and their practices because this would not be pleasing to the Lord. In the same way, if we are trying to establish Christian homes where Christ is honored, where children are raised in the knowledge of God, and where the home can be used as a ministry for offering Christian hospitality and service, the only way to accomplish these things is with both partners acknowledging Jesus as Lord.
You can have a successful marriage by marrying a non-Christian, but you will not have a Christian home, and the odds that your children will be strong Christians will be greatly diminished. As far as divorce is concerned, when religion is a strong factor with only one of the partners, the chance of eventual divorce is higher. If you marry a non-Christian, realize what you are giving up (Christian home, united family) and what you are putting at risk (your marriage relationship and your faith will always be at odds).
Reconsider if your parents seriously object. Of course, there are many exceptions to this particular suggestion. For example, you may be on bad terms with your parents, they may have failed at marriage themselves, or they may have been abusive in some way. There are many reasons that might render their opinion invalid. However, if your parents have been the normal type who have tried to love and support you despite their own weaknesses and struggles, you should pay careful attention to their advice.
Parents may not always know the person you bring home as well as you do, but they know you and more importantly, want what is best for you (and children do not always know what is best for them, even when they are grown adults). If your parents have serious doubts and can explain them, you should take the time to listen carefully and make the effort to convince them of his/her character.
Marriage not only brings two people together, it also joins two families. It is best to try to win over the family and make peace early in the relationship so that you can live in peace after you marry. There are enough pressures on young marrieds without having to deal with negative in-laws.
Watch how your potential mate's parents treat each other. Until we learn differently, the model for the type of husband or wife we will be is our own parents. It is not impossible to change if we want to, but until that happens we will respond to our partner and various marital situations in much the same way our parents did. The sad exception, however, is that people are usually worse than their parents, not better, unless they learn how to change. For example, Isaac used Rebekah in the same way that his father, Abraham, did with Sarah (both men lied about their true relation with their wives in order to protect themselves - Genesis 20:2; 26:7).
Your potential mate may not act like his parents while you are dating, but chances are he will once you are married. This is why it is important to get to know and observe the behavior of your partner's parents so you can discuss this with them and make the changes needed before you commit and before there is little desire to change, and divorce becomes the solution.
Do not marry someone who abuses drugs. I include alcohol and all recreational drugs in this category. Alcohol and drug abuse are responsible for half of the divorces today. People who drink (even social drinkers) or do dope once in a while before they marry usually continue to do so after they marry. Marriage does not cure drug and alcohol dependency.
The Bible says that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (Galatians 5:21) and neither will those who abuse any other form of drugs. If you want your life to center on helping another person withdraw from drug abuse as a lifetime chore, marry a drinker. Your divorce is in the bag. Even if you love this person, is this the life you really want for yourself and your children?
Find out if your potential mate can manage money. When you are dating, most of the spending is on gifts and outings, and we mistakenly judge our partner's money sense by observing how much they spend on us. Marriage, however, requires skill in saving and managing money. How good is he/she at this?
Marriage counselors tell us that in the first six months of marriage, the number one cause of arguments is money. Your potential partner's attitude about money (who controls it, how it should be spent, how important it is, how it is shared) will determine not only your lifestyle but also the number of conflicts you will have. Everything costs something and how you manage the money to buy what you will need will be the subject of many discussions. Make sure that your partner not only knows how to make and spend money, but also knows how to manage and share money as well. It is as difficult to live with a cheapskate as it is putting up with a squanderer.
Do not marry a liar. Of course, no one is perfect and sometimes we fall victim to lies. However, some people use lying as a coping device, a way to get what they want, a method of self preservation or an ego-building tool.
Jesus said, "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). The Lord was not only referring to the ability to be responsible here, He also includes the ability to be faithful or "true" in one's handling of matters dealing with honesty and integrity. If he continually breaks his word over small things or if she never follows through exactly on what she says, this person has a problem with truth. A good marriage cannot be built unless there is a willingness to tell the complete truth at all times. Unless there is trust that the other person's word is solid, you will always be in doubt. If you cannot have complete confidence in the other person, enough to put your very life in their hands, do not marry them.
Can he or she hold down a job? Sounds old fashioned does it not? But it is a long and miserable life in a marriage with a man who does not like to work, cannot hold on to a job, will not take orders or refuses to improve his skills. It is also very difficult to live with a woman who wants to get married only so she can quit her job or leave home. The Bible does not say anything about women working outside the home, this was very rare in society when the Bible was written. But it does say something about women and work. Paul says that women should be workers at home (Titus 2:5). The idea was that they were not just at home, but they were the keepers of the home. The modern day application is that whether a woman works outside the home or is at home exclusively, she is bound by the same rules of good stewardship as men are in the workplace. This means that she has the responsibility of being the keeper or manager of the household. Going out to work does not absolve her of this responsibility, it means that the couple has to be more creative and cooperative in fulfilling the needs of the home.
If your prospective partner likes to sleep too much, play too hard, and hates their job or work in general, prepare to be poor, prepare to carry the load by yourself and prepare to spend a lot of time regretting the day you said, "I do."
I am sure that many of the married couples and those who have married off children who are reading this book could add another 20 suggestions. For example, do not marry on the rebound, do not marry someone you love but do not like, do not marry someone who will not communicate with you, do not marry a flirt, do not marry someone with a bad temper, and so on and so forth.
Personally I believe all the suggestions to avoid divorce before you marry can be summarized into one single positive sentence: Marry someone who loves Jesus. If the person you marry loves the Lord, then:
- They will love and obey His word.
- They will serve His church.
- They will know how to love you and your children with Christ's love.
- They will never leave you, for any reason. If they love the Lord, these things are standard equipment. No marriage with Jesus Christ as Lord of both partners has ended in divorce.