Divorce-Proofing Your Marriage
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In the previous chapter we reviewed seven suggestions to help single people avoid divorce once they entered into marriage:
- Marry a strong Christian.
- Consider seriously your parents' objections.
- Observe how your partner's parents treat each other.
- Do not marry a drinker or drug user.
- Observe how your partner handles money.
- Do not marry a liar.
- Make sure your future spouse can hold down a job.
Those reading this who are already married may have said, "I wish I would have known this 20 years ago before I said 'I do!'" With this in mind I offer part two on this topic dedicated to those who are already married and who want to protect their existing marriage from divorce.
Young unmarrieds have a lot of energy so they can take seven suggestions pertaining to their love life. Married folks are probably a little more worn out so I only have three suggestions for you concerning divorce prevention.
Know the difference between a contract and a commitment. Too many divorces take place because people do not understand the fundamental difference between these two types of agreement.
A contract is a legal arrangement between two parties to render services, products or conduct according to the terms of the document. A marriage contract is a legal arrangement between a man and a woman to live as husband and wife, and fulfill certain duties regarding children and property. Like all contracts, there is an escape clause in case things do not work out. In a marriage contract this escape clause is called divorce. Many who see marriage as nothing more than a contract think nothing of using the escape clause when things do not suit them. This is becoming the basic attitude about marriage in society today.
A commitment is a promise, a vow, a covenant that one person takes upon himself/herself. When you commit, you are promising that regardless of what other people do, you will maintain the commitment that you have entered into. In other words, your behavior is based on your commitment, not the other person's behavior.
In a marriage context, a commitment is the promise to continue being a faithful spouse regardless of the circumstances. In a marriage commitment there is no escape clause other than the partner's death. Yes, Jesus added adultery (Matthew 19:8-9) and Paul added abandonment (I Corinthians 7:15) as legitimate reasons to dissolve the marriage contract, but this was because of sin. However, the only legitimate "out" is the death of the partner (Romans 7:2). When God instituted marriage at the beginning, it was with the idea that both partners would be committed to each other until death (Matthew 19:6). Marriages end in divorce because the partners only see themselves in a contracted union instead of a committed union. This commitment means that the individuals in the marriage are:
- Committed to Fidelity: A sincere commitment in marriage is expressed as absolute and complete fidelity to the partner. Regardless of how our partner acts, we never have a legitimate reason to be with another.
- Commitment to Love: Many times there is no love in a relationship because we have stopped putting our love into it. Marriages thrive on love and a commitment to a spouse is not simply a commitment to keeping our body in the marriage, but also a commitment to keeping our heart there as well.
- Commitment to Serve: Many marriages fail because of simple neglect. The job, the hobby, the friends or the family take precedence over the marriage to the point where it decreases in importance. If you are married, your marriage is your number two priority (Christ is always first). It is before work, family, hobbies, even before church.
If you understand what commitment is, then you will not consider divorce as any kind of solution when life becomes difficult. For example, a man with a wife who is incapacitated because she has begun to suffer from depression or some other physical handicap that interferes with the couple's usual level of sexual intimacy, does not consider putting her away because she no longer can meet his needs. The marriage commitment requires fidelity in times of sickness as well as times of health. This promise, made when we speak our vows, is not just empty poetry but an actual promise to be true even when our spouse is no longer themselves due to illness or accident. Marriages do not need more money or sex to survive, they need commitment as the rock solid foundation upon which the relationship can be built.
Get help! So many people come to see me after they have called their lawyer or after their partner has left them. This is usually too little and too late. People are sinners, and when you put two sinners together in a relationship for life there is bound to be trouble. Most times people can work things out by themselves but there are those instances when a couple arrives at an impasse, a deadlock, a standstill or a cycle that they cannot seem to break. In a situation such as this it is necessary to:
- Swallow Your Pride: Many couples will stay in their misery because they are too proud to admit that they are in trouble and they need help. Men are usually more guilty of this than women. Men hate to admit that they have failed somehow and may need direction. Sometimes one of the partner's attitude is, "There is nothing wrong with me, you are the one with the problem." If you have said that, your marriage is in trouble and that means you are in trouble and need help.
- Get Christian Counseling: There are many counselors, but only Christian counseling will help you redesign your marriage relationship according to God's plan in the Bible. Secular counselors want to lead you to the point where you will do what you really want to do (and this may even include divorce). Christian counselors will help you know and do what God wants you to do. In the end this not only brings peace to the relationship, but also peace of mind.
- Be Patient: Troubled marriages usually require changes on the part of both parties, and change is often slow and painful. It usually takes time to work yourself into marriage problems, and it also takes time to work yourself out of them as well. Give the process time to work in both your life and your marriage, the results will be worth the wait. Most problems that separate people in marriage are fixable given the right attitude and teaching. Couples who are in trouble and seek help early need to trust Jesus' promise that, "with God, all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Even marriages that seem hopelessly damaged can be restored if only the couple would trust in Jesus who is the Lord of hopeless causes. If God can resurrect Jesus from the dead, He can also resurrect a dead relationship.
Learn to forgive. Divorce is the final refusal to forgive. I say final refusal to forgive but not the first one. A divorce is usually preceded by a long series of unforgiven offenses. When we do not bother forgiving or asking forgiveness for our small offenses, we do not learn how to forgive or ask for it when it really counts. There can never be a new start without forgiveness. That is why the first goal for the couple experiencing trouble in their marriage is to begin learning how to forgive one another. This even applies to those who have divorced. There is no healing, no new start or new life until forgiveness has taken place. This means forgiving the other person as well as forgiving yourself.
New life does not begin when you get a new apartment or remarry, it starts when you forgive. Many folks want to forgive but they are not sure what forgiveness really is or how to go about it. Forgiveness is giving up the right to receive a payment that you justly deserve (whether it be the right to an apology, restitution or punishment). In forgiveness, we not only give up our payment, we give up our right to receive payment, or even ask or refer to it ever again. We sign this right over to Christ. The other person now owes Jesus what they previously owed to us. They still owe it, but they do not owe it to us anymore, they now owe it to God in Christ. We have turned it over to Him in prayer, and He will demand it of them at judgment. In return for this forgiveness, Jesus gives us peace concerning the issue (we take our anger, resentment, desire for revenge and hurt, and exchange it for peace of mind concerning this matter). The Lord also gives us forgiveness for our own sins which He transfers from us to Himself as well.
Sometimes the stuff is so old, so complicated, so hurtful that it cannot be untangled and cannot be taken back. We simply need to wipe the slate clean. Forgiveness is the only thing that can do this. Some things a couple cannot forget, but with God's help they can forgive, and that forgiveness permits them to move on and start over.
At the end of the previous chapter I mentioned that you could have probably added many more suggestions to what I said, and I suppose that this would be true for this chapter as well. However, I am confident that most divorces that take place, whether they be among Christian or non-Christian couples, could be avoided if:
- People would enter into the marriage with a "commitment" mindset rather than a "contract" mindset. This would eliminate divorce as an option when things get rough, and motivate the couple to really work on their problems instead of taking what seems like the easy way out.
- People would not wait so long to get help when they start having problems. We do not hesitate to take our car to a mechanic or our computers to a technician when they malfunction, but we refuse to invest a few dollars in Christian counseling in order to improve or even save our marriages.
- People need to invest as much emotional energy into forgiving each other as they do in winning the argument or hurting each other. Forgiveness is an integral part of building a healthy relationship, and if you want to live in peace you have to learn to ask for and give forgiveness because forgiveness is the best kind of closure.