For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate~ Mark 10:7-9 NIV
I recently had a conversation with a friend that can only be described as a full-scale bummer.
My friend informed me, with tears in her eyes, that she and her husband were splitting up after more than two decades together (she did not initiate the divorce). This news was heartbreaking on at least a dozen different levels. We’ve known these people a long time, our kids kind of grew up together, we love them both and two decades is a long time to invest in anything, especially something that doesn’t end well. This couple has adult children who are grieving deeply. Both the husband and the wife are professing Christians and the split has tested the kids belief that God is good and that love can overcome any obstacle.
This sad news got me thinking about the subject of marriage in general and why marriages fail in particular. It occurred to me that although most folks know going-in that marriage takes a lot of energy and hard work, virtually all marriages begin on a hopeful note. No one I have ever known (or heard of) has entered into marriage anticipating failure or hoping things don’t work out.
This truth begs the question:
If most folks know from the get-go that marriage will not be easy then why do so many marriages fail with such depressing regularity?
We’ve all heard the sad statistics: roughly one-third to one-half of all marriages in America end in divorce. Most of us have also heard the reasons given for divorce: sex/infidelity, money problems and poor communication.
I do not dispute the divorce statistics. I do dispute the reasons given for divorce. I believe that the causes typically given for divorce are actually just symptoms of the actual causes of divorce. We will never change the divorce rate until we get real about why people divorce.
Marriages struggle and die not because of big problems that cannot be worked out. Relationships struggle and die for three far less discussed reasons.
The first is…
According to the trusty word wizards at Dictionary.com selfishness is defined as “ being devoted to or caring only for one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc. regardless of others”. When we carry an attitude of selfishness into marriage it manifests itself in a lack of thoughtfulness or consideration for others. A friend (who has since repented) confessed that for years he bought his wife a big beautiful chocolate cake every year on her birthday. Not because she loved chocolate (she hated it passionately) but because he loved chocolate and it was a good excuse for him to eat the kind of cake he liked. Over time selfishness erodes positive feelings and leaves the other person (no matter how long-suffering they may be) feeling hurt and possibly even vengeful towards their spouse. If by some miracle the marriage survives, the love won’t.
A refusal to obey the command given to husbands and wives in Ephesian’s 5:21-
Most Christians are aware of the commands given to husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22-33. Women are told to submit to their husbands and husbands are commanded to love their wives. What most Christians don’t know is that the verse directly preceding those verses (Ephesians 5:21) commands spouses to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Mutual submission is the act of adopting an attitude of mutual cooperation and compromise in all things. Submitting to one another in marriage may mean having sex more often than you would prefer or doing chores that don’t necessarily appeal to you after a long day at work. Mutual submission means giving rather than taking and not holding a grudge over what you don’t get.
Unwillingness to change-
A wise person once described marriage as “God’s ultimate growth opportunity”. However, if you are unwilling to change, you will never grow or become better. Christians are more capable of change than any other people on earth because the Holy Spirit is guiding them in all things. Refusing to change is ultimately a refusal to grow and the greatest indicator of immaturity on earth.
A very wise pastor friend of mine once said “any two reasonably mature Christians can make a marriage work if they are BOTH willing to put in the necessary effort.” That man understood a truth many of us have willingly forgotten: that divorce is unnecessary if both parties are willing to die to self and submit to God.