When Is It Right to Leave a Marriage?

by | May 28, 2014 | Blogs, Fire in My Bones

Three months ago, when I wrote a column titled “10 Men Christian Women Should Never Marry,” readers shared some heartbreaking stories of their marital mistakes. One woman admitted, “The man I married is six of the 10 things you listed!” Many other readers also asked this honest question: “If my husband is one of those men, can I divorce him?” (You can read that column here.)

I don’t enjoy recommending divorce to anybody. God instituted marriage, so it’s sacred. It’s a holy bond that we should protect. Jesus Himself said, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt. 19:6, NASB). Yet in the same passage He mentioned immorality (v. 9) as an allowable reason for divorce. In a fallen world full of sin and unfaithfulness, divorce is not always avoidable.

It’s true that many Christians are too eager to bail out of a marriage after their first big argument or when the flame of romance dims. Too many people view divorce as a convenient escape hatch. Yet this flippant disregard for covenant vows is not acceptable for a follower of Christ. Any Christian couple that stands before God to seal their union should be committed to staying together through thick and thin.

At the same time, I have counseled with both men and women who were trapped in severely dysfunctional marriages—and it was obvious some of these relationships simply could not be restored. In those cases, I had to ask them to prayerfully seek a divorce—and find support, counseling and prayer as they walked through the traumatic aftermath of a painful breakup.

Here are four situations in which divorce may be an advisable option:

1. Unrepentant adultery. If a husband or a wife is unfaithful to their partner, it’s possible to forgive and reconcile. But that’s only an option if the person who committed the adultery is willing to admit their sin and break off the illicit relationship. If the affair was a one-time experience, and the guilty spouse is broken over their sin, then healing is possible. However, a man who is constantly cheating on his wife (or vice versa) is deceived, and he is also putting his wife at risk of disease. If your spouse is having sex with someone else, you are not required by God to tolerate that behavior.

2. Domestic abuse. I never counsel a woman to stay in a physically abusive marriage. The wife needs to get herself and her children out of the house if her husband is beating her or making violent threats. It is irresponsible for any Christian minister to tell an abused woman to stay in a domestic situation that is physically dangerous. Separation is an option for a season; if the husband is willing to receive counseling, it might be possible to save the marriage. But God does not expect you to stay married to an abuser. He wants to rescue you out of that situation!

3. Emotional cruelty or control. I know women who have endured years of verbal abuse from husbands who claim to love God but don’t understand that their dominating attitudes are slowly killing their wives. Some husbands think they have the right to monitor and analyze their wives’ every move. Others scold their wives, scream at them or subject them to constant profanity and angry tirades. For victims, this can lead to depression, addiction and even suicide. If the abuser is not willing to repent of such toxic behavior, the spouse needs to get out before the abuse destroys what’s left of his or her self-image. This principle also applies to spouses who are involved in drug abuse, alcoholism or criminal activity.

4. Spiritual incompatibility. Many times one spouse will come to faith in Christ before the other. In the best situations, the believing spouse leads the unbelieving spouse to the Lord. But what if that spouse never embraces Christianity? Paul told the Corinthians that they can stay together but that it is not wrong to allow an unbelieving spouse to leave (1 Cor. 7:12-16).

In some conservative churches, leaders teach that divorce is never acceptable and that a person who chooses to divorce—even if they have been abused—is in sin if they leave the marriage. These hardliners will typically declare, “God hates divorce,” quoting Malachi 2:16, and then suggest that even the innocent party in a divorce will be judged by God. That’s an unfair use of Scripture. God’s mercy is bigger than that!

God certainly hates the pain, shame and family disintegration that accompanies divorce, but He also offers healing, restoration and freedom to people who have endured a marriage breakup. As we work to protect marriages and encourage strong families, let’s also leave room in our hearts—and in our theology—for people who simply cannot stay in irreparable relationships.

J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma. You can follow him on Twitter at @leegrady. He is the author of Fearless Daughters of the Bible and other books.

CHARISMA NEWSLETTERS

Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


MORE FROM CHARISMA

Is the False Prophet Alive and Well on Planet Earth?

Is the False Prophet Alive and Well on Planet Earth?

Note: As the World Economic Forum rolls out the "Great Reset’"—and a new poll shows 77% of the public is concerned "microchip implants will be used to usher in a never-before-seen level of totalitarian control"—an Israeli professor and New York Times bestselling...

Knowing the Character of God When It Matters Most

Knowing the Character of God When It Matters Most

If you have found yourself in the direct path of a searing fire in life, your bravest choice is to recognize who God is and then glorify Him as Lord. If you refuse to recognize the character and goodness of God when the temperature of life is uncomfortably high, you...

Don’t Make ‘Parties’ as an Excuse for Over-Indulging

Don’t Make ‘Parties’ as an Excuse for Over-Indulging

I love a party or any get together where there is food. How about you? However, it is a big excuse many use for not losing weight. I had this excuse. It went something like this, “I can’t lose weight because I want to eat at family gatherings, parties, church carry-in...

Relax and Let the Holy Spirit Work in You

Relax and Let the Holy Spirit Work in You

Here’s an honest confession: I struggle to rest in the Lord. Maybe I’m a bit compulsive, but I find it difficult to be still and know that God is working when I can’t see what He’s doing. When I need the Lord to do something in my life, I tend to “help Him” do it. But...

3 Qualities of Successful Kingdom Leaders

3 Qualities of Successful Kingdom Leaders

If you grew up in the 1990s, you knew Mike. Michael Jordan, that is. It was spectacular to watch him play basketball. He’d make “impossible” shots with only three seconds left on the clock and win the game, It happened … for years! What you might not know is that he...

RECENT ARTICLES

How to Operate in the Power Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He told the apostles in Acts 1:8 (NLT), “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” Jesus promises a gift that would give them comfort, power,...
Messianic Rabbi: Make the Choice to Be an Outsider

Messianic Rabbi: Make the Choice to Be an Outsider

One of the wonderful things about reading through the Bible is that the more you read it, the more things you find within its pages. No matter how many times you read a verse or a series of verses, because the Bible is a living document, there will always be more to...

Kingdom Economics: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Kingdom Economics: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress unanimously voted to pass a declaration of independence from Britain. Each signatory was facing death by hanging if the bold experiment failed. The Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal and that...

Consider This Unsung Hero of the Bible

Consider This Unsung Hero of the Bible

Sometimes, I think Martha in the Bible gets a bad rap! I am not saying that Jesus labeled Martha at all. Please hear me out. But I think we would be wise to avoid picking up and holding onto some of the dynamics in this potential sibling rivalry between Martha and...

Prophetic Word: We Are Entering the Books of Acts

Prophetic Word: We Are Entering the Books of Acts

On the morning of June 5, 2022, I was praying in preparation for the Arise Women’s Summit I was hosting near Knoxville, Tennessee, when the Lord took me into an encounter. I found myself in the library of heaven standing before a giant staircase made of extremely...

The Church Revived: 3 Keys to the Emerging Move of God

The Church Revived: 3 Keys to the Emerging Move of God

During the past two years, I believe the church at large has been in a season of returning to God. Repentance is crucial when it comes to revival. Scripture shows a clear pattern that repentance precedes the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (see Joel 2:12-28 and Acts...

How Divine Wrestling Changes Our Identity

How Divine Wrestling Changes Our Identity

All of us at some point will hit a place of getting the wind knocked out of us. We all experience unexpected detours and times when there seems to be no way out. But there is One who lives in us, the Lord Jesus Christ, who gives us the strength to overcome obstacles....

Pin It on Pinterest