Chances are, you have many women or couples in your congregation or ministry who are frustrated and ready to give up on their marriage. They are tired of trying. Their minds are nearly made up. They have truly “had it.”
But before they walk away from what they once hoped would last forever, here is some advice you can give them that will help spare them from future regret.
After 28 years of marriage and nearly 20 years counseling and coaching other couples who were ready to give up, I’ve learned that there are certain phrases or “reasons” that one or both spouses will cite for why a marriage is crumbling. Yet these reasons are often ones that one or both parties later realized were workable.
Here are those phrases – which I call “5 Bad Reasons for Leaving Your Marriage” – and the accompanying counsel:
- “You don’t meet my emotional needs.”
You and I might not say it this way, but we sure think it. And the truth is our spouse can never meet our emotional needs. That tank can only be filled by God. If you leave your marriage thinking someone else out there can fulfill you more and give your life meaning and meet your every need, you’ll be sorely disappointed – again. For more than 20 years, I’ve been taking women to Isaiah 54:5 to reflect on God’s words through the prophet Isaiah: “For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the Lord of hosts…” And through my book, Letting God Meet Your Emotional Needs, I’ve been showing them how to look to God as their spiritual husband to meet their needs for security, fulfillment, communication, a sense of purpose, and so on. As you look to God as your primary source of fulfillment, you are freeing up your spouse, emotionally, to do the best he can with a much lighter load. I can’ t tell you how many women I’ve shared this with who now wish they had known and practiced this principle of looking to God to be their “spiritual husband” before they left their marriages.
- “You’ve changed through the years.”
There’s no doubt your spouse has changed through the years. We all have. Just as you may claim your spouse is not the same person today that you married years ago, neither are you. We rarely know the person we are marrying until we live in close quarters with them, experience conflict with them, work through struggles with them, and see them on their worst days. You may feel you have outgrown your spouse through the years, or you might simply feel you are with someone you don’t know anymore, but if he or she is willing to live with you, in spite of your own changes, give it another chance.
- “We don’t talk anymore.”
I understand this one more than you know. I’ve been married 28 years to a man who doesn’t easily share his feelings, verbally. And being a communicator myself, this means it takes a lot of work to make sure we are emotionally connecting. But as long as one of you is willing to talk, there is hope. If you are the one who initiates the communication, keep initiating. When both parties give up trying, that’s when the marriage is in trouble. I know many wives (and some husbands, too) who tired after awhile of feeling that they were the only ones trying to communicate and keep the relationship moving forward. As far as it depends on you, be the talker. Be the one who tries the hardest. First Corinthians 13:8 says that godly love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” – even when it comes to the communication that your spouse doesn’t seem to be doing.
- “We’ll both be happier without each other.”
We can tell ourselves this when we think in terms of finding someone new to appreciate us more. We can tell ourselves this on the days when things are really bad and we want to be free of those days, altogether. But there is a price to be paid with broken promises, divided estates, dashed dreams, and the undoing of a commitment that was, at one time, “til death separates us.” And if you and your spouse have children, please don’t think for a moment “they will be better off.” That is a lie we tell ourselves to justify our breakup and experience our own contentment. Unless it is a case of physical, verbal, sexual, or extreme emotional abuse, children (regardless of their ages) are never better off through divorce than if their parents had stayed together. In addition, your happiness was never a condition for the vows you took. You promised to love unconditionally “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” and in the majority of vows I’ve witnessed there was no clause that said “as long as we both are happy.” God’s goal for your marriage is to make you and your spouse holy, not happy. And often we don’t become holier by getting rid of what doesn’t make us happy. We become holier, and more like Christ, through the situations we endure, not escape.
And if your reason is “I’ve found someone else I’m more compatible with” that new relationship is just as volatile as your existing one because you will be taking your issues, wounds, and unmet expectations to someone else. I am so grateful that God will never move on to someone else because He has found me and my problems unworkable. We are all broken. Sin has wreaked havoc in our world and relationships. But we can trust the One who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
- “I need to find myself.”
I’ve talked with many women who married young, had children at a very young age, and then left their marriages, claiming “I didn’t know who I was. I had to find my identity.” The sad truth was that nearly every one of them found who they were – a divorced, single mom struggling to make ends meet and bitter at the circumstances that life had “brought” them. Jesus said in Matthew 10:39: “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” Selfishness says “my life is about me.” Godliness says “My life is God’s and I will trust Him with where I am right now and how He chooses to work through it.”
I understand there are marriages that have deteriorated through abandonment, abuse, addiction, sexual unfaithfulness, and betrayal. I know those situations grieve the heart of God and those who are hurt by them. If that is the case, offer counsel, help, accountability and much prayer support as the individual or couple takes the necessary steps to be free of that bondage. I’m writing this particularly for the spouse who is considering one of the five statements above as the primary reason for leaving the marriage. Encourage them to think it through carefully, pray about it, and talk to their pastor or trusted Christian friend who can give them biblical, rather than worldly advice.
Anyone can leave a marriage. It takes a person with integrity, faith, trust in the God of reconciliation, and hope in the God who restores to stick it out through thick and thin. Can you be that person? Or, can you be the one who encourages that person?
Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, national speaker, and author of more than a dozen books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, and When God Sees Your Tears. She and her husband, Hugh (a pastor), co-authored When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection. For more on Cindi’s ministry, or for free articles to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website: www.StrengthForTheSoul.com.