Should spouses avoid speaking about divorce?

Jay Dee

Should spouses avoid speaking about divorce?

Apr 13, 2018

There are differing views within Christianity regarding divorce.  Some don’t really see a problem with it at all, that if you are unhappy, you should leave.  Others believe the very word should be stricken from our vocabulary.  They believe that divorce shouldn’t only not be

Should we ban the word divorce from marriages?

There are differing views within Christianity regarding divorce.  Some don’t really see a problem with it at all, that if you are unhappy, you should leave.  Others believe the very word should be stricken from our vocabulary.  They believe that divorce shouldn’t only not be an option, but even discussing it should be considered improper.

We see titles of articles like:
Delete the D Word
4 words that can kill a marriage
Banish the D-Word
Divorce is off the table

These are posts I found in a quick 30-second search.  There are many many others.

In these posts and podcasts, they suggest that you make pacts, agreements and other commitments never to even utter the word divorce.

But, is this the wisest course of action?  Does merely banishing the word solve the problem of divorce or the problems that lead to divorce?

I don’t think so.  In fact, I think in a lot of cases, this can become a way of burying your head in the sand, of not dealing with the reality of the state of a marriage. It’s dealing with the symptom while ignoring the root cause – ignoring the fever hoping the illness will just go away.

Now, I don’t want to go to the other side of the spectrum and say we should be okay with divorce.  I’m dead set against it except in some pretty extreme situations.  But, let’s not jump straight to the other end of the spectrum and ban the word.  After all, the opposite of crazy is not sanity … it’s just another form of crazy.

So, why do I think we should keep the divorce word in our vocabulary?

1. Divorce is a reality

Like I said, removing the word doesn’t change the fact that many marriages end in divorce.  It’s also true that divorce tends to be contagious.  When people divorce, it removes the stigma of divorce a bit in their social circles and families.  It normalizes what is really a serious event and should be rare event.

Parents who divorce see not only their children have increased chances of divorce, but also their friends and other family members.

And yes, there are times when divorce is an unfortunate necessity, when life literally becomes intolerable and the choice is between divorce, death or mental instability.

We have this weird shift within Christianity where talking about divorce is becoming more taboo than actually getting a divorce.

So, we need to talk about this, if only to be able to say “What are we doing to ensure the same doesn’t happen to us?”.  If you can’t talk about divorce, then it’s hard to discuss solutions for avoiding it.

2. It teaches that temptation is sin

Anyone who has been through a rough patch in their marriage has likely had the idea of divorce pop into their head.  I know I have.  I immediately rejected it as an option, but that doesn’t mean the temptation wasn’t there, and it’s not wrong to be tempted.  It’s wrong that temptation exists, but this side of a new heaven and earth, we will not see an existence without that.  Even Jesus wasn’t spared that.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. – Matthew 4:1

In fact, I’d argue that Jesus was likely tempted each and every day as a human.  He had the power of divinity at his fingertips, yet refused to utilize it.  Even his miracles He did through the Father, not through His own power.  Can you imagine every time He performed a miracle, He had to humble Himself and ask the Father to do something He could already do, if only for that decision to remain human so that He could be a perfect example for us.  I think Jesus was tempted far more than any of us can even imagine.

The point is, temptation isn’t a sin.  It comes from a sinful world, but it isn’t a sin to be tempted, to admit to that temptation, or to talk about that temptation, so long as you are trying to find a solution rather than giving in and entertaining the idea.

This idea that divorce shouldn’t be uttered teaches people that they shouldn’t admit to being tempted by divorce.  They shouldn’t share the struggle with others, because that’s already showing you’ve done something wrong.

In short, it stigmatizes getting help and makes you feel wrong for even thinking about it.  So, people don’t talk about it. They let the temptation sit in their mind rather than rooting it out.  In the darkness of fear it grows, gaining a foothold in your mind.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. – Martin Luther King Jr.

The best way to drive out these thoughts is to expose them to the light.  That goes for sin as well, but it works for temptation, the precursor.  In fact, the early Christians used to meet to share their struggles and failings.  Back in the 1800s members of my denomination used to do the same, meeting weekly to confess their sins to each other in a group setting.

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. – James 5:16

It’s a shame we’ve lost this practice.  Instead, not only do we not confess our sins to one another, we won’t even share that we’re tempted.  We make it easy for Satan to create strongholds of division in our mind.

Now, ideally we should be sharing, confessing and making changes to our marriage well before this point, but sometimes it takes something fairly monumental, like the thought of divorce, to wake us up to a problem.  Teaching us not to discuss that temptation is pushing the solution even further down the road making it even harder to deal with later on.  By the time divorce is a temptation, the next steps get pretty close to a point of no return for many spouses.

Often they only have one or two more last ditch attempts to get their spouse’s attention before deciding to leave.  Some turn around, and their spouse has no idea how close they were to being single.  Others don’t.

3. Avoiding the word removes a potential warning sign

I’ve talked to too many divorcees who had no idea their spouse was going to leave them.  They were completely blindsided when they were told.  The first mention of divorce was “I’m divorcing you.”  Now, part of this is because the common legal advice is not to give them any hint.  You don’t want to tip them off after all.  While it’s probably sound legal advice, it’s terrible marriage advice, but then I guess these people aren’t really interested in staying in the marriage.  They’ve already given up at that point.

I think part of it is that we generally have a fear of talking about difficult topics.  In fact, I’ve had those who instigated divorces tell me they always told their spouse everything was fine when it wasn’t.  We don’t like to talk about problems.  Sadly we’d rather either suffer through it, or wait until it becomes unbearable and then just abandon the marriage.

But what if we could talk about it?  What if we could say the words “The idea of divorce occasionally pops into my head, and that scares me.  I think we should get some help before I start to seriously consider it.”  Then, not only are you getting help for yourself, to stop you from entertaining the idea, but also your spouse has a very clear “something is wrong and needs to be done” message.  This, I think, would be far more effective than the “if you don’t change, I’m leaving you” that is the shot-across-the-bow that people often employ.

4. When shouldn’t you use the word “divorce”

Times you shouldn't use the word "divorce"

There are some times that I think the word “divorce” isn’t appropriate, and I think this is what some of the people who write articles are trying to drive at.  Unfortunately, they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.  But, let’s not do the same in reverse and say that “anything goes.”  So, here are some instances where I think it’s inappropriate:

Divorce should never be used as a joke or flippantly

Divorce is a very serious concept.  I think the word needs to be respected for what it implies. What I see in the Bible is that divorce signifies the breaking of a commitment between you and God to unconditionally love your spouse.  You are breaking a promise to God.  Now, like I said, there are some rare instances where this is, I think, acceptable.  Times where your life is literally in danger, either physically, emotionally or mentally.  When you could say to God “I’m sorry, I literally cannot do this.”

When we use divorce in jokes, it’s making this holy commitment between you and God a “base” thing. That is, it’s bringing the holy down to the level of being unholy.  Arguably, this is blasphemy, just as bringing God’s name down to the level of something “normal” or less is, or raising something unholy up to the level of holiness.

When we make light of it, we make light of not only the commitment of unconditional love, our relationship with our spouse, but also our commitment and relationship with God.  It makes it easier to disregard the solemnity of our vows and makes divorce more palatable.  While I don’t want to shame people who have had divorces, I also don’t want to go the other way and make them seem like they aren’t a big deal.  They are very serious events which I wish we would take more seriously.  Joking about it pushes it into the “no big deal” category.

Divorce should never be used in an argument

The other time divorce shouldn’t be mentioned is in a conflict.  As mentioned, divorce is a serious thing.  Mentioning it also has serious consequences, or at least it should.  If you hear the word “divorce” in your marriage, it should make you sit up and take stock of your relationship.

Unfortunately, it often gets used in fights as an attack to hurt a spouse.  And hurt them it probably will.  At least the first time.  If it continues to be used, then one of two things will happen:

  1. Either the other spouse will live in constant fear that their husband or wife will leave and after a while it either breaks them, or they end up hating their spouse and might leave themselves.
  2. Eventually, like the boy who cried wolf, not only will the threat of divorce lose its power in an argument, it’s quite possible that a serious plea for help in the future will go unheard.

Divorce should never be used as a threat or for coercion

Now, I think there is a place to mention divorce in order to precipitate a change in the marriage.  But it has to come from a place of selfless love and a desire to improve the marriage, not your own desires.  I think it should also come from a place of vulnerability, of sharing that you simply cannot continue on the current path, that it is literally destroying you to do so.

Unfortunately, often divorce is raised as an ultimatum instead of a sharing of the heart.  It’s used as a heavy-handed method of getting what you want instead of a plea for change because the current path of the relationship is not sustainable.

This is the advice we often see in non-Christian environments.  When one spouse isn’t getting what they want, the suggestion is to tell them “start giving me what I want, or I’m out of here.”  The idea is to scare them into compliance.

Unfortunately, this builds a marriage based on fear rather than love.  It’s a dangerous game, because deep down, they’ll resent you, and if they ever get the courage to leave, they’ll be gone in a hurry.  Even if they stay, you will never get the deep intimate connection most people desire, because it can’t exist in what is basically a hostage situation.  It’s a short term gain sacrificing your future, deeper, relationship.

Should the word “divorce” be removed from Christian marriages?

I don’t think so.  I think suggesting this limits marriages in a variety of ways.  It teaches spouses not to share their struggles with temptation, thus limiting vulnerability.  It takes away the ability to act on early warning signs for the spouse that’s feeling that the marriage is in crisis, and it removes a potential warning for the spouse who doesn’t realize there are any issues.

Now, granted, in the ideal scenario, none of these would be needed, but we don’t live in an ideal world, and removing yet another tool or event for marriages to find a point to pivot into something closer to what God intended is not helpful, it’s harmful.

So, no I don’t think we should remove the word “divorce” from our vocabulary.  I think we should afford it the respect it deserves, like anything that has the potential to ruin lives.  Let’s not bury our heads in the sand, but rather work together to de-stigmatize talking about divorce while also bringing back the idea that divorce is a very serious thing to consider, let alone execute.

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