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Is It Okay to Divorce a Spouse With Alzheimer’s?

A marriage marked by unshakeable commitment is a beautiful picture of Christ's relationship with the church.
By Dave Boehi
Sep 16, 2011


September 16, 2011

I was surprised this week when I read about the comments Pat Robertson made about divorce and Alzheimer’s on The 700 Club. On Tuesday, in a segment where he answers questions from viewers, he was asked the following question:

I have a friend whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t even recognize him anymore and, as you can imagine, the marriage has been rough. My friend has gotten bitter at God for allowing his wife to be in that condition, and he’s started seeing another woman. He says that he should be allowed to see other people because his wife as he knows her is gone … I’m not quite sure what to tell him. Please help.

Robertson obviously felt a lot of compassion for the man. “I hate Alzheimer’s,” he said. “It is one of the most awful things, because here’s the loved one, the woman or man that you have loved for 20, 30, 40 years, and suddenly that person is gone, they’re gone. They are gone.”

The next words were disappointing and controversial: “I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but, to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”

His co-host broke in and asked, “But isn’t that the vow that we take when we marry someone, that it’s for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer ... ?”

Robertson answered, “Yeah, I know, if you respect that vow, you say ‘til death do us part.’ Well, this is a kind of death. … I can’t fault him for wanting some kind of a companionship, and if he says in a sense she is gone, he is right. It’s like a walking death.”

The importance of your wedding vows

This is an issue I’ve thought about the last few years as I’ve watched different people cope with similar situations. As you grow older, you view your marriage vows through a different lens. Most young married couples, with stars in their eyes, have little idea what they’re saying when they vow to remain together for a lifetime, “for better, for worse … in sickness and in health … ‘til death do us part.”

But after two or three decades of marriage, you begin to understand in a deep way how important those vows are. You realize there will likely come a day when one of you will devote much of your time and energy to taking care of the other.

That’s the normal course of marriage, and of life. Nowhere in Scripture can you find justification for divorce because of old age, illness, or memory loss. And I’ve got to say that it gives you a great sense of comfort and security to know that your spouse is totally committed to you and will never leave, no matter what happens to you.

Caring for a patient with Alzheimer’s may be one of the greatest tests of a marriage. But I think we need to be telling the church today that God will give us the strength to fulfill our vows no matter what situation we find ourselves in. There are ways for a caregiving spouse to meet his needs for companionship without starting a relationship with another woman.

A marriage marked by unshakeable commitment is a beautiful picture of Christ's relationship with the church. Here are some great comments that blogger Russell Moore made yesterday:

Marriage, the Scripture tells us, is an icon of something deeper, more ancient, more mysterious. The marriage union is a sign, the Apostle Paul announces, of the mystery of Christ and his church (Eph. 5). The husband, then, is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). This love is defined not as the hormonal surge of romance but as a self-sacrificial crucifixion of self. The husband pictures Christ when he loves his wife by giving himself up for her.

Moore points out that when Christ was arrested, “his Bride, the church, forgot who she was, and denied who he was. He didn’t divorce her. He didn’t leave." Moore goes on to say,

A woman or a man with Alzheimer’s can’t do anything for you. There’s no romance, no sex, no partnership, not even companionship. That’s just the point. Because marriage is a Christ/church icon, a man loves his wife as his own flesh. He cannot sever her off from him simply because she isn’t “useful” anymore.

Someday you or your spouse will likely be faced with this type of test. For your sake and for the sake of your legacy, may I suggest that you choose today how you will respond. Look your spouse in the eye and say:

“No matter what ever happens to you, there are two things you need to know: First, God will never leave you or forsake you. And second, neither will I.”

One of the most moving stories we’ve told on FamilyLife Today is about Robertson McQuilkin and how he cared for his wife after she developed Alzheimer’s. Click here to listen.

© 2011 by FamilyLife.  All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family.



Meet the Author: Dave Boehi

Dave Boehi is a senior editor at FamilyLife. He has written one book (I Still Do), coauthored the Preparing for Marriage workbook, edited dozens of books and Bible studies, and produces the FamilyLife e-newsletter Help & Hope. Dave and his wife, Merry, live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have two married daughters.

 

 

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