Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from a two-part FamilyLife Today® series with author and theologian Wayne Grudem. You can listen to the podcast here: “Should I Get a Divorce?”
You’ve reached a deeply painful place in your marriage where you’re asking, “Should I get a divorce?”
This is a difficult judgment call that requires consideration of your individual situation with the guidance of wise, biblical counsel. We’ll talk more about what this looks like later. For now, let’s look at some guiding principles as we seek to apply what the Bible says about divorce.
When should I stay married?
God’s intention for marriage is a permanent, lifelong union between one man and one woman. That’s the ideal we should work for.
But in some cases, the ideal feels out of reach. Maybe it’s an addiction to gambling, alcohol, drugs, or pornography. Whatever it is, you’ve tried again and again to fix it, and haven’t seen much change. It takes prayer for discernment to know when that’s the case.
I’m not arguing for divorce for all kinds of reasons, like if the husband and wife can’t agree on something about the children or activities or how to manage their finances. That’s a time to stick it out, work at understanding, and move toward each other with as much outside support as possible.
Sometimes, separation can lead to change and repentance. In cases where the husband and wife still have the opportunity to make their marriage work, they should try to do that first. If one spouse refuses to even talk during the separation, then the marriage has been abandoned, and divorce could be the legitimate option.
Should I get a divorce?
In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul says, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved” (emphasis added).
What cases would Paul have in mind that would damage a marriage as much as adultery or desertion by a spouse? These are situations that require wise consideration: abuse, abuse of children, prolonged verbal and relational cruelty, credible threats of serious physical harm or murder, and incorrigible drug or alcohol addiction.
Those who don’t hold this position are at risk of leaving the abused spouse in a situation of enslavement. And Paul says, “In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.” That’s the only place in the Bible that marriage is talked about in terms of slavery.
So Paul is saying that to stay in those situations is like slavery, and God doesn’t want to leave a spouse in that slave situation.
Seek wise counsel
Pastors, church leaders, and trustworthy friends can give wise advice in these areas according to their understanding of Scripture. Pastors and Christian counselors can offer guidance by thinking in terms of these categories:
- Is it so damaging that the marriage is not functioning as a genuine marriage?
- Is it possible, with God’s help, that it will be changed?
- From a human standpoint, is there any possibility of repentance and change?
If you’re considering this…
If you’re wondering if you should get a divorce, I encourage you to find those counselors, pastors, and friends to help you carry the burden of grief and help guide you through this decision-making process. This decision carries a lot of weight and needs to be brought before the Lord.
When possible, seek reconciliation with your spouse. Know there is hope for your struggling marriage. But there’s also freedom to leave a marriage causing great suffering on account of abuse, adultery, addiction, or some other form of abandonment.
A final note
When it comes to the church or Christian communities responding to people walking toward divorce, it depends on the specific situation. We need to pray for guidance and for the Lord to give us wisdom to know if we should say anything, what we should say, and when we should say it.
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