We have all heard some version of these statements, often made by enamored and determined young couples who have seen (and maybe experienced) the pain of divorce and vowed to never get divorced themselves.
“We love each other. We respect each other. We communicate. We will not get divorced. If those other couples simply had what we have, they would never separate.”
I used to be one of those people. Divorce could never happen to me. Besides, I was going to love my husband well and he was not going to need anyone else. He was going to get everything he could possibly want at home. Yes, sir… divorce was simply not going to be an option for discussion.
My intentions were probably good, but a bit naïve – and maybe even a tad arrogant? I looked at my worldview, my personality, my strengths, and I declared, “I will never get a divorce.” By God’s grace and His grace alone, Eric and I are still married… but, life has done a number on my outlook on the topic.
There was a time I could not wrap my mind around why people have affairs. Now, I can see why hurting, discouraged people turn to a kind smile or warm touch – someone who makes them feel young and desirable again. It is still wrong, but I have more compassion now. When I was unmarried, I would observe couples who did not have much “fire” between them and wonder what they did to let their marriages flop. Now, I know firsthand how easily communication lines can be severed and how naturally two people can drift apart without even trying.
We Are Never Going to Use the Word Divorce!
In my newlywed days, I recall a situation at work between a young, engaged woman and a slightly older woman who had experienced a painful divorce. The younger woman was explaining to a friend that she and her fiancé were never going to use the word ‘divorce.’ It was never going to be an option. Upon hearing her declaration, the older woman became emotional. She told her in no uncertain terms that no one knows what the future holds and that she could not make such a claim so early in her relationship.
Needless to say, it was not a pleasant interchange between them; but, I would imagine now, ten years later, that young woman understands exactly what our seasoned co-worker was saying in that emotionally-charged conversation. I certainly do. She got married expecting to be with her husband forever. She could not control the painful decisions he made, and I am sure hearing young, know-it-all couples declare, “we will never get divorced,” reminded her of painful memories.
My young, wide-eyed co-worker was not meaning to appear arrogant or to rub salt in this lady’s wound. She was simply trying to begin her relationship on solid footing by taking away any excuse she and her future husband might find to seek a divorce. Her intentions were good, but like me, she was operating on a lot of faith and little experience.
I fully expect some will not agree with me on this. In fact, twenty-three-year-old Heather probably would have disagreed with this post as well. Though, note, I am in no way advocating for married couples to flirt with or seriously debate the idea of getting divorced. My desire is for dating and married couples to look at the ramifications of saying “divorce is not an option for us” and hopefully find a better way to guard their relationships (instead of hoping in that phrase).
Why I No Longer Say “Divorce is Never an Option:”
- It takes our focus off of sheltering our marriage. I can recall putting on a bit of weight when I was dating someone years ago, and my thought was, “It’s okay. I know he loves me.” What a destructive attitude and slippery slope! What if that had been my marriage? Such beliefs might have led me to say, “I know I scream at him, but he loves me so I know we will be okay,” or, “I know I overspent what we agreed on for this month, but we are going to be fine. We have made a commitment to always stay together.” It is dangerous to live life as though we always have a safety net for our bad choices. The possibility of our relationship dissolving is motivation to shelter and protect it. Take that away, and we become less concerned with keeping it safe.
- We might ignore problems if we “knew” divorce could never happen. How many remember the television show Jon and Kate Plus Eight? For the longest time, this couple was in the tabloids after their marriage broke up leaving eight little people devastated and in the spotlight. After their separation, I watched some of their earlier reruns and one of Kate’s statements hit me in the face. “We don’t have time to work on that right now.” Jon and Kate were talking about how they communicated – often harshly – and because they were so busy, they choose to put those problems aside and focus on the children. Sadly, ignoring their problems led them to a dark and painful place. I doubt they were planning for a divorce either, but ignoring the possibility of a failed marriage, unfortunately, led them to a failed marriage. Couples simply must remain vigilant no matter how well life seems to be going or how inseparable they believe they are. Bitter seeds are stealth and they must be ripped up immediately or they will take over.
- Declaring “divorce will not happen to us” does not eliminate heartaches. Eric tells me when I say “I don’t know…” or “I don’t recall…” to a question, my brain stops looking for the answer. I am not sure which study he would cite, but it makes sense. Why should our brains continue searching when we have sent word that the answer is not there? In the same way, it seems that saying “Our marriage is sealed from destruction!” would tell our minds to stop working on it. Even if our marriages were literally divorce-proof and we could not legally separate from our spouses, we could still deeply hurt them and vice versa. Making a firm declaration that you and your future spouse will never get divorced does not automatically shield you from emotional abuse, contempt, extramarital affairs, or any number of marriage problems. When something is “impossible,” we turn our attention away from it. No matter how unpopular the idea, divorce is possible; and, when we ignore that fact, we do not put as much effort into avoiding marital death traps. The goal is not to simply avoid divorce, but to have a thriving, healthy, God-honoring marriage. Couples who grow closer together each year know divorce is possible and that they have to run, hand-in-hand, in the opposite direction. Ignoring problems does not eliminate them.
- It appears flippant and hurtful to those who have experienced the pain of divorce. If you were standing next to an overweight person, would you say, “There is no way I will ever get fat! No sir! I exercise, eat right, and take my health seriously. Fat could never happen to me!”? I certainly hope not! If you did, I imagine that “fluffy” person would be thinking, “Yeah, kid, just wait until you have three children, a stressful job, bury four of your dearest loved ones, and endure two major health problems – then tell me how you will never get fat.” Those who become overweight know that it is not simply an issue of discipline. Many factors contribute to someone gaining weight, and the same is true in marriage. Divorce is not a decision couples make on their honeymoon when all is peachy. Divorce usually comes after a landslide of issues. To stand beside your fiancé and exclaim, “We will never get divorced!” is like standing tan on the beach at twenty-one-years-old in a bikini after a summer in the gym declaring to the world “I will never lose my amazing figure!”
What We Should Say Instead…
After almost eleven years with Eric, I will no longer say that divorce is not an option. What I will say is that by God’s grace, I fully expect Eric and me to continue on this journey together, seeking to glorify God with our lives, and never ceasing to work on our relationship. God is the source of our strength and not ourselves. It is only by His grace we have come this far and it will only be by His grace that we make it to the finish line.
This is my prayer:
“God, please give us the grace to love each other well, to forgive quickly, to always put You first in every situation, and to love sacrificially even when we do not feel loving towards each other. Please guard the door to our hearts, minds, and marriage, and give us strength to keep running the race for You.”
How will you and your future spouse shelter your relationship from divorce?