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Here is a question from one of my readers, followed by a response from a Christian brother who has been down this road and who has decided to entrust Himself and his children to Christ. I appreciate his willingness to share:
My problem is an unrequited divorce. I know how God feels about divorce and I want to fight for my marriage. We have two young children. If there is any ounce of Christianity left in my husband, then he doesn’t seem to care that God hates divorce.
He has moved on and is dating a non-Christian woman whom he allows to be with our children. We aren’t even divorced yet! I am afraid every time they go with them.
I pray. I go to church. I pray. I talk to the members of my church. We pray. What else can I do? My children are court-ordered to see him and be exposed to their sinful, adulterous relationship.
He and I have a terrible relationship and I don’t know how to get it back. We don’t communicate well, so we’ve stopped talking unless it has to do with the kids. Even talking then is strenuous.
Should I be trying to tell both him and his girlfriend about divorce and its consequences? I’m trying my best law-wise to keep the case going so we don’t divorce, giving God a chance to reach him before that. And of course, I pray.
Dear reader of April’s blog,
April has asked me if I was willing to share some of my experiences with unrequited divorce, and how God has led me to particular conclusions related to your questions. It is something that I have had to work out through my own unrequited divorce.
I am writing this three years after my own divorce. My divorce was unwanted by me, but my spouse was determined to leave. Communication before she left was awful, with threats about affairs being made and carried out multiple times. Before and after our separation, she entered a path of multiple one-night-stands and had a quick succession of short-term, live in boyfriends. Our children have seen and heard things that no child should ever have to see. Many men have come and gone from their lives in the three years since our separation. Currently she lives with a man who is not a believer and this appears to be a more long-term relationship heading towards a marriage. We have legally divorced, sold our family home, moved to different towns and have shared care of our children.
What I write comes from a place of deep hurt and personal experience with the situation that you are in. I have spent many, many hours in tearful, prayerful consideration as to how to deal with these situations as they arose for me. I have prayerfully considered all that I have written here, and I believe that the advice I am going to share is biblical advice.
(From Peaceful Wife – I encourage every wife in a situation like this to search scripture and to pray for God’s leading and wisdom for her. Ultimately, what you choose to do is between the Lord, your husband, and yourself. Reach out to trusted, mature believers/counselors for prayer and godly wisdom. And, of course, if your or your children are truly in danger, please contact the proper authorities.)
Fighting a divorce when a spouse is determined to leave
One of the things we may be most tempted to do when our spouse tells us they want a divorce, is to fight against it. This is a natural inclination! We don’t want a divorce, we don’t want our world shattered and we know that God hates divorce. Malachi 2:16 tells us this.
“For the Lord God of Israel says
That He hates divorce,
For it covers one’s garment with violence,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
“Therefore take heed to your spirit,
That you do not deal treacherously.”
It is right and good to hate divorce, it is the sundering of a covenant that is supposed to be lifelong and holy, and all parties involved in a divorce suffer because of it.
When my ex-wife told me she wanted a divorce, I felt total, debilitating fear. Everything that I believed to be true was a lie. All my security was taken away. So initially I fought for the marriage tooth and nail, with fear as my primary motive.
But, in fact, me fighting it just strengthened her resolve to go through with it.
The biblical principle that became clear to me through these situations was this. We do not have the ability to control our spouse’s decisions, and we should not try. Trying to fight a divorce when your spouse is adamant that they want to divorce is a form of control, and if they are not wanting God’s design for lifelong marriage in their life, then they will only fight that control even more. They are already rebelling against His will in their life, why would increasing the ‘height’ of what they perceive as walls to limit their freedom do any good? It won’t!
I believe this is the principle that is laid out for us in 1st Corinthians 7:12-16
“To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?”
An Example from My Own Life
This experience is burned in my mind, it is one of the times that I knew God’s presence so, so strongly. I was working alone and all of a sudden the scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” came into my heart. I felt strongly that God was reassuring me of His presence and lifelong care, warning me of something to come and to let it happen and trust Him.
Minutes later my ex-wife rang me. She threatened to have another affair and told me she was going to force me out of our home. I responded with these words, “I am not leaving you or the children, I love you and I am committed to you and our marriage. But you are free to leave if you want to, you have the freedom to choose.”
Even though my response was clearly giving her the freedom to leave and was not a response of control in any way, she still responded by telling me that I was being horrible, and she stepped up her efforts to force me to leave, including trying to manipulate me into an affair. Many years later, she told me that she did not want to be seen as the “bad one,” so she was trying to get me to cheat and leave, but in her heart she knew she was leaving no matter what. When a person is committed to the path that they are on, they are not willing to listen to advice contrary to it. If I had of said that I would try to stop her leaving, it would have escalated the issues even more.
Dear reader, I am not suggesting that this is easy to do! Every fibre in your body is (rightly) hurting and hating what you are going through. Your natural inclination is to fight, fight, fight to save the marriage you dreamed of having. I hurt with you and for you, but I am certain that the biblical principle is to let your husband make his own choices. What does this mean practically, when it comes to the legal side of the divorce?
I am not sure what the laws are in your country, but in my country a couple can apply for a ‘no fault divorce’. This can be applied for by the couple together, or by one member of the marriage. If it is applied for by one spouse only, the other spouse has the option to contest the application or accept it.
My ex-wife asked if we could apply for a joint divorce, and after much consideration and discussion with my counsellor, church leaders, and much prayer, I decided on the following approach. I told her that I would not apply for a joint divorce with her, because I had made my marriage vows and I intended to stand by them. I told her that if she chose to apply for a single applicant divorce that I would not fight her application for a divorce because she had the right of free choice, but nor would I support it. I believe this to be consistent with the biblical principles of honouring my marriage vows, of showing Christian love and giving freedom of choice. (Incidentally, the outcome was that she did apply for a single applicant divorce, I did not fight it and she was granted it). I do not believe that God would have you fight to avoid a divorce. I believe that God would have you graciously allow your husband the freedom of his choice, and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
Trying to tell the wayward spouse what to do and/or preach at or lecture him/her
One of the things that it is tempting to do, is to lecture our spouse as to why they are making the wrong decisions. Even if we have decided that we need to give them the freedom of choice, we are still naturally inclined to point out to them why their choices are wrong. I did this:
I pointed out to her that she had made wedding vows of fidelity for life.
- Her response was “I didn’t mean them, I just decided that I was hot and you were hot and we had to be married to have sex”.
I pointed out to her that the Bible taught that God hated divorce.
- Her response was “So what, I don’t think I believe in God anyway”.
I pointed out to her that the divorce would hurt our children so much.
- Her response was “It’s too late for me to reconsider anything”.
I booked a counsellor to talk things through.
- After a couple of sessions her response was “He’s an old man who doesn’t know anything”.
I told her that I was willing to forgive her affairs, sell our family home, move interstate so she did not have to deal with the shame of some of her more public actions, and start afresh.
- Her response was “No, I just don’t want you. I want to hurt you”.
See the pattern here?
I don’t know your spouse, and I don’t know the dynamics of your relationship and communication. But what I do know is that if he is willing to leave the marriage and live with his girlfriend, then no amount of lecturing from you will change anything. You can tell him and his girlfriend that the divorce is wrong and the consequences of it until you are blue in the face, but it won’t change anything.
Only the Wise Listen to a Godly Rebuke
A warning is only of any value to someone who is on the same team and is listening out for it, willing to hear the voice of reason. Proverbs 9:7-8 says
“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults;
whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you;
rebuke the wise and they will love you.”
Trying to tell a wayward spouse what to do is about as useful as cooling down a hot meal with a blowtorch. In the same way that a spouse who does not believe in the sanctity of marriage will only rebel against fights to save it, a spouse who is not willing to listen to reason will not listen to you lecturing them or telling them that any of their decisions are wrong.
Consider King David for a moment. He was fixated on Bathsheba, he lusted after her and was willing to kill to have her as his wife. If the prophet Nathaniel had lectured him about what he was doing, what do you think his response would have been? I suggest that if he was willing to commit murder and adultery to have Bathsheba, which he already knew was wrong, then someone telling him that he was doing the wrong thing whilst he wanted to do it would have had zero effect.
And yet, at the right time and with the right word from God he was convicted of his sin, and broke down in repentance.
It is not love to ignore the sin of our spouse, but our relationship with our spouse is different to our relationship with our children. With our children, we have a responsibility and a right to instruct them, to teach them, and to correct them. If this is done with love as the motivation it is a good and right thing. However, we do not have the same sort of parental authoritative relationship with a spouse, and certainly not with an ex-spouse. I think we need great discernment to know when and how it is a loving time and place to share with an ex-spouse what impacts their decisions have made. I believe, and have experienced, that God can and does open doors at the right time to share these things.
Dealing with your children being with the ex-spouse’s current boyfriend/girlfriend
This is one of the hardest things to deal with. Not only are you dealing with the betrayal of one who promised to love you for life leaving, not only are you dealing with the hurt of another partner (or partners), you are also dealing with the confusion and hurt of your children. The innocents.
The truth is, divorce hurts children very, very deeply.
Even though it has been three years since my divorce, my kids still hurt from it. I believe they always will. The tears they have shed, the questions they have asked, the memories of their little bodies clinging to mine as they tried to work out why mummy left, still hurt me too. I am a father who wishes to protect his children from hurt, and yet, here I am having to protect them in some ways from the one who is supposed to nurture and love them?! How do I do that? I too have been afraid for my children, (particularly for my daughter), who are growing up living with men who are not their father or brothers. How do I teach my children good values, when they are growing up surrounded by bad values? How do I set appropriate boundaries with them, when they have different or no boundaries with their mother?
These are Very. Hard. Questions.
I found inspiration in Mother Teresa. Someone shared with me an experience she wrote of, where someone asked her how she coped with all of the suffering of the children in India. They asked her “Don’t you wish you could save all of the children of India?” Her response was “Of course I do”. They then asked her “How do you keep going when you know you can’t save them all?” Her response was “I can save this one.”
What this experience showed me, is that I can only do what I have the actual capacity to do. I cannot make a difference with what goes on with my children’s mother. I cannot change the fact that she is likely to have many boyfriends, and the children will see this. I cannot change the fact that she smokes around them, swears around them, is happy to live in an unbiblical sexual relationship around them – because none of these things are considered by the laws of our country to be reason to remove a child from their mother (unless there is actual abuse going on, in which case I have every legal right to intervene). But what I CAN do, is provide an environment and sanctuary where they can experience and see a difference.
I can make a difference to them when they are with me.
I can live a life that is pleasing to God, with appropriate boundaries on my own relationships (incidentally I have not had any relationships since our separation). I can eat good food, teach responsible alcohol consumption, provide a smoke free environment. I can make a difference to them, with me.
I also believe it is absolutely appropriate and right to continue to teach your children about right or wrong values, even if their other parent is not living those values. It is not love to allow someone you have a responsibility to teach to believe that something bad is good. The primary consideration once your spouse has divorced you, in my view, is what is your responsibility towards your children.
Creating productive communication with the ex-spouse
As I was writing this for April, I had a conversation with my ex-spouse. It began with her letting me know that she had booked my son in for some dental work this week. It continued into a brief discussion where she said she had been proud of him for the way he played with a disabled child last week, and she said he had a kind heart. I responded by saying that he does have a kind heart, and I think he got it from her (because underneath all of the horrible things that have been done, she does have a kind heart). She melted, and apologised again and again for all the things she has done that has hurt me.
We talked some more about the kids, their future, and our future. We talked about ways that we try to build up each other in our children’s minds. I pointed out in the conversation that I could not support some of the things she is doing, such as her smoking, but that I have shared these things with the kids in a way that shows them that we all love her. She acknowledged again that she takes responsibility for all of the wrongs she did to me. This is not the first time she has apologised for what she has done. I have had many opportunities to talk about things that have hurt me, and she accepts hearing it now. She reiterates again and again her desire for me to have a happy life. She is changing.
What has brought about this change? How can we communicate about the children like that now, when we weren’t able to 3 years ago?
One of the fundamental principles that I believe should guide our responses in all communication with all people, is love. Whilst it is true that love speaks the truth, when we speak with love we also have discernment as to when we speak, who we speak to, and how we say it.
If the motivation for us saying something to our ex-spouse is fear, then that is a good sign that we are probably not speaking in love.
We will likely say something that is truth (such as the divorce is hurting the children), but it will likely be said in a way that achieves nothing. If we want to say something and it is marked with peace, love and joy, this is likely a fruit of the Holy Spirit in your heart. And it will bear fruit, which will be seen in your ex-spouse’s response. As I have slowly learned this principle, and have practised thanking her for the things that she DOES do for the children, things have slowly changed.
Reader, I am not going to pretend for a second that this was easy to begin with. When your spouse/ex-spouse is doing things that rip your heart to pieces, it feels almost impossible to see anything positive in them at all. But what I found, was that as I spent time in prayer and worship of the Lord, he enabled me to see her as a lost soul, and I began to hurt for her and for the decisions she was making. I began to see that we were both the same, both people who desperately needed God’s forgiveness and grace for our lives. I began to love her with a love that I hadn’t ever felt before. I understood how Christ could be on the cross hurting for the people who were killing Him.
And that is the key. Knowing Christ. The more I have surrendered my situation to the Lord and allowed Him to work, the more fruit I have seen in my life and hers. He has directly shared to my heart times when I just KNEW it was the right time to say something, and the responses to these conversations have been fantastic.
I ask you this, what can you actually do of your own strength that will change the mind of your spouse? The answer is nothing.
Any change that comes will come as a work of God in their heart, as they, themselves, are willing to listen to Him. Creating productive communication with your spouse is a matter of experiencing Christ yourself, practicing His principles of love and respect, and trusting Him with the outcome, even if you don’t see any changes for a long, long time.
I received a letter from my daughter two weeks ago. She is 6. It had her beautiful handwriting on the front of the envelope, where she had carefully written out my home address. It was a handmade card, with a picture on the front that she had drawn. Inside it had these four words “I love you Dad.” Do you know why I got that letter? Because it was the weekend that I did not have custody of my children, and their mother had organised this letter to be posted to me. She has photographs of me with each of the children next to their beds, so they can see me before they go to sleep at night. She will randomly text me, thanking me for things like teaching her how to drive a car. Things have changed. There won’t be a reconciliation of our marriage, but there has been such a softening of her heart over time, a reconciliation of friendship of sorts. We work together for the children now.
There is a scripture in 1stCorinthians 13 that says this, “Love never fails.“ Love may not restore your marriage, there are some things that have lifelong consequences and divorce is something that sometimes can’t be avoided. But I can promise you that love will produce fruit over time. It will first produce fruit in you, as you begin to understand the depth of the love of God in you. And it may well begin to soften the way for better communication with your husband also.
I am praying for you.
NOTE FROM PEACEFUL WIFE
Ultimately, each spouse in a situation like this will need to seek God wholeheartedly and seek to follow the Word of God and the Spirit’s leading. There aren’t super easy formulas and pat answers. This husband truly has sought the Lord with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. As he was willing to lay down his will and his life in absolute surrender to the Lord, God has given him wisdom each step of the way. He trusted God to work in his wife’s heart. Because it is only God who can open people’s blinded eyes and raise them to new life.
I believe that as we learn to depend on Christ and we determine to seek to follow and honor Him above all else, He can show us His path for each of us.
The greatest goals are eternal goals. Things like – our spouse’s and children’s salvation. We can continue to pray for these things and allow God to use us however He sees fit to pray and to set beautiful, Christlike examples for everyone around us to see.
If you are facing severe issues in your marriage, please reach out for godly, experienced, wise one-on-one counsel if you need to – with a counselor you trust. And please seek to be as close to the Lord yourself as possible.
If you have been in a situation similar to this and you believe that God has given you wisdom you would like to share (that aligns with scripture), you are welcome to share some general insights and spiritual treasures you have received.
If you would like prayer for your situation, you are welcome to ask for prayer.
However, I’d like to stipulate that we (the author of this guest post, readers, and myself) not attempt to give specific advice to people in the comments about their particular situations. A public forum like this is not a great place to share all of the details of a spouse’s sin. That is better done in private with a trusted, experienced counselor who can get to know your specific situation in person. And sometimes, if a person gets a lot of conflicting advice, it can be more confusing than helpful.
How to Have a Saving Relationship with Christ
When Your Husband Says, “I’m Done!”
Should You Try to Please or Keep Your Husband at Any Cost?
Influencing an Unbelieving Husband for Christ
Should a Christian Wife Consider Separation?
FreeinChrist Fights Divorce with Heavenly Weapons
FreeinChrist Stands for Something Way Bigger Than Her Marriage
A Peaceful Divorced Wife – Kristen’s Story
A Divorce and Reconciliation Story – by The Restored Wife
Finding Contentment in Christ Alone in Painful Trials
How Can I Seriously Count Painful Times As Joy?
When Would I Not Submit to My Husband?
A Prayer to Change the Spiritual Atmosphere in the Home – by Radiant
Praying for Your Husband and Children
Finding Contentment in Christ Alone in Painful Trials