“Should I stay in my marriage? Or should I go?” “Can God even restore my marriage?” “How am I supposed to know if I should stand or divorce?”
These are questions that people ask us every day, and the same questions that keep Loyal Spouse’s stuck in limbo–sometimes for years!
We aren’t going to tell you what to do–you two are both adults and personally responsible for your choices. If you choose to stay, do so because you have made a decision to stand firm and then stand firm. If you choose to go, do so because the natural consequence of adultery is breaking the marriage covenant. Thus, if the adulterer BROKE it, they would have to be the one to REPAIR IT by coming to themselves and truly repenting. If they don’t, then divorcing is just one of the natural consequences of the choice that they made to break the marriage covenant.
In the end, the decision is yours and you will reap both the benefits and pay the costs of whatever you choose. EVERY choice–every decision–has both a benefit and a cost, and usually people make their choices because ‘the perceived benefit’ is more valuable than ‘the perceived cost.’ Now we all know that people are sinful and that the qualities that sinful people value are not the qualities that bring glory and honor to God! Thus, a selfish person may “value” the ego-boosting flattery of opposite sex attention over the godly commitment to the spouse of their youth.
So since we are not going to tell you what to decide, how about if we look at what the Bible tells us and help you to figure out how to make your own decision?
1. What did Jesus say about Divorce? Well…let’s look! Matthew 19:3-9
“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
So straight from Jesus’ mouth, He says you CAN divorce for sexual immorality–that is to say, you are ‘allowed’–but notice that He doesn’t say you MUST. It’s not a commandment. So if you don’t want to divorce after your spouse is unfaithful, God doesn’t require it of us, but He does allow divorce for that one exception: sexual immorality.
Also note, that in these verse, Jesus says that divorce is permitted because of the hardness of the heart. When someone is unfaithful and refuses to end their affair, they harden their heart and DECIDE to commit infidelity. When someone has an unfaithful spouse who just will not end their adultery, eventually they harden their heart and DECIDE they can’t take it anymore. In these verses, Jesus acknowledges that people divorce because their heart hardens. Nonetheless, in the case of sexual immorality, divorce is a moral option.
2. “Can God Restore My Marriage?” Obviously God CAN restore–He has the ability to do anything. He is God! He can choose to suspend the law of gravity or choose to make the sun stand still if He wills! So the question is not “CAN God restore this marriage?” but rather “Will He? Is it His will?” It can feel very difficult to determine God’s will sometimes, but knowing God’s will is not some enigmatic hocus pocus only revealed to the special, ultra-holy through some mysterious Spirit. One of the best suggestions I can give you to decide what IS and IS NOT God’s will is to read the Bible. The more you read the Bible, the more you have the opportunity to get to know God’s mind. The more you know God mind, and what He has commanded us to do, and what pleases Him that He would like us to do, and what HE is like, and what qualities HE finds admirable…why the easier it is to determine if something is God’s will or not!
One thing I can say that will help is that God is utterly, 100%, always consistent. He does not tell us to be one way in the Old Testament and then change His mind and tell us to be the opposite way in the New Testament. So one easy way to tell if something is God’s will is that if there is something in the Bible that says ____ does not please God, then He will not have us do that displeasing thing! As an example, I’ve heard of married people who are in some ministry together at church, and they are unfaithful and claim that [quote]”God WANTED them to commit adultery so they could be together and serve Him in this ministry.”[end quote] No He didn’t. Affairs and sexual immorality displease God-period. He would not want us to have an affair in order to minister to Him!!
I’ll give one more example that will help demonstrate how reading the Bible can clarify if you should stay or go. Let’s say you were ‘young and foolish’ and married a non-christian even though you are a Christian and God clearly tells us that we should marry other Christians (II Cor. 6:14). So you rebelled, made a vow, and intended to keep it–but your non-christian spouse had an affair, refuses to end the affair, and wants to leave you. You can know God’s will because of I Cor. 7: 15
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
3. What about forgiveness? Many times people think that “forgiveness” means “forgetting” or “approving” — and nothing could be further from the truth. We are never, ever told to approve of known sin, nor to just forget about it as if it never happened. What ARE we told about forgiveness then? Well let’s look at Luke 17:3-4
“So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
The “forgiveness verses” command us to forgive, even up to seven times in one day…but when does it become a command? These two verses tell us the exact order in which we are to do things:
- they sin
- we rebuke them (“rebuke” here means “I value you so much that I’m going to guide you back into doing the right thing”)
- they COME TO THEMSELVES and repent (180 degrees different)…
- THEN we must forgive.
If they sin, and truly repent–even 7 times in one day–we are told we MUST forgive, so that is when it becomes a commandment. But what if they don’t “come to themselves” or repent? What if they don’t act and think 180 differently and stop their sin? Do we have to forgive then? It doesn’t say we MUST–but it also doesn’t say we shouldn’t if we want to. So we are allowed to forgive even if they don’t ask!
So we are still not going to tell you what to decide. Instead we pray that this look at what the Bible tells us has helped you to figure out how to make your own decision.
4. What are you committed to? Marriage is an entity established by God in which two people commit to treating the other with love as long as they live. Put another way, the vows promise to forsake all others and to ACT in a loving way toward your spouse–which means getting to know your spouse so intimately that you learn what means “I love you” to them–and then you agree to DO THAT for them as long as you are alive! Nowhere in the marriage covenant is there a mention of “as long as I’m happy” or “as long as it’s easy” and yet in reality many people do place a commitment to their own happiness ahead of their commitment to their spouse. Sadly, many people put their commitment to ease ahead of the covenant they made before God to put the effort into loving their spouse!
So one way you can decide whether to Stay or Go…is to consider “What are you committed to?” I realize that your own spouse may not be living up to their commitment, but your spouse isn’t here and you are. What are YOU committed to? Honoring your promise? Forsaking all others? Acting in love? -OR- Your own happiness? Deuteronomy 23:23 is the verse upon which Affaircare is built:
“Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the LORD your God with your own mouth.”
5. But what if there is addiction or abuse? If there is physical abuse, you get to safety first, and then decide if you should ‘stay or go.’ In the instance of physical abuse, I don’t know of a Bible verse that requires someone to part from their spouse, but we can logically deduce that God would want us to take care of our saftey, and thus it’s just wisdom to be apart from the person who is physically harming you or the children.
But what about addictions or “emotional abuse”? These are justifications that people often use as a reason to leave a marriage. Well, those are serious, deeply painful issues that are going to harm the marriage, but there is no requirement to physically move apart from each other. In fact, I do see several instances of marriage in the Bible that were “difficult marriages” and when the person stayed and honored their vow despite the difficulty, God was pleased. That being said, if you are staying because you “hope” that “this time it will be different” or “this time s/he means it” just bear in mind that YOU can not change anyone other than yourself–and for an addict of any kind or an abuser to want to change of their own free will, there usually has to be a foundation-rocking-event that makes ‘changing’ less painful than ‘staying the same.’
So rather than “hoping” that your addicted or abusive spouse will change (which would make the marriage better, no doubt!), I would challenge you to focus on the person you CAN change, and that’s YOU!! Look in the mirror and examine what things you are doing to enable the addiction and stop doing the enabling. Examine yourself and discover the ways you are interacting with your spouse to allow abuse–for example, if they do “dance step #1” of the same old song and dance, do you do “dance Step #2” and play into the pattern? What if you stopped doing “dance step #2” and did something completely opposite instead? Are you covering for the abuse and mopping up after the destruction? What if you called it by name and let them deal with the fallout? In other words, this is not about “blaming the victim” but rather looking at changing the dynamic and changing YOURSELF so you are a more godly person.
URL’s in this podcast:
The Affaircare Blog
Ask Affaircare: Should I Stay or Go? Can God Restore This Marriage?
Please join us next week as we continue our “series” for the month of May just discussing topics about infidelity that we find a little intriguing! Next week we will be discussing the music that can help in the 3 phases of recovery after an affair! We would LOVE it if you’d tell us about the songs that meant something to you as you were dealing with the infidelity![audio: https://s3.amazonaws.com/affaircare-podcast/5+Tools+to+Help+You+Decide+If+You+Should+Stay+or+Go.mp3]