Scriptural teaching on divorce is
crystal clear – but with the divorce rate cresting at fifty per cent
of all marriages of less than twenty years’ standing, almost all of
us have more or less first hand experience of the grief that so
often accompanies divorce. It is worth pointing out that the enemy
tries very hard to make people feel that their marriage has reached
the “irretrievable” stage, when, in reality, it might still be
possible to turn it around.
To those who have made each other profoundly unhappy, separation may
come as a considerable relief, but Sally Mowbray sounds an important
warning on this point:
||There come times in most
marriages when you need to “set your face as flint” and hang
in there. The Hollywood film idea of marriage lacks any
semblance to reality. The path to a relationship breakdown
is littered with small choices that lead relentlessly away
from commitment and partnership and towards excitement,
change and self-interest.
Like most schemes that Satan uses to pull Christians away
(whether from God or other people), it is the accumulation
of these seemingly insignificant choices that draw a person
way off course until they suddenly wake up to what is going
on, and wonder how they got to where they now find
Some, of course, rejoice at their new “freedom” – but that
may be more a sign of their hearts hardening towards people
they were once committed to than the Lord’s explicit
leading. Look at it from the other direction: even the small
choices that we make through gritted teeth to honour and
forgive do far more than we imagine at the time to hold
Even though there is far less
stigma attached to divorce these days than there used to be,
how could there be such a thing as a painless separation? As
a friend who was going through particularly unpleasant
proceedings put it, “It really is the worst thing possible.”
The high levels of domestic violence
associated with broken relationships are a reminder of how volatile
such issues can be. If one of the partners never wanted the
separation to happen, divorce comes as an additional body blow,
leaving them feeling that it has made a mockery of all that has gone
before. Jennifer Rees Larcombe relates her desolation when her
husband, who had supported her throughout her long years of
confinement in a wheelchair, left her for a younger woman after she
had been miraculously healed.
Jennifer charts the strong emotions
she went through in the aftermath of this betrayal. In her case it
was compounded by complete strangers making all manner of unkind
suggestions as to what she must have done wrong to have caused the
marriage to crash.
Jennifer’s diary entries at that time
are peppered with references to having no further desire to live.
Like many who lose a loved one in such circumstances, or who feel
that their reputation has been irreparably tainted, she experienced
strong temptations to point her car at a tree. She records weeping
with disappointment when the hospital rang to tell her that the
latest batch of tests had revealed no farther sign of cancer.
Writing on behalf of the many who have been blessed by her ministry,
I am so grateful that God found ways to see her through that
For any who are reading these words
who have allowed some other attraction to develop, may I refer you
back to the earlier section on
“When the grass appears greener?” It might just save
someone from unnecessary and unpleasant consequences.
As always, grief that is suppressed
and “swept under the carpet” is likely to resurface in other ways.
Unresolved grief hinders all family relations but especially
step-families. People are much more likely to separate and divorce
again if they are still carrying “blocked” or “frozen” grief around
with them from previous relationships.
How can such things fail to have an
effect on their ability to relate to the Lord?
“Ceremonies that facilitate Grief,”
we recommended that newly divorced people find ways to
“formalise” what has happened. It is a sign that they are allowing
themselves to go through a similar process of grief and recovery to
someone who has suffered a literal bereavement.
It is also worth remembering the
effects that divorce has on others – not only on the children, but
also many others who may have invested in the marriage, who will all
have their own grief to work through as a result of it breaking
Most marriages are too complex to
permit one party to be identified as being solely responsible, of
course. Even when people find themselves suddenly and
unceremoniously abandoned, the process that led up to the separation
has usually been underway for some considerable time.
In The American Way of Divorce,
Kessler charts seven emotional stages: disillusionment, erosion,
detachment, physical separation, mourning, second adolescence
(starting a new relationship), and finally exploration – the hard
work of establishing a new identity and new close relationships.14
Most people do not experience all
these reactions, of course, or at least not in this particular
order, but what Kessler does show is that the person who initiates
the break-up tends to be the one who suffers least. They have had
more time to come to terms with the idea of being a free agent, and
once they have open their hearts to this possibility, it may only be
a short step before they begin exaggerating difficulties and taking
provocative steps to make sure that nothing prevents them from
achieving this separation – even to the point of spreading
defamatory stories about their partner’s behaviour.
Such a person is likely to come in
for some degree of criticism for initiating divorce proceedings, but
that is usually considerably less than the grief experienced by the
person left behind. If the abandoned partner has had more than their
share of grief in the past, this latest episode is likely to
reinforce their expectation that life is sure to go on letting them
In their shock and anger they find
themselves making things worse for themselves. At the very time when
extreme diplomacy is called for, they lose their temper, and “waver
between bravado and being pitiful.”15 The truth is that they feel as
though their roots are being pulled out one by one – and, to their
utter dismay, it is their own partner who is doing this to them.
To lose access to a person to whom
they still feel profoundly attached causes agony beyond words. The
risk is that if these underlying attitudes are not attended to, the
abandoned person may become so desperate to find a love that will
prove constant and consistent that they become increasingly
incapable of sustaining any healthy emotional relationship.
Although some people are rejected
without fully understanding the reason why it has happened, most
recognise the areas they should have paid more attention to. Even if
it is too late to save this particular relationship, it is still
wise to take note of these things, and confess them to the Lord.