After more than twenty-five years in divorce recovery ministry, I’ve watched more marriages disintegrate than I can count. Why do these relationships fail?
Listening to people who are getting divorced has helped me uncover some root causes. These aren’t as obvious as an empty checkbook or separate bedrooms. I’m referring to what lurks beneath the tension and fighting — the issues hiding under the stuff we address in church, such as love types, financial stress, gender differences, communication skills, respect, and intimacy.
Because couples “don’t know what they don’t know,” they rarely detect the relational explosives that detonate and destroy a marriage that could have been saved.
The unique insight I’ve gleaned after years working with those divorcing propels me to help expose the hidden booby traps that often go undetected until the relationship dies.
Here are 8 myths about falling in love, getting married, and maintaining a relationship that can destroy a marriage.
Myth #1: Leniency is an act of love
Does God have any problem allowing us to suffer a consequence when we make an unwise or sinful choice? NO. Disagree? Look up Adam and Eve, King David, and Ananias/Sapphira.)
Then where did we get the crazy notion that loving our spouse means tolerating, ignoring, or making excuses for his or her harmful, sinful choices? We certainly didn’t learn that perversion from God — the Creator of Love.
He explains it clearly, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67, NIV).
Suffering, not leniency, was the action that brought the Psalmist to his senses. True love allows a spouse to suffer a consequence when he or she repeatedly chooses an unwise, destructive pattern. The loving response is not done in disrespect or anger but rather with compassion: I love you too much to let you keep doing this without a consequence. Harsh reality often provides the catalyst necessary for the spouse to come to his or her senses, make changes, and thrive.
Myth #2: I can change my spouse
I’m so grateful God is patient. It took the Holy Spirit time and consistent nudging before I finally realized I was spitting in God’s face when I attempted to change or “fix” someone else — including my spouse. God packed my husband’s personality luggage in the way he knew was best. I needed to stop trying to change him into what I think he should be like — ME!
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5,NLT).
Myth #3: I’m entitled to be happy
As much as I love my country, being born in the U.S. today comes with one significant pitfall. The land of the “free and the brave” has morphed into the land of “I deserve to have and do whatever I want.” As a nation, we spend a lot of time focusing on our “rights” rather than on our responsibilities. And this same kind of self-glorifying attitude is killing marriages.
If ever there was a person who had the right to claim his rights, it was King Jesus! Even his trial was illegal. However, this is not his focus. He teaches to focus on responsibility rather than rights. Loyalty lifts our head and fills us with self-respect, character, and dignity. This is the foundation that builds a healthy marriage and family.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).
Myth #4: My previous emotional wounds are in the past. They have no effect on my marriage
Both the sins done to you and the sins done by you affect your marriage. Past destructive choices embed within you shame, fear, and self-loathing. That’s why God hates sin; it shackles us to lies and darkness. And unless we confront those tormentors and the ways they’ve perverted our thinking and actions, they fester.
We cannot heal and restore what we refuse to acknowledge. Jesus forgives all sin and teaches us how to forgive others. The first step toward restoration is speaking truth and surrender.
“My father and mother walked out and left me, but GOD took me in” (Psalm 27:10, MSG).
Myth #5: Pornography will not harm my marriage
If I plopped a few drops of bleach into your morning coffee, would you drink it? I think not. That’s how pornography affects the precious sweetness of a husband and wife’s sexual union. It’s toxic and deadly.
Pornography is adultery. Period.
“My wounds fester and stink because of my foolish sins” (Psalm 38:5, NLT).
Myth #6: It’s my spouse’s job to meet my needs
When we expect a human to meet needs only God can fill, we are headed for disappointment and trouble. It is neither feasible nor wise to expect a spouse to meet all our needs.
God is the only one up for the task. He intentionally created us to seek our significance and purpose through him alone. He is our source.
“For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a, NIV).
Myth #7: Keeping secrets from my spouse will not harm my marriage
Can your spouse look at your phone, computer, DVDs, gas mileage, receipts, credit card bill, closet, calendar, or hiding spot at any time? If the answer is no, the immediate question is, “Why not?” If the answer is because he/she is a manipulative bully and dictates your every move, then you have a different problem. But if it’s because you don’t want to be held accountable, that’s deception.
And lies destroy relationships.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV).
Myth #8: Divorce does not happen to good Christians
I cringe when I hear a sermon where the pastor/speaker states that the way to keep a marriage alive is by “removing the word divorce from your vocabulary.” Why? I have proof it’s untrue.
I removed the word divorce from my vocabulary, but my former husband did not. I ended up ambushed by divorce.
The implication is a marriage will stay intact if a spouse decides to keep his or her vow. That’s incorrect because marriage involves two people. And it takes two people to get married, but only one person to divorce.
The phrase sets us up for failure because it implies that you can control the actions and decisions of your spouse. I hate divorce and desperately wanted my marriage to succeed. And yet it didn’t.
Church attendance, Bible reading, salvation, prayer, and reciting “I’ll never get divorced” do not automatically inoculate a spouse from divorce. Almost every person I’ve ministered to in divorce recovery said to me, “I can’t believe it. How did this happen? I never dreamed I’d be divorced.”
Church attendance, Bible reading, salvation, prayer, and reciting ‘I’ll never get divorced’ do not automatically inoculate a spouse from divorce.
A wise Christian continually works on strengthening his/her marriage, allows accountability, and discovers areas of weakness. He/she fervently prays, learns, reads and grows as a spouse — all the while understanding, “The desire of my heart is to please God and be a steadfast, respectful, compassionate, and loving mate. I pray my spouse will do the same. God is in charge of controlling those things in my spouse. I can’t control the actions of another person.”
“Foolish dreamers live in a world of illusion; wise realists plant their feet on the ground” (Proverbs 14:18, MSG).
The reality is that marriage is not nearly as much about finding the right person as it is becoming the right person.