Preventing A Divorce Begins Before The Marriage
Divorce is a major problem in the church and out of it. This blog is not about how to cope in the aftermath of a divorce, but how you can help prevent a divorce in the first place. Are you contemplating marriage? Do you have friends or loved ones who are contemplating marriage? If so, there is a high chance the marriage will end up in divorce. That’s the bad news. The good news is divorce, though common, is not inevitable. It can be prevented. The antidote to divorce is Biblical love. Consequently, it is important that Christians considering marriage themselves as well as those who know someone who understands the concept of Biblical love.
Too many Christians view marriage as it is presented in romance movies (e.g. we both like peanut butter so let’s get married). This is why America has one of the highest divorce rates in the world. Consider the following statistics about divorce in our country:
Approximately 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
Approximately 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
Approximately 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.
The divorce rate in America has actually declined over the past two decades, but this fact is deceiving. The decline has occurred not because fewer people are divorcing but because fewer people are marrying in the first place. The number of people who are choosing to cohabitate without the benefit of marriage has skyrocketed in recent years. Divorce statistics don’t include the broken relationships of these unmarried but cohabitating couples or they would be even worse.
People give a variety of reasons for their broken marriages, prominent among them are the following:
Lack of commitment on the part of one or both of the spouses
Frequent disagreements over important issues
Infidelity on the part of one or both spouses
Immaturity on the part of one or both spouses
Lack of preparation for marriage
Abuse by a spouse—physical or emotional
Although these factors are no doubt painful to the couples involved, in reality, they are symptoms not causes. The root cause of divorce is almost always that Christ is missing in the marriage. Without Christ at its center, a marriage is likely to fail regardless of the factors people attribute their divorces to. Two people can share hobbies, interests, attitudes, politics, ambitions, and personal tastes but still wind up divorced if Christ isn’t the foundation of their marriage.
Let me be quick to clarify that marriages centered on Christ are not problem-free. All relationships have their ups and downs. When two sinful people come together in a relationship, there are bound to be problems. However, a major difference between a Christ-centered marriage and one based on what I call ice-cream love is this: a commitment to Christ gives couples a loving-and-caring way to work through the inevitable problems that arise in any marriage.
ICE-CREAM LOVE VERSUS BIBLICAL LOVE
Christ-centered marriages are based on Biblical love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. This is the defining chapter in Scripture when it comes to Christian love. It makes the point that love is a verb, not just an emotion or a feeling. The world talks about “falling in love” and “falling out of love.” Love you can fall into or out of is not Christian love. It’s what I call ice-cream love. People claim to “love” ice cream, but they really don’t. Rather, they love what ice cream does for them: the way it looks, tastes, and makes them feel. They love the way it satisfies their urge for something sweet, creamy, and cold. Ice-cream love is based on selfishness, and selfishness is a marriage killer.
What the world calls love is better viewed as infatuation. Infatuation is a feeling of attraction that is intense but often temporary. This is why there are so many couples who promised to love and cherish each other until “death do we part” who, though still alive, are now divorced. They were infatuated with each other, but they were not in love.
Christian love as described in 1 Corinthians 13 is not something you fall into or out of, nor is it just a feeling. It is something you do. The kind of love God expects of us is a choice that is demonstrated by your actions. Further, Christian love is about “you” not “me.” When you love someone in the Biblical sense, your chief concern is for their best interests not what they can do for you or how they make you feel.
Love is demonstrated by doing certain things that are prescribed in Scripture and not doing other things that are proscribed. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 explains Biblical love in the following terms:
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love is not envious
Love is not boastful
Love is not arrogant
Love is not rude
Love does not insist on getting its own way
Love is not irritable
Love is not resentful
Love does not enjoy indulging in wrong doing
Love is truthful
Marriages based on these 11 factors are less likely to end up in divorce than marriages based on ice-cream love.
Terry is beside herself with worry. Her only daughter, Julie, has announced she intends to marry a man she has known for only a short while but is “deeply in love with.” Terry has encouraged her daughter to slow down and take stock of the situation before going forward with a wedding, but Julie just dismisses her concerns. “Mother, we have so much in common; books, hobbies, travel, and movies. When I’m around him I feel wonderful.”
Out of desperation, Terry told Julie she was once in the same position with her now-departed husband, Julie’s father. They had a lot in common too, but the marriage lasted only five years. “Julie, your father and I weren’t in love. We were infatuated with each other.” Even with this, Julie was undeterred. Her heart was set on a June wedding, just two months away. Finally, Terry decided to tell Julie what a marriage counselor told her before she got married; advice Terry ignored and now wishes she hadn’t.
“Julie, when it comes to enjoying a forever marriage, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Anyone contemplating marriage should heed the wise counsel concerning Biblical love provided in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6. What you feel toward your fiancé is not love, it’s infatuation. Love is not a feeling; it’s a verb. It is about being patient, kind, and truthful with each other and not being envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, or resentful. Biblical love does not insist on getting its own way and does not indulge in wrongdoing.
“These verses from 1 Corinthians contain the foundation on which to build a lasting marriage. Julie, I encourage you in the strongest terms to take the time to learn if what you feel is Biblical love or just infatuation. Every marriage has its ups and downs. During the down times Biblical love will pull you through while infatuation will let you down. Your father and I were infatuated with each other but, infatuation wasn’t enough to get us through the hard times. We weren’t always patient, truthful, or kind with each other. All too often we insisted on getting our own way and became irritable when we couldn’t.”
Terry’s advice to Julie applies to anyone contemplating marriage. Too many people think love is what they see in the romantic movies they watch or the romance novels they read. It’s not. To improve the chances of a lasting marriage for people you care about, don’t let them proceed on the basis of ice-cream love. Go to Scripture and show them what Biblical love is. Explain that love is more than just a feeling; it is a verb. It’s about what you do, not just what you feel.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com