When Is it Really Time to Get a Divorce?



How should Christians view divorce in light of Malachi 2:16?

Some Bible versions simply say, “God hates divorce!” While other translations do a better job explaining what God was meaning. “‘The man who hates and divorces his wife,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘does violence to the one he should protect,’ says the Lord Almighty” (NIV; Emphasis mine).

God hates divorce is not the end of this divorce discussion. It doesn’t give us enough information or any context behind why God is saying this. And it certainly doesn’t tell us when it’s time for a person to divorce, so it should not be the only verse that is looked at when considering a divorce.

When a Christian is contemplating a divorce, what are we to do with such a message? Many times there is no clear answer about when you should stay married and when you should file for divorce.

But we can allow several other verses to show us the life God wants us to live, plus allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in making the right direction given our circumstances.

Biblical Reasons to Get a Divorce

Let’s get the obvious signs out of the way of adultery and/or abandonment. As stated in the verses below, these are times that have clear signs that it’s time for divorce--especially if a spouse refuses to come back and/or won’t leave the affair partner.

“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.” –1 Corinthians 7:15

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” –Matthew 5:32

But...what if your situation doesn't fit into these categories?

  • What if I’m not married to an unbelieving spouse who has abandoned me?
  • What if there has been no adultery?
  • What if the affair was years ago and church elders suggested forgiveness, grace, and mercy instead of talking about or allowing either party to think about divorce? Can I divorce, now, if I just can’t let go of that pain?

We are all fallible human beings with a heart that wants to see marriages survive. But sometimes, that’s just not possible.

Lives are messy. And our lives don’t fit into these nice little definitions of what to do when this or that happens.

Divorce has to be an option in other circumstances because not allowing divorce as an option, we keep a person trapped in an unsafe and abusive marriage. So let's look into reasons that are still biblical, but just not laid out as cleary.

Physical abuse is another sign that most people would agree should be an option if the abuser refuses to get help for the abuse problem and stop the abusive behavior. But what about emotional abuse?

Emotional abuse is harder to spot than physical abuse, but is just as legitimate and harmful.

Here are some ways emotional or psychological abuse can manifest, which may mean it’s time for the couple to divorce. Here are 4 signs of emotional abuse in marriage.

1. Every Conversation Turns to Anger

If you feel like any conversation about change, about your feelings, or what would improve the marriage turns angry, rage-filled, and you walk away feeling to blame for even opening your mouth, you could be married to an emotionally immature person or an emotional abuser.

A counselor or coach who specializes in domestic abuse and abuse recovery or a domestic violence shelter can help you understand if you are in an abusive marriage.

Although marriage counseling might help you recognize this pattern, if all you're learning in marriage counseling is how to not "set this person off" then it isn't really helping.

This is not your doing; it’s not normal. Non-abusive people assert themselves and ask questions to understand another person’s perspective even during conflict. Your counselor or coach can help you find the words to set boundaries and invite your spouse into getting help for themselves to figure out why they often react angrily in conversations with you.

If they refuse, then you can work on figuring out your next steps, so you can live a life of peace.

“Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” --Proverbs 22:24-25

2. Your Spouse Always Leaving You Feeling Confused and Blamed

Confusion is not from God; peace is (1 Corinthians 14:33). God wants us all to live a life of peace, not confusion and chaos all the time.

Peace and marriage go hand in hand; you can’t have one without the other. When there is so much confusion in your life about your marriage, the relationship you have with your spouse, and how you’re being treated, you don’t have a peaceful marriage.

Life with a toxic person, abuser, or a narcissist is like living on an emotional roller coaster.

Narcissists love to create unstableness in their relationships; keeping you unable keeps them in control.

Of course you’d be confused all of the time. Any normal person would be. One minute everything is fine and the next they’re exploding, rageful, and threatening a divorce because you asked them to take out the trash or to come to the table for dinner.

You can’t be expected to change someone else or lower your self-worth to fit into everything they need you to be. It might be time to consider your next steps.

Again, invite them into healing for their own life and then do what you need to do to live a peaceful life without all this stress and confusion.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” –Romans 12:18

3. You're Constantly Left Feeling Lonely, and Your Spouse Isolates Your Relationships 

There are people in this world that are just not emotionally available to other people at their stage in life. Some may be able to have a great marriage because they understand this about themselves and allow the other person to find an emotional connection with other people.

But if your spouse expects you to be their everything but refuses to be emotionally available for you or worse forbids you from connecting with others for emotional support, then divorce might need to be considered.

This person is robbing you of the connection and emotional intimacy we all need. To be seen, heard, and understood.

Yes, we should get everything from God first and people second, but humans were created for emotional connection with other humans--physical intimacy is just not enough.

When it’s not safe to ask your spouse for quality time and emotional connection, you may need to get out to feel less alone in this world. Many divorced people feel more connection, more peace, and less alone after their divorce because of the lack of those things in their marriage.

4. You Feel Trapped and Utterly Helpless

I often get emails from ladies who tell me all the medications they are on just to stay married to their angry and controlling spouse. They ask what others should they try, what programs or therapy I’d suggest for them to go through, and prayers to pray, so they don’t have to divorce their unresponsive husbands.

That’s not what God intended marriage to look like! And you’re kids are watching.

(Side note: This also goes for both sexes. Also, needing medication for your mental health is one thing; needing it to “keep yourself sane” in a hostile environment is another).

upset couple fighting on couch

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

Shouldn’t We Pray and Hope for Change?

Of course, there is nothing wrong with praying and having hope for change in another person. We know that God can do anything.

At the same time, we have to be realistic and set up our own lives in a healthy way. If change doesn’t happen what are the options?

How long do you wait? What if you’ve been married for 10 or 20 years, and every year is just another year like that last? After you’ve invited your spouse into healing and they reject that and blame you, separation and divorce should be the next option.

“When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” –Ecclesiastes 8:11

I believe when we put too much hope in saving a marriage that is not salvageable it’s like watching someone in Hospice fighting for their life but not letting them go. Yes, we can hope and pray for a miracle but that doesn’t mean we keep them alive once they are gone. Marriages get to that point as well.

Many Christians might say there is always hope for a marriage to survive; it’s a promise “for life” as long as you’re both still breathing. But as was my case, sometimes it gets to the point that you’re beating a dead horse that was long dead.

I just couldn’t be the only one always doing the work on myself and the marriage, praying and hoping while walking on eggshells, and watching the cycles repeat over and over again. If I kept holding onto hope that something was going to change, that’s the definition of insanity right? It does drive you crazy to spend decades hoping for change when there has never been any and no responsibility has been taken.

Instead, I just continued to take the blame and sacrificing myself, even my walk with God, to save a dead marriage.

Now, for the most part, my life is peaceful; when I don’t have to speak to people who enjoy being angry, blaming me, and causing chaos without feeling guilty about it.

I can honestly say I’m thankful I let go and accepted the divorce option. I love a thriving life with God in the center.

Who Gets to Decide If You Divorce?

The decision to divorce is a personal decision. No one can make that decision for you unless your spouse is forcing it.

Seek help from educated people helpers like counselors, abuse experts, Christian mentors, and pastors, as long as they are not telling you exactly what you need to do.

They should help you make the best decision for your life and future.

God’s Grace for the Divorced

God cares for people; for souls. God wants all humans to live a life of peace.

He wants us to thrive, not merely survive or suffer. God hates what divorce does to the person who’s experiencing physical or emotional violence, the spouse who’s being cheated on, or the one who was abandoned by their partner. He hates that another human would put their spouse in this kind of position; instead of protecting them from that environment.

But when He sees His children suffering so deeply, He allows for divorce to protect that person from future harm.

“Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.” –Exodus 22:23

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Prostock-Studio

Jen GriceJen Grice is a divorce coach and the author of “You Can Survive Divorce”. She empowers Christian women to not only survive their unwanted divorce, caused by abuse, adultery, and/or narcissism, but to become stronger and thrive after. Jen Grice can be found on YouTube, talking about divorcing a narcissist. Or you can find out more about Jen’s books, coaching for women, and ministry at JenGrice.com.

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