If Marriage Is at the Breaking Point
1, 2. When a marriage is under stress, what question should be asked?
IN 1988 an Italian woman named Lucia was very depressed.a After ten years her marriage was ending. Many times she had tried to bring about a reconciliation with her husband, but it just did not work out. So she separated because of incompatibility and now faced raising two daughters on her own. Looking back at that time, Lucia recalls: “I was certain that nothing could save our marriage.”
2 If you are having marriage problems, you may be able to relate to Lucia. Your marriage may be troubled and you may be wondering if it can still be saved. If such is the case, you will find it helpful to consider this question: Have I followed all the good advice that God has given in the Bible to help make marriage a success?—Psalm 119:105.
3. While divorce has become popular, what reaction is reported among many divorced persons and their families?
3 When tensions are high between husband and wife, dissolving the marriage may seem to be the easiest course of action. But, while many countries have experienced a shocking rise in broken families, recent studies indicate that a large percentage of divorced men and women regret the breakup. A number suffer from more health problems, both physical and mental, than do those who stay with their marriage. The confusion and unhappiness of children of divorce often last for years. Parents and friends of the broken family also suffer. And what about the way God, the Originator of marriage, views the situation?
4. How should problems in a marriage be handled?
4 As noted in previous chapters, God purposed that marriage should be a lifelong bond. (Genesis 2:24) Why, then, do so many marriages break up? It may not happen overnight. Usually there are warning signs. Small problems in a marriage can grow bigger and bigger until they seem insurmountable. But if these problems are promptly handled with the aid of the Bible, many marital breakups could be avoided.
5. What realistic situation should be faced in any marriage?
5 An element that sometimes leads to problems is the unrealistic expectations that one or both of the marriage partners may have. Romance novels, popular magazines, television programs, and movies can create hopes and dreams that are far removed from real life. When these dreams do not come true, a person can feel cheated, dissatisfied, even bitter. How, though, can two imperfect people find happiness in marriage? It takes work to achieve a successful relationship.
6. (a) What balanced view of marriage does the Bible give? (b) What are some reasons for disagreements in marriage?
6 The Bible is practical. It acknowledges the joys of marriage, but it also warns that those who marry “will have tribulation in their flesh.” (1 Corinthians 7:28) As already noted, both partners are imperfect and are prone to sin. The mental and emotional makeup and the upbringing of each partner are different. Couples sometimes disagree about money, children, and in-laws. Insufficient time to do things together and sexual problems can also be a source of conflict.b It takes time to address such matters, but take heart! Most married couples are able to face such problems and work out mutually acceptable solutions.
7, 8. If there are hurt feelings or misunderstandings between marriage partners, what is the Scriptural way of handling them?
7 Many find it difficult to remain calm when they discuss hurt feelings, misunderstandings, or personal failings. Instead of straightforwardly saying: “I feel misunderstood,” a spouse may get emotional and exaggerate the problem. Many will say: “You only care for yourself,” or, “You don’t love me.” Not wanting to get involved in an argument, the other spouse may refuse to respond.
8 A better course to follow is to heed the Bible’s counsel: “Be wrathful, and yet do not sin; let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” (Ephesians 4:26) One happily married couple, on reaching their 60th wedding anniversary, were asked the secret of their successful marriage. The husband said: “We learned not to go to sleep without settling differences, no matter how minor they may have been.”
9. (a) What is identified in the Scriptures as a vital part of communication? (b) What do marriage mates often need to do, even if this takes courage and humility?
9 When a husband and wife disagree, each one needs to “be swift about hearing, slow about speaking, slow about wrath.” (James 1:19) After listening carefully, both partners might see the need to apologize. (James 5:16) Saying with sincerity, “Sorry for hurting you,” takes humility and courage. But handling differences in this manner will go a long way in helping a married couple not only to solve their problems but also to develop a warmth and intimacy that will make them find more pleasure in each other’s company.
RENDERING THE MARRIAGE DUE
10. What protection recommended by Paul to Corinthian Christians might apply to a Christian today?
10 When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he recommended marriage ‘because of the prevalence of fornication.’ (1 Corinthians 7:2) The world today is as bad as, or even worse than, ancient Corinth. The immoral topics that people of the world openly discuss, the immodest way they dress, and the sensual stories featured in magazines and books, on TV, and in the movies, all combine to excite illicit sexual appetites. To the Corinthians living in a similar environment, the apostle Paul said: “It is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion.”—1 Corinthians 7:9.
11, 12. (a) What do the husband and wife owe to each other, and in what spirit should it be rendered? (b) How should the situation be handled if the marriage due has to be temporarily suspended?
11 Therefore, the Bible commands married Christians: “Let the husband render to his wife her due; but let the wife also do likewise to her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:3) Notice that the emphasis is on giving —not on demanding. Physical intimacy in marriage is truly satisfying only if each partner is concerned about the good of the other. For example, the Bible commands husbands to deal with their wives “according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) This is particularly true in giving and receiving the marriage due. If a wife is not treated tenderly, she may find it difficult to enjoy this aspect of marriage.
12 There are times when marriage mates may have to deprive each other of the marriage due. This might be true of the wife at certain times of the month or when she is feeling very tired. (Compare Leviticus 18:19.) It may be true of the husband when he is dealing with a serious problem at work and feels emotionally drained. Such cases of temporary suspension of rendering the marriage due are best handled if both partners frankly discuss the situation and agree by “mutual consent.” (1 Corinthians 7:5) This will prevent either partner from jumping to wrong conclusions. If, though, a wife willfully deprives her husband or if a husband deliberately fails to render the marriage due in a loving way, the partner may be left open to temptation. In such a situation, problems may arise in a marriage.
13. How can Christians work to keep their thinking clean?
13 Like all Christians, married servants of God must avoid pornography, which can create unclean and unnatural desires. (Colossians 3:5) They must also guard their thoughts and actions when dealing with all members of the opposite sex. Jesus warned: “Everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) By applying the Bible’s counsel regarding sex, couples should be able to avoid falling into temptation and committing adultery. They can continue to enjoy delightful intimacy in a marriage in which sex is treasured as a wholesome gift from the Originator of marriage, Jehovah.—Proverbs 5:15-19.
THE BIBLICAL GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE
14. What sad situation sometimes presents itself? Why?
14 Happily, in most Christian marriages, any problems that arise can be handled. Sometimes, though, this is not the case. Because humans are imperfect and live in a sinful world that is under the control of Satan, some marriages do reach the breaking point. (1 John 5:19) How should Christians deal with such a trying situation?
15. (a) What is the only Scriptural basis for divorce with the possibility of remarriage? (b) Why have some decided against divorcing an unfaithful marriage mate?
15 As mentioned in Chapter 2 of this book, fornication is the only Scriptural ground for divorce with the possibility of remarriage.c (Matthew 19:9) If you have definite proof that your marriage mate has been unfaithful, then you face a difficult decision. Will you continue in the marriage or get a divorce? There are no rules. Some Christians have completely forgiven a genuinely repentant partner, and the preserved marriage has turned out well. Others have decided against divorce for the sake of the children.
16. (a) What are some factors that have moved some to divorce their erring marriage mate? (b) When an innocent mate makes a decision to divorce or not to divorce, why should no one criticize that one’s decision?
16 On the other hand, the sinful act may have resulted in pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease. Or perhaps the children need to be protected from a sexually abusive parent. Clearly, there is much to consider before making a decision. If, however, you learn of the infidelity of your marriage partner and afterward resume sexual relations with your mate, you thus indicate that you have forgiven your mate and desire to continue in the marriage. Grounds for divorce with the Scriptural possibility of remarriage no longer exist. No one should be a busybody and try to influence your decision, nor should anyone criticize your decision when you make it. You will have to live with the consequences of what you decide. “Each one will carry his own load.”—Galatians 6:5.
GROUNDS FOR SEPARATION
17. If there is no fornication, what limitations do the Scriptures place on separation or divorce?
17 Are there situations that may justify separation or possibly divorce from a marriage mate even if that one has not committed fornication? Yes, but in such a case, a Christian is not free to pursue a third party with a view to remarriage. (Matthew 5:32) The Bible, while making allowances for such separation, stipulates that the one departing should “remain unmarried or else make up again.” (1 Corinthians 7:11) What are some extreme situations that may make a separation seem advisable?
18, 19. What are some of the extreme situations that may lead a spouse to weigh the advisability of legal separation or divorce, even though remarriage is not a possibility?
18 Well, the family may become destitute because of the gross laziness and bad habits of the husband.d He may gamble away the family’s income or use it to support an addiction to drugs or alcohol. The Bible states: “If anyone does not provide for . . . members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Timothy 5:8) If such a man refuses to change his ways, perhaps even financing his vices by taking money that his wife earns, the wife may choose to protect her welfare and that of her children by obtaining a legal separation.
19 Such legal action may also be considered if a spouse is extremely violent toward the partner, perhaps repeatedly beating that one to the extent that health and even life are in danger. Additionally, if a spouse constantly tries to force a marriage mate to break God’s commands in some way, the threatened mate may also consider separation, especially if matters reach the point where spiritual life is endangered. The partner at risk may conclude that the only way to “obey God as ruler rather than men” is to obtain a legal separation.—Acts 5:29.
20. (a) In the case of a family breakup, what may mature friends and elders offer, and what should they not offer? (b) Married individuals should not use the Bible’s references to separation and divorce as an excuse to do what?
20 In all cases of extreme spousal abuse, no one should put pressure on the innocent mate either to separate or to stay with the other. While mature friends and elders may offer support and Bible-based counsel, these cannot know all the details of what goes on between a husband and wife. Only Jehovah can see that. Of course, a Christian wife would not be honoring God’s marriage arrangement if she used flimsy excuses to get out of a marriage. But if an extremely dangerous situation persists, no one should criticize her if she chooses to separate. Exactly the same things could be said concerning a Christian husband who seeks separation. “We shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.”—Romans 14:10.
HOW A BROKEN MARRIAGE WAS SAVED
21. What experience shows that the Bible’s counsel on marriage works?
21 Three months after Lucia, mentioned earlier, separated from her husband, she met Jehovah’s Witnesses and started to study the Bible with them. “To my great surprise,” she explains, “the Bible supplied practical solutions to my problem. After just one week of study, I immediately wanted to make up with my husband. Today I can say that Jehovah knows how to save marriages in crisis because his teachings help mates learn how to feel esteem for each other. It is not true, as some assert, that Jehovah’s Witnesses divide families. In my case, exactly the opposite was true.” Lucia learned to apply Bible principles in her life.
22. In what should all married couples have confidence?
22 Lucia is not an exception. Marriage should be a blessing, not a burden. To that end, Jehovah has provided the finest source of marriage counsel ever written—his precious Word. The Bible can make “the inexperienced one wise.” (Psalm 19:7-11) It has saved many marriages that were at the breaking point and has improved many others that had serious problems. May all married couples have full confidence in the marriage counsel that Jehovah God supplies. It really works!
a Name has been changed.
b Some of these areas were dealt with in previous chapters.
c The Bible term translated “fornication” includes acts of adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and other willful illicit acts involving use of the sex organs.
d This does not include situations in which a husband, although well-intentioned, is unable to provide for his family for reasons beyond his control, such as sickness or lack of employment opportunities.