When the Vow Breaks
by Tova Kreps, LCSW, President & Co-Founder
Sadly, almost half of us will either be divorced, or be personally affected by divorce. So, how do we respond to this profound reality?
The Bible has a lot to say about marriage and divorce. First, God designed marriage for a man and a woman to be bonded together as partners for life. It is a promise to commit to love and respect each other “until death” and with faithfulness. Second, it is clear in the Bible that God understands that we have hard hearts, and He has opinions about how to handle things and protect people when we break our vows. For a Biblical perspective of this from Pastor Bill White at Christ Journey, click here.
In addition to Biblical principles, emotional principles also hold true in divorce situations. First, you are responsible for yourself only. If you have sinned or failed to love or to respect your spouse (or ex-spouse), repent and seek change. Regardless of your partner’s failures, you are called to love and to respect. Live authentically, and speak the truth in love. Even if you are living with a dysfunctional person, it is still your job to get healthy yourself. The good news is that if you get healthy, they will either join you by becoming healthier themselves or will find an excuse to leave. Darkness will tolerate light for only so long.
If the divorce has already happened, then here are our best choice responses:
After the vows are broken, there needs to be a time for grief. No matter how bad a relationships or a partner is in the end, there was once a dream of what could have been. When someone dies, grief is given honor with flowers, meal-trains or otherwise, but in divorce, grief is often not allowed or respected. Even if you believe that your spouse (or son-in-law, sister-in-law, parent, etc.) is now a “monster”, there was a time that you hoped this union would be good. No matter how complicated in the present, this past dream needs to be grieved. “Funerals”, symbols of endings, time to mourn, honoring what was good or what could have been are all important processes before moving forward.
Although divorce is not God’s design or perfect will, grace from God abounds for the hard hearts of humans. Our confessed sins are forgiven, our debts are paid by Jesus, and new lives are always allowed in His Kingdom. We, as friends and family of those who divorce, need to extend this grace as well. It is tempting to pick a side in the divorces of our loved ones, somehow needing to know whose fault it is. But really, we will never know the secrets of their daily lives, people are complicated, and ours is not to judge. Sometimes, one person is truly the victim of an abusive partner, but more often, both partners contribute to an atmosphere of disrespect. Grace recognizes that we all fail and that God makes up for our lack.
Is there such a thing as a “good divorce”? Not easily, but yes, I believe so. Regardless of the past, we can choose to move forward in the present with love, respect, forgiveness, and an effort to make the best of what is true today. We just finished a week at Wellspring of hosting a Bounce camp for traumatized youth. Divorce was one of the traumatic events for some youth. They long for many things: for parents to stop fighting and being negative about each other, to no longer have to pick sides, to stop having to message between parents, to not be the most “adult” person in the family, for step-parents to be accepted, for peace to be possible at events and much more.
The past cannot be changed, but the present can! Let’s all let go of power struggles and judgments and seek the best for all involved from this day forward.