When the call came in, I suspected it wouldn’t be good news. It didn’t take long to confirm my fears. There was no greeting, no “How’re you doing?” The first words I heard were, “My wife wants a divorce. What do I do?”
The pain hit me through the phone like a punch. My friend was drowning and asking me for help. But I felt helpless.
As he relayed his story, my anger swelled. This wasn’t fair. He had tried so hard to make their marriage work. Why was she doing this? I wanted to defend my friend and tell him how to protect his rights and assets and make her pay for the pain she was causing. But he wasn’t asking for help in those areas. He wanted to know what to do when your spouse wants a divorce.
When your spouse wants a divorce
My friend was active in his church and a ministry leader. He dedicated himself to God and did all the things a “good” Christian is supposed to do. Why didn’t God reward my friend’s efforts with good fortune? Didn’t God owe him something?
As I struggled with that thought, I was gently reminded of 1 Peter 4:12-13. Jesus’s early followers were having trouble understanding why God would allow them to suffer for following Christ. Peter told them, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
The belief that God owes us a comfortable life in exchange for our “good deeds” is a myth.
Jesus did everything right, but God did not rescue Him from injustice and betrayal. Instead, He was sent to the cross. Jesus’ disciples didn’t fare much better. They left everything they knew to follow God’s will, yet their lives were in constant jeopardy. Most were killed for their faith.
The question isn’t, “Why doesn’t God fix our problems?” Instead, we should ask, “Why do we let our problems stop us from following Him?”
Over the next few conversations with my friend, I did my best to keep my anger in check and let God’s word speak for itself. In the end, we uncovered five truths that can help you if your spouse wants a divorce.
1. Understand your vows.
At the time of his call, I was going through a study in the Old Testament. One thing that struck me during that study was how seriously God takes the vows we make. God says things like: “You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth” (Deuteronomy 23:23).
And “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2).
The marital promise of “Till death do you part” is not a promise we make primarily to our spouse; it is a promise we make to God.
How could my friend’s wife’s behavior nullify the vow he made? How could an earthly judge have the jurisdiction to override it?
Scripture holds up marriage as an example of Jesus’ relationship with the church. Jesus loves us even when we reject Him and spit in His face. And He calls us to a similar love. Ephesians 5:25 specifically says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
My friend realized he needed to find a way to honor his vows, no matter how painful.
2. Love your enemies.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).
My friend began praying for his wife every morning. At first, it was to combat his desire to see her fail, but over time, his heart began to soften. Even though his wife’s choices should have made her the “enemy,” he asked her for forgiveness for his part in their conflict.
Soon they were able to talk on the phone without the conversation devolving into a fight. He stopped speaking badly of her to others and decided to stop fighting over continued financial support.
After a few weeks, he commented, “I wonder if things would have turned out differently if I had prayed for her like this all along?”
3. Work toward reconciliation.
After a few months, everyone he knew told him it was time to move on. His friends from work tried to encourage him to start dating and even began introducing him to single women. But his wife wasn’t remarried, and after hearing about others whose marriages survived a divorce, he knew there was still hope for reconciliation. He knew it was a long shot, but he wanted to be able to stand before God one day and know that he honored his commitment as best as he could
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
4. Accept your new reality
First Corinthians 13 says love “bears all things,” “hopes all things,” and “endures all things.” The longsuffering quality of love is a picture of Christ’s love for us, His bride. But Christ’s offer of forgiveness doesn’t last forever. If we continually refuse Him, we’ll eventually run out of time and bear the consequences of our choices for eternity.
While it is honorable to hold out hope of reconciliation in the face of impossible-looking odds, you need to know the day might come when it’s time to accept your new reality. That realization may come slowly, after years of your spouse’s repeated refusals to repent make it clear they have renounced their faith and truly abandoned you (1 Corinthians 7:15). Or it may come all at once with the shock of seeing a picture of them remarried to someone else. Either way, when it becomes clear that it’s time to let go, take time to mourn what has been lost and let God heal you.
5. Grow through your pain.
My friend’s divorce was heartbreaking and not at all how he envisioned his life turning out. For better or for worse, the people we love have free will. And even though it takes two people to get married, it only takes one to get a divorce. We cannot control other people’s actions, but we can control ours. We can choose to respond God’s way.
Because of my friend’s choices, his divorce never descended into the vitriol we usually see. And perhaps even more importantly, instead of hurting his faith, his faith grew.
I was sad to have received that call that day, and while I still hold out hope for a miracle, I’m proud of the way he’s handled himself through it all. It hasn’t been easy, but thankfully God can still make something good out of our messes.
Copyright © 2021 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
Carlos Santiago is a senior writer for FamilyLife and has written and contributed to numerous articles, e-books, and devotionals. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. Carlos and his wife, Tanya, live in Orlando, Florida. You can learn more on their site, YourEverAfter.org.