Divorce has legitimate and illegitimate reasons. It is clear in the Bible that God’s intention for marriage is that it remain in effect until the death of one spouse. I believe it is also quite clear that God has provided a limited set of circumstances in which a marriage can legitimately be severed. However, many people—even Christians—offer reasons to divorce that are not sanctioned by God. Jim Newheiser outlines a number of these in his book Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage: Critical Questions and Answers.
Here are 10 common but illegitimate reasons to divorce.
“My spouse isn’t a Christian,” or “I wasn’t a Christian when I married my spouse.” Nowhere in the Bible is this seen as grounds for divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 Paul very clearly urges men and women in such situations not to divorce their unbelieving spouse. In 1 Peter 3:1-2 women married to unbelievers are called to “be subject to their own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives.” Rather than seeking for an opportunity to get out of the relationship, Christians are told to seek for opportunities to share their faith with their unbelieving spouse.
“We weren’t married in a church.” Matthew 19:6 renders this an illegitimate excuse when it says, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Marriage is sanctioned by God and is not dependent on the context in which those vows were made. Regardless of where you were married or who married you, if you have made a covenant of marriage, the Lord expects you to keep it.
“I need to get out of this marriage for the sake of my kids.” This is, of course, a justifiable concern, but one that Paul does not neglect to address. In 1 Corinthians 7:14 he says, “For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” According to Paul, here is another opportunity to endure for the sake of the gospel, so that your children, too, may see your godly example of faith. However, in the case that your spouse poses a threat of danger, be it emotional or physical abuse, your children’s safety is a priority.
“My spouse is a huge disappointment.” “He is a loser (poor provider).” “She hasn’t taken care of herself physically.” “I would have never married this person if I had known what I was getting myself into.” “I deserve better.” Even the best of marriages may enter lulls where thoughts like these remain prevalent for periods of time. Marriage can be hard. Your spouse may grieve or disappoint you greatly. However, this is not a legitimate excuse to bolt, but an opportunity outdo him or her in love (Romans 12:10), to grow in trust in the God who ordained your marriage (Proverbs 3:5-6), and to reflect the faithfulness of God until the very end (Matthew 25:23).
“We are no longer in love.” If God commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), we can love our spouse, even if we can’t muster those romantic feelings that once defined the dating or honeymoon phases. The marriage covenant is binding until death, not until one or both of you falls out of love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “It is no longer your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.” When you love your spouse out of obedience to Christ, trust that God can help it grow from the heart and restore the romance that’s been lost.