Staying Together for the Kids’ Sake


On a gushing Facebook post, a parent proudly proclaims with an abundance of heart emojis, “I love my kids to the moon and back!” Do you, really?

Scrolling through Facebook, I sometimes see a Christian friend whose wife does not look the same as I remember her, or else she has mysteriously disappeared from all of his pictures. I then realize that his old wife is gone. Divorce has struck another home! It breaks my heart to see so many marriages dissolving within the body of Christ.

At the end of the day, the adults will give an account to God for their choices. However, what bothers me the most is the blank, hurt looks on the faces of their children.

The most traumatic event in a child’s life is the divorce of his parents.* I acknowledge that many kids are born into single-parent homes and never know what it is like to have two parents—a situation that God never intended; but that’s a topic for another day.

Couples used to say to each other, “Let’s stay together for the sake of the kids.” Is that a valid reason to stay married and not get a divorce? Absolutely!

The Bible allows for divorce in two circumstances: Infidelity (Mt 5:31-32; 19:8-9) and abandonment (1 Cor 7:15). Certainly, if there is abuse in the relationship, the one who is being abused should move out.

Barring any of these extenuating circumstances, the Bible clearly and categorically condemns divorce (Mal 2:16, Mt 19:3-6). What about a mixed marriage—where a Christian finds himself married to an unbeliever? First Corinthians 7:10-16 deals with this issue.

The Old Testament Law forbids marriages between God’s children and unbelievers. Second Corinthians 6:14 agrees, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?” Sadly, Christians sometimes disobey God in this area, and they eventually have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

First Corinthians 7:12-13 teach,

If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

Why should a Christian not leave an unsaved/ungodly spouse? Why should two Christians stay together even if they do not feel like it? Verse 14 explains, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

What is meant by “sanctified” (a word that is synonymous with “holy”) is understood by reading verse 16, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife.”

The Bible teaches that a child is more likely to become a Christian when a couple with even just one believer stays together. God holds the two-parent family in high esteem because that is how He originally designed it. Frankly, a child might ask the parent who professes Christ, “If God cannot save our home, why should I believe that He will save my soul?”

It has been said that a successful marriage is like a triangle. It is a union between a husband, a wife, and God. Christian marriages begin to fail when Bible reading and prayer are neglected in the home and church is neglected on the Lord’s Day.

Is your marriage teetering on the brink of divorce? It honors God to stay together for the sake of the kids. Their eternal destinies are greatly affected by it. And perhaps, by the time the children have grown up, you and your spouse will have grown in your relationship with the Lord and each other as well.


And much appreciated

One interesting point of reference is that studies I've seen suggest that about 30% of spouses of both sexes commit adultery, and about 25% of "intimate partners" commit what is deemed to be some significant level of domestic abuse. So we would infer that somewhere around 40-50% of marriages have "actionable cause for divorce", which is very interestingly about....the actual divorce rate.

So overall, I'm not convinced that there are that many marriages blowing up without some very, very serious problems going on. In the past, those marriages often stayed intact because of economic concerns; and I'm not quite sure whether it's worse for them to stay intact, or to end.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I think this is a case by case basis. Somewhere I think the church stumbles in. I have seen pastors push for marriages to stay together when it has been just disastrous situations to grow up in. The divorce is not typically taking place because everything is working well. The church falls prey that the preferable scenario is for people to stay together, and so that becomes the target. And since most pastors have not had a divorce, they don't really have a clue what it is like. If you have a narcisist abuser as the husband, that behavior falls just in line with Scripture. That husband wants the marriage to stay together because it feeds their controlling nature. Many times the pastor, elders.... are just focused on getting the marriage back together and miss this behavior. Mostly because these individuals are very, very good at hiding it. So they come together and what the children learn and what they are put under is just a terrible, terrible situation.

When my parents divorced, it was in the abusive area, though actual clinically diagnosable narcissism does not appear to have been in play--my parents did get mental health care for themselves and my brother and I, and I don't believe that was ever diagnosed. Otherwise somewhat similar to what David relates. Our church tried an intervention, the details of which I don't really remember, but I believe it fell in the category of "we are in way over our heads."

One other thing as we're talking about "abuse" is that it can be a very flexible concept, and sometimes people use it to actually abuse others. My former sister-in-law did that to my wife's brother; his "crime", as it were, was little things like getting angry when he was cut off in traffic, but to listen to her, you'd think that he'd beaten her to the point of going to the ER a few times. So you've got to be concerned about an overly broad definition of abuse, too, along with people using the ideas of abuse to...ironically....abuse others.

In other words, the church--as well as mental health professionals --needs to first grasp a great degree of humility in dealing with these things, and simultaneously seriously up their game in these matters, IMO.

Back to my example, it's a bit out of where CD describes the matter he's addressing, but I don't know if staying together would have been helpful at all to my brother and my dad, who did walk away from church for the most part after the divorce. I don't think they were believers or seeking before, and they were not after, either. So we can confuse these correlations with causation and miss a much bigger issue.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I have seen numerous examples where the church embraces the narcissist, abuser.... of the relationship while church disciplining the individual suffering. It is because the abuser plays very nicely into the processes that churches have laid out. They are more than happy to tell you what you want to hear. They will outwardly work on change, with the sole focus of getting the relationship back together so they can feed their sinful actions. Churches reward that behavior because it aligns with church discipline. The victim is resisting getting back together because they have been through this cycle all too many times and they fear for their safety, their mental health...... And because they are resisting getting back together when their partner is willing to get back together, they church discipline the victim, who more often than not leaves church in general. I have seen this played out more times than I would care to see it played out. It goes back to the woeful state of affairs in too many churches. Just because someone has a 4-year Bible degree doesn't make them a marriage counselor. Many were even trained in the 1980's and 1990's in bible colleges where the teachings in the counseling programs have been shown to be wrong. The counseling is either carried out by the church pastor, or some lay deacons who even have less experience, with the only focus on being that 1) divorce is bad and 2) restoration at all cost. Not all churches are like this, but many, many are.

A narcissistic abuser is going to hoodwink everyone around them. That's their main goal - and talent - in life. To convince everyone how great they are. Tons of professional marriage counselors fall for it, too.

But I'll not sidetrack the thread!

Despite the failings of counsel, it is far better for men, women, and children to work through their difficulties and learn to really love one another. It requires humility, and I believe even narcissists can change, if they will submit to the Holy Spirit.

I don't think we should write anyone off as a lost cause.

Now, saying that, I also don't counsel women (or men) to stay in an unsafe space. That may require separation, but hopefully the separation will wake up the one who is creating the unsafe place. The goal is redemption and regeneration.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

One thing to note about the narcissism hypothesis is that about 0.5% of men have clinically diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder, but from the stats, about 40% of men who get married get a divorce. So the vast majority of the time, it's not a clinical NPD, but rather a much more mundane thing called "sin".

Which is good news and bad news. Good news is that sussing out what's really going on may not be as difficult as we'd guessed in general, and the bad news is that it means that our churches (and many mental health therapists) are just pretty bad at figuring things out.

Probably one good place to start improving things would be to spend a little more time figuring out the why of someone filing for divorce or separating. As others here have hinted, a lot of time, the goal is to smooth things over and avoid the nuclear option of divorce, and a lot of people will more or less say to ignore some very real problems.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Many times "staying together for the kids" is one of the worst things that could happen for the kids. The parents are perpetually unhappy and at each other's throats, and the kids have to exist in an unhappy, miserable, and sometimes abusive home. Because the parents are miserable they often take out their frustrations on the easiest target, their kids.

If my parents would have divorced while I and my siblings were kids it would have been much easier for us growing up. There is lasting damage that we deal with as a result of them staying together.

I'm not suggesting that parents shouldn't work through their problems or that marriage is unimportant and can be dissolved on a whim. My parents' problems were major and there was abuse issues involved as well. But "staying together for the kids" can have as many cons as it has pros.

I agree Don. The preferance is always to try to work through it and stay together. It is the Biblically right thing to do, and studies are clear that children do better in a nuclear family structure. We just need to make sure that doesn't cloud the right approach for a particular circumstance. It is really at the root of why God allowed divorce in the OT. Because of the "hardness of their hearts". Divorce should not be the preference, it should not be the easy out... And equally you see just as many people getting a divorce because of stubborness. Or because of feelings.

I got to take a good hard look at Deuteronomy 24:1-4 last weekend, and it struck me how strictly Moses actually bounds divorce. The divorce is only to be initiated upon "uncleanness" found, which is literally "nakedness" in the Hebrew and transitively.....about things like fornication and adultery, really. Then, once a woman is divorced, she cannot go back to her former husband once she has remarried, no matter whether husband #2 divorces her or dies.

I'd argue that the passage is coming very close to what Jesus argues, basically saying "once you do this, it is permanent--it is not to be a threat that you lob around to get your way with your spouse!".

And that's pretty much exactly what I'd say (and have said) to people considering divorce, or saying that they'd divorce quickly after the first evidence of bad behavior; this stuff is permanent, and if you force your ex to do a fire sale on assets to pay you off for the divorce, then pay legal fees, it's awfully hard to walk that back.

So as I walk through Jesus' words about hardness of hearts, I am wrestling right now with whether He's rebuking their Talmudic interpretation of the passage, or whether he's referring to the written Torah. I am leaning towards the former, because "you're throwing your wives away like last week's leftovers" seems more in keeping with what was going on, as this matches very well with Malachi 2:14-16 and how God responded to what was going on in Nehemiah's time--a point where the Pharisaical formulation of Mosaic theology was rapidly maturing.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

The thing is, the biblical ideal is to heal the marriage if at all possible, or even to patch it up, if possible. In our culture, it is far too easy to bail on marriage, I don't think anyone can deny that. That is what Clifton is arguing for. That is what I would advocate for first, and even after the whole thing has blown up, if that produces repentance.

On the other hand, there are very painful situations which cannot be healed because of the hardness of hearts. Some men or women will not repent (I've seen it both ways). That's what some of you seem to be talking about, and from your own experiences. In the end, even those difficult situations would have had better outcomes if the unrepentant had really come to themselves and gotten right with God and their families.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

I think that marital counseling has to be one of the hardest jobs for a pastor or anyone to do and get right, especially when claims of mental abuse are in play. Physical abuse is pretty black and white but there are so many variables in play with mental abuse that make it so hard to determine what is actually going on. Ultimately, we don't know what is happening behind the closed door of the marriage at home. Maybe professionals have ways of cutting through the various facades that people put up, but I suspect it is very difficult no matter what. I keep thinking of Luke 12:14, " who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?"

I think what makes it a bit easier for a professional is that 1) they spend all day every day for upwards of 30 years dealing with just this, and 2) they are more prone to propose separation. I think working to bring a family back together is exceptionally difficult.

For me, my parents stuck it out for the sake of the kids. And in my experience it was a positive choice. Mostly because the challenges that my parents were dealing with were mostly hidden from our view. I know many others where separation would have been better for the kids. I am thankful for God's mercy in my situation, because he spared me from the challenges of separation. For every legitimate separation there are probably 10 where it is just two selfish people who can't seem to overcome their struggles and learn that love is an action and not a feeling.

The Biblical ideal is not just to "stick it out" but to thrive in the marriage together. While that is the ideal, sin can enter the picture and Jesus himself allows for divorce in the case of fornication. What about abuse? Does the exception clause include abuse? An unstated exception? Or is unrepentant abuse ultimately a church discipline problem and separation/divorce is granted on the grounds of an unbeliever departing? What if the unbeliever doesn't want to depart the marriage? I'm looking for a textual answer to a believing spouse's Biblical options when abuse is not stopping. One possibility that I have considered is that the abused contact the authorities and pursue criminal charges against the abuser that, if confirmed via a conviction, would force a separation. But I think that would only work in cases of physical abuse.