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.


Many Christian leaders put abuse under the framework of abandonement. Probably too long to lay out here, but, the thought process is that the abuser has abandoned the covenant of marriage by willfully committing aggregious and repeated sins directly against the abused, and in some cases significantly illegal sins.

Having dealt with this a few times. If someone is getting abused, either physically or mentally, separation should take place immediately. The church needs to walk circumspectly in this scenario. Because the abuser is exceedingly crafty and the fullfillment of his sin lines up with the approach of the church. Most abusers will say anything and agree to anything in order to create the allurment of reconcilliation. They need the abused to come back in order to feed their sin. And most churches are pushing for reconcilliation. So you can see the problem where inept leaders are pushing reconcilliation, which is exactly what the abuser needs to fulfill his sinful desires. Sitting down with the couple for one hour a week is fully insufficient to understand something so incredibly complex. Abusers are very, very good at what they do. And it is not just that they are good at purposly lying, but that an abuser's mind is built in such a way as to navigate these scenarios very well. It is why so many Christian leaders stay in their positions for years while they are sexual abusing members of their congregation. Abuse is also unlike many other sins in the fact that you cannot overcome it so easily. Especially when it is linked with other disorders like narcissism, where there is no cure.

If it is physical abuse the abused should report it directly to police and should pursue charges.

Here is one layout for the textual reasons why divorce is allowed for abuse

One thing to note about the narcissism hypothesis is that about 0.5% of men have clinically diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder...

Estimates vary. Some more near 5 or 6%. However, that is for narcissistic personality disorder.

Most of what we're talking about here would be narcissistic personality trait. Clinically the difference between personality traits and disorders involve the question, "Is the personality trait so severe that it prevents the person from successfully functioning in some sphere of life."

When you look at the definition of narcissism, it's pretty close to what we might think of as "selfish." That's a lot of people.

Andy: The Biblical ideal is not just to "stick it out" but to thrive in the marriage together.

I agree. But it would also be good to say, "The Biblical ideal is to 'stick it out' but also to work toward thriving in the marriage together."

The old man, as Owen put it, is the great purveyor of thoughts to the soul to bring in the provision to satisfy its affections. Purveyor isn't just a communicator. It's a salesman. IOW, there is a part of us that is suggesting alternative life choices that "would make us happier." "You would be happier if you left your wife." "You would be happier if you had a relationship on the side with your [secretary, computer porn, etc.]." These are lies, but sometimes they are very believable. Accepting that God's plan is better than our thoughts about happiness sometimes is pure faith.

The place where I differ is that many seem to assume that the selfish person, the person with some narcissistic tendencies, somehow has this amazing ability to pull the wool over other peoples' eyes that defies the abilities of pastors, therapists, and the like to discern. More or less, the trait of true narcissists (diagnosable NPD) is attributed to the much larger portion of "selfish people" or "jerks".

Trouble with that is that in my experience, I don't see that. My former sister in law and brother in law were basically telling the same story, but differing on the way they interpreted things details. Same thing with my mom and dad, and same thing with others. The debates I've seen are over what the deeds done mean, whether they're justified, and the like.

Regarding abandonment, I see it as a walk through Matthew 18, really. You confront with two (initial confrontation was the spouses; they already did that and it doesn't need to repeated) witnesses present, verify what's going on (probably a couple of layers of sin there really), go before the elder board, see if there is repentance, work with them if needed...

....and if one person clearly persists in sin, say abuse or adultery or whatever, the board needs to make a hard decision "do we help the victim spouse to separate?" And once a couple separates, a truly abusive spouse is going to (as did my father) tend to keep going--in other words, they abandon their spouse.

Hence "abandonment".

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

David -- you article alluded to a more in depth article by Andy Naselli:

This article is about as thorough as you will find on the subject, and I always find him level headed and usually persuasive. Basically he argues that anything that breaks the marriage covenant is legit grounds for divorce. I'm still thinking through it, but what he says makes sense as I'm reading it. So, if he is correct, then the question is, when does abuse cross the line of breaking the marriage covenant?


Thanks for the link, I missed it in the article. I am familiar with the article and studied it a number of years back. I would say that it aligns pretty closely with my thought process. My view has been that this doesn't make it right, it just makes it acceptable and that other elements still stay in place (i.e. no remarriage...). What I like is that it is able to cover a number of difficult areas with a concise model and approach. The magic question is where is the line. Some will state, "you will know it when you see it". Others have said, "the elders should identify the line in a given situation and circumstance".

Jesus gave only one reason for divorce, yet the Apostle Paul made it clear that there was yet another reason. Thus, I do not take the position that these two exceptions were listed for us to conclude that they were the only reasons for divorce. That puts me in the camp of anything that breaks the marriage covenant is legit grounds for divorce. That, however, should not become an excuse to rush to divorce, but it is a reminder that the very reason for divorce is because people are sinful. Sin has serious consequences within a marriage, and divorce is part of God's grace for terrible situations. Being annoyed with a spouse, or not feeling as attracted to them as you used to, is not the same as having to escape a terribly sinful situation. I fear we have two extremes that are unhealthy/ungodly- the extreme of divorcing for frivolous reasons and the extreme of suggesting divorce is never or almost never acceptable. God had enough grace to allow for divorce we should as well.

One additional thought: Nearly all agree that adultery is grounds for divorce, yet there are those who are in such abusive situations that adultery would be easier to put up with than mental, physical, or verbal abuse.

Andy's comment here about legal charges "forcing a separation" deserves a bit of an extended response here. More or less, the basics are that it doesn't force a separation of any length, as most domestic/intimate partner violence charges are misdemeanors, and tend to be addressed with fines, counseling, and very nominal jail sentences if any. We're talking a week on the high side.

Plus, when you do that, most abused partners realize that what is at hand is the likely end of the relationship and their former way of life, and hence it takes a lot for people to pursue criminal charges--most abusers aren't going to stick around after footing the bill for legal defense and counseling, spending time in jail, fines, losing their guns, and the like. Really, some of the same is generally at hand before someone talks with the church, if they ever do. This is also why restraining orders generally don't help; they are only followed if the person who gets them really wants to leave the other person.

And then you've got any number of other issues, starting with the reality that emotional abuse (pattern of insults, more or less) isn't against the law, that law enforcement really doesn't want to deal with a lot of it, and that a lot of models like the Duluth Model are pretty much fiction.

On that last point, see the graph on page 1 of the Bureau of Justice Statistics' writeup about intimate partner violence. Apparently, just about as many women as men murdered their lovers in 1976, followed by a pretty sharp drop through the 1970s and 1980s, while murders of women by their lovers stayed in comparison relatively steady. So intimate partner violence is really one of the most "egalitarian" crimes out there--when the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, one of the big surprises was that about a third of those arrested were female, and for other violent crimes, men predominate by a ratio of about 90%-10%.

In the past 25 years, the overall number of victims has remained relatively constant at a bit above 2000, and the ratio is that female victims predominate by about a ratio of 2:1. I've got to wonder if the big thing that changed things was no fault divorce, not the Violence against Women Act.

Long and short of it; the legal process is a mess, and it really doesn't provide an "out" for the church to avoid accountability for helping a victimized spouse get out of a bad situation. So if someone comes to you, understand what a step they're taking, take it seriously, and you might end up showing the legal system how it's done simply because you're not starting with something like the Duluth Model.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.