10 Common but Illegitimate Reasons to Divorce

My brother-in-law’s wife is indulging some of these excuses to separate (though not divorce, yet)….I’m praying that they realize that they can be miserable apart, miserable together, or somehow figure out a way of making it work.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Hopefully there are good, caring Christians in their lives who can speak truth to them. People are good about rationalizing bad decisions.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Be very careful with #’s 4, 8 and 9:

4. “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).

8. My marriage is a constant struggle In any of the above cases, believers can be faithful to the vows that they made even if their marriage is a struggle. If you believe that you can be happier outside of the will of God, then you are captive to a lie crafted by Satan. Do you really want to pit yourself against the sovereignty and wisdom of God? Galatians 6:7 says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” It is better to struggle through marriage than to defy God by breaking the marriage covenant.

9. “All my friends say that I ought to leave him/her.” Even friends with the best of intentions can lead you astray. This is why it is important to commit yourself to the full counsel of God in his word, allowing that to become your ultimate counsellor, no matter what differing opinions you hear elsewhere. This is also why it is so important to choose your friends wisely and to stay away from bad company (Psalm 1:1, 1 Corinthians 15:33). Surround yourself with people whose wisdom is grounded in biblical truth.

I’ve heard all of those excuses before, and then found out that there was very serious abuse (usually of different kinds) going on that was why the spouse said what they did. Sometimes all their friends are saying they ought to leave…because they are tired of picking up the abused pieces the day after. That’s perfectly legitimate.

As for #2, that’s about as close to a facepalm as you can get.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

I’ve heard most of these excuses over the years. A meaningful question to ask someone using one of these excuses is this: “If you divorce for this reason, will you promise God to never remarry?”

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Talked with him last night—apparently from time to time, he lets a few choice phrases fly when someone does an idiot thing on the road, and that’s interpreted as being abusive towards the wife. I (per Jay) did ask point blank about issues of physical or other abuse. I’m thinking that this is something of a Matthew 17:21 kind of situation; he can make sure he’s not violating Scripture himself in the response, but the thinking is either nonlinear, or the presupposition of the wife is that if life isn’t all bunnies and unicorns, that she’s being abused somehow. He can’t fix that one by being logical, I dare say.

(granted, I’ve got only one side of the story, but historically, the husband’s and wife’s stories match reasonably well)

I’m gently making the point that they’ve really got three choices in Christ; be miserable together, be miserable apart, or figure out how to make it work. There are way too many divorcees out there in the company of cats for me to admit the likelihood of “happy apart” as a reasonable expectation.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I have a relative angling for divorce. I’ve heard it all:

  • She’s a poor housekeeper
  • She’s depressed
  • We are not soulmates
  • She’s too religious
  • It was a mistake

Mind you - they’ve been together almost 20 years including living together before marriage

I read an article recently (can’t remember where) where the author, a conservative evangelical Christian (can’t remember who), made some compelling arguments for divorce based on abuse that was happening in the relationship. (I tried searching for it but really can’t find it)

Now, from a biblical perspective, I, personally, only see two situations that the Bible allows for divorce (infidelity and and an unbelieving spouse who wants to divorce). Remarriage become a bit trickier in these instances but my general thought is that it is probably not permitted.

Now if physical abuse is happening and is constantly threatened, then the first course of action is to protect the safety of the spouse and any children that may also be involved. Many would probably argue that there are grounds in these instances for divorce, which, from a rational perspective makes sense, but I have yet to hear a compelling argument from scripture that divorce would be permitted when there is physical abuse. Separation, certainly, perhaps even permanently, if the abusive spouse persists in threatening the health and safety of his family. But, and I’m asking opinions here, what would be the biblical argument for divorce here, if there is any.

Lets take this a step further then. What about emotional abuse, manipulation, domineering, and even spiritual abuse. If a spouse is in a completely miserable situation and their husband/wife is persisting in this type of abusive behavior, although not physical, with no signs of changing, what could be done? What should be done? Do you think divorce is an option? Why or Why Not? Permanent separation?

Honestly looking for godly counsel and biblically guided thoughts here on this one. This is a tough one to deal with.

Phil Golden

I read some stuff from David Instone-Brewer, who works at Tyndale House in Cambridge (UK), who has advocated divorce for cruelty and physical abuse. He may be the guy you’re referring to.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.


I read some stuff from David Instone-Brewer, who works at Tyndale House in Cambridge (UK), who has advocated divorce for cruelty and physical abuse. He may be the guy you’re referring to.

He is not the guy I was thinking of but I am reading through his explanation from Exodus 21:10-11 and it is interesting. I think he is sorta missing the context a bit as it is referring to giving a wife through a slave transaction but I think there are principles here that may bear some consideration. Thanks for the suggestion.

Phil Golden

In one of his books—possibly Reforming Marriage—Doug Wilson attempts to systematize reasons for divorce as going beyond just adultery to include pretty much any crime for which the perpetrator ought to be executed—say murder or rape and the like. That comes closer to divorce for abuse, but not quite, in my opinion.

My hunch is that if a real abuser—guy who physically strikes his wife (or vice versa), subjects her to constant insults, and the like—is subjected to the Matthew 18 process of church discipline, he will quickly come to the point where he either repents or admits that he’s really not a believer through word or deed. And in a case where he does not repent, and where the church leaders agree that the wife (or husband) must separate to be safe, I would guess that in a short time, most cases will be resolved in divorce by the unbeliever.

One possible difficulty there is the simple question of whether a sinning spouse can, even during a separation, afflict the victim spouse through the necessary legal and financial ties to the point where a change (a divorce) is necessary. I don’t know the answers to that—and if I needed it, I think I’d talk with someone skilled in family law.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

This is a complicated topic. Aaron had a front page article on this issue a while back. I also believe there is an exception if an unbelieving spouse deserts the relationship. I counseled a new Christian who’d been physically abused by her unbelieving husband, who then abandoned her and their children to live with his meth-addict girlfriend, to divorce the man (there is more to the story, but it’s sufficient for you to know that he walked away and did not intend to return).

She did divorce the man, and I performed the wedding ceremony for her marriage to a good, godly Christian man the next year. They are doing well, and they have even managed to get custody of her new husband’s 12-yr old daughter and have made a family for themselves. He lost custody of her years back when he was into drugs and crime, and went to prison for several years. Now, they have made a new life for themselves with the Lord to guide them.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

A Christian woman was married to an abusive man who cleaned out their bank account. She divorced him and never remarried. If you asked her why she hadn’t remarried, she’d tell you that she still had a husband but had ended their legal relationship for her own well-being and security.

I think I may be of the position that divorce that terminates the legal bond of marriage may be permitted but remarriage is only allowed for those who divorce for reasons allowed by Scripture.

I know of a church that accepts members who have been divorced for reasons not permitted by Scripture and tells them that, as a condition of membership, they are not to date.

Again, for me, the question always seems to return to remarriage.

I’ve lost track of the professing Christians I’ve known who divorced for reasons other than adultery or abandonment and have remarried within a year.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Read an interesting counter-point on Instone-Brewer’s work by Piper here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/tragically-widening-the-grounds-of-…

I think this just highlights the sensitive nature of this issue and the complex exegetical hurdles that exist for those who would be permissive about divorce when there is abuse (physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). I sorta agree with Piper when he says that Instone-Brewer is guilty of reading too much of the cultural context over the plain meaning of the text.

That being said, I think one does need to grapple with how Exodus 21:10-11 informs our biblical understanding of the legitimacy of divorce in cases where a spouse is not receiving the necessary provisions from their spouse. It is dangerous, however, to use this verse as a catch-all excuse for legitimizing divorce for non-biblical grounds.

Phil Golden

FYI, Piper depends on the work of Heth who later converted to the majority position. Heth explained why in a convincing article.

Here. The majority position is one that is more accepting of divorce, and creates more room for remarriage. The minority position more or less says you can divorce in extremely limited cases, but can not remarry.

Wilson’s position modifies the majority position in that he notes that the adulterer (or other grievous sinners) can be considered dead by his sin, and hence his aggrieved wife (husband) would be free to remarry.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.