This powerful post about divorce was written by our friend, Pastor Brian Jones. It was originally posted at happinessable.com, and it is published here with permission.
Also, if you are struggling in your marriage, please reach out for help. We offer several marriage courses, and our transformative A New Beginning workshop is specifically designed for couples who are in crisis and headed for divorce.
You feel like you’re in the loneliest place in the world right now.
You have serious doubts about your relationship and just aren’t sure what to do.
It’s hard to go to family and friends and say, “Hey, I’m trying to decide if I should I leave ________. Give me your pros and cons.”
They’ll have very strong opinions, and right now strong opinions are the last thing you need.
You need sound, objective advice to help you process what you’re feeling.
You’re like a pilot that’s trying to land an airplane in a hurricane.
You’ve lost your bearings. You’re being rocked back and forth. The wind is howling. You can’t see a thing. Your heart is stuck in your throat. Everything within you wants to panic. And you’ve got two possible airstrips to choose from.
In these situations, pilots always take a deep breath, steady themselves, then look for the two objective sources of information that will get them (and their passengers) home safely: their navigation system and the friendly voice from air traffic control.
No doubt you’ve already made a “pros and cons” list in your mind. You have really good reasons why you hate this person and some really good reasons why you don’t want to throw it all away. One minute you want this to work. The next minute you can’t stand him/her and want a divorce. Like a pilot in a storm, you’re disoriented.
Let me be that encouraging voice for you right now, and together let’s see how the objective wisdom of the Bible can help bring clarity and peace as you think through where you should land.
Here are three questions I’d like you to think through:
QUESTION #1: Do I Still “Feel” Like I Love Him/Her?
It’s hard to be in a relationship with someone you no longer love. When people compile a “should I leave him/her or not?” list, this is always the #1 decider. I want to encourage you to not even think about how you “feel” right now.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things.”
In other words, what we “feel” can quickly change. Over 29 years of marriage there have been times my wife and I have both felt intense hatred towards each other, and there have been times where our love has felt otherworldly. This is normal. If we had bailed every time we “felt” like we weren’t in love, we wouldn’t have made it past year two.
QUESTION #2: Is There Someone Else?
Whenever we hear about someone we know that had an affair, Lisa always looks at me and says, “If you ever cheat on me, I’ll…” I’d prefer not to finish that sentence, so let’s just say I’m not interested in having her turn into Lorena Bobbitt. Since I’ve been a pastor, we’ve walked beside countless couples in pain and understand how deeply violating an affair can feel. We get the rage and the deep sense of betrayal. At the same time, we know that if you’re the one who’s had an affair, you’re not a monster. You had your reasons.
Unless there’s abuse involved, Lisa and I always tell couples to fight for their relationship after an affair. But to figure out whether you have something left to fight for, you must cut off all outside relationships. If he/she cheated, then you give her/him an ultimatum—“Cut it off, or we’re done. Period.” If you cheated, then you must pull the nuclear option on your affair and blow up every bridge back to him/her. This will give you a clear space to work on things.
Jesus said in Matthew 19:6, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
What he is saying is that in almost every case, the long-term prospect of staying with your spouse is better than getting a divorce. If you’ve been cheated on, you can find a way to forgive and move on. If you’ve cheated, understand that most affairs don’t last. And affairs that do end up in marriage almost always end up in another divorce. Knowing the long-term cost, it’s always better to fight for what you’ve got first.
QUESTION #3: Have We Ever Been Trained in How to Build a Nurturing Marriage?
Seventeen years ago, Lisa and I got trained to be facilitators for a course called Dynamic Marriage. I initially did it to help people in our church “get their act together.” Little did I know that I was the one who needed help. My problem? I had no clue how marriage worked. I just got married and assumed things would be fine.
Here’s what we learned that was a game changer for us:
Meeting Needs = Making Deposits into Their “Love Bank”
Every spouse has a “love bank” that reflects how they feel about their partner, based on their behavior.
When you meet your partner’s needs, you make a “deposit” into their “love bank.” As a result, they feel romantic feelings towards you. We learned there are ten possible ways your partner needs you to make them feel loved:
- Recreational Companionship
- Domestic Support
- Honesty and Openness
- Physical Fitness
- Financial Commitment
- Family Commitment
- Sexual Fulfillment
Do you know your spouse’s top need? Once you discover that and keep meeting that need, their “love bank” will eventually “fill up” and they will feel romantic love towards you. But not until you stop making withdrawals.
Hurtful Behaviors = Making Withdrawals from Their “Love Bank”
When you do things that hurt your spouse, you make “withdrawals” that kill their romantic feelings toward you. They called these withdrawals “love busters.” There are six common “love busters” that kill romantic feelings:
- Selfish Demands
- Disrespectful Judgment
- Angry Outbursts
- Annoying Habits
- Independent Behavior
What would your spouse say is the top “love buster” you keep committing? Keep making that “withdrawal” long enough, and their love bank will go empty. When that happens, they have lost all feelings of romantic love toward you.
My guess is if you’re wrestling with this question, your “love bank” has a negative balance. That’s where Lisa and I were early in our marriage.
Until this class I had no clue that her primary need was “conversation,” and she was shocked to learn that mine was “affection.” We also learned that “angry outbursts” was the primary way I depleted her love bank and she discovered that “disrespectful judgments” depleted mine.
But knowing these things was only half the battle. We had to change years of deeply ingrained behavior.
So, we came back to our church and advertised the course. Ten couples signed up. We met for nine weeks learning how to put what we learned into action. There was only one rule: we could never talk about our partner’s faults, only our own.
I’m not going to lie. Those first four weeks were awful, mainly because of me. There was so much unspoken pain I had caused Lisa over the years that surfaced. But we persisted, and our relationship grew stronger. Best of all we realized that we weren’t alone.
Since that class, whenever someone tells me they’re weighing whether or not to end their relationship, I always tell them about one of my favorite verses in the Bible.
Isaiah 43:19 says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Through this class, I saw God take marriages as loveless as a desert and make massive springs of romantic love flow out of them again.
And that can happen to yours too.
This is why I said to put aside for now making a decision based on how you “feel.” Feelings always follow behavior. Learn how to change your behavior and the romantic feelings you so desperately want will re-emerge.
Deciding How to Move Forward
These three questions are based on my 30 years’ experience as a pastor. Want to know what I’ve discovered after talking with thousands of people who filed for divorce?
Roughly half regretted their decision.
I share this because this is where you’re at right now.
Here’s a question I always ask my divorced friends:
“If you’ve had it to do all over again, what could you have done that would have prevented you from making the wrong decision?”
The responses are always the same:
- I wish I hadn’t let my emotions get in the way.
- I wish I hadn’t let an affair keep me from fighting for our relationship.
- We should have taken the time to learn how to love each other.
It’s too late for my friends who chose to divorce.
But there’s still time for you to learn from their mistakes.
Listen, I don’t know what you’re thinking right now.
I just want you to give your marriage a fair shot before you pursue a divorce. Because if you don’t, there’s a high probability you’ll be right back where you are right now, in another relationship, five years from now, contemplating the same decision.
You can do this, friend.
If you live in the greater Philadelphia area, you can take the Dynamic Marriage course at our church. Click HERE. If you live outside Philadelphia, you can find a course near you HERE.
2. Marriage Counseling
If you live in the greater Philadelphia region and would like to meet with one of the licensed Christian counselors at our church, click HERE. If you live outside Philadelphia, Google “Licensed Christian Counselors.”
3. Church Support
If you live in the greater Philadelphia region, we’d love to have you visit our church. You’ll find encouragement and support in a non-judgmental atmosphere. Click HERE to Plan Your Visit. Churches like ours can be found around the country by going HERE.
Here are two books you might find helpful as you process your decision about getting a divorce or fighting for your marriage:
Forgiveness: Get Rid of the Gorillas of Pain, Anger, and Bitterness and Start Living
Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages
Brian Jones is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and the author of Second Guessing God, Forgiveness, and Finding Favor. He’s the pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in suburban Philadelphia. Brian and his beautiful wife Lisa have three amazing daughters. One of the things that brings them genuine happiness is promoting partnerships in developing countries that rescue children from poverty and exploitation.
More on Marriage and Divorce:
Where to Turn for Marriage Help When Facing an Imminent Divorce
Four Ways to Defend Your Marriage Against Sexual Temptation