No one wants a tutorial on divorce. No one walks down the aisle planning for the marriage to end. At least not in a healthy relationship. Yet there is one particular thing any couple can do to significantly increase their chances of divorce. It’s simple: disconnect.
I’m not talking about disconnecting from each other. I think that’s obvious. I’m talking about couples who isolate themselves from community, from family, friends and church involvement. Especially when their marriage is in crisis.
As a pastor of a church alongside my husband, we consistently see marriages in trouble. We offer counsel with a goal of restoration, but always understanding both parties must be engaged in the process. And both partners must want the help.
Sadly, some marriages never make it through the crisis. But these relationships have something in common. A strong marriage depends vitally on the input and support of others, through mentorship and counseling, through transparent relationships where the dark and painful things can be aired out and healed. And the marriages who fail tend to have one or both partners outside of community, unwilling to correct their course and receive guidance.
My husband and I received two years of counseling when our relationship started. And we needed it. I had many misperceptions about men from previous relationships, along with a suitcase full of fear about how our marriage might end up. We were counseled while we dated, during engagement, and for the first year of marriage.
I didn’t know it then, but these mentors assisted us in laying a foundation for healthy communication and conflict we would need the rest of our marriage. Our marriage would be much weaker without their input.
Pastoring in a college town means counseling many young, idealistic couples through their early stages of marriage. There is often a blissful ignorance present during the dating period, a disbelief that their love could fade and problems could set in. As we attempted to challenge this view, we saw a few of them pull away from the very relationships that might provide stability and honest feedback.
Some couples waited until they nearly despised each other before they sought help. Some couples reviled any suggestions that their ways of relating to each other were harmful and pursued counselors who agreed with their unhealthy habits. Others lived under the pretense “nothing is wrong here”, ignoring conflict the best they could until it blew up.
This is always painful to watch because we wanted to help. But we could not get in. There was no door for us. These couples were on the outside by their own choosing. They did not want our help.
And no marriage can survive and thrive without authentic community.
But it’s not all been a loss. Some couples sought help the moment conflict arose. They recognized trouble coming and fought for their relationships. They chose to prioritize their marriage over being right, or looking like they have it all together. They didn’t want to bother the pastors on their free nights, but they knew their marriage needed more than duct tape.
So let me be clear: if you and your partner are growing apart or having conflict, do not withdraw from community. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you can resolve the issues yourselves. And don’t think because you and your partner are Christians that you will be fine; the divorce rate for Christians is the same as non-Christians. It is not your theology that will save your marriage but your humility and willingness to seek help.
Be willing to listen to people who have a different perspective, who challenge you or even correct you. If you have conflict in your marriage, there’s a chance you’re not doing something right. A rebuke from a friend is better than the kiss of an enemy.
We are not meant to live the Christian life alone, and that does not simply mean we are to attend church and Bible study. We must choose a select few friends and confidants with whom we can share the whole of our lives, the beautiful dreams, the sharpest wounds and the ugliest sins. Marriage is a choice, a covenant for life, but we cannot live this out without this kind of support.
Ask God to give you courage to be honest, then find a close friend, pastor or chaplain and spill the beans. Or if there’s no conflict now and things are going great, build those deep friendships and mentorships with an older couple who can guide you. Don’t wait until the pain builds up, and you want out.
Guard your marriage with the insurance of community because the pain of authenticity will never outweigh the pain of broken relationships.
Important note: I am not advocating for reconciliation in every marriage. In some situations this is unhealthy or is simply not possible. Situations of abuse, abandonment or infidelity are unsafe environments for relationship, and if both partners are not able or willing to reconcile, the marriage may not work. If there is abuse of any kind in your marriage, please seek confidential counsel from a local domestic violence crisis center or church and do what is necessary to protect yourself and your family. You do not ever deserve to be abused.