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In an unhappy marriage, can a spouse divorce?


What is God’s plan for marriage?  Genesis 2:24 says “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”  (Notice that one man and woman are joining to "become one flesh" once and for the rest of their lives)

We need to ask our self, “Why is one marriage partner unhappy with the other?”  Is it because they haven’t really left home?  Are the parents interfering so much that the spouse feels he (she) made a mistake?  Many have the phrase in their marriage vows that says, “…forsaking all others…” Is my mate unhappy because they haven’t forsaken all their old girlfriends (boyfriends)? Are they still running around behind the spouse’s back trying to lead a double life?

Matthew 19:6 tells us that “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” We are also told to “Abstain from every form of evil”  (1 Thessalonians 5:22). The King James Version says that we should avoid all appearance of evil.  This means that we should not do anything that will cause unnecessary hurt or harm to our mate.  We should not take part in, or be seen doing, that which can lead to temptation or put our marriage at risk.  What may seem harmless at the moment can lead to a broken trust and marriage.  We need to be on the alert that we safeguard our home.

Another principal of marriage deals with choosing a mate. The Bible tells us that we should not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 6:14)  Many of our problems in marriage begin because we do not consult God and ask him if this union meets with his approval. We wanted our own way before marriage and now we want our own way when our choice isn’t working out to our satisfaction.

What does the Bible say about our need to remain with our mate? (This is assuming that we are talking about a Christian who is unhappy with their marriage!)  Please read 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.  In summary it says that we are not to depart (or divorce) our mate. A husband is not to divorce his unbelieving wife (or vice versa).  In fact, it says that the unbelieving mate is sanctified by the believing mate (this means that they ‘set apart and made holy” by the believing one). Then the text asks the question, “For how do you know, O wife, (O husband) whether you will save your husband (wife)?”  Here God is telling us that as a Christian our living the holy life can have such a positive influence upon our mate that they will surrender their heart to God and also receive eternal life. What Christian mate wouldn’t want to do this?

But what about divorce?  What does the Bible say is the acceptable reason to leave or divorce a spouse?  First, the Bible says we were given the ‘law of divorce’ because sin has made man’s hearts so hard that they would not forgive the fallen mate.  It was never God’s plan that divorce would happen.  (Matthew 19:8)  God forgives all sins dealing with adultery when we ask him, and he is longing for a people that can forgive from their heart of love just as He does.  We must never lose sight of the fact that the Lord’s prayer tells us to pray: “… forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us….” (Luke 11:4).  This means that I should want to forgive my wayward mate.  However, many hearts become so hard that this almost seems like an impossibility.  If we would just let go of our negative attitudes, God could heal my broken heart and renew my love for my fallen mate.

What are the Biblical reasons for divorce? Let’s let Jesus answer this for us in Matthew 19:8-9.  Leaders in Israel were trying to trick Jesus into saying something that they could use against him in a court of law, so they asked him why Moses allowed a man to divorce his wife and Jesus answered, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery: and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”
(See also
Matthew 5:32)

So what is Jesus saying?  Divorce is so destructive to the family, to the church, to the state, and to the nation that God gives only one reason for divorce – adultery.  If we just look around us and see all the miserable children because of broken homes, we can see why God hates divorce and why He put such restrictions on it.  How many murders take place because of someone cheating on their mate?

The answer to this dilemma of being “unhappy with my spouse” is to draw closer to Jesus.  As we become more like Him, our mate will see the change in us, and, as a result, they will be changed also.  We are not placed here in this 'sinful world' to be ‘happy’.  Happiness is a state of mind.  No person can make me happy!  All the money in the world, all the ‘things’ of the world, all the parties I can find will never make me happy!  I can be happy with nothing if I put my mind to be happy.  True happiness can only be found in God and in doing His will, in ‘doing good things for others', just as Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38).  When my focus is on helping others find ‘happiness’, I will find that I have happiness also.

What exactly is "adultery"?

Adultery takes many forms:
1.) sex by one married person with someone other than their spouse
(Jeremiah 29:23, Ezekiel 16:32)

2.) sex (fornication) by two non-married people (Galatians 5:19)

3). homosexuality (Romans 1:26-29, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

4.) polygamy (Genesis 2:24, 1 Timothy 3:2 & 12, 1 Timothy 5:9, Titus 1:6)

5.) incest (Leviticus 18:7-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1)

These are the physical forms of adultery.  If one of these acts of sin has taken place, then there is Biblical grounds for divorce.  But always remember: Divorce is not in God's original plan and He is able to restore marriages!  Perhaps the couple needs to get away from each other for a time or separate and work things out that way, until good relations can be restored (1 Corinthians 7:5).

One other form of adultery is mentioned in Matthew 5:27-28 "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart."  This sort of adultery takes place only in the mind and it is a serious sin, but the Scriptures seem to indicate that the only justifiable reason for divorce is where there has been adultery that involves the physical act of illicit sex or "sexual immorality" (Matthew 19:8-9).

--Thanks to George Blumenschein for answering this question!  Don't give up on your marriage: With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)  "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?"  (Jeremiah 32:27)  It may seem like your marriage is doomed or your spouse is hopeless, but God is able to "build the old waste places" (Isaiah 58:12) and to make something from nothing!  (Genesis 1)


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