Focus on the Family

Should I Get a Divorce?

by Amy Desai, J.D.

No couple goes into marriage thinking they'll be the ones who won't make it.

Certainly, at your wedding, you thought you were promising a love that would last a lifetime. Now, for reasons you may not fully understand, that dream seems shattered.

As you try to understand the pain and determine what to do, divorce may look like an appealing way out. "After all," you might reason, "life is full of second chances. Perhaps I simply married the wrong person, and Mr. or Ms. Right is still out there somewhere." You may think you were too young when you married, or that you never really loved your spouse. Or maybe you are just tired of the arguing, tired of the lack of communication, tired of the coldness in your relationship. Perhaps you simply want out – period. Or maybe you are hoping against hope that your marriage can be salvaged.

Before you bail out of your marriage, carefully consider what you'll be diving into. Most people are not prepared for the challenges of post-divorce life.

These articles are designed to help you understand the effects of divorce before you make that choice, to give insight into what you – and your children – will face. By providing solid facts, they will help you make a more informed decision.

Be encouraged that no matter how hopeless it seems, there's a possibility your marriage can be saved. It's our sincere desire that your marriage will be transformed into the loving relationship you hoped it would be when you first said, "I do."


Who Gets Divorced?

Research shows the majority of marriages ending in divorce have average levels of happiness and conflict.

by Amy Desai, J.D.

Bill was a pillar in his small farming community, Melissa the faithful housewife.1 They were a good Christian family, and she was looking forward to their upcoming 25th wedding anniversary. Melissa was in shock the night Bill came home and told her he had found "the love of his life" and was moving out. She literally spent the next year crying, unable to care for their 16-year-old daughter.

Unfortunately, Melissa's story is not uncommon. While the divorce rate in America has leveled off and even decreased slightly in the past few years, the divorce rate is still twice as high as it was in 1960.2 It's estimated that for couples marrying today, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent before one partner dies, although this percentage is significantly lower for those who marry after age 21, graduate college and are religiously committed.3 More than one million children a year experience their parents' divorce.4 And a recent survey reported that the divorce rate among Christians is now the same as or higher than in the broader culture.5 Almost everyone knows someone who is either divorced or is a child of divorced parents. In fact, it seems rare to find young adults whose parents are still married. Divorce has become widely accepted. The growing acceptance of divorce has made it seem easier and all the more tempting.

Research shows the majority of marriages ending in divorce have average levels of happiness and conflict.6 In other words, these are not deeply troubled, physically or emotionally abusive relationships, although even those are not always irreversibly broken. In short, most of the marriages that end in divorce are just plain average, or "good enough." Instead of throwing in the towel, these average marriages could be improved over time – if the spouses stayed together.

Is your relationship one of these normal but – at least at this time – unhappy marriages? Could it be improved and saved from divorce? Before you say, "No way!" please continue reading.


1The personal stories in this booklet are real, though the names have been changed. These stories were gathered in a series of interviews conducted by Focus on the Family Research Assistant Heidi Ihrke.
2David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "The State of Our Unions 2001," National Marriage Project, Rutgers, June 2001, p. 21, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/.
3David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "The State of Our Unions 2007," National Marriage Project, Rutgers, July 2007, pp. 18, 20, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/.
4Glenn T. Stanton, Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 1997), p. 29; Judith Wallerstein, et al., The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (New York: Hyperion, 2000), p. xxvi.
5"Christians Are More Likely to Experience Divorce Than Are Non-Christians," Barna Research Group, December 21, 2000, barna.org.
6Paul Amato and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), p. 220.

How Would Divorce Affect Me?

With more than 30 years of research, we now know divorce seldom leads to a better life.

by Amy Desai, J.D.

Sherry and Rob tried to spare their children the details of their breakup. Their marital problems were further complicated by Rob's affair with the secretary at the church he was pastoring. Without a college education, Sherry was forced to move back in with her parents, where she continues to live 12 years later. At one point, she attempted to recover the $100,000 in child support Rob hadn't paid over time but was only able to get $18,500 – barely enough to pay a few of the bills that had been piling up.

Sherry's story points out one all-too-real fact of divorce: Post-divorce families usually suffer financially. Studies show that women experiencing divorce face roughly a 30 percent decline in the standard of living they enjoyed while married, and men show a 10 percent decline.1 The consistency of this finding caused one researcher to conclude: "However 'prepared' for marital disruption women increasingly may be, they are not prepared in ways sufficient to cushion the economic cost."2

And remember – that's all after the fact. The divorce itself can be a financial hurdle. While some divorce proceedings are relatively inexpensive, the fees can soar. Each case will vary. Attorney John Crouch describes it this way:

You can get [a divorce] for under $10,000 per spouse in lawyer fees if you're lucky and if both the spouses and their lawyers are reasonable and fair. [This does not include what the divorce] does to the standard of living, [or] having to pay [child] support, [or] the expenses of visitation. But you really can't predict [even] that. . . . Either side can pull all kinds of stuff in court that just makes both the lawyers waste time until one client runs out of money. I just finished one case where they settled, but then the husband had to spend $70,000 just to enforce the settlement agreement!3

But there's more to life than money. There are many other areas where men and women are affected by divorce. With more than 30 years of research, we now know divorce seldom leads to a better life. Consider that:

People often view divorce as a way to end the fighting. But the problems usually don't go away after divorce. Often, anger and animosity only increase when a divorce occurs. And the problems aren't solved by a second marriage.

Second marriages have a much higher rate of divorce than first marriages. As Hoffman said, "What you are arguing over during the divorce or what led you to the divorce and what frustrated you [so much] that you wanted to quit and move out – these factors will go on to haunt you after the divorce. If you get into another relationship, you are going to think about running away from that one [too]."

Divorced parents also suffer in their relationships with their children. In most cases, noncustodial fathers are unable to maintain the level of involvement with their children that they previously had. And the damaged relationship does not always heal when the child becomes an adult. As researchers found, "Nearly two-thirds of young adults from disrupted families had poor relationships with their fathers."9 And a substantial minority of these young adults had poor relationships with both parents.

These findings led the researchers to conclude that "[M]any of these young people are especially vulnerable to influences outside the family, such as from boyfriends or girlfriends, other peers, adult authority figures and the media . . . From the viewpoint of an individual parent, the prospect that divorce means one is likely to have a poor relationship with one's grown offspring should give the parent who is contemplating separation some pause. The knowledge that this is often the case might even lead to some parents trying harder to make their marriages work or at least to maintain reasonable post-divorce relationships with their children and former spouses."10


1Atlee L. Stroup and Gene E. Pollock, "Economic Consequences of Marital Dissolution," Journal of Divorce and Remarriage 22 (1994): 7-54; Richard R. Peterson, "A Re-evaluation of the Economic Consequences of Divorce," American Sociological Review 61 (1996): 528-536. Peterson's data showed a 30 percent income decrease for women, but a 10 percent increase for men.
2Pamela J. Smock, "The Economic Costs of Marital Disruption for Young Women over the Past Two Decades," Demography 30 (1993): 353-371.
3John Crouch, "Virginia's No-Fault Divorce Reform Bill" (interview with John Crouch and Jim Parmelee on TV Channel 10, Fairfax, VA, divorcereform.org).
4Robert Coombs, "Marital Status and Personal Well-being: A Literature Review," Family Relations 40 (1991):97-102; I. M. Joung, et al., "Differences in Self-Reported Morbidity by Marital Status and by Living Arrangement," International Journal of Epidemiology 23 (1994): 91-97.
5Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 148.
6Harold J. Morowitz, "Hiding in the Hammond Report," Hospital Practice (August 1975), p. 39.
7James S. Goodwin, William C. Hunt, Charles R. Key and Jonathan M. Sarmet, "The Effect of Marital Status on Stage, Treatment, and Survival of Cancer Patients," Journal of the American Medical Association 258 (1987): 3125-3130.
8Nadine F. Marks and James D. Lambert, "Marital Status Continuity and Change Among Young and Midlife Adults: Longitudinal Effects on Psychological Well-Being," Journal of Family Issues 19 (1998): 652-686.
9Nicholas Zill, et al., "Long-term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement in Young Adulthood," Journal of Family Psychology 7 (1993): 91-103.
10Ibid., p. 101.

How Could Divorce Affect My Kids?

We now have an enormous amount of research on divorce and children, all pointing to the same stubborn truth: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up.

by Amy Desai, J.D.

Many years ago, the myth began to circulate that if parents are unhappy, the kids are unhappy, too. So divorce could help both parent and child. "What's good for mom or dad is good for the children," it was assumed. But we now have an enormous amount of research on divorce and children, all pointing to the same stubborn truth: Kids suffer when moms and dads split up. (And divorce doesn't make mom and dad happier, either.)

The reasons behind the troubling statistics and the always-present emotional trauma are simple but profound. As licensed counselor and therapist Steven Earll writes:

Children (and adult children) have the attitude that their parents should be able to work through and solve any issue. Parents, who have given the children life, are perceived by the children as very competent people with supernatural abilities to meet the needs of the children. No problem should be too great for their parents to handle. For a child, divorce shatters this basic safety and belief concerning the parents' abilities to care for them and to make decisions that truly consider their well-being.

Children have the strong belief that there is only one right family relationship, and that is Mom and Dad being together. Any other relationship configuration presents a conflict or betrayal of their basic understanding of life. In divorce, children [tend to] resent both the custodial and absent parent."1

Research on Children and Divorce

While virtually every child suffers the lost relationship and lost security described above, for many, the emotional scars have additional, more visible consequences. More than 30 years of research continues to reveal the negative effects of divorce on children. Most of these measurable effects are calculated in increased risks. In other words, while divorce does not mean these effects will definitely occur in your child, it does greatly increase the risks. The odds are simply against your kids if you divorce.

Research comparing children of divorced parents to children with married parents shows:

Before you say, "Not my kid," remember that the children and teens represented in these statistics are normal kids, probably not much different from yours. Their parents didn't think they would get involved in these things, either. Again, we're looking at increased risks.

A few more statistics to consider:

The scope of this last finding – children suffer emotionally from their parents' divorce – has been largely underestimated. Obviously, not every child of divorce commits crime or drops out of school. Some do well in school and even become high achievers. However, we now know that even these children experience deep and lasting emotional trauma.

For all children, their parents' divorce colors their view of the world and relationships

for the rest of their lives.

Wallerstein Study

Psychologist Judith Wallerstein followed a group of children of divorce from the 1970s into the 1990s. Interviewing them at 18 months and then 5, 10, 15 and 25 years after the divorce, she expected to find that they had bounced back. But what she found was dismaying: Even 25 years after the divorce, these children continued to experience substantial expectations of failure, fear of loss, fear of change and fear of conflict.10 Twenty-five years!

The children in Wallerstein's study were especially challenged when they began to form their own romantic relationships. As Wallerstein explains, "Contrary to what we have long thought, the major impact of divorce does not occur during childhood or adolescence. Rather, it rises in adulthood as serious romantic relationships move center stage . . . Anxiety leads many [adult children of divorce] into making bad choices in relationships, giving up hastily when problems arise, or avoiding relationships altogether."11

Other researchers confirm Wallerstein's findings.12 Specifically, compared to kids from intact homes, children who experienced their parents' divorce view premarital sex and cohabitation more favorably.13 (This is disturbing news given that cohabiting couples have more breakups, greater risk of domestic violence14 and are more likely to experience divorce.15)

Behind each of these statistics is a life – a child, now an adult, still coping with the emotions brought on by the divorce.

As Wallerstein put it, "The kids [in my study] had a hard time remembering the pre-divorce family . . . but what they remembered about the post-divorce years was their sense that they had indeed been abandoned by both parents, that their nightmare [of abandonment] had come true."16

Parents tend to want to have their own needs met after a divorce – to find happiness again with someone new. But not only do the old problems often resurface for the adults, new problems are added for the children. As Wallerstein observed, "It's not that parents love their children less or worry less about them. It's that they are fully engaged in rebuilding their own lives – economically, socially and sexually. Parents' and children's needs are often out of sync for many years after the breakup."17 Children again feel abandoned as parents pursue better relationships after the breakup."

Feelings of abandonment and confusion are only compounded when one or both parents find a new spouse. A second marriage brings complications and new emotions for children – not to mention new stepsiblings, stepparents and stepgrandparents, who often are in competition for the parent's attention. (And the adjustment can be even more difficult – because it is the adults who choose new families, not the children.)

Lilly expressed it this way: "My loss was magnified as my father remarried and adopted a new 'family.' Despite attempts on my part to keep in touch, we live in different cities, and his life now revolves around his new family with infrequent contact with me. This has only increased the feelings of abandonment and alienation from the divorce."

And the high rate of second-marriage divorces can leave children reeling from yet another loss.

Full "recovery" is nearly impossible for children because of the dynamic nature of family life. While you and your ex-spouse's lives may go on separately with relatively little thought, your children will think about their loss almost every day. And 25 years after the fact, they will certainly be influenced by it. Life itself will remind them of the loss at even the happiest moments. As Earll explains: "Children never get over divorce. It is a great loss that is in their lives forever. It is like a grief that is never over. All special events, such as holidays, plays, sports, graduations, marriages, births of children, etc., bring up the loss created by divorce as well as the family relationship conflicts that result from the 'extended family' celebrating any event."18

Not an Easy Out

What parents see as a quick way out often results in emotional damage that the children will carry for 30 years or more. Divorce is no small thing to children. It is the violent ripping apart of their parents, a loss of stability and often a complete shock. While we often think of children as resilient, going through such trauma is a lot to ask of our kids.

In light of the fact that most marriages heading for divorce can be salvaged and turned into great marriages, parents should take a long pause before choosing divorce. While it may seem like a solution to you, it's not an easy out for you or your kids.


1Interview with Steven Earll, M.A., M.S., L.P.C., C.A.C. III, August 2001.
2Nan Marie Astone and Sara S. McLanahan, "Family Structure, Parental Practices and High School Completion," American Sociological Review 56 (1991): 309-320.
3Cynthia Harper and Sara McLanahan, "Father Absence and Youth Incarceration," Center for Research on Child Wellbeing, Working Paper #99-03, http://crcw.princeton.edu/publications/articles/2004/WP99-03-pub.pdf.
4Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What Hurts, What Helps (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 82.
5Robert L. Flewelling and Karl E. Bauman, "Family Structure as a Predictor of Initial Substance Use and Sexual Intercourse in Early Adolescence," Journal of Marriage and the Family 52 (1990): 171-181.
6Jane Mauldon, "The Effects of Marital Disruption on Children's Health," Demography 27 (1990): 431-46, and Olle Lundberg, "The Impact of Childhood Living Conditions on Illness and Mortality in Adulthood," Social Science and Medicine 36 (1993): 1047-52, both as cited in Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000).
7Catherine Malkin and Michael Lamb, "Child Maltreatment: A Test of Sociobiological Theory," Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25 (1994): 121-133; Leslie Margolin, "Child Abuse and Mother's Boyfriends: Why the Overrepresentation?" Child Abuse and Neglect 16 (1992): 541-551.
8P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, Andrew J. Cherlin and Kathleen E. Kiernan, "The Long-Term Effects of Parental Divorce on the Mental Health of Young Adults: A Developmental Perspective," Child Development 66 (1995): 1614-1634.
9Wallerstein, et al., 2000, pp. xxvii-xxix; Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky. "Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression." Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 1034-1035.
10Ibid., p. xxvii.
11Ibid., p. xxix.
12See Andrew J. Cherlin, P. Lindsey Chase-Lansdale and C. McRae, "Effects of Parental Divorce on Mental Health Through the Life Course," American Sociological Review, 63 (1998): 239-249; Catherine E. Ross and John Mirowsky, "Parental Divorce, Life-Course Disruption, and Adult Depression," Journal of Marriage and the Family 61 (1999): 10341035.
13William G. Axinn and Arland Thornton, "The Influence of Parents' Marital Dissolutions on Children's Attitudes toward Family Formation," Demography 33 (1996): 66-81.
14See Stanton, 1997, pp. 55-70; see also David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, "Should We Live Together?" A Report of the National Marriage Project, 1999, http://www.virginia.edu/marriageproject/.
15Alan Booth and David Johnson, "Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Success," Journal of Family Issues 9 (1988): 255272; Paul Amato and Alan Booth, "The Consequences of Divorce for Attitudes toward Divorce and Gender Roles," Journal of Family Issues 12 (1991): 306-323.
16Jane Meredith Adams, "Judith Wallerstein: Forget the Notion Divorce Won't Hurt Kids. It Will." Biography 1 (1997): 79-81.
17Wallerstein, et al., 2000, p. xxix.
18Earll interview, August 2001.

Is There Hope for My Marriage?

To have good marriages, we need to ride out the 'lows' so that the relationship can be strengthened.

by Amy Desai, J.D.

Often we think an unhappy couple has only two options:

  1. Stay together and be miserable.
  2. Get a divorce.

But there is a third option, and many couples successfully take this other road. In an exciting new study, couples participating in a national survey were asked to rate their marriage on a scale of one to seven, with one being very unhappy and seven being very happy. Those who rated their marriages a "one" had incredible turnarounds just five years later – if they stayed together. In fact, 77 percent of those giving their marriage a very unhappy "one" rated their marriage as a "seven" after five years.1 Was there some breakthrough therapy involved? No. In fact, many did relatively little – they just "stuck it out" and things got better.

As mentioned earlier, another study found that about 60 percent of marriages that ended in divorce were not bad marriages, but average.2 They had average levels of positive interactions and average levels of conflict. Basically, these marriages were "good enough" but could be improved. Most marriages go through emotional ups and downs – times of great happiness and times of boredom and fatigue.

To have good marriages, we need to ride out the "lows" and learn from those times so that the relationship can be strengthened. If your relationship is at a low point and you wonder what happened to the spark, there is good news. It's not too late to revitalize your relationship.

What Makes Marriages Get Better?

Researchers followed up on those couples who rated their marriages as unhappy at first and happy five years later. Here's what the couples told them were the reasons for the dramatic turnaround:3

There are many ways to improve your marriage. Today, there are hundreds of tools focused on ways to build strong, healthy relationships. A few examples include weekend getaway-style marriage conferences by Family Life Today or Marriage Encounter, film series and seminars hosted by local churches under the title "Marriage Enrichment" and mentoring programs through local churches.


1Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 148.
2Amato and Booth, 1997, p. 220.
3Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo and Scott Stanley, "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages," Institute for American Values, 2002, americanvalues.org/UnhappyMarriages.pdf.
4While women are also known to exhibit these negative behaviors, in this particular study it was the men who were "misbehaving."

How Should a Christian View Marriage and Divorce?

God, the Creator of humanity and of marriage itself, has laid out His plan for marriage as a lifelong union.

by Amy Desai, J.D.

God, the Creator of humanity and of marriage itself, has laid out His plan for marriage as a lifelong union. God knows this design is the best. When we stray from His plan, as we have seen in the studies mentioned above, the results are damaging on many levels.

Unfortunately, the divorce rate in the church is comparable to that of the culture at large. Many Christians see nothing wrong with divorce, at least in their own particular situation. But the Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce.

Marriage is the first institution created by God. God made the first man, Adam, but declared that it was not good for Adam to be alone. He then brought to Adam all the animals, which Adam named, but "no companion suitable for him" was found (Genesis 2:20, NLT). God was revealing to Adam his incomplete nature. God then created a woman, Eve, for Adam. He blessed them and their union and gave them the earth to rule over. (See Genesis 1:27-28.) The creation of marriage occurred prior to sin's entrance into the world. It was a part of God's perfect design for mankind.

Through the prophets, God emphasized three principles:

  1. Marriage is sacred
  2. God hates divorce 
  3. Marriage is designed to produce children of good character. (See Malachi 2:13-16)

Jesus underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage in His own teachings. (See Matthew 19:6.)

The apostle Paul further taught that the marital relationship is to be an ongoing demonstration of the sacrificial love that Christ showed His church. (See Ephesians 5:21-33.)

Let's look at this issue more closely. Specifically, what does the Bible tell us about divorce? Malachi 2:13-16 gives us a clear look into God's heart for marriage:

Another thing you do: You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, "Why?" It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are His. And why one? Because He was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel.

Jesus Christ reiterated the importance and permanence of marriage. Matthew 19:3-6 (NIV) says, "Some Pharisees came to Him to test Him. They asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?'"

"Haven't you read," He replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Because, as an attorney, I've represented many people going through divorce, I understand why God says, "I hate [it]!" Divorce is the tearing apart of the foundation of all stable societies – the family. Sometimes, it's necessary. Sometimes, it's even unavoidable. (In Colorado, for example, if one spouse files for divorce, the other cannot stop it from occurring.) Nonetheless, it's important that we in the Body of Christ encourage those in troubled marriages to seek counseling and restoration – because most divorces are neither necessary nor unavoidable.

But are there any cases in which the Bible allows divorce? Many Christians disagree about whether the Bible allows divorce and/or remarriage. If you are concerned about whether you have biblical grounds for divorce, you will need to commit the matter to prayer and study. You should also seek out counsel from your own pastor and, ideally, a licensed Christian counselor. The question of sin cannot be taken lightly. But biblical grounds may exist:

  1. When one's mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. Jesus' words in Matthew 19:8-9 indicate that divorce (and remarriage) in this circumstance is acceptable. That passage reads:

    "Why then," [the Pharisees] asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries [or, 'in order to marry'] another woman commits adultery." (Emphasis added)

    However, divorce is not required. If your spouse has committed adultery, divorce is morally allowed, but not required. Many couples have been able to rebuild their marriages even after such a devastating blow.
  2. When one spouse is not a Christian, and that spouse willfully and permanently deserts the Christian spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Dr. James Dobson's position is that divorce and remarriage appear to be justified in Scripture only in a few instances.1

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, please pray carefully about your decision to divorce, and be open to God's leading. (God's heart is to heal marriages.)

If your spouse is the one deciding on divorce, you may not be able to stop him or her through current divorce laws. However, you can try to persuade your spouse to consider a legal separation first, which would give you both more time to consider the issue.

Pray that God will open the lines of communication between you and your spouse and that He will restore the love in your relationship. And pray for patience and a forgiving spirit. Try to resist the temptation to say angry words to your spouse or do things that would push him or her further away. Restoration does occur even in the most hostile circumstances, but it is more difficult when harsh words have passed between you.


1There is a third instance in which Dr. Dobson believes remarriage is acceptable in Scripture. That instance is when an individual's divorce occurred prior to salvation.

Dr. Bill Maier on Divorce

Dr. Bill Maier addresses the issue of divorce, including children, reconciliation and low-conflict divorce.

Answered byDr. Bill Maier

How Will Divorce Affect My Child?

Dear Dr. Bill: In the middle of marital struggles with my husband, we became pregnant. Despite this, my husband announced that he's leaving me and wants a divorce. Since I am originally from Europe, I am considering a move back home rather than staying in this country where I have friends but no family. But I wonder if this is the best decision for my child.

Is it better for children to know their father and possibly build a relationship with him? Or should we simply ask this man to leave our lives and not be involved with him at all? That's my preference, but what do children who grew up with divorced parents think about this?

My heart goes out to you in this very difficult situation. But I would encourage you not to give up hope. Because you are under such a great deal of stress, now is not the time for making major decisions. Give yourself some time and space to think through all of the alternatives available to you.

The research on divorce shows that if couples will slow down the process and seek outside professional help, many marriages can be saved. Although it may feel to you or your husband that divorce is the only option, in reality it's not.

You asked about the impact on your child. The research shows that children do better on every measure of well-being if they grow up in a home with a married mother and father. Even if a marriage is less than perfect, staying together is always better for your kids than getting a divorce. Many studies on adult children from divorced homes confirm this. The one exception would be if there is physical or emotional abuse occurring in the home.

Even if your husband has no desire to reconcile, if he is willing to take an active role in your child's life, I would encourage you not to move back to Europe. Fatherlessness has profoundly negative impacts on children, and your son needs his dad.

On the other hand, if your husband wants nothing to do with his child and refuses to take responsibility for him, moving back to Europe to live with your extended family could be the best option. A loving, involved grandfather or uncle can't replace your son's father, but can certainly give him the male attention and affirmation he so desperately needs.

What I would do is encourage you to contact our counseling department. You'll receive caring, godly advice form one of our licensed Christian therapists. They can also refer you to a Christian counselor in your local area. I pray that your husband will be willing to consider marital counseling, but even if he won't, you'll find the support of a caring therapist invaluable during this difficult time in your life.


Reconciling a Broken Marriage

Dear Dr. Bill: My husband and I are both Christians and know the right things to do, but we were still divorced recently. My husband is full of anger, hurt, pain, and bitterness, and he won't even consider counseling. I'm very concerned about our 3-year-old son and I pray every day that God will change my husband's heart. But I'm also wondering if you can give me some suggestions on positive things I can do to reconcile this marriage?

Unfortunately in situations like this there isn't a whole lot you can do. If your husband is angry, hurt, and bitter and won't consider counseling, your options are somewhat limited. The Bible tells us that God hates divorce, and clearly His will would be for the two of you to reconcile. But God also allows each of us free will, and at this point it seems obvious that your husband has no desire to continue the relationship.

You mention that you pray every day that God will change your husband's heart, but are you also praying that God will change your hear? Have you asked God to show you the areas in which you need to change, and how you contributed to the breakup?

I realize it may be difficult for you to hear, but when separation and divorce occurs it's common for each of the spouses to focus on the changes that the other spouse needs to make, rather than engaging in the honest self-evaluation that is necessary for true growth and healing.

One good place to start would be to join a therapy group led by a Christian counselor or a divorce recovery group at a local church. In a small-group setting where honesty, openness, and vulnerability are stressed, you will begin to see some of your own blind spots. You'll be exposed to personality characteristics and behavior patterns that others see, but that you may be unaware of.

The Bible refers to this as "iron sharpening iron." It can be a painful process as God "burns off" the rough edges of our heart, but if we're willing to stick with it, it can lead to tremendous growth and healing.

I'd suggest you contact the Focus on the Family counseling department. Ask them to provide you with the names of Christian counselors in your community. Then call some of these individuals and ask them if they can suggest a good therapy group or divorce recovery group in your area.

I'd also like to recommend an excellent book that you'll find helpful. It's called Safe People and was written by two Christian psychologists I respect, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. You can order it through most Christian bookstores or online booksellers.


Low Conflict Divorces

Dear Dr. Bill: I have a question about my son who's been married for two and a half years to a woman he lived with for several years prior to marriage. My son has recently asked for a divorce because he says there's no passion in their relationship. He also says that his wife depends on him for all her emotional needs, which he thought would change in marriage. Basically he is very unhappy and doesn't want to spend the rest of his life with this woman. I don't know how to help my son — he's resistant to counseling, and it looks like they're simply going to throw their marriage away. Do you have any suggestions for our family?

Thanks for writing. I appreciate the love and concern you have for your son and his wife. It's interesting that you mentioned that they lived together before marriage. Couples who cohabit before marriage have a 50-80% higher divorce rate than those who don't.

Unfortunately, the majority of divorces in this country are what psychologists call "low conflict" divorces. That means there are no huge fights, no domestic abuse, couples simply say they "fall out of love" and that their spouse is "no longer meeting their needs." That view of marriage is extremely self-centered and individualistic. People who get divorced for these reasons don't understand that marriage is much more than getting your personal needs met. God created marriage to be a life-long commitment that involves self-sacrifice., forbearing with one another in love, and putting your spouse's needs above your own. I don't know if your son is a Christian, but it sounds like he doesn't see it that way. Sadly, there's probably nothing you can do that will change his mind. The fact that he's resistant to counseling indicates to me that he's unwilling to look at how HE has contributed to the marital problems. All you can really do is pray for him and speak the truth in love.

By the way, there's some interesting new research that you might want to share with your son. It shows that if people who are in unhappy marriages will just stick it out, a large percentage of them go on to describe their marriages as "very happy" five years later. On the other hand, folks who say they're in unhappy marriages and get divorced describe themselves as just as unhappy divorced as they were when they were married.

If your son does get to the point where he is willing to consider counseling, please encourage him to contact our counseling department. We have licensed Christian therapists who will offer him a free, confidential counseling session over the phone and then refer him to a marriage counselor in his local area.


Next Steps and Related Information

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