On a Focus on the Family radio broadcast I heard James Dobson mention the five most common excuses that he heard for abandonment and divorce of a spouse. I managed to copy down four of them:
- The marriage was wrong in the first place, most commonly because the abandoning partner claims that there was no real love in his or her heart when the marriage took place.
- The marriage was not healthy, and abandonment and divorce would be better for both partners in the end.
- Because of all the fighting, divorce and abandonment will be better in the long run, especially for the children.
- The abandoning and divorcing partner claims to have prayed about it, and is claiming God’s approval.
What struck me when I was listening to the program was how much these excuses paralleled the excuses that I’ve heard both first hand and second hand for breaking up in a dating relationship or engagement.
What I remember from the broadcast is that these were viewed as smokescreens for reprehensible conduct and shifting of blame to the other partner for the abandonment and divorce.
Over the past two decades or so there have been some voices within the evangelical community critical of the practice of dating as the method for selection of a marriage partner. I personally do not believe in the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that this is evidence that many couples during their years of dating do pick up habits of abandoning temporary romantic relationships and excuses for doing so that undercut their commitment to making their marriages permanent. They simply have a series of escape routes from relationships pre-programmed into their brains from previous temporary romantic relationships that come into play when the current marital relationship becomes dissatisfying for some (usually fixable) reason.
I don’t believe that these marriages were necessarily entered into with the view that they were in the same status as a casual to serious dating relationship or marriage. But it may well have been that those involved took the ways out that they knew from their previous experience.
Here are some ideas that come to me as I consider this.
- Teaching on dating and marriage within youth and college age groups could well include warnings that dishonest ways of abandoning a dissatisfying dating relationship can have a lasting legacy on how a person treats the permanent, lifetime commitment of marriage.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone ever in the evangelical community mention ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) as the standard of communication within dating relationships, especially when it comes to parting ways – or rather, putting the relationship back on the level of casual friendship of brother and sister in Christ. In fact, many of the dating stories that I’ve heard even in a teaching context contained a good deal of dishonesty and intentional misleading of the potential partner.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community when teaching on revival and spiritual renewal ever speak of confession to God of the sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness during dating relationships, even when there was no sexual transgression involved. Yet even after many years this unconfessed sin may weigh down the conscience.
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community ever speak to confession to a past dating partner of sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness when teaching on restitution and confession of sin to each other. Yet these kinds of sinful behavior break hearts, cause untold amounts of grief, and even in some cases lead to suicide or attempted suicide. (No such confession need ever simply be the unburdening of a conscience or imply under any circumstances a desire for restoration of any kind of romantic relationship. Rather, I would encourage any such confessions be made in the presence of a spiritual leader or current spouse, if the person is already married.)
- I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community mention anything in a preaching or teaching context about unrequited love, the devastating breakup or the heart broken as a result of what I could call relationship breakup trauma, except for the divorced. Simply acknowledging the real hurt that is often lingering in the hearts of many single people, and Christ as the healer of broken hearts, could be a way for churches and pastors to build a bridge of hope and healing to many single people who are either suffering silently in the pews or neglecting church attendance because preaching and teaching ignores those who are single and hurting. (There is one highly rated book by an evangelical author on unrequited love: Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura A. Smit. )