Biblical Answers for Divorce and Remarriage

Ann Landers divorces at 57 "The sad incredible fact is that after 36 years of marriage Jules and I write these words, it is as if  I am referring to a letter from a reader.  It seems unreal that I am writing about my own marriage.  She gave advice to a estimated readership of 54,000,000.  "The lady with all the answers does not know the answer to this one."  Over one million Americans go through divorce every year.


Matt  19:3. The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  {NIV any and every reason?}  4  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made [them] at the beginning made them male and female, 5  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  6  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.   7  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?   8  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  9  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.  10  His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with [his] wife, it is not good to marry.  11  But he said unto them, All [men] cannot receive this saying, save [they] to whom it is given.


1 Cor 7:12b  … If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.  13  And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.  15  But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.


1 Cor 7:10  And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11  But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.


From these verses it is clear that there are only two biblical grounds for divorce.  If one of the persons commits adutery (forncation) the other has a right to divorce.  If one is an unbeliever and they abandon or divorce the believer, the believer is free to remarry.  Do not separate but if youi have to do to abuse or addictions you are to remain unmarried and try to reconcile until the other person commits adultery or remarries thus giving legal grounds for divorce.  God wants you to do everything to save your marraige if it is possible.  Even 70% of marriages in which one has an affair and therefor bilical grounds for divorce survive.  If you will deal with your own issues and learn to set healthy boundaries, either your make will change or divorce you.  Watch the Marriage and Family Lesson 10 for more details.  Better yet take watch the entire Marriage Counseling course on this website.

God's plan for problem marriages--even those who have an unbelieving mate--is in 1 Peter Chapter 3:


1 Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,
2 when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.
3 Do not let your adornment be merely outward----arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel----
4 rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
5 For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,
6 as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.
7 Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.
8 Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;
9 not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.
10 For "He who would love life And see good days, Let him refrain his tongue from evil, And his lips from speaking deceit.
11 Let him turn away from evil and do good; Let him seek peace and pursue it.


The Path of Dysaffection 


            In a seminar that I was teaching I made the statement, “Marriage can be heaven or hell on this earth.  It is your choice which it will be.”  Because of the high expectations and tremendous possibility for love and teamwork in a marriage, marriage also contains the potential for tremendous pain, disappointment, and betrayal.  If a couple reacts out of their pain, things can easily escalate out of control. 


            Beginning in 1 Samuel Chapter 18, we are told the story of David’s marriage to Michal, King Saul’s youngest daughter.  Like most couples, they began their marriage romantically in love.  Sadly, through a process of disaffection, their marriage ended in contempt and deep hurt.  This story gives us a model of how marriages fail. 


            1.  God has a plan for our lives, and this plan usually includes a compatible mate and a successful marriage.  Many times, however, we have our own ideas of who we want to marry.  One of my supervisors once stated, “When God gave you a helpmate, He was not necessarily giving you someone to make you happy; but someone who will help you identify and face the problems in your life.”  This definitely seemed to be the case with David.  He was originally supposed to marry King Saul’s elder daughter Merab.  Merab means “to increase.”  She was given instead to Adriel (flock of God) from Mehol (of dancing).  Had David married her, she may have proved in the end to be a greater blessing to him. 


           2.  Satan has a plan to destroy you through your marriage.  Saul’s actual intention was that David would die trying to obtain the dowry to win one of Saul’s daughters, and that his daughter would lead to David’s downfall.  That is the intention of Satan.  He wants to use our marriages to bring us down. 

1 Sam 18:21  And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him.  Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain. 


          3.  The perception of love is essential to marriage.  If a man feels respected and appreciated, he will do almost anything for his wife.  At its most rudimentary level, love is “having the other’s best interests in mind.”  This is almost a magical line in marriage.  On one side the couple is on the same team and friends; on the other they are enemies trying to protect themselves and get their own needs met.  Although Saul asked for the foreskins of 100 Philistines, David risked his life killing 200 Philistines to obtain the dowry so that he could marry Michal.  He was willing to do more than he was asked.  Most women judge the love of her husband by what her husband is willing to sacrifice for her.  In fact, most wives evaluate everything her husband does in their relationship to answer only one question, “Does he really love me?” 


1 Sam 18:25  And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king's enemies.  But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines.  27  Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king's son in law.  And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife.  28  And Saul saw and knew that the LORD was with David, and that Michal Saul's daughter loved him.


           4.   If a woman feels loved she will do almost anything for her husband.  When Saul sent men to kill David, Michal risked her life to help him escape in spite of the fact she was well aware of her father’s dangerous fits of rage.  The use of the image or idol here suggests that, to her, David was even more important to her than her gods were.  Unfortunately, as we have previously seen in the discussion of codependency, many wives try to make their husband into the God “who will meet all their needs according to his riches in glory.”  David clearly could not measure up to such a task, especially since it appears he had not previously insisted that all images of other gods be removed from their house. 


1 Sam 19:11  Saul also sent messengers unto David's house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David's wife told him, saying, If thou save not thy life to night, to morrow thou shalt be slain.  12  So Michal let David down through a window: and he went, and fled, and escaped.  13  And Michal took an image, and laid it in the bed, and put a pillow of goats' hair for his bolster, and covered it with a cloth.  14  And when Saul sent messengers to take David, she said, He is sick.  15  And Saul sent the messengers again to see David, saying, Bring him up to me in the bed, that I may slay him.  16  And when the messengers were come in, behold, there was an image in the bed, with a pillow of goats' hair for his bolster.  17 And Saul said unto Michal, Why hast thou deceived me so, and sent away mine enemy, that he is escaped? And Michal answered Saul, He said unto me, Let me go; why should I kill thee? 


            5.  Offenses will happen in any marriage.  Because poor communication is so prevalent between husbands and wives, many times more than half of all the offenses in a marriage were not intended by their mate.  All offenses are caused by perceived boundary violations.  In this case, while Saul was hunting David to kill him, he gave Michal to another man.  Phalti, her second husband, means “my deliverance.”  He was from Laish, which means “lion” which was in Gallim meaning “spring.”  This implies that he was a strong man (lion) who delivered Michal from her father’s dysfunctional house and brought her a new life (like a spring of water.) 


1 Sam 25:44  But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David's wife, to Phalti the son of Laish, which was of Gallim. 


            6.  The offenses continue to pile up.  After the death of Saul, David, as part of a peace treaty with Saul’s son Ishbosheth, required that Michal be returned to him.  Her second husband Phalti thought so much of Michal that he followed along crying until he was ordered by Abner, the commander of the army, to return home.  David never asked her if she wanted to come back to him.  Any time another person’s free will is violated, a personal boundary violation has occurred.  We can only guess how Michal felt about this since by this time, David had a number of other wives.  Each offense erodes the belief that the other person has our best interest in mind.  To a woman, each offense makes her question whether her mate truly loves her. 


2 Sam 3:14  And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.  15  And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.  16  And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return.  And he returned.    


            7.  Unresolved offenses result in bitterness which eventually turns into contempt.  When David finally succeeded in bringing the Ark of God back to Jerusalem, Michal was offended by his open exuberance for the Lord.  Possibly, she was jealous that he was happy when she was not.  When a woman feels distance in a relationship, she many times assumes it is because her husband is interested in other women.  She accused him of shameful behavior, another boundary violation.  I suggest that this was a reaction to the previous offense. 

2 Sam 6:16  And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.  20  Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself! 


            8.  Many times a husband will fail to probe for the underlying reason for his wife’s displeasure and excuse his behavior, not realizing that he does not understand the real issue.  Instead of trying to understand Michal’s emotional reaction, David reacted in anger, put down her father Saul, and said he would continue doing what she disliked.  It is not unusual for a husband to violate his wife’s boundaries by discounting her feelings. 


2 Sam 6:21  And David said unto Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD


            9.  The conflict may eventually result in the ending of intimacy in the marriage.  Who wants to make love with their enemy? 

2 Sam 6:23  Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death. 


            10.  When love has left a marriage it results in unmet needs that can lead to an affair.  Approximately ten years later, from his rooftop, David saw Bathsheba taking a bath.  They slept together that night, she became pregnant, and David subsequently had Uriah, her husband, killed in order to cover up the affair.  David later took Bathsheba as another of his wives. 


            11.  The bitterness continues until both are fully convinced that the other no longer has their best interests in mind.  When this happens they both become defensive and critical, and lose their feelings for each other.  When there was a famine in the land because of Saul’s persecution of the Gibeonites, David offered up Michal’s five adopted sons for execution.  To make matters worse, he spared Jonathan’s son.  Clearly he valued his past relationship with Jonathan more his relationship with Michal.  I believe Michal would have seen what David did as a personal attack and a gross betrayal of their marriage.  There was probably nothing worse that a husband could do to hurt his wife than to kill her children (even if they had been adopted).  Unfortunately, there seems to be no limit to the terrible things that mates will do to hurt each other in an estranged marriage.  It is an irony that Michal’s five adopted children were hung during the days of harvest, a time normally associated with joy and abundance.  Possibly this suggests that their marriage did not have to turn out this way, but could have been a wonderful blessing. 


2 Sam 21:7  But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD'S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.  8  But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:  9  And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. 


            Unfortunately, in our society and churches today, over half of our marriages have followed a similar pattern that ends in divorce.  Couples who were originally very much in love have ended their relationships in deep hurt and bitterness.


Marriage Recovery 


It might even be hard to believe that many marriages from highly dysfunctional families can ever succeed.  However, as we review the failures in David and Michal’s marriage; we can see where simple communication skills and the application of effective boundaries could have changed the entire situation. 


            1.  The very basis of a marriage is a commitment to have the other’s best interests in mind even when it may require sacrifice on our part.  The first major offense was when David used his political power to get Michal back.  It is true he had every right to do so, especially in that time in history.  But we have to ask the question if David was truly acting in Michal’s best interest?  He had a number of other wives at this time.  He might have thought that what he was doing was best for everyone, but it appears he never asked her.  Having the other’s best interest in mind is basic to making the other person feel loved.  Without it, a couple feels no better off than living with an enemy in the same house.  Each mate usually concludes that they have to watch out for themselves, they are usually critical of each other and very little grace and mercy is shown in the marriage. 


            2.  Issues need to be resolved with solutions where everyone wins.  Most dysfunctional  families operate as David and Michal did, resolving problems with win-lose solutions.  Consequently, the person who loses becomes bitter or expects that he or she should win the next time.  Many times the winner is the one who yells the loudest or has the least to lose.  Mutual win-win agreements must be reached and perceived boundary violations must be dealt with when they occur.  Many couples do not want to talk things through because trying to do so usually ends in a fight.  If they do not talk, the buried anger will eventually result in bitterness that will defile the marriage.  If a man will not talk things through, most women feel that they are not loved.  This is because most women use communication to establish closeness in a relationship.  Most men use communication primarily to accomplish tasks. 


            3.  Husbands and wives need to learn how to understand each other and communicate at a deeper level.  When Michal attacked David for dancing before the Lord without his tunic on, she was expressing the emotional pain of her marriage.  Most men react the way David did.  Had he not discounted her pain, this could have been an opportunity to understand or at least ask forgiveness for previous offenses.  Like David, most men have not yet learned that a woman sends a primarily emotional message; and men send technically accurate data.  The Bible directs that we must learn to live with the opposite gender “according to knowledge.”  (1 Peter 3:7)  Teaching communication is a large part of counseling couples. 


            4.  Once communication is established, the couple needs to establish mutually agreed-upon boundaries.  This is done by identifying areas of continuing conflict.  Since all offenses are the result of perceived boundary violations, previous conflicts help identify what boundary agreements are required.  Each boundary consists of a clear, agreed-upon action or restraint and the natural consequences that will follow if it is violated.  Boundaries work through behavior modification.  If a person violates an agreement and gets a negative result he will do it less often.  If he gets a positive result, he will be encouraged to do it more often.  Consequently, mutual boundary agreements will not immediately stop all conflicts, but they will eventually improve the marriage.  If either mate violates an agreed-upon boundary, he or she will not have any excuse for not accepting the consequences.  The first boundary that is usually required is an “anger break.”  The couple needs to agree on what they will do to keep an argument from escalating into an abusive fight.  Usually this requires that they separate for a period of time and cool down before the attempt again to resolve the issue.


            5.  Past offenses must be dealt with in order to end the bitterness in the marriage.  I suggest dealing with the future, then the present, then the past.  I do this because it is much easier to forgive something that will probably not happen again.  Boundary agreements provide a framework for working together in the future.  Established boundaries also allow for current cooperation.  For past issues I suggest what I call Monday Morning Quarterbacking (MMQ).  This method is based on the analogy of reviewing the videotapes from the previous Sunday’s football game.  Each person is to be totally honest about what they did, why they did it, and how they perceived what happened.  No blaming is allowed.  Each is expected to take responsibility for what they did and ask for forgiveness if what they did was wrong.  The objective is not to find fault but to plan how to avoid the same problem in the future and to obtain forgiveness and closure.  


            6.  Because no one is or will ever be perfect, each spouse must quit trying to fix or blame his or her mate.  As you will probably remember, codependency is excessive dependence or independence on someone or something to meet our needs.  Usually mates try to “fix each other” so that their needs can be met.  We are to rely primarily on God to meet our unmet needs.  The Bible tells us that we are not to set ourselves up to judge or try to fix one-another.  We are all God’s servants, and He asks us, “Why do you judge another man’s servant?” (Rom 14:4)  We are to proactively take responsibility for our own actions and not excuse our own behavior based on what someone else has done.  Each of us will stand before God for what we have done.  What our mate did or did not do will not be an excuse!  


           7.  As much as possible, those who are affected by or will receive the consequences of a decision should have a say in that decision.  In an ideal world, we would only receive the consequences of our own personal choices.  In life, this is not always possible.  But we are almost always offended when we get someone else’s consequences.  Much of the conflict in a marriage can be resolved by including those who will receive the consequences in the decision process.  Even after we are married, there are certain decisions that do not affect our mates.  In these situations, each mate should be allowed to make their own choices as long as each one is willing to take responsibility for them and learn from his or her own consequences.  In this case, the person should say, “I have a problem.”  This indicates to the other mate that they are not involved and will not receive significant consequences from any decision that is made.  In situations where both mates are affected, they need to agree on the decision since both of them will receive the consequences of that decision.  In speaking about problems that affect both mates, they should say, “We have a problem, what are we going to do about it?”  If a person says to his mate “you have a problem”, he is admitting that he is violating the other mates boundaries because he has no right to be involved in the decision in which he does not receive any of the consequences.  Of course, if either one chooses, he or she may ask the mate for advise even when the decision does not primarily affect them.  But the final decision should still be made by the mate who will, in fact, get the consequences of that decision.  No person ever has a right to force his view upon another adult. 


            8. The overall goal of marriage counseling is to help the couple resolve their conflicts to the extent that they again perceive that their mates actually do have their best interests in mind. Once this perception is re-established, they will again be able to cooperate on at least a friendship level and work toward a better marriage and life.  Until both mates truly believe that the other one does have their best interest in mind, working together as a team is almost impossible and the marriage will continue to struggle. 


            It is not unusual for couples coming for marriage counseling to be so disheartened that they believe there is only one solution—divorce.  Many times one of the mates comes hoping the counselor will agree that in their special situation God would sanction divorce, especially when domestic violence and abuse has occurred.  The Bible is very clear that divorce is allowed only in cases of adultery (Matthew 5:32), or if the other mate is unsaved and chooses to leave (1stCorinthians 7:15).  Because divorce results in such deep emotional pain and significant consequences, God requires us to do everything possible to prevent it.  Sometimes temporary separation is required to protect one spouse from further abuse.  However, I have found that if one of the partners will learn to biblically deal with his or her own problems and set strong, effective boundarie

s, the other mate will have to change or will eventually choose to divorce them.  If the mate that leaves commits adultery or remarries, the first spouse has grounds for remarriage (because the divorce now meets biblical criteria).  Either the marriage will be restored or at least the client will know that he has done everything possible to save the marriage.  In either case, the non-offending spouse is better off since divorce recovery is much easier without the guilt of feeling they gave up on the marriage too soon.


"To call me a judge is something of a misnomer.  I am really a sort of public mortician.  I the past eleven years I have presided over the 22,000 divorces.  The trouble is this:  I have buried a lot of live corpses.  There is no sure way to discover and resuscitate the spark of life that surely remained in many of them."


Books on Marriage and Remarriage

Watch Videos on Marriage and Remarriage Below: Divorce and Remarriage (from the course Marriage and Family Counseling) Below:

Watch Problem Marriages and the Path of Affection (from the course Marriage and Family Counseling) Below:

Watch Marital Therapy and the Path to Recovery (From the course Marriage and Family Counseling) Below:

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