***This is an Unedited Draft from an upcoming AACC Book “The Biblical Counseling Quick Reference Guide: Marriage and Family”***
Jennifer was served with divorce papers after her husband had an affair with a coworker. She was devastated and begged him to attend counseling, but he has no interest in saving the marriage.
Doug’s wife walked out two years ago, leaving him to care for their three-year old son alone. “She didn’t want to be a mother anymore,” he says. He wonders if he should file for divorce and move on with his life.
Emily’s husband has beaten her since they were married five years ago. He always apologizes and she always takes him back, but then it happens again and the cycle is repeated. “As a Christian, I feel I have to stay with him,” she explains, “but I’m tired of being a punching bag.”
Luke and Cathryn constantly fight over everything. “I’m worried our fighting is hurting the children,” Cathryn sighs. “I think they’d be better off if we’d divorce. At least they would have a peaceful home.”
35% of persons
who become married
suffer a divorce.7
Almost 46% of
Baby Boomers have
been divorced, and
millions more are
expected to split in
the next few years.8
According to the
US Census Bureau
were granted in
Definitions and Key Thoughts
l Separation is when a married couple decides to live apart as single persons.
While separated, some couples seek counseling for restoration, while others
begin seeking new relationships. 75-80% of those who separate never come
back to the relationship.
l Divorce is a death in every sense of the word: the death of a marriage, a family,
and a dream. No one, especially a Christian, enters marriage expecting the
marriage to end in divorce. Legally speaking, divorce is a court judgement ending
According to the 2000 census, for some U.S. ethnic populations, single-parent
households outnumber homes with a married-couple family.1
Research by The Barna Group shows that 35 percent of persons who become
married endure a divorce, and 18 percent of persons divorced are divorced
multiple times.2 Multiple divorces are common among born-again Christians,
for 23 percent are divorced two or more times.3
Almost half (46 percent) from the Baby Boomer generation have undergone
a marital split, and millions more are expected to divorce in the next ten
years. As for younger generations, they are likely to reach similar heights.4
It is unrealistic and
unfair to think that
regardless of sure
danger and possible
loss of life, a godly
mate and helpless
to brutality and other
forms of extreme
mistreatment. At that
to Christ supersedes
all other principles
in a home. I am not
. . . but I do suggest
restraint and safety
— Chuck Swindoll
It is estimated that somewhere between 40-50 percent of marriages that
begin this year will end in divorce.5
For marriages with children, Wallerstein and Blakeslee (in their book, The
Good Marriage) state from clinical experience that many children continue
to battle with consequential unhappiness even up to ten to fifteen years
after the divorce of their parents.6
Although Christian churches try to dissuade congregants from divorce, the
rate of divorce among Christians is identical to the non-Christian population
(35 percent). This data is not from converts, for data shows such
divorces rarely occur before the married persons have accepted Christ as
Scriptural View of Divorce
l Malachi 2:16 says that the Lord hates divorce. The rest of the verse reveals that
Malachi was speaking to men who were disloyal to their wives. God’s compassion
toward the injured party is clear.
l Romans 12:15 says that we should “weep with those who weep.” People recovering
from the trauma of a broken marriage need the church to:
— Share in their sorrow
— Offer compassion
— Give reassurance that their church family will not reject them
— Impart hope that God will somehow bring good out of this
— Offer opportunities to serve in the church
Biblical Exceptions for Divorce
l Sexual activity outside the marital covenant breaks the marriage vow. In Matthew
19:9, Jesus said that if a spouse has committed this type of sin, the other
spouse is free to divorce and remarry. This does not mean divorce is required
in instances where sexual sin has been committed, but it is permitted.
l Some maintain that the abandonment of a believer by a non-believing spouse
leaves the believing spouse free to divorce the deserter (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Reasons for Separation
l Physical abuse is not addressed in the Bible as a reason for divorce, but nowhere
does Scripture command a woman to stay in a home where she or her
children are being physically abused. Separation is necessary for physical safety.
Restoration should be predicated on true repentance and by a significant change in the abuser’s behavior that lasts for an extended period of time. The church can serve as a protector of the abused by helping them find a safe place to stay, counseling, economic assistance, and using church discipline to hold the abusive spouse accountable.
Children feel that
their childhood has
been lost forever.
Divorce is a price
they pay as forfeiture
to their parents’
their future lives.
—Dr. Judith Wallerstein
l Mental or verbal abuse are not biblical reasons for divorce, although in some
cases, such as severe belittling and demeaning behavior, they can be causes for
l Chemical addictions to drugs or alcohol that result in harmful behavior to the
spouse or children.
l Physical neglect, such as not providing appropriate food, clothing, shelter,
or supervision for the children, can result in life-threatening situations. The
spouse should remove the children if necessary to provide a safe environment.
For Couples Contemplating Divorce
When a couple comes to counseling with divorce as an option, you are usually the
last stop before a lawyer. You may want to meet with the couple together first and
then with permission meet with each one separately for a session.
Q1 What’s happened to the love in your marriage?
Q2 Do either of you have reason to believe that you are in physical danger
from the other?
Q3 Has there been any type of abuse (physical, verbal, or sexual) to either of
you or your children? (If there has been physical or sexual abuse, the first
step is to get the abused spouse and children away from the abuser and to a
safe place. Counseling cannot begin until this takes place. After the abused
person is safe, the couple can meet for counseling. It is good for both spouses
to be present during counseling times.)
Median age of first
divorce: Males: 30.5
Q4 What do you hope the outcome of counseling will be?
Q5 Tell me about your marriage. How long have you been married?
Q6 Do you have any children?
Q7 How did you meet each other?
Q8 What first attracted you to each other?
Q9 How did you know this was the person you wanted to marry?
Q10 What was your first fight about?
Q11 When did the problems that bring you here today first arise?
Q12 What have you tried already to solve these problems?
Q13 Do you feel there is any hope for reconciliation?
Q14 Do you both want a divorce? Why or why not?
Q15 Have you asked God’s permission to get a divorce?
Q16 What would you need for you to want to reconcile?
Q17 Do either of you think you have biblical grounds for divorce?
Q18 What are they?
Q19 How is your walk with the Lord?
Q20 Tell me about your background, your parents and your siblings. What was
growing up like for you?
Q21 Are there any divorces in your family or among your friends?
Q22 What do you think divorce will accomplish for you?
Q23 How do think the divorce will affect your children?
Q24 Would you like to see what the Bible says about divorce?
For a Victim of Divorce (A Person Divorced Against His/Her Will)
When a victim of divorce comes for counseling, it is a positive sign that he or she
feels worthy of help. The person’s self-worth likely has been demolished by the
Reinforce his or her decision by reminding the person that the Bible says only the
wise seek counsel (Proverbs 12:15).
Q1 On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being joy and 1 being hopelessness, where
would you put yourself? (You will want to rule out the presence of clinical
Q2 Do you feel down much of the day on most days?
Q3 Tell me what brought you here today.
Q4 What do you hope the outcome of counseling will be?
Q5 Tell me about your marriage. How did you meet your spouse?
Q6 Did you notice any character qualities that gave you concern?
Q7 Did your feelings change during the marriage? How?
Q8 How did your parents feel about your spouse?
Q9 When did you first realize there were problems?
Q10 How did your spouse tell you he or she wanted to end the marriage?
Q11 What were your feelings?
Q12 What did you say and do?
Q13 Who did you go to for help?
Q14 Were they helpful?
Q15 What was the reaction of your family? Your spouse’s family?
Q16 Do you have any children? How old are they?
Q17 How did they react when they heard?
Q18 How are they doing now?
Q19 What are your plans for getting on with your life?
Q20 How has this experience made you stronger?
Q21 Do you go to a support group?
Q22 What support do you have around you?
Q23 How are you and your children doing financially?
Q24 What is your relationship with the Lord like?
Q25 Do you feel the Lord has rejected you or forgotten about you?
God does not hate
He hates the cruelty
Divorce does not
it just substitutes a
new set of problems.
For Couples Contemplating Divorce
1 Share what the Bible says about divorce. Explain that God hates divorce because
of the hurt and devastation it brings to people.
Make clear that the only biblical reasons for divorce are sexual sin (by one or both
of the partners in violation of the marital covenant) and abandonment. Make
it clear that people are not commanded to divorce in these situations but are allowed
to. Forgiveness and restoration are also an option when true repentance is
embraced by the partner who has violated the marital covenant.
2 Empathize with the pain and hurt both spouses are going through.
3 Be realistic about the future. For example, consider:
Financial difficulty of providing for two households
Probability of custody battles
Stress of single parenthood, with no one to help
Guilt from seeing their children’s world torn apart
Dealing with sending children back and forth between them
The possibility of anger, grief, loneliness, or even hopelessness
For Victims of Divorce
Share that God sees the person’s troubles. It grieves Him to see the person hurt
like this (Isaiah 40:27-28).
Using Biblical Insights, let the person know that God loves him or her with total
acceptance. He understands the feelings of betrayal and rejection because He
was also betrayed and rejected.
Explain the importance of grieving and the time it takes.
Grieving usually takes two to five years and often consists of five stages: Denial,
Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. A person may go through these
stages many times in different order before complete healing occurs.
Validate the evil done against the person. Emphasize that, though the person is a
victim, he can become a survivor.
Give hope that God can bring good out of this (Romans 8:28).
Share with the person that other people may judge him unjustly; he will be tempted
to feel guilt and shame because of the divorce. It is important that he not accept
that shame and guilt.
Express that the person will never be truly healed and released until he forgives
himself and the spouse. As long as he feels anger and resentment, he is not free.
(For more, see the section on Forgiveness.)
For Couples Contemplating Divorce
1. Put the Divorce on Hold
l Have the couple give themselves over to prayer.
l The couple should seek the guidance of a professional counselor, pastor
and/or a wise mentor.
l Have on file the names of several good Christian marriage mentors and
counselors. These persons should have a record of success in helping
couples restore their marriages.
2. Stop the Pain
l Identify the issues that have been tearing at love in their relationship.
l Reduce the conflict and negative patterns they have been using to change
or control their spouse.
l Have the couple seek grace, forgiveness and mercy from God and each
l Work to establish new patterns of relating, building trust, safety and
For Victims of Divorce
1. Get Involved in a Recovery Group
l Counsel the person to begin attending a divorce recovery group. Many
larger churches have these groups. Research and recommend a quality
l Some groups last a specific number of weeks; others are using twelvestep
2. Go to Counseling
l Start individual counseling on a weekly basis. The person needs someone
to whom he can be accountable.
l The person may want to make a commitment to meet with a counselor once a week for at least a year.
3. No Major Decisions
l The person should not make any major life decisions while they are still
in turmoil without running such decisions by the counselor or pastor.
l This helps guard against making poor decisions while he is still emotionally
4. No New Relationships
l The person should not rush into any new dating relationships.
l The person should focus on letting God fill the emptiness inside him.
He needs to heal before entering another relationship.
5. Church Involvement
l Encourage the person to get involved in church and join a Sunday school
l Encourage the person to seek out friends of the same sex to whom he
can talk and with whom he can do activities.
l When he feels up to it, encourage him to serve and help others.
They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce,
and to put her away?” He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your
hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.”
l God has always intended each married couple, one man and one woman, to
remain married for life (Genesis 2:24). Moses had indeed permitted divorce
(Deuteronomy 24:1) but only because of the “hardness” of human hearts.
l Divorce is permissible, but marriage vows should not be taken lightly.
l God would have couples do their best—with His help—to keep their marriage
intact. If a divorce occurs, God’s compassionate love can heal even the deepest
Victims of divorce
do not need to be
condemned by the
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor
in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a
certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house. —Deuteronomy
l God desires marriages to stay together. Because sin has infected all relationships,
however, some marriages do not survive.
l Moses’ commands regarding divorce were given in a culture where a man could
divorce his wife verbally and leave her with no property or rights. These commandments
regulating divorce in Israel protected those left most helpless—the
woman and her children.
l The Bible does not give people an easy way out of their commitments. People
are expected to honor their commitments.
The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have
well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom
you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” —John 4:17-18
l Divorce is not an unforgivable sin. As painful as divorce is for all involved and
as heartbreaking as divorce is for those who face it without wanting it, God can
touch broken hearts and lives and make them whole again.
l When possible, couples should seek every option they can to avoid divorce.
At times, however, the unthinkable occurs. God is there to help us pick up the
If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him,
let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if
he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband
is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband . .
. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under
bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know,
O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband,
whether you will save your wife? —1 Corinthians 7:12—16
l When one spouse becomes a Christian and the other doesn’t, the believing
spouse should stay in the marriage.
l Paul explained that the marriage bond is so strong that a believer should not willingly
break it. Through that union, the unbeliever may become a Christian. In
any event, the believer can have a positive influence on the spouse and children.
Lord, we know that You hate divorce. You hate what it does to people. You hate the
death it causes of a marriage, a family, a dream. And yet, it is a sad reality. We want
Your will, Lord. We want what is best for all concerned. I pray today for . . .
Before a Bad Goodbye, by Tim Clinton
Divorce Care: Hope, Help and Healing During and After Your Divorce. by Kathy
Divorce Recovery: For Those Starting Over Again, American Association of Christian
Counselors Courageous Living Video Series, by Tom Whiteman
Grace and Divorce: God’s Healing Gift to Those Whose Marriages Fall Short, by Les
Helping Children Survive Divorce: What to Expect; How to Help, by Archibald D. Hart