“Should I stay or should I go?” I hear that from married people all the time. Emotions, memories, trauma, disappointment, conflict, mental fatigue–those things and more can cloud your ability to make the wisest decisions. So how do you decide whether or not to leave your marriage?
Let me clearly state that I believe marriage is a covenant “till death do us part.” That’s what God intended marriage to be, and contemporary culture has made leaving your marriage a thing without much consequence. We know that couples who persist through hard times and get to the other side have a stronger and more satisfying bond than ever before.
And let me also clearly state that not all marriages can be saved. That’s not because of any limitations on God’s part. But every marriage is the union of two sinners. If one or both of those sinners is not deeply cooperating with God in the complete transformation of their being, the marriage can become toxic and destructive. God sometimes releases someone from such a marriage.
I believe there are many people who leave their marriage when they could have made it work and also many who stay in a destructive marriage who should have left a long time ago. So how do you tell the difference? When should you stick it out? And what’s a “bad enough” reason to leave your marriage?
One article can be woefully brief, but here are some good and not-so-good reasons to help you decide whether or not to leave your marriage.
Some Not-So-Good Reasons to Leave Your Marriage
Short version; don’t leave simply because you’re unhappy. Divorce will not solve your unhappiness. Divorce may change your problems, but it will not make your life problem-free.
But isn’t marriage supposed to make me happy? Nope. It may, but that’s not the purpose for marriage. Expecting your spouse to fill you up and meet all your needs makes marriage all about you. And that never works out well.
Here are a few specific reasons that are not sufficient to break the covenant of marriage. (These may be factors in toxic marriages also. But these factors by themselves are not reasons to leave your marriage.)
Poor Communication. It hurts to feel unheard, fight all the time, or sense no emotional connection. Your learned styles of communication are likely very different. Communication problems are the number 1 issue we hear from couples that they want help with. But these are learnable skills.
Differing Sex Drives. God designed sex to be within the covenant of marriage, but I have yet to meet a couple where they both desire sex at the same frequency. You are not entitled to sex. Successful intimacy in marriage requires working through sexual differences and often finding healing for old sexual wounds. But it’s up to you to pursue intimacy (that’s much more than sex!) with your spouse.
Falling “Out of Love”. Feelings will change, and feelings are a very fickle reason to either get married or to get un-married. You may not have any warm fuzzy feelings about your spouse, but that’s not what love is. Love is a verb, not a feeling. And there are things you can do to get those feelings back.
Some Possible Good Reasons to Leave Your Marriage
Deciding to leave your marriage is always hard, and only you and God can know the whole truth about your circumstances. But your spouse’s money, getting good sex, or fear of failure if you leave are not good reasons to stay if your marriage is destructive.
People may stay in a bad marriage because of how a divorce might harm their children. What some forget is that staying in a destructive marriage will also harm their children, often more than leaving would.
Potentially good reasons to leave your marriage all fall under some variation of your marriage being toxic. This might look like:
Abuse. Physical violence, sexual violation, financial abuse, mental/emotional destruction; when your spouse enjoys causing you pain or continues to use power to harm you it’s beyond time to go. You can forgive and still leave. Forgiveness does not mean you continue a relationship with someone if the future is likely to be more of the same.
One husband became enraged when the wife spent six dollars over their monthly budget in feeding their family of six. That kind of toxic domination and control is clearly abuse.
Adultery. This is one most Christians somewhat agree on. But what many don’t understand is that Jesus made this a matter of the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). This goes far deeper than whether or not your spouse has crossed the “flesh barrier.” An ongoing emotional affair or persistent use of pornography is just as much adultery as having physical sex with someone.
Abandonment or Addiction. This could be addiction to alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, porn, rage, or other substances or behaviors. It could be moving away and cutting off contact. If your spouse walks away the Biblical principle is that you are no longer bound to them. Addiction can become a reason to leave when the addiction means your spouse either becomes abusive or has effectively left the marriage–perhaps not physically, but in every other way.
An abusive spouse can even use these “Big A’s” to manipulate and control. A husband might say, “You said No to sex, so you’ve abandoned the marriage.” A wife might say, “You spent $500 without telling me; that’s financial abuse.” Those examples, by themselves, are not reasons to leave. This is why the concept of a toxic marriage is so important; a persistent environment of toxicity means it’s time to leave.
Deciding to Leave or Not Leave
The decision to leave or not leave your marriage is a hard one. It usually comes down to these two questions:
- Am I allowing God to do what He needs to do with me?
- Is my spouse willing to allow God to do what He needs to do with him/her?
The future will be difficult regardless of your decision. You will need to pray a lot. And you will need some insight and support from other healthy godly people. Don’t do this alone.
Know that God has a good future for you regardless of what happens in your marriage. May you hear His voice and follow Him.
Your Turn: Have you been wrestling with whether or not to leave your marriage? What reasons are you focusing on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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- Deciding what to do about your painful marriage is hard. How do you know? Here are some good and some not-so-good reasons to leave your marriage. Tweet that.
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