Should You Fear Divorce?

Divorce has become a regular part of our culture.  Many of us come from divorced homes and there is a huge fear of getting married and then getting divorced.

This affects unmarried people in a variety of ways.  It raises all sorts of questions. Questions about what is a biblical divorce or when it is it ok to remarry or even date a divorced person (or as a divorced person, can I remarry etc.).  There are some clear and some unclear answers to many of these and I plan to actually get into some of that at a later time (I’ve avoided it for about as long as I can).  But today I want to help us deal with fear of divorce.

As Christians we want to make sure that we don’t end up in that situation which is good. We want to choose well in a spouse with the intent of never getting divorced.  But I think we have bought into some lies that cause us to be more afraid than we need to be.  We want to avoid divorce but we don’t need to allow fear of divorce to affect our ability to get married to begin with.

So let’s clear some things up.

Let’s talk about the statistic everyone knows that says that 50% of marriages end in divorce. That is big time scary.  That’s half.  But that statistic is not quite what it seems in several ways.

For starters, that is not a first marriage statistic.  According to the census, 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.  The point here is that the real number of first marriages ending in divorce is less than half and falling. Granted part of that is because WAY less people are getting married.

People who wait to marry until after age 25 (which is almost everybody at this point) are less likely to get divorced.  Attending college makes you 13% less likely.  Basically if you live in the U.S., your parents are married, you have a college degree and you are 26, your chance of divorce is actually pretty slim.

Still scared?  Well then be an active follower of Jesus.  One of the completely false ideas is that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else.  I’ve always balked at this stat – even though it makes for a really dramatic sermon.  But when you dig behind the numbers you get a completely different idea.

This is why the word Christian can be such a mess.  Think about online dating for a second.  When you join a site like, you have to pick a religion.  A lot of people will pick “Christian Other” for example.  What does that even mean?  This is why when I was online dating I put Jesus in my profile, because I knew just saying Christian didn’t mean anything.

Here are some real numbers to encourage you.  An active Conservative Protestant has a 35% less chance of divorce.  An active Catholic has a 31% less chance.  (Interestingly a nominal Catholic has a 5% less chance while a nominal Protestant has a 20% higher rate of divorce than a non-relgious person).

Here are a couple of other random statistics to keep in mind that may mess with your head.

  • In the past, men cheated more than women.  But in recent years that has changed.  In one study 23% of men and 19% of women had “cheated”
  • Men might need to be more afraid than women.  Women file 2/3s of all divorces.  In some no fault divorce states that number rises to 70% and among college educated couples in those states women file 90% of the time.
  • If you think practice makes perfect, think again.  Living together can increase the chance of divorce by as much as 40%.  More sexual partners (especially for the woman) greatly increases the chance of divorce.

So what the heck does all of this mean? 

First and foremost fear of divorce should not drive us as Christians.  It’s not that it can’t happen to us or that we should take it lightly.  But we need to understand that the odds shift dramatically in our favor.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, we have the chance to set ourselves up to not get divorced.  Now am I saying that you should only marry a person that comes from a two parent home, is over 25, has a college degree and has never slept with anyone?  No that’s not really what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that we can do things ourselves and make choices that matter.

The person you control is you.  You choose who to marry (I have a blog coming on some of the important things to look for in that choice).  You also choose how you live your life both now and when you get married.  You have the choice once you are married to stay married.

Even if you’ve already messed up some of the above examples you can repent and change.  You are for sure not disqualified from having a great marriage because of any of that.  God’s grace is bigger than that.  But it would make sense if you are on any of those bad paths to do an about face if you want to end up in a Godly, stable marriage.

How afraid of divorce are you?  What is that based on?  Are you setting yourself up to be in a good situation?

Links to Stats from this post 

Overall divorce stats

“Christian” divorce stats

Women Divorce Stats

Cheating Study

Sexual partner divorce stats

Men And The C Word

One of the things that people would sometimes “challenge” me in as I entered my mid thirties as an unmarried person was the idea of commitment.  In other words they would say things like, “Do you think you are afraid of commitment?” or “Marriage is about commitment, you know?”, or, “our friend Justin has some commitment issues when it comes to women”.  Ah the C word.

Now I get it and it’s probably fair to ask this question if you don’t know me.  But I always had a problem with it because in general it didn’t wash with me.  First off, I’m a pretty committed person in general.  I’ve always been committed to my work, friends, projects, the game I’m playing that day.  No one would look at my life and say, “Justin usually bails on stuff.”

It seems to get tossed out a lot in our culture (both secular and Christian) that men in general are fearful of or unable to commit to women and marriage. I kind of disagree, in general.

There a lot of factors at play here, so let’s take a look.

First of all, I would agree that we live in a world in which people are often less “committed” to things.  This is mainly because we have more choice than ever before. Most people don’t stay with the same company they started out with.  We have more freedom to move and travel.  We have a zillion channels and now the internet.  Heck, people change churches and friend groups at least every four or five years.  So yeah, people are less committed in general.

We also have more choices in dating.  As my father once said, “Back 100 years ago when a pretty girl came to town, you married that girl, because she might be the only one you ever met.”  In other words there wasn’t the comparison game that we all play now.  There weren’t pictures of models everywhere.  There weren’t thousands of romance novels and Lifetime specials.  Women had even less options. You can feel that this is good or bad, but it is for sure true.

The second factor is that we have separated sex from marriage.  So if you don’t need commitment in order to have your sexual desire met, then why have commitment. When you start separating sex (let alone living together, child rearing, etc) from the context of marriage, then you automatically take away from marriage – both for the single and the married (more on this soon).

Neither of those factors have to do with fear of commitment.  They have to do with the choice to not be committed.

Now fear of marriage and divorce are real factors that create fear of commitment.  That’s no doubt a big factor.

But to be honest, I think the whole fear of commitment thing is a bit overblown and frankly it gets used against single men way to often.  I don’t believe that men are any more or less likely to be committed than women.  A lot of this comes from the false notion that women are morally superior to men which is a whole other conversation.

But let’s back this whole thing up one more step.

First you have to actually have someone available that you want to commit to. For much of my single years I didn’t have that.  As I’ve admitted several different times here, much of that was my fault.  I went a long time not working on becoming the man I needed to be in this area.  I had no idea about how female attraction worked.  I did a lot wrong.  No doubt.  But along with that, when you are a Christian trying to follow Jesus you are working with a small target – that is women you are attracted to that also want to follow Jesus.

This is a gigantic factor.  It’s a bigger factor in singleness than fear of commitment.  Finding someone to be committed to can be a big problem.  Knowing how to go get that person is also a problem.  We should spend more time here and less time beating people over the head with commitment.

Which brings me to the final couple of points I want to make about commitment.

Assuming that I am committed to Jesus, and I’m not called to celibacy, I need to be committed to the idea, and pursuit of marriage.  That does NOT mean marry anyone.  It doesn’t even mean that you have to know if you can marry someone before you ask them out.  But it means having the end in mind.  It means not dating the person that I know I won’t marry just because it’s comfortable or easy, not doing things that will hurt your marriage opportunities, and learning how to interact well with the opposite sex so you have a chance if you do meet someone you might want to marry.

It also means that I need to move away from looking for someone that meets all my needs, start looking for someone that I am willing to be committed to and who I believe would be committed to me.  More on that soon.

Are you a committed person?  Are you stuck in consumer dating?  What are you committed to when it comes to dating and marriage?

You’re Ready To Be Married

About 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of young college guys who were committed to walking together.  I, along with a couple of other guys, was kind of mentoring them.  One of the young men had been dating a girl for about a year.  He had a year left of school and she was a senior about to graduate.  The question on the table that night was should they get married and if so, should they wait another year until he was done with school or just go for it.

The first question was answered quickly by all of us.  Yes he should get married.  She was an all star and he would be lucky to pull this off so by all means do it.  The second question was a bit harder.  There was discussions about jobs, money, living arrangements and the like.  In other words was he “ready” to be married?

I think we have really messed up this idea of ready to be married.  Recently I was talking with a group of high school guys, many of whom were graduating seniors. We were talking about this very question – when should they get married.  I said that they don’t have to be in a hurry, but that it wouldn’t be bad to get married pretty early.  One guy said, “If I got married before the end of college my parent’s would kill me.”  I laughed, but I also kind of cringed inside.

There is this idea in our culture that you should wait a long time to get married. You should make sure you are “ready”.  This idea comes from a few things.  

One is that we don’t want to grow up.  Marriage after all is for grown ups and I’m for sure not that.  Stay young and irresponsible is the message.  Stay in school.  Don’t get tied down.  Plenty of time for that later.

Secondly we are scared of it not working.  We think if I’m not absolutely sure I’m ready that I won’t make it when I’m married.  A huge chunk of the not ready crowd are driven by fear. Fear of choosing wrong, responsibility, commitment, or failure.

Finally we are of course waiting for the perfect person -who amazingly is not the person that I’ve been dating for the last year – or apparently the person I’m living with, sleeping with, and in our current culture having children with.

Of course there is the group that is maybe a little too “ready” to be married.  This is the those of us who are “tired of the dating scene and ready to settle down.”  We think if I can just get married everything will be right.  I’m freaking ready so why isn’t it happening.

Let me suggest two thoughts on readiness.

On the one hand I think the reality is that no one is ever completely ready. Marriage is for sure two things.  It is a gift from God that you don’t earn.  It is also a choice.  In other words at some level it could come at any time.  You are not going to be a complete person when you get married.  You aren’t through growing and changing. Even when you get married you will still grow and change.  If you marry a person today, that person (and you) will not be the same ten years from now.  In fact, part of the point of marriage is that it changes you.  It forces you to grow in new ways.  It is supposed to help you grow in Christ.

It’s also a choice.  And you can make that choice at any time.  You can either do it or not. You always have that choice.

You don’t know what will happen in your marriage.  You don’t know how you’ll change or what  you will face as an individual or as a couple.  You are not completely prepared now and you never will be.  

But that is part of the beauty of walking with God.  When we are walking with Him, he is constantly leading us into deeper stuff.  There is always more and marriage can be a part of that.

On the other hand I think you are “ready” when you are walking with Jesus and you meet someone you want to marry who wants to marry you.  I don’t think it matters much what age you are, if you have a high enough paying job or a degree.  I think what matters is do you have the capacity to deliver on the vows.  If you aren’t walking with Jesus you aren’t ready.  (For free this means you are also not ready for sex, cohabitation and children). If you are, and you think it’s right, then I’d say you might well be as “ready” as you’ll ever be.

I’m not saying don’t be wise.  I’m saying don’t be scared.  I’m not saying you’re “ready”. I’m saying don’t let the world determine your readiness.

What do you think makes you “ready” to be married?  How would you know you were “ready”?

You Don’t Marry A List

At some point when I was a young Christian single I made a list.  You know the list I’m talking about.  The list of things that I wanted in a wife.  I’m not sure if I was encouraged to do it or if I just did it on my own, but I made it.  Several times actually.  One in college for sure and another one right out of college, a couple of other random times.

There’s a lot of interesting things about this idea.  I mean I get it.  The whole idea is don’t settle for less than God’s best for you.  But there are some serious problems here as well.

For starters there is an entire shift that needs to be made in the Church.  We are often so concerned with getting it wrong, that we don’t end up getting it at all (read that sentence again and apply it to about half of Christianity as we know it – but I digress).

There is the overriding concern that we have to keep people from “marrying wrong”.  I think 20 years ago this was maybe true.  That time is over.  People aren’t marrying wrong but along with that they aren’t marrying right either.  So maybe instead of worrying about settling for less than God’s best, we should worry more about what marriage is, how to know if I’m called to it to begin with, and how to pursue it – then let the chips fall where they may. “The List” might well keep you from “marrying wrong” but it also might keep you from marrying at all.

Secondly the list turns us into consumers.  That’s because the list, while having to do with the attributes of the other person, usually ends up being about me and what I want and expect.  Now again, there is an element of good here.  We should have some standards for who we would date/marry.  But if/when the list moves from the essentials (they must love Jesus) to the personal (they must be joyful) to the trivial (they must be blonde) we start sliding into what we prefer instead of what God commands.  And that is dangerous grounds for lots of reasons.

If we make the list based solely on our needs and wants, we are in danger of making it all about us.  And that is not biblical love or marriage.

Instead we should flip the script big time.  We need to figure out how to love another person vs. being focussed on having to be loved by another person.  Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely not marry someone who doesn’t love you.  But if our focus is on this other person being the answer to our life questions then it will be impossible to love them.  If we get married, our commitment comes from our decision to love them, not the love we receive from them.

We need to get away from this idea of finding this person who will be perfect for us in every way.  This person who will “meet all of our needs and desires”.  This person who will magically give us our worth and value within that relationship.  That’s called an idol.  It’s not the point of marriage.

When we date, or search for someone to date, with that stuff going on we are never going to get married.  No one can live up to that.  And if we do get married then that marriage will be in trouble.

Which brings me to the final problem with The List.  You don’t marry a list.  You marry a person and no matter what you think you know about them, you don’t know anything yet. Even if you can check everything off the right way, you still have no idea how all of it is going to play out over the next decades.

It’s like school vs. the work environment.  There’s passing all the tests and learning the information.  But that’s not the same as putting it into action in real time and real life. That’s part of the adventure of marriage.  It’s what makes your story together happen.  It’s good to pass the test but it’s a lot more fulfilling to live out the actual adventure, failures and all. People, along with their needs and desires, change as their story develops.  You and I are not exempt – neither are our spouses if we marry.

For proof of this ask yourself if you list at age 20 would be the same as your list today. Mine isn’t.  There are three or four things that have always been on the list, but other things have changed as I’ve grown and changed.

What’s on your list?  What is honestly important to you?  Not just the “right/holy” answers but what really matters. . . to you?  What parts are trivial?  Has the trivial ever gotten in the way of commitment?