Past generations grew up with a different idea of marriage. They believed that it meant forever and it’s something that you fight for. For a variety of reasons, it seems that people view marriage differently these days. Divorce has become more acceptable and easier, but are people separating for the right reasons?

Can a marriage really survive an affair? Some people believe that if the offender is truly sorry and remorseful, and proactively works at making the wrong right, then it shouldn’t lead to divorce. But what if it happens again? Do you have to repeatedly forgive your partner for cheating, even if it’s something that chips away at your psyche, well-being and your trust in your partner?

Mary’s* marriage was in turmoil when her husband moved in with a married woman, after being with Mary for 25 years.

“I filed for a divorce, but I’m a born-again Christian and because of this, I had a personal struggle going through with it. The Lord spoke to me several times during this period and I found it very hard to move forward with the divorce.”

Eventually, she did get a divorce. “I walked away from the marriage with nothing, but I’m grateful that I was able to feel the presence of the Lord during this time of struggle.”

Experts believe that a heterosexual marriage can’t survive homosexuality, but in Nadine’s case, it did. Nadine and her husband were very much in love and they had a great relationship, until he told her that he had experimented with another man.

“Initially, I didn’t want to ask questions about the situation because I was afraid of the truth. Within a year of being married, he started to contact gay men on Facebook. We went through turmoil and we were on the brink of a divorce, but today our marriage is stronger than ever before thanks to God, who has a master plan with our lives,” says Nadine.

Do the rules change or not?

Most people and some experts agree that there will always be exceptions to the rule. Divorce attorney Lindi Wademan says it’s important to distinguish between solvable marital problems and extreme situations, such as when someone is filing for a divorce because their child’s safety is at risk due to physical or emotional abuse. If one partner has a psychological disorder, suffers from an addiction or changes his/her sexual orientation, then it could be an unsolvable marriage problem.

Some relationship experts believe that divorce is the right way to end a relationship in the following situations:

  • If there is serious physical, sexual or emotional abuse against a partner or (even worse) a child.
  • When there is repeated cheating and the transgressor doesn’t change his/her behavior.
  • When a partner’s sexual orientation changes.
  • When both parties can honestly say that they have done everything in their power to try to make the marriage work.
  • If one of the parties has a serious addiction that drives the family apart.

When to not get divorced

Lindi says that in other situations and scenarios, the chance of reconciling a marriage is always a possibility.

“According to my opinion, other issues such as minor irritations over bad habits, financial pressure, a difference in opinions or interference from friends or family are all challenges that can be overcome. If both parties are willing to work on the problem and the relationship, and in some cases, consider marriage counselling, then reconciliation is possible,” says Lindi.

Divorce is never the right thing to do if you have any doubts. Personality differences, different tastes, a problem with your sex life or different libidos are definitely not grounds for a divorce. If cheating took place and it was a once-off affair that both parties feel will never happen again, then divorce isn’t the path that your relationship should follow either. Even if you feel your partner doesn’t make you happy anymore, you still have a lot of inner and relationship work to do before divorce becomes a viable option.

What is the reality today?

In a perfect world, the above-mentioned situations and the logic applied to relationship goals make sense, but things often take on a different shape in reality. Lindi says there are usually a few reasons why people get divorced and not “one big thing”.

Some of the main reasons for divorce that she sees in her law firm include the following:

  • Poor communication.
  • No shared interests.
  • Financial reasons.
  • Sexual incompatibility.
  • Inability to accept each other and wanting to change the other person.
  • People feeling a lack of support from their partner.
  • Couples not making enough effort to spend time together.
  • Unwillingness to work on the relationship.
  • Unwillingness to see a relationship therapist or marital counsellor.
  • Restructuring of families where stepparents or stepchildren don’t get along.
  • Emotional, verbal or physical abuse.
  • Religious differences or having different values.

What does the Bible say about it?

Düring Cornelius, a teacher at the University of Potchefstroom, says divorce is contrary to the Word of God and His wonderful master plan for each spouse. As humans, we have contaminated God’s work through sinful rebellion.

A counselor may, however, reach a point where all paths of reconciliation have been exhausted and one or both parties are still intent on destroying each other. In this case, the partners would be advised to disassociate themselves with the marriage.

“However, this has to be the last resort and the result of a person or both parties continually being destroyed by another person’s behavior. It’s also the result of one or both parties’ inability to let healing and recovery through Christ work in their lives.”

Düring also believes that contemporary consumer culture and products wipe out our ability to deal with marital problems or face adversity in relationships. If something becomes a problem, it needs to be removed from the marriage as quickly as possible. Our culture of wanting instant gratification means that we want to solve a relationship problem as quickly as possible, and this often means that a divorce can look like the ideal, quick solution.

“Divorce is never a solution. At best, divorce is an emergency exit. Nobody wins in a divorce case and if there are children involved, they are the biggest losers.”

Is it really too easy to get divorced?

Divorce attorney Aletta Loubser says that in earlier years, the legal requirements for getting a divorce made the process less appealing and likely. In some countries, a person could only file for a divorce through a High Court legal process.

“Nowadays, the legal procedures are more accessible and the parties in a marriage are not faced with a legal obligation to work on their marriage. The divorce proceedings revolve around arrangements relating to children, support, and the distribution of assets and expenses. If the parties agree on these aspects, then a couple can get divorced quite quickly and easily,” says Aletta.

Consider the following if you want to get divorced

  • Do you still have feelings for your partner? If your partner treated you badly, there is probably a lack of emotional intimacy. If you still care about and love your partner, then consider counselling instead of divorce. Be careful to not confuse feelings of guilt, or the fear of loneliness, with care and love, though.
  • Does what is left of your marriage still constitute a marriage? A marriage consists of two people who form a triangle with God and work towards the greater good of the relationship, it isn’t about two people fighting to get their own needs met.
  • Do you really want a divorce or do you only want to threaten your partner with a divorce? If you’re angry and frustrated, then you may threaten your partner with a divorce to make sure your partner knows how serious you are. If you’re looking for solutions, however, divorce threats aren’t an option.
  • Is your decision emotional or rational? You can’t make a decision like this when you are experiencing overwhelming emotions.
  • Consider your reasons for a divorce carefully. Do you hope that the threat of a divorce will make your partner treat you better or value you more? If you want to change the dynamics between you and your partner, then counselling is the solution and not divorce.
  • Carefully consider the consequences. Divorce can shatter your dreams, and it can affect you and your children financially and emotionally. Don’t feel guilty about these things in a toxic relationship that’s hurting you, but consider all the consequences.

Can every marriage be saved?

If you are considering a divorce, then mull over your decision a lot. Listen to the thoughts and opinions of others, but realize that nobody can make this decision for you.

If you get a divorce, then commit to not having a victim mentality about it. Forgive transgressions and realize that a fulfilling life is within your reach after the divorce. If you are unsure, do whatever you can to save your marriage.

God is bigger than our problems and there is always a chance that a “guilty” or “sick” partner can be healed. In cases where a divorce is theoretically justified, the divorce should take place within the context of protecting a family from the person’s disease.

Reasons such as wanting to take time to find yourself or growing apart from a person don’t justify a divorce, says relationship therapist Elmarie van Wyk. “Both parties must be willing to work on the marriage.”

Change takes time and you can’t expect immediate results from one therapy session. At any point in time, you can decide to get divorced, but once you are divorced, it’s very hard to turn the relationship around.

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