The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
– Deuteronomy 24:16, KJV
“What did you contribute to the breakdown of your marriage?”
I do not like this sort of question leveled at a faithful spouse following divorce for several reasons:
First, I think one needs a considerable amount of emotional capital already invested in a faithful spouse to get permission to probe such a sensitive area. The snarky side of me wants to respond:
Tell me all the ways that you are a crappy, sinful husband in your marriage, then I might share about I contributed to the ending of my first marriage.
My point in my snark is that the person asking is ignoring how vulnerable the question makes the faithful spouse. They fail to see how off-putting it is to assume a victim of adultery and/or abandonment owes you a discussion of their deep hurt and possible shame regarding maybe the most traumatic event in their life.
Second, the question assume the faithful spouse contributed to the ending of the marriage. “The Shared Responsibility Lie” rears his ugly head here again. In logic class, we would call this a false assumption. This particular question would be classified under a reasoning fallacy entitled “The Loaded Question.“
Any answer to this question regarding the faithful spouse’s behavior implicates the faithful spouse as responsible–at least, partially–for causing the divorce. This is unbliblical thinking.
God did not blame the faithful spouse for the ending of a marriage in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 22:22 and Leviticus 20:10). He laid the full blood guilt upon the adulterous parties alone for their sin (see Deuteronomy 24:16).
That said, the snarky side of me wants to respond to such questions here:
You’re right I did contribute to my marriage’s demise. I chose to marry a cheater and a quitter.
But the reality is that God says adultery is a marriage killer–as per His Old Testament instructions–and no further discussion is needed. At least, that is what I see in Scripture.
Finally, this question is hurtful and puts a faithful spouse on the defensive. I immediately feel my chest conscript and sense my fight/flight impulse start to take over imagining answering this question.
As just stated in point two, this question assumes I am responsible-in part, at least–for the ending of my marriage. It implies I had some control over whether or not I was divorced, which is actually false in my case. Plus, I get the feeling such a question is presented as a way to judge me:
Will he respond in a way that shows he has healed or is a “good” Christian?
That place of being under judgment is what triggers the fight/flight feelings for me. It is an issue of feeling accepted and worthy that is being challenged–i.e. worthy of belonging and not being treated as morally inferior/crazy.
Plus, it is a hurtful question. I find it hurtful as a spouse who was abandoned. The question implies I had control over something I did not. The question rubs salt into that wound.
For spouses who had to choose between tolerating unrepentant infidelity or divorce, it can be similarly hurtful. They may have filed for divorce but came to that conclusion based on their spouses’ adulterous sin. A marriage devoid of adultery was not on the table. They had to make a choice from the Buffet of Bad Options. Jesus says divorce was and is permissible in their case without moral censure (see Mt 5:32 and 19:9).
I much prefer a different sort of question:
What did you learn in your divorce experience?
This does not imply blame for the traumatic event. We could ask this sort of question to someone who lost a loved one to cancer or an accident.
Another reason I like this sort of question as it suggests the questioner might learn something valuable from the divorced spouse. It is a way to approach the faithful spouse acknowledging them as having valuable wisdom to share from going through a difficult experience.
I suggest asking a question like that is a good way to practice the Golden Rule (e.g. Luke 6:31).
And the world could certainly use more Golden Rule practitioners!