“Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”
-Hebrews 13:4, NIV
“The Marriage Failed.” Yeah, right!
Today, I am writing about a certain psycho-babble used to help everyone avoid unpleasant discussions surrounding divorce. “The marriage failed.” It tried very hard…poor thing…but ultimately it just couldn’t keep us together.
Yes, that’s right. Such a statement makes marriage an agent and thereby obscures the real agent(s) in this affair–i.e. the husband and wife. It makes it sound like decisions were not made and thereby robs us of our agency. I see this as unhealthy and unbiblical.
In some ways, the terminology is tautologically accurate. Marriage is a union. The marriage is no longer in existence. It failed.
Personally, though, I sense saying a marriage failed is a “nice” way to avoid the awkward discussion about sin. Keep the conversation off such unpleasant things as actually pointing out the marriage ended in lies, abuse, and adultery. Who wants to know that? Such knowledge might make moral demands in how I treat or interact with the adulterer/adulteress in the future. Let’s just avoid all such unpleasantness.
Call it a failed marriage.
Since when did pastors become such psychology sycophants and cowards as they can no longer use Biblical language to label ungodly behavior? When someone commits adultery, they defile the marriage bed, and Scripture calls them an adulterer/adulteress (Hebrews 13:4, Romans 7:2-3). Have a problem with that? Your fight is with Scripture.*
Using this psychological babble to avoid a moral conversation results in further damage to the adultery survivor. They are left holding the culpability bag as much as the adulterer/adulteress. It reinforces the lie that they have shared responsibility in the adultery. This is unjust. It is a subtle and unbiblical blameshift onto the wronged spouse.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying the wronged spouse is sinless in the marriage. No human–whether married or not–is sinless (Romans 3:23). The wronged spouse is responsible for the marital problems they contributed, but my point is that they did not contribute the marriage killing sin of adultery (e.g. Mt 19) and/or the marriage killing action of abandonment (e.g. I Cor. 7). Therefore, they should not share in the responsibility that follows.
To end a marriage takes a choice from at least one spouse. For the adultery survivor (for example), they may make this choice without shame or culpability for destroying the marriage as the adulterer/adulteress already did that by his/her adultery.
For my part, I know I am not responsible for the end of my first marriage. My former spouse failed morally in choosing adultery over marriage. The consequence of those moral failures was the ending of my first marriage.
I do not accept any shame in that.
I do not accept any part of failure.
My marriage did not fail.
It was destroyed by an adulteress.**
*The good news for all is that we are not stuck in our sins. Being an adulterer/adulteress need not be a permanent condition (see I Cor 6:9-11). However, I fail to see how one can repent and find forgiveness (see I John 1:9) if one is unwilling to call sin, sin.
**To be clear: It is my hope that my former spouse will repent of her adultery someday and find forgiveness. I do hope she will be able to say with the Apostle Paul that she once was an adulteress (I Cor. 6:11).