“Failed Marriage” Word Choice


Divorce = “Failed Marriage”

Is a marriage that ends other than in divorce thereby “successful?”

I may be speaking from my own baggage or sensitivities on this. Plenty of divorced individuals seem to have no problem with this word selection. However, I do not like the word choice where “failed marriage” is used interchangeably for a marriage ending in divorce.

The term “failed” suggests to me that I somehow was not up to the task of being married. It implies a deficiency in me as I am the one who bears the history of a “failed marriage” by virtue of being divorced.

I consider it a subtle blame-shift. Calling a divorce a “failed marriage” strikes me as leaning towards suggesting shared responsibility in the end of my marriage. I do not like that as such is Biblically false. For example, there’s no shared responsibility implied when God instructs the Jewish people to end marriages via the death penalty for the adulterous partner (see Deut. 22:22, Lev. 20:10).

Language matters.

It shapes the discourse and can reinforce unbiblical prejudices towards the divorced. I see this terminology serving such a nefarious end:

  1. It obscures the reality that marriages can end via the unilateral choices of one party (see here).
  2. As already mentioned, it spreads blame across both parties for the marriage ending, which may be completely unjust (as in the case of an adultery victim getting divorced).
  3. It implies a divorced person is less “successful” or skilled at being married than anyone who remains married. This is not necessarily the case.


Are we comfortable saying God had a “failed marriage” (to Israel)?

If not, then I suggest we stop using this term to refer to all divorces.

God divorced Israel over adultery (see Jer. 3:8 and Is 50:1), and I can assure you plenty of faithful Christian spouses exist out there whose marriages ended via the adulterous choices of their former spouses. It is not right to imply deficiencies in these people simply because they ended being divorced after the fact of their partners’ wicked sins.

3 thoughts on ““Failed Marriage” Word Choice”

  1. I divorced my ex due to extreme domestic abuse. I told someone the other day that my family was broken apart. I am not quite sure how to say it. I have also said that I divorced my abusive husband. I am not taking the rap for that not working out. But that just sounds so blunt.

  2. DM, thanks. I’ve been pondering this one. I agree with not sharing the blame or taking the rap. So sounds like I should just say when it comes up “my marriage is ending in divorce”. If someone should ask, well the reason is adultery – but it is his badge to wear, not mine. It is a choice he made, not me – now that I’ve stopped owning his decisions and allowing his decisions to be my fault – it’s okay – but it is very confusing for the kids. They want him to be a nice guy I suppose. I can’t trust him ever ever again and so I don’t really care if he is a “nice” guy or not. Your term soul rape comes to mind. Nice people don’t rape other people.

    1. Yes, I think just stating the facts without euphemisms is best. “I am getting divorced.” “I was previously divorced.” “I have a divorce in my past.” All those are better, IMO, to “I have a failed marriage in my past.”

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