To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband…. – I Corinthians 7:10, ESV
While a marriage is falling apart or actively being destroyed as it is with infidelity, it is easy to be caught in a fog. Your rational mind may not be able to make sense of the information or red flags your intuition is sending it. Plus, clear reasoning and firm convictions are hard to have and hold in the time of trauma. Often enough, the leaving and/or infidelity discovery comes as an ambush for the faithful spouse.
It did for me.
One of the most destructive mind games during the demise of my first marriage centered on the question posed in the title of this post. I can almost still hear my former father-in-law tell me (and others) about my then wife:
You have to ask yourself, David: Why did she have to leave?
In the interest of helping others who may have encountered similar mind games, I am going to deconstruct what is wrong with this question both in reasoning and from a pastoral perspective.
1) It is a loaded question.
As a philosophy major and someone who worked in bioethics, I learned various errors in reasoning as part of my academic and practical training. This is one of them. The Loaded Question. It presupposes some major information–namely that she had to leave!
Let me illustrate with another example:
Say I punched you in the face. Then I told you that you gotta ask yourself why I had to punch you in the face. Get it? I am assuming you deserved the punch.
Being abandoned by one’s spouse is more traumatic, in my experience, than being punched in the face. It is insulting and cruel then to ask questions assuming this abandonment was deserving. Plus, asking this question clearly indicates the one asking has already prejudged the situation and holds the abandoned spouse in a negative light to put it mildly.
2) It encourages mind reading and places responsibility for the abandoning spouse’s choices on the abandoned spouse.
We do not have access to the minds of another person. Why questions are about motivation. We can judge actions and words for their impact. We cannot read another’s mind.
This alone makes the question unfair. Add to it the responsibility shift it does makes it even worse. Scripture is clear that we answer for our own actions and not someone else’s (see II Corinthians 5:10).
This leads me to my third and final point…
3) The abandoning spouse is the one to be asked this question for he/she must have a Biblical response or they have just sinned (see I Cor. 7:10).
The elephant in the room with such a question is how it obscures the command the Apostle Paul gives to Christians in I Corinthians 7:10 (quoted above). To abandon one’s spouse is sinful as it violates the Scripture. A godly pastor or Christian ought not to ask the abandoned spouse for the reasoning behind the abandonment. Rather they ought to ask the “Christian” abandoning the marriage for they are in dangerous spiritual waters.*
Motivations and reasoning beside, a good pastor understands the matter through theological lenses. Who is responsible? Put another way: is the primary actor here? Is this permissible Biblically or is it sin? Am I speaking to the victim of sin or the perpetrator of sin in this instance (obviously, we all sin against each other)?
Let’s not get caught up in the weeds. That is exactly why I suffered so much with this question. I got caught up in the introspective weeds when I ought to have just spit the question back out:
I do not read minds.
I am not responsible for my former wife’s choices.
And the question over abandoning me is a question regarding sin that she will have to settle with God someday.
It’s not my problem and never was legitimately.
*That said, I do think exceptions exist. Obviously, I see leaving a marriage where infidelity has taken place as a reasonable justification to end the marriage (see Jer. 3:8, Mt 5:32, and Mt 19:9). Also, I see separation for physical/emotional abuse as grounds simply for the sake of preserving human life, which God highly values.