“But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.”
-Matthew 5:32, NLT
Part of the justification cheaters often use to blame-shift upon faithful spouses is the charge of being unhappy in the marriage.
Let’s set aside the disconnect with pastors messed up marital theology that says God has us get married to primarily make the other spouse happy. And let’s set aside those times where the cheater only brings up their marital unhappiness after they are busted!
I do not believe divorcing a spouse over being unhappy in the marriage is a legitimate reason for a Christian to end a marriage (assuming, of course, the reason for being unhappy is not a result of abuse and/or sexual infidelity committed by the other spouse).
Divorce is an extremely unpleasant experience. I know. I lived it. Imagine sawing off your arm to survive and get the picture. This is an extreme act only undertaken under great duress.
Some–present company included–may view it as a mercy under certain circumstances like adultery discovery or abusive abandonment. It allows us to walk away from a spiritually and emotionally deadly situation. However, I would not recommend divorce as a solution for situations that are transitory like issues revolving around mere happiness.
We do not generally view amputation of whole limbs for scratches on knees or elbows as sound medical treatment of those simple injuries. Better ways to treat such hurts exist than amputation. The same thing goes when it comes to divorce over matters of simple unhappiness (sans abuse and sexual infidelity).
And this is not simply my opinion on the matter:
Jesus taught against an overly divorce-permissive society that allowed men–in particular–to divorce their wives for any reason. That is why the “exception clause” in Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is so restrictive. It allows men to divorce sexually unfaithful wives but does not allow them to divorce wives who, let’s say, are bad cooks.
When we give another person power over our happiness or joy, we surrender part of our autonomy to them. We are trying to solve an internal problem by controlling or blaming external matters–i.e. the other person. That just won’t work. We have not learned the secret Paul wrote about in Philippians 4:11 about learning the secret of contentment in any circumstance.
If anyone had good reason to be unhappy and bitter, Paul did as one unjustly beaten, stoned, and nearly drowned over the years. But Paul did not cede his personal power to those people, powers, or circumstances to “make” him unhappy. We could do well in emulating this giant of the Faith!
Now, God gives us free choice in matters of marriage and divorce. We are always free to sin. And that is what a divorce justified by unhappiness alone is for a Christian as I read Scripture.
God views adultery, sexual immorality, and abandonment as in a separate category (see Jer. 3:8, Mt. 1:19, Mt. 5:32, Mt. 19:9, and I Cor. 7:15).
Cutting off “the limb” is acceptable under those circumstances. The matter is that dire. Those sins are that destructive that God recognizes faithful spouses may need to cut themselves free from the wreckage for their own survival. He gives us that option without shame.
But God does not say that just any reason is okay for justifying divorce. One can divorce for any reason in our society; however, that does not mean God accepts just any divorce as valid. “Being unhappy” is just one of many justifications that is not biblically acceptable.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE AND OBSERVATION:
I want to be clear I am not suggesting anyone stay in an abusive situation or one where sexual infidelity is a pattern (or even known to have happened at least once)! Evangelicals often preach against divorce as simply people divorcing flippantly because they are “unhappy” while not realizing how such a narrative might be the polite way for a faithful spouse to talk about the divorce without spilling the story of their intimate humiliation by the cheater (and this would be true as well about domestic abuse situations).
In my experience, faithful spouses often stay longer than is healthy for them (and longer than is demanded of them by Scripture). It is usually the cheater questing after their “happiness” who dishonors and devalues the marriage covenant in word and action.
In other words, a cheater views the marriage bond as less important than his/her happiness as evidenced by committing adultery and abandoning their spouse, whereas a faithful spouse often prioritizes the marriage bond over his/her personal happiness, even in cases of clear contempt and abuse.
Pastorally, this means we need to remind the cheater that their happiness is not the primary focus of the marriage and remind the faithful spouse that God does not require them to remain in a dangerous, abusive marriage, which I consider every marriage violated by the evil of adultery is.