When Is A Marriage Over?

Last night at church a gentleman I didn’t know stopped me and without preamble said, “My wife divorced me but not for a Biblical cause. May I get married again?”

Quite a question from a man that I know nothing about. Besides, I’m not in the divorce profession; I’m in the saving marriages profession. I replied, “Has your former wife remarried?” He probably thought I asked for a theological reason. I didn’t. When he said she was still single, I suggested, “Well, rather than talking about marrying someone else, let’s figure how to get you remarried to each other.”

He gave me that look that said, “Did you hear anything I just said?” I responded to his unspoken sentiment. “By the grace of God we’ve helped many people save their marriages over the last dozen years. Most were still married but in crisis. Many had already started divorce proceedings. Some were already divorced and came to our workshop just to see if there might be a possibility of putting their marriages back together. Whatever the case, our consistent result over the last dozen years is that three out of four couples save their marriage, stopping their divorce process altogether. Nearly all of those who are already divorced when they come to our workshop remarry each other after attending. One couple that I remember had been divorced for ten years. Most who come to that are divorced are somewhere between one and three years apart.”

He looked startled. He came asking my theological opinion of his right to remarry and instead was hearing that he shouldn’t give up just because he was already divorced. It was quite obvious that he didn’t expect that response.

When Should You Give Up on a Marriage?

The only time I believe in giving up on a marriage is when one of them dies, or if after their divorce one of them marries someone else, or if one of them continues involvement in a sin that makes the marriage impossible. Otherwise, I believe there is a chance to reconcile.

The first two – death or one of them marrying someone else – are obvious. Allow me to briefly explain the third. Not every wrong action makes a marriage impossible to continue. When someone asks me if they should make the effort to save their marriage when their spouse has done some bad thing I always ask, “Is your spouse a good person doing a bad thing, or a bad person doing a bad thing?” The intention of the question is whether beneath the current bad behavior there exists a good heart that can be redeemed, or if the person is so intent on his or her selfish behavior there is no chance to rescue them. Some people have the kinds of hearts Jesus talked about in his parable of the seeds. Many don’t. Judging a person by what he or she is doing now can sometimes lead to the wrong conclusion about their possible redemption.

That said, there are sins that make it impossible for a marriage to continue. Here are a few examples:

  • If one continues in adultery, even after confrontation by Godly people, it is impossible for the other spouse to continue to live in that marriage. (Though I use the word “impossible,” I know of some who have. I don’t recommend it.)
  • If a person is abusing his or her spouse or children, remaining in that marriage is unwise. Abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual, or a combination thereof. I have seen marriages reconcile after the abuser got proper help, but even then strict boundaries were put in place to ensure that no more abuse could occur. If the abuser does not seek or accept the help he or she needs so that their bad behavior is corrected, living with them is not a viable option.

The example list could go on. Sometimes the unhealthy, bad behavior of a spouse makes it treacherous for spouse or children to remain in the same home. If a person refuses to stop the devastating behavior, that person eventually becomes unbearable to live with. In my estimation, leaving that person is covered by the principle of the unbelieving spouse in 1 Corinthians 7.

However, allow me to point out that there should be patience in concluding that a person will not stop the sin destroying the marriage. Often intervention works and a straying or sinning spouse can be rescued. Before giving up on a person, have the grace and mercy to try all that can be done to rescue them. That’s why I always encourage a spouse about to end a marriage to seek wise counsel to determine if the sinning spouse is truly hopelessly involved in his or her sin. Hurt and angry spouses sometimes make judgments about their spouses that may be incorrect.

If a person can be rescued, they should be. If a marriage has any chance of reconciliation, that chance should be explored to the deepest level.

So What Can Be Done to Save a Marriage In Trouble (Or Already Divorced)?

I don’t give up on marriages easily.


Because any marriage can be saved if just two things happen. The first is that both have to stop doing the things destroying their relationship. The second is that each must start doing the things to make love grow. Yes, yes, I know. Sounds Pollyannaish, doesn’t it? However, it’s true. Somewhere in the vicinity of 150,000 people have been through courses, seminars, and workshops God was gracious enough to use me to develop. Therefore, when I make a statement like that, there is a great deal of experience backing it.

Last weekend another twenty couples or so spent three intense days in our LovePath 911 workshop. Nearly every couple there was in the process of divorce. Quite a few came only to get a better deal in the divorce, and told us quite boldly that they had no interest in saving their marriages. We thanked them for their honesty and did the workshop in faith that God would act as He always does in those concentrated weekends.

He did.

We may actually witness a greater than 75% success rate from that group.

It’s amazing what happens when in the right context and environment people begin to learn more about themselves, their spouses, and their situation. Their view of marriage alters. Their perspective of their future changes. They begin to remember why they fell in love with each other, and to their amazement begin to feel the stirring of that long-lost love.

What Should I Do to Save or Reconcile My Marriage?

If your marriage is in trouble, or if divorce has already occurred, ask God for the wisdom to know what He wishes you to do and for the courage to do it.

In my conversation with the gentleman last night, I asked him if he would be willing to try to save his marriage. He said he was but he doubted if his wife were. Then, after a pause, he asked how he could find out if that were even a possibility with her. I suggested that if he truly wanted to reconcile his marriage, rather than seeking counsel on whether he may remarry, he should seek counsel on the ways he might be able to put his marriage back together. There are many sources that will help. Hopefully, the ministers and leaders of his church would help. There are good Christian sources online. I suggested he not fall for the “buy this book or these tapes and everything will work out” ads he will see. It takes work to put a marriage back together and usually that requires people to help.

One thing is for sure; his marriage will continue to be over unless he does something to try to change that. He has nothing to lose in attempting reconciliation.