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Why Marriages Fail

by Jefferson David Tant
via Vanguard, December 1982

The failure of marriage has become the American way of life — a significant change from former generations. In 1870, one of 34 marriage ended in divorce. By 1900, the rate had risen to one in twelve, increasing to one in five by 1940. According to an article in American Demographics (Oct., 1981, p. 11) entitled "Divorce Deluge," "the overall divorce rate in the 1970's was 40%, with 59% of all second marriages ending in divorce."

In addition to all the homes broken by separation or divorce, what about all the homes torn by dissension, strife and discontent? These homes must also be considered failures, and studies show a significant number of such loveless marriages. Some have estimated that 70% of retired couples live in mutual hostility.

There is far more damage than just the broken homes — there are broken lives. Many psychological problems are encountered by divorced people, as can be seen in the fact that nearly 60% of second marriages end in divorce. Then there is the tragedy of the children. "Census Bureau demographer Paul C. Glick has estimated that given current divorce rates, 32% of all children under 18 will live with a divorced parent at some point" (op. cit.). That divorce has its effect upon children is well documented. "The breakdown in the home is one of the reasons I think crime in our state is on the upsurge. Broken homes, common law marriages, the working mother.., all have contributed to this and have filled our prisons... (most inmates are) from broken homes" (Dr. George Beto, former Director, Texas Dept. of Corrections).

There is one basic, fundamental cause of all this -the influence of Satan. We pointed out in a previous lesson many of the factors that are leading the attack on the home, the family and morality. We quoted from women's lib leaders, humanists, sex education authorities, government officials, religious leaders, etc., who are opposed to all that God and Christians stand for. If Satan can destroy the home, then the rest of his work is easier. Therefore, let us be forewarned as we note some of the reasons why marriages fail.

Failure to Recognize the Divine Aspect of Marriage

Marriage is fundamentally a divine institution. It is divine in origin in that God created man and woman, and brought them together (Genesis 2:18). It is divine in purpose, as expressed in "for this cause shall a man.., cleave unto his wife" (Matthew 19:5). Among the various purposes fulfilled in marriage, we note:

  1. the fulfilling of marital (not sensual) love (I Corinthians 7:3);
  2. procreation (which many seek to avoid today)(Genesis 1:28); and
  3. the avoidance of fornication (which is disregarded by many) (I Corinthians 7:2).

We find fornication often practiced before marriage, and adultery often practiced during marriage.

Marriage is also divine in its regulation. God has designed for marriage to be a permanent human relationship (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4-6, 9). Although divorce is allowed, it is not "the answer," and is allowed only "in extremis." Within this relationship certain responsibilities are given by divine revelation. The husband is to provide for his family (I Timothy 5:8); he is to treat his wife with honor and respect (I Peter 3:7); and he is to be the head of the family (Ephesians 5:23). The wife is charged to be in subjection to her husband's leadership (Ephesians 5:22); honor and respect him (Ephesians 5:33); and to be a worker at and guide the home (Titus 2:4-5).

Failure to respect these divine directives is but to invite disaster. When I bought my car, I received with it an owner's manual. It gives certain instructions concerning maintenance: change the oil ever 4,000 miles, using a certain weight or grade of oil. It is only reasonable to assume that those who made the car know best how to care for it. Therefore, if I follow directions, I will get the best service. But if I decide to change oil every 25,000 miles and use sewing machine oil, I should not marvel when the car breaks down.

Likewise, God made man and woman, and ordained marriage for them. In doing so, he gave us an owner's manual, and if we have good sense, we will follow the directions! But in looking at the situation today, it is obvious that most, if not all, of the regulations governing marriage have been discarded. It is, therefore, no marvel that most marriages are not working!

Inadequate Preparation

Every serious undertaking should be preceded by careful preparation. This is no less true of marriage. In this light, spiritual preparation is a must. As noted previously, God has had much to say to insure the success of marriage. Are we teaching our children these values and principles? Are our children brought regularly to Bible classes and assemblies where these instructions and values are taught to them? Do they see the influence of God's word in the home — in the relationship between mother and dad; in family Bible study? Are they taught moral purity by example as well as by word? There is a physical aspect of marriage as well as a spiritual. In spite of all the openness and frankness with which sex is dealt in our age, many young people are woefully ignorant on this subject due to parental neglect. Many assume that children know more than the parents, or that the schools will handle this matter, or that nature will simply take its course. But is this physical preparation not a part of the teaching of such passages as Titus 2:4, where older women are told to "train the young women to love their husbands..." Our children also need to be taught principles of good health and nutrition, as well.

Emotional preparation is another necessary ingredient for a healthy marriage. How many marriages are flawed or doomed because of immaturity — selfish, childish behavior, or over dependence upon parents? Marriage is meant for adults, not children, and this is why God told us to leave parents when time for marriage comes (Genesis 2:24). Emotional immaturity is also seen in alcoholism, drug abuse, spouse abuse, tantrums, etc. Emotional preparation has to do with growing - growing up, growing in love, growing in accepting responsibility.

Sexual Problems

When both partners respect the will of God, there will be few problems that will threaten the marriage. Marriage is the one relationship where the sexual desire can rightfully be fulfilled. "Let marriage be had in honor among all, and let the bed be undefiled" (Hebrews 13:4). In referring to this aspect of marriage, Solomon urged, "Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice in the wife of thy youth. As a loving hind and a pleasant doe, let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19). God teaches us to honor and respect one another in this realm. "The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other..." (I Corinthians 7:4-5). In this most intimate aspect of marriage, there is the greatest need for understanding, patience and respect for one another.

But Satan has perverted that which is beautiful into that which is shameful. He has degraded sex through pornography and perversion. He has caused husbands to be demanding and inconsiderate. He has caused wives to use sex as a reward or punishment. In view of such matters, I believe Judgment Day will have some startling revelations for some.

Many husbands or wives have been placed at temptation's door because of the selfishness of their mates in this realm. And how many marriages have been dissolved because of unfaithfulness, when in reality the so-called "innocent" party must share the blame? I remember one couple talking to me after they had been married seven years. In their relationship, sex was only for the man's pleasure, with no consideration for the wife. When she learned that there was more involved, and that God intended this for her as well, her husband still refused to give her any consideration. She then looked elsewhere for her satisfaction, which caused her husband to divorce her for her unfaithfulness. But will God hold him guiltless when he refused to dwell with her according to knowledge, and refused to give her her due (I Peter 3:7; I Corinthians 7:4)?

Financial Problems

"But they that are minded to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (I Timothy 6:9-10). We live in a materialistic society, and this puts many pressures on the family — pressures to acquire and to have; pressures to go into debt; pressures for Dad to take a second job and for Mom to leave home and go to work. Such pressures then lead to arguments: "You don't make enough money," and "You spend too much money," and so forth.

These pressures tend to pull the family apart. There is worry about bills; there is little time for one another; perhaps less time for the children; and no time for the Lord. Then a divorce may come, along with alimony and child support payments, with the subsequent two households to maintain. Then in the case of a second marriage, even more financial burdens are compounded on top of the old ones, and the pressure intensifies.

Parents sometimes have to share in the blame for these circumstances. They give children too much, and place too much emphasis on material things. They often do not teach their children patience — how to wait for things. They do not teach children the value of working and earning and saving and showing responsibility in financial matters. Then we make our children as the daughters of the horseleach. "The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give ..." (Proverbs 30:15).

What a great blessing to learn contentment. "But godliness with contentment is great gain: for we brought nothing into the world, for neither can we carry anything out; but having food and covering we shall be therewith content" (I Timothy 6:6-8). "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:11-13). See also Hebrews 13:5-6 and Philippians 4:6-7.

Working Wives

God has created a special role and a special place for women. The special role is one of respecting the leadership of the husband and teaching future generations. That special place is a "worker at home" (Titus 2:1-5). This is not to suggest that the woman cannot set foot outside her home, nor that she cannot seek gainful employment outside the home. But this should not be the goal of the woman. Such should only be when necessary, not simply to afford luxuries. No matter what reasoning man comes up with, God knows what is best! No one can take the place of mother in the early, formative years of a child. The wife and mother should see to it that she is not better known out in the world than in her own home.

Consider some of the hazards of the working wife and mother:

  1. Financial independence may hasten a divorce. In other words, there may be less incentive to work things out when difficulties arise at home.
  2. Such arrangements often increase the stress at home, for the "homework" is still there, even if the husband does pitch in to help.
  3. The working woman is exposed to more temptations. The woman sees her boss or other male employees in the best circumstances apart from the pressures of the home, the clogged sink, the worn furniture, the grumpy husband who cannot even speak until he has his morning coffee. Then there are sexual pressures from bosses who promise a raise or promotion, and from fellow-employees who invite her to the two-martini lunch. Such situations are not always present, but the number of them is significant.
  4. There are also pressures from the feminists in the work force. "You mean you've got to go home and wash and cook supper? What a drag!" The wife may look at the so-called glamorous life of the single woman, or at the so-called freedom of the liberated woman, and feel she has been cheated.
  5. Children are often left to be raised by others. They thus learn values from people about whom little is known. And then after catching up with the household chores, there is little time left for the children. Furthermore, because mother has to punch a time clock, oftentimes the children have to be taken to the nursery and left even when they are sick. And older children are often left unsupervised after school, which may lead to trouble. It is well known that after-school vandalism is a problem among children left unsupervised. Other problems may arise, such as when the police raided an after-school sex and pot party among seventh graders. These affairs took place in homes where both parents were away at work.

Dear reader, I'm not just talking through my hat about these things. Even people in the world recognize the hazards of the working wife, even apart from any religious consideration. "Women who have become financially independent of their husbands may be more likely to seek, or agree to, a divorce. And having to go to work to make ends meet may increase the strains on a family that lead to divorce. The exposure to more people outside the home may cause many working women to become dissatisfied with their husbands, some researchers have suggested. However, nobody fully understands the relationship between more working women and growing divorce" (American Demographics, 'Divorce Deluge," Oct., 1981, p. 11). Parents, you must count the cost when you decide mother needs to work outside the home.

Religious Discord

Nowhere is unity and harmony more important, for religious differences create many problems. There is the problem of priorities (one wants to attend services, the other wants to go see a movie); values (one wants to stop by a lounge for a drink, but the other doesn't drink); raising children (one wants children to partake in worldly activities, but the other doesn't believe in such things); finances (one wants to give to the Lord, but the other thinks that is a waste of money); friends (one wants to invite some Christians over for the evening, but the other is bored to tears by such company). With all the forces working against the home and family, one certainly doesn't need to seek out stumbling blocks deliberately.

Religious discord presents some difficult choices. The Christian may have to give up the Lord in order to have peace at home, but then there is no peace with God or with self. This choice also pretty well destroys any hope of heaven for the whole family. Or, the Christian may have to give up the unbelieving companion (I Corinthians 7:12-15). A third choice would be for the two to continue living together, either in a state of warfare (neither happy together nor happy apart), or in relative peace because the two are mature enough to work out some sort of peaceful coexistence. But can a Christian truly be happy when married to a person that is going to be lost eternally — separated from the one whose love has been shared through the years?

God's attitude towards mixed marriages has been revealed. In the Old Testament, God plainly prohibited such (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Is God any less concerned about the spiritual welfare of his children now? Is it conceivable that a child of God can marry a child of Satan without trouble from the father-in-law? One preacher made a survey of some 49 such mixed marriages. Of these unions, 57% of the Christians became unfaithful to the Lord. Of the number, 75% were unable to convert their mates, and 57% suffered a divorce. It is no wonder that many gospel preachers refuse to be involved in such marriage ceremonies, for they cannot in good conscience help one get into a situation that will probably cause a soul to be lost. When you couple the problems of religious discord with all the other pressures that affect marriages now, why borrow more trouble? "Shall two walk together, except they have agreed" (Amos 3:3).

Conclusion

Other problems will arise, but I believe these are some of the major ones. If we were to summarize them all, I would use the words pride and selfishness. These words are opposed to all that God wants us to be — humble and loving. If we could learn to apply these principles in service to God, then we could avoid these problems, and the home and family would be secure. I hope this discussion will have a positive effect upon all of us — in existing marriages as well as in those which our young people will make. God intended marriage for our good, and it will be, if we just have enough sense to follow the directions.