has become big business in America. But what can be done to keep
more marriages together and offer support to those who have gone
through a breakup?
From all appearances,
Thomas and Nancy Ludwig* had a thriving marriage 20 years after
their wedding. As the head of a family with a wife and four children,
Thomas had grown to the point spiritually where he had become a
leader in his California church.
But shortly after their
22nd wedding anniversary, Nancy sensed something amiss. Thomas suddenly
seemed withdrawn and wouldnt talk to her. He rarely came home
except to sleep. On Christmas, Nancy learned where Thomas had been
spending so much time: at the home of a female acquaintance he met
at one of his childs athletic events.
Church elders confronted
Thomas with evidence of a sexual affair. Four days later, he moved
out of his house and in with the other woman. The elders, and other
Christians who knew Thomas, continued to urge him to repent under
guidelines outlined in Matthew 18, but to no avail. A year and a
half later Thomas divorced his wife. Under California law, Nancy
had no legal defense.
"He had counseled dozens
of couples who are together today because of his guidance," says
Nancy, 47. "He repeatedly told our children, Your mother and
I will never divorce. We will always work it out. We will always
be together. "
Tragically the Ludwigs
story is not unusual these days. Divorce has become common in America.
The National Center for Health Statistics reported 1998-2000 divorce
totals at about 1 million per year in the United States. According
to SmartMoney.com, the average cost of divorce is $15,000. That
translates into a conservative estimate of $15 billion a year being
spent on the dissolution of marriage in the United States.
Wisely Before You Divorce Kit
here and look for the WANT MORE? link or call 1 800 641
Gary R. Allen, national coordinator for ministerial enrichment for
the Assemblies of God, says the Ludwigs situation isnt
unique. In many cases, one spouse doesnt want a divorce and
has tried to keep the failing marriage intact. "When someone who
has loved another then is rejected by that person, it undermines
every element of self-confidence the rejected individual has," says
Until the last third
of the 20th century, "till death do us part" usually meant just
that. However, in 1970, California became the first state to allow
"no fault" divorce and within 15 years every other state also had
eased restrictions. Previously, a person had to find a legally defined
cause such as infidelity or desertion to end a marriage. Today,
either spouse may merely cite "incompatibility" or "irreconcilable
differences" to break a marriage contract.
The number of U.S. divorces
more than tripled from 393,000 in 1960 to 1.2 million 35 years later.
An estimated 43 percent of new marriages will end in divorce.
Glenn T. Stanton, senior
research analyst on marriage and sexuality with Focus on the Family
in Colorado Springs, says liberalized divorce laws have been a miserable
failure. "We entered the divorce revolution with the idea that we
could exit relationships that hindered our self-expression and enter
better relationships that would make us better individuals," says
Stanton, 40. "Thats not been the case." In most instances,
a divorced person does not leave problems behind but rather takes
the root cause into a new relationship, according to Stanton, author
of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern
Stanton says government
and business have largely failed to recognize the irony of penalizing
For instance, couples
who live together instead of marrying pay a lower income tax rate.
Many companies, as well as state and local governments, now provide
health insurance benefits to an employees live-in partner.
Meanwhile, divorce has
become an acceptable, even expected, rite of passage. A trend since
the mid-1990s has been "starter marriages" for couples in their
20s. Some in this generation, which has experienced parental divorce
in record numbers, view a brief marriage as a natural part of upward
There is little social
pressure to stay married when tough times hit. A Gallup poll last
year indicated 59 percent of respondents believe divorce is "morally
acceptable." Earlier this year a Web site began offering Florida
couples the opportunity for an online divorce for only $249.
"Divorce is a symptom
of the devaluing of an intimate, monogamous husband and wife relationship,"
Allen says. "Primarily the problem is a failure to keep a love relationship
growing with the stages of life."
The pop culture of divorce has entered the church in a significant
way. Several celebrity Christian musicians, athletes and even ministry
leaders almost act as though divorce should be an expected part
Such messages stand in
contrast with the Bible. "Unfortunately the church reflects its
culture more than it should," Allen says.
believes, many Christians have lost the theology of marriage as
espoused by Jesus: what God has joined let no one separate. And
marital counseling often is delayed until one, if not both, of the
parties has determined that divorce is inevitable.
Nancy Ludwig says she
ignored the warning signs; she and her husband should have sought
counseling earlier. "I knew something was wrong, but I never thought
he would have an affair," she says.
Stanton says many congregations
neglect the principle outlined in Titus 2 in which older couples
are admonished to help younger ones. He says those who have long-term,
stable marriages should offer expertise and wisdom to the newly
married on how to make it through difficult times.
A divorce can damage more than a persons spiritual life.
Nancy Ludwig had been homeschooling her children, but that ended
when Thomas no longer brought a paycheck home. She had to enter
the work force after being a stay-at-home mom for 17 years. She
gained an entry-level job that didnt support her family and
survived through the generosity of other believers.
According to Nancy, Thomas
contributes the legal minimum in child support and he has no interest
in paying college tuition for his offspring. The oldest Ludwig daughter,
Teresa,* a bright student, dropped out of college and turned her
back on the church. At 19, she became pregnant and had a baby out
"The divorce impacts
us every day," says Nancy, choking back tears. "The children are
ashamed and hurt."
Divorce is a financial
hardship especially for children when one household splits into
two, according to University of Chicago sociology professor Linda
"Men are much less willing
to share income with an ex-wife and children they dont live
with," says Waite, 54, author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married
People Are Happier, Healthier & Better Off Financially. "Often
children in college get no money from their father, even though
he has plenty of it."
Marriage is for the
For many couples, problems begin when it becomes apparent they didnt
bring realistic expectations to the marriage.
Larry and Nora Larson*
married in 1978 after meeting at a college in Iowa. Nora soon told
Larry she didnt want a husband involved in campus ministry
activities. The next year she decided to move to Missouri to be
near friends. Larry reluctantly went along. In 1980, the Larsons
had a baby daughter, prompting Larry to drop out of college. By
the following year, Larry felt something in his marriage had to
change because his spiritual life had waned. He moved out in an
effort to hear Gods voice. A week later an attorney informed
him that Nora had instituted divorce proceedings.
A bitter child custody
battle and years of financial hardship ensued. Nearly 20 years after
their divorce, Larry finished his education and became a Christian
psychologist. In hindsight, he says he should have communicated
with God and his wife to prevent the separation in the first place.
"I do a lot of counseling
and I tell Christians they need to become so intimate with God that
they know His will," says Larson, now 49. "Even in a relationship
that is not satisfying, were still responsible for our own
behavior and choices."
Studies indicate that
60 percent of divorces result not from domestic violence, psychological
abuse or adultery, but from low-level conflicts that are never resolved.
Waite surveyed 3,500
couples who reported high levels of unhappiness in their marriage.
Five years later, 86 percent of those same couples characterized
their marriage as "happy."
"Just hanging in there
and riding it out is necessary," Stanton says.
"Any relationship has
conflicting times," Allen says. "Conflict can be constructive or
destructive. When a couple has a deep commitment for each other
The aftermath of divorce
impacts children dramatically, even if one or both of the parents
werent the greatest parents.
"Children are most affected
because the security of home and family is altered forever," says
Ralph Dunlop,* a 48-year-old graphic artist whose wife walked out
on their 20-year marriage against his will. "They end up being shuttled
from one house to another and often from one blended family to another.
Divorce for one or both members of the couple is a choice. For all
others involved, it is a forced and usually tragic situation."
A place for the divorced
Condemnation and grace go hand in hand, and believers need to be
supportive of a person who has just divorced, Stanton says.
If friends announce plans
to divorce, love and support must come before judgment, according
to Allen. The initial revelation may not include the full details
behind the decision.
Churches need to be more
intentional in ministering to people who have experienced or are
facing divorce, Allen says. "There has been a feeling that if we
give special attention to a sin it implies acceptance," he says.
"We are not condoning divorce when we love and support those who
have experienced divorce."
The church should be
the safest emotional place for those already divorced, Allen says.
Indeed, congregations have a wonderful opportunity to provide tangible
help to the divorced, from classes on how to pay bills when income
falls to helping in job searches.
Larson says he experienced
a change in how people perceived him once his divorce became final.
"Some churches dont want to use a divorced persons talents
and gifts because he or she is seen as damaged goods.
But the person who is divorced and repentant," says Larson, "is
no different from anyone else who has been regenerated from a sin."
Some form of no-fault divorce still exists in every state. But in
the past five years, lawmakers in three states Louisiana,
Arizona and Arkansas have adopted a more stringent standard
for a union: covenant marriage.
Ordinarily, a covenant
marriage requires the couple to participate in premarital counseling.
In addition, it mandates a two-year separation before divorce is
finalized, unless grounds of adultery, abandonment or abuse are
Suzanne and Guy Hobgood
of Baton Rouge chose a covenant marriage when Louisiana became the
first state to offer the option in 1997. The decision saved their
marriage, the second for each.
With the increased challenges
of making a blended family work four children from the previous
marriages came with the vows the Hobgoods had a difficult
time adjusting. The couple split after six months of marriage, but
the covenant required them to undergo counseling. With a regular
marriage, they could have obtained a no-fault divorce after a six-month
"When we went to counseling
we saw that lots of problems are normal in a marriage," says Suzanne
Hobgood, 50. "Our commitment to go the extra mile with our partner
and with God saved us."
Many pastors in states
without a covenant marriage law arent waiting to act.
Paul Kirk, 38, senior
pastor of Timbercreek Assembly in Springfield, Mo., wont marry
a couple unless they attend a minimum of eight counseling sessions
over a six-month period. In addition, the prospective husband and
wife must sign a covenant with Kirk in which they agree not to separate
or divorce without first submitting to pastoral counseling. "The
covenant replaces the ability of attorneys to be the primary separator
of couples," Kirk says. "It puts the power of negotiation back into
Kirk believes the church
is the only institution in position to safeguard the institution
of marriage. "God still hates divorce," he says. "Its not
His will or His choice."
Unless a divorced spouse has remarried, its not too late to
get back together, according to Gary Thayer, national coordinator
with his wife, Juanita, of Lafayette, Ind.-based MarriageRestored.
The Thayers, married for 30 years, endured their own marital crisis
seven years ago and started the ministry in 2000.
MarriageRestored is a
weekend retreat for couples whose marriages are in serious trouble.
Typically, a dozen couples some separated or even divorced
already gather to hear an A/G pastor and his wife as well
as two lay couples tell how they have weathered pain, anger and
Most of the rest of the
weekend each couple stays in their room to examine their attitudes
toward each other and their own faults. There is no pastoral counseling
or problem-solving group therapy. Praying together as a couple is
emphasized, and by Sunday afternoon even the coldest relationship
has usually thawed.
"On Friday night, some
couples are hardly speaking to each other, let alone praying together,"
says Gary Thayer, 52. "But statistically, only one out of a thousand
couples who pray daily divorce."
About seven MarriageRestored
weekends are held around the country each year. Rosalie and Johnny
Mooring Sr., of suburban Dallas, attended a MarriageRestored weekend
last year. Despite the couples Christian convictions and Johnnys
confession after an adulterous affair, the marriage still appeared
troubled until the MarriageRestored sessions.
"Adultery can be forgiven
and a marriage can be rebuilt if trust, respect, confidence and
emotional security are re-established," Allen says.
Johnny, now 62, says
he learned how to really dialogue and understand what his wife had
suffered emotionally as the couple wrote letters to each other and
read them aloud.
"It opened my eyes to
how much I really loved my wife," he says of the weekend. "Were
more in love now than weve ever been."
*Names have been changed.
W. Kennedy is news editor for Todays Pentecostal Evangel.
E-mail the author at