I’ve met many Christians who are determined to never get a divorce due to their biblical convictions, but I find the goal of simply not getting divorced to be extremely short-sighted. I’m not here to make a case for or against divorce, but my point here is that there are many seemingly “intact” marriages that are so unhealthy that their kids can only be described as growing up in a broken home.
Kids thrive best in a stable, loving, secure home with a mom and a dad who love them and love each other. A mentor of mine said decades ago that the best gift you can give your kids is to display love for your spouse. I agree.
Here are two scenarios that in my view constitute a broken marriage.
Lack of Affection. Over a decade ago, I wrote about the importance of affection in marriage. My views haven’t changed. Most marriages begin with affection, but many couples lose it along the way. Do we who are married show our kids that marriage is a delight or do they see ours as a loveless, contractual arrangement where we parents simply co-exist? If our wedding vows have morphed into “I will tolerate you ’till death do us part,” what would compel our kids to ever want to make wedding vows at all? So many couples function as roommates rather than lovers, which falls short of God’s design for marriage (e.g., Song of Solomon). Plus, affectionless marriages naturally cause worry that affection may be sought outside the marriage, raising insecurities for the whole family. The stakes are high. If you are in a loveless marriage, now is the time to get marriage counseling to recover that affection! How healing it would be for your kids to witness the rekindling of your affection.
Adversarial Relationship. The concerns expressed above rise exponentially when parents display an adversarial relationship toward one other. Parents, to whom kids look to instill safety, stability, and security in the home, instead instill fears and insecurities when they yell, swear, insult, criticize, get defensive, withdraw, or show contempt toward their spouse in front of the kids. Do you know that parents are by far the greatest influence on their children? That’s why when parents model destructive ways of interacting with others, kids often follow their example. And all this hostility in the home makes it more likely these kids will develop chronic fear, depression, and anxiety disorders. The stakes are high. If you are in an adversarial marriage, now is the time to get marriage counseling. Let your kids have a front-row seat as you repent and repair your marriage, being transformed from adversaries to allies.
In summary, simply avoiding divorce is not sufficient. If your unhealthy marriage is harming you and your kids, take the step to get marriage counseling. If you live in Iowa, I have a great place to recommend! My colleagues and I would love to help you!