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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Too Quick to Divorce

By John W. Kennedy
Oct. 21, 2012

Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs seemed to have the ideal marriage, with good-paying corporate jobs and all the material possessions they wanted. But two years into the union, Cheryl began to feel detached from her husband.

“We weren’t connected emotionally enough where I could tell him I was really struggling,” recalls Cheryl, admitting she had unrealistic expectations about matrimony. “I didn’t share any weaknesses; I kept a smile on my face.”

Six years into the marriage, Cheryl gave birth to twin daughters, and she thought the girls might be the solution to her emptiness. Yet two years later, Cheryl and a male co-worker exchanged details of their unhappy marriages — and began an affair. Cheryl thought God had finally put the right man in her life, her “soul mate.”

Cheryl blindsided Jeff with the revelation that she didn’t love him and wanted a divorce.

“I felt getting out of the marriage was the answer because I had no idea how to fix it,” Cheryl says. “I didn’t confide in anybody, not even my family.”

Even though the Scruggs family had started attending church regularly, Cheryl proceeded with her plan.

“I was so deceived into thinking divorce was the answer, that I could finally love my life and be who I really was,” she says. “I only felt ‘freedom’ for the first night.”

Stigma fades

Wedding vows and biblical admonitions notwithstanding, divorce remains rampant in many Christian circles.

No-fault divorce — in which one party merely cites “incompatibility” or “irreconcilable differences” — is available in every state. Although one spouse sometimes has no say in the matter because the other partner adamantly refuses to reconsider, the fact is that many divorces could be averted if the couple resolved to work through their problems.

Churchgoing couples often don’t seek help because of a culture of silence. Subsequently, a husband and wife frequently are long into the divorce process before they reveal troubles to anyone else.

“Though we live in a more relational society today, unfortunately many times our relationships are more superficial than we want to admit,” says Gary R. Allen of the Assemblies of God national Office of Pastor Care. “So when there is a problem in a relationship, they are hesitant to admit it.”

“Isolation and shame are two of Satan’s most effective tools,” says Glenn T. Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colo. “Shame causes people to stay isolated so they don’t want to be honest about their issues. They think it will all work out, but it doesn’t.”

There is no shortage of stressors on marriages these days, from mounting credit card debt to succumbing to pornography temptations.

The stigma once attached to divorce has largely faded, even in the church. A Gallup poll in May found that only 25 percent of Americans consider divorce “morally wrong.” More people (35 percent) believe wearing clothing made from animal fur is immoral.

Yet those who attend church regularly often feel stymied when it comes to divulging ongoing conflict.

“There is a weird juxtaposition of ‘I really can’t talk about it because I know it’s morally the wrong thing to do and there’s no biblical cause, but on the other hand I want to leave this unhappy relationship,’” says Linda S. Mintle, author of I Married You, Not Your Family.

Mintle believes individuals may substitute a popular culture image of marriage for a biblical view.

“It’s all about my happiness; I deserve better,” Mintle says. “It’s not a covenant.”

Weathering the storm

Allen acknowledges both individuals in a relationship must be open to saving the union for reconciliation to occur.

While physical abuse, infidelity and abandonment figure into the cause of some divorces, the majority of divorcing people go their separate ways unwilling to resolve fixable problems, according to Mintle, a Christian licensed marriage and family therapist in Chesapeake, Va.

Fewer couples likely would consider divorce if other Christians encouraged them to try to work through their conflicts, including acute ones.

“There is grace and forgiveness if couples are willing to work,” Mintle says. “I sometimes tell couples they can either work on their issues now with each other or in the future with a different spouse.”

“Whether it’s selfishness, lack of communication, stubbornness or infidelity, we are supposed to forgive, even when it’s tough,” says Dennis Franck, director of AG Single Adult Ministries.

Stanton, in his book Why Marriage Matters, illustrates that staying married is advantageous for multiple practical reasons, ranging from advancing in one’s career to living longer.

“Every important measure of human well-being is enhanced by being married and is diminished by the process of divorce,” Stanton says.

Similar data show that children also benefit from intact families, for example, by faring better in school and engaging in fewer casual sexual encounters.

In the long run, those who stay together usually are grateful they endured the difficult challenges rather than later living with the regret that they didn’t do enough to try to salvage the union, according to Linda Miller-deBerard, an Assemblies of God marriage counselor in Colleyville and Southlake, Texas.

Being a loving and compatible partner in a marriage takes energy, and conflict doesn’t go away on its own, Miller-deBerard says. Before contemplating divorce, people need to realize how much trauma is involved. Typically, couples eager to split don’t think of how antagonistic the process will be, how much it will cost legally, or what it will be like to spend holidays without their children, she says.

The pain of present circumstances is enough to make various couples give up. However, Assemblies of God Chaplain David W. Taylor, a marriage and family counselor in Westcliffe, Colo. (, says a majority of Christian counseling clients report a year after divorce that they wish they had tried harder to make the failed marriage work.

“Often people don’t realize how devastating divorce is until their second marriage is disintegrating,” Allen says.

Indeed, the consensus among researchers is that divorce doesn’t result in happiness, but those who stay attached eventually get through the major point of strife and are better for it.

“Divorce sometimes creates as many problems as it solves,” Franck says. “People don’t realize the far-reaching implications of what the divorced life entails emotionally, financially, spiritually, relationally — all of which last a lifetime.”

Keeping up appearances

Although Stanton says God’s plan is for Christians to be accountable to one another, churches and parachurch ministries tend to facilitate hiding by implying that good families don’t have struggles.

“There are no perfect families,” Stanton says. “Every marriage has problems.”

Christians need to remember their wedding vows, which warn of times of poverty and sickness, Stanton says. He believes God’s unyielding love for His wayward people described in the Book of Hosea is a model for a spouse who needs to forgive the behavior of the other partner.

“God is communicating to us that we shouldn’t give up on our beloved,” Stanton says. “God isn’t shocked by any of our stories.”

“All couples go into conflict,” Miller-deBerard says. “Do we let our conflict make us stronger and help us grow, or do we let it damage us and ultimately end the marriage?”

Miller-deBerard says the church should be the place where couples find mentoring and guidance, but hurting people don’t always feel free to ask.

“It’s important to be seen as having it together,” Miller-deBerard says. “Christian couples fear being judged or criticized or not accepted if they admit having serious marital problems.”

Taylor says most couples divorce without seeking any spiritual advice. He adds that many contemplating divorce already have made up their minds and don’t want to be deterred.

“The enemy has seduced our nation into believing the pain and costs of divorce are not that great,” Taylor says.

Finding help

Allen encourages pastors to preach at least twice a year about marriage and family. Experts also encourage churches to hold a marriage enrichment retreat or workshop on a regular basis. In addition, solid, older married couples in the church can counsel and mentor younger, troubled husbands and wives. All these efforts send the message that needing help in marriage isn’t unusual.

A key to keeping a marriage from crumbling is to avoid isolation, and instead to solicit the wisdom — and prayers — of others.

“It is very important to talk to people who are in your circle, people who you know and you trust and have relationship with, so that they can speak into your life,” Mintle says. “When you are in the middle of something that is so emotionally difficult, you lose perspective. People will go to classes to learn how to cook or sail a boat, but for fixing a marriage they wait too long.”

Miller-deBerard, who is a licensed Christian therapist, concedes if the conflict is potentially lethal the relationship may be untenable.

Even if divorce occurs, God doesn’t abandon His followers.

The Scruggses, who live in Plano, Texas, have experienced restoration.

Three months after the finalization of the 1992 divorce, Cheryl made a firm commitment to the Lord. Three months later, she asked Jeff to consider reconciling. But Jeff, who also had become a faithful rather than nominal Christ follower, had issues about trusting her again. Finally, 6½ years later, the couple reunited. They now have been remarried for 13 years.

“When I grasped what Jesus did for me, I got over my pride of what people would think,” says Jeff, 54. “How could I not forgive Cheryl? She really was a new creation.”

After their restoration, the Scruggses began helping more and more couples in their church. They wrote the book I Do Again, and now are full-time counselors and ministry speakers with Hope Matters Marriage Ministries.

“Marriage is worth fighting for, but a lot of people don’t know where to turn for help,” says Cheryl, 53. “Finding the right pastor or counselor is getting the help, not giving up.”

“Things still come up that we don’t agree on, but we know we’re going to work it out,” Jeff says. “Now we’re both focused on the Lord first.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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