I’ve mentioned before our need as a husband or wife to search our hearts. To see if there is any way in which we have hardened our hearts to God, or to our spouse. This is important for any marriage, whether we think it’s healthy or not.
Because if your heart is starting to harden to God or to your spouse, your marriage is in trouble, or very soon will be.
But what happens when our spouse’s heart is starting to harden? Or has already hardened? What do we do?
It’s a hard issue to deal with. And there are only two such cases that are specifically dealt with in scripture. One is in the case where our partner is involved in adultery. And not only involved in adultery, but is completely unrepentant. Jesus specifically says in the Matthew passage, that divorcing that person and marrying another would not be considered adultery in the eyes of God. Probably, because in the eyes of God, the other person has hardened their heart to the point that the bond has been completely broken. Your partner has become “one” with another. The same can be said if you have been divorced, and your ex-partner has since remarried. In these cases, you are no longer bound to that person.
How about a one-time affair that your partner has repented of? That is less clear. Trust broken at that level is difficult to restore. Not impossible, but very difficult. That said, if your partner has repented, I do believe that it is God’s will that you stay with your spouse. It won’t be easy. And you’ll definitely need the support of others on top of the grace of God. It will take time, probably much time to restore the trust. But it can be done. And if your heart and the heart of your spouse is softened to Him, He can bring healing to your heart and to your marriage.
The apostle Paul brings up another situation in I Corinthian 7. Namely, abandonment. He says if your spouse is a non-believer, and they choose to walk away from you, you are not bound to stay married to that person. They have hardened their heart to you to the point where the bond is broken. I believe that you could extrapolate that to any case of abandonment, whether your spouse is a believer or not. If your partner is determined to divorce you, then let them go.
A possible third situation is domestic violence. In Malachi, God told the people,
Do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (2:15)
God then goes on to say,
I hate divorce…and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment. (2:16)
Here we see the problem of abandonment, but we also see the problem of violence. And I think you could make the case that both are instances of breaking faith. If you are in danger from your spouse, if they are abusing you and they refuse to get help, I don’t think you are bound in that situation to stay with that person.
All this said, before you make any decision, search your heart. And again, ask, “Is there any way in which I have hardened my heart to my spouse or to God?” As long as the answer to that question is yes, I think you should put off ideas of divorce. But if the point comes where you can honestly say that you have totally opened your heart to God and to your spouse, but your spouse has hardened their heart to you, then I think at that point, God will not hold you to that marriage.
God does not command that you divorce your spouse in those instances. But he does understand and permits it.