What Are The Definitions For Divorce?

Morning friend,

I’m in Chicago. Appreciate your prayers for my step-mom. She is lucid and we’re grateful for the time we have to say our goodbyes and love on her. On another note, Lord willing I will be doing a live webinar (from Chicago) Thursday at Noon ET and 7:30 PM ET, on Four Lies That Christian Women Believe That Keep Them Stuck And Afraid in Their Destructive Marriage. To attend, you must sign up. Here is the link.

Today’s Question: Are there any other acceptable biblical reasons for leaving a marriage except abandonment and adultery? What would be the scripture reference for those other than the above? 

Answer: The answer depends on who you listen to and how you (or they) define abandonment and adultery. For example, is adultery biblically defined only by sexual intercourse with a person you are not married to? Or is Biblical adultery better described as a pattern of unrepentant unfaithfulness?

Adultery could be defined as sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse. But I believe it also could be expanded to include emotional affairs, oral sex, pornography use, and other sexual acting out outside of marriage. But the Bible also describes a generic unfaithfulness to Israel’s covenant relationship with God by using the term adultery. (see Jeremiah 3:8, Ezekiel 16 and Ezekiel 23), where God divorced Israel. 

The same confusion revolves around interpreting the word abandonment. Traditionally, pastors have viewed abandonment in marriage as physically abandoning the marriage. For example, moving away. Not having contact. But in my opinion, that definition is too narrow. 

What about a person who serves in the military? Or works overseas? He or (she) may not live at home, but usually, they are still connected. They have not abandoned their family emotionally or financially, even if they are not present physically. We wouldn’t describe their behavior as abandonment even if he or she was not present for long periods of time. 

But what about a spouse who is present physically? A spouse who still lives at home, but in every other way has abandoned the marital covenant to cherish, love, and provide? Would that be considered Biblical abandonment? That is debatable in some churches but I believe it qualifies. Here’s a verse that would support this as God’s view of abandonment. 

“If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy. If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making payment.” Exodus 21:10,11. In this verse God cares and provides for the “least of these”. A slave wife. A woman who culturally had no rights in a patriarchal culture. Yet, God says she does have rights as a wife and if those rights are neglected (abandonment), she has a right to leave the marriage. 

When people quote the passage in Malachi 2:16 about God hating divorce, an alternative translation of that text implies God hates when a man treacherously (or carelessly) divorces his wife. In other words, God does not condone divorce for reasons like “I don’t love you anymore” or “I found someone else” or “I’m tired of you.” [Tweet “Marriage is a sacred covenant that God takes seriously and we ought to as well.”] However, God is also realistic enough to know the hardness of some people’s hearts and their cruelty as well as unfaithfulness. He does not ask a wife or husband to stay married to someone who is repeatedly unfaithful to their vows, unrepentant, and unwilling to change. 

Even God himself does not offer unconditional relationship with everyone. He tells us “Your sin separates me from you (Isaiah 59:2).” Jesus died to reconcile us with God but if we are not repentant and accept this gift from God’s unconditional love, we stay separated from him. (see John 3:36). When a spouse is unfaithful whether sexually or through abandoning his/her marital promises and is unrepentant or unwilling to change, a safe and trusting marriage is not possible. To pretend otherwise, does not give glory to God nor help someone come to his or her senses.

But here is where your own work comes in. Among conservative Christians, there is not full agreement on this topic. Therefore, whatever you decide, you will have those who disagree. I’d encourage you to read through the Scriptures on this topic, pray, ask God for wisdom and direction, and trust him to lead you to how you need to view your situation and your next right steps forward to follow God. [Tweet “So often a woman is directed to do whatever it takes to save her marriage, but I think that’s wrong counsel.”] She is to be a God-centered woman, not a husband/marriage-centered woman. Follow God first. Do what he says to do and leave the outcome of your marriage in God’s sovereign hands.

Friend, how would you define adultery and abandonment, and have you seen other Biblical reasons for divorce?

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10 Comments

  1. Sandi Wilson on August 18, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    Praying for you Leslie, your Dad and Family, as you start to go and walk through this grieving journey. May God have mercy and take your Step-Mom out of her pain and to her forever home in Paradise! 💐🙏🏻💞

    • Leslie Vernick on August 18, 2021 at 3:51 pm

      Thanks Sandi, – are you my friend from Arizona and AACC or another Sandi Wilson?

  2. Janice D on August 18, 2021 at 4:34 pm

    My husband is unable/unwilling to “ leave and cleave” and I believe this is a form of both emotional adultery and abandonment.He values and prioritizes his family of origin over his own family.I moved out 3 years ago and am legally separated.Nothing has changed,in fact he seems more enmeshed with his mom and sister.God has been so kind in providing healing for me.I continue to pray for freedom from the bondage he is in,while he continues to deny the reality and ask for reconciliation.

  3. Autumn on August 18, 2021 at 10:28 pm

    I think that we need not limit ourselves to only adultery and abandonment when it comes to marriage. I think we have multiple reasons not to be with a person who is evil or a fool. I think we confuse ourselves when we are married to an evil fool and think they are somehow exempt from biblical advice because we are married to them. Apply all the cautious teachings about removing yourself from evil, irregardless if that person is your spouse. The teaching to flee, like in the book of Samuel for example, applies to ALL people, even the person you married. Bye,bye evil fool. Adios.

    • Maria on August 18, 2021 at 11:30 pm

      What a wisdom! Thank you! It helped me a lot!

      • Autumn on August 19, 2021 at 6:28 pm

        So glad this was helpful to you. I remain shocked that it isn’t preached from the pulpit. Mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin or husband, the bible does not differentiate a specific protocol of behavior based on our relationship to a hard hearted, evil, lying fool. A fool is a fool and an evil person is evil. We are to have nothing to do with them. Run from it.

    • Leslie Vernick on August 24, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Agreed, but the question was about those terms and I’m limited in how much I can say in one blog, but thanks for your added comments. That’s why our conversation is so helpful to the group. We add more to what has already been said.

  4. Maria on August 19, 2021 at 2:59 am

    Please, listen to Theology Mom. She is so wise and full of grace. https://youtu.be/Lv8ReZ-H07k

  5. Catalina (Alias) on October 5, 2021 at 5:58 pm

    I asked my husband for a divorce in July after many years of verbal, emotional, and even physical abuse. He of course refuses to leave the house and so we all (kids too) are living together until the courts start moving (Covid is slowing things down). Leslie’s videos help me so much and really keep me grounded in God’s word.
    I’ve realized that even though he’s never cheated on me, he’s done things just as bad. He makes it difficult to co-exist since he follows me around the house, forcing a conversation at times and even follows me to places like the beach when I go without him. Please pray for peace, patience, and that God will help move forward so my kids and I can finally live without him.

  6. Jordyn on May 18, 2024 at 2:49 pm

    My husband had multiple secret additions, (deceit with money, smoking, shopping), and a porn addiction for our marriage of almost 3 years. I seriously loved him and wanted to help, and he said I need you to be his wife and not his addictions counselor. All I had recommended was for him to be honest, and get some help and accountability. I didn’t know about the pornography addiction till almost the very end Of our marriage, but I had always asked about it because he would often deny me, but he had said he just really didn’t have an interest or desire for sex.

    I really desired the whole time in our marriage to be intimate with him because I loved him, and he would reject me often, until finally I asked him what was wrong and he got really angry, and he said it was because I was gaining weight and he wasn’t attracted to me anymore. Come to find out he said that he doesn’t even know if he’s ever been attracted to me, but even when we were dating, and it was the Christian thing to do to get married. He said that I have a food addiction, and he has disgusted to be intimate with me.

    I set a boundary with him saying I loved him, but he needed to not continue to say hurtful things to me and live in our home. I was supporting us with my job as the primary income maker. He said that I was a seven out of 10, and that at the beginning of our marriage, he was spiritually attracted to me, but now he is no longer spiritually emotionally or physically attracted to me. All sorts of names said I steamrolled him and emasculated him. He said he didn’t want to look back in 15 years and regret staying in the marriage. He said he was desperate for sex, but just not with me.

    I asked him please be kind to me, I know he was trying to figure out a lot of things… But he was just destroying my confidence in the process. He would turn off his phone, and would go out and turn off his location. On the day of our second marriage counseling, before the session, he had left the house and he had gone, and I found all these papers on our kitchen counter that he had written and accidentally left out saying, “can’t I have standards about the way my wife’s breasts look, or about the way her skin sags.” He even talked about how I wasn’t what he expected on our wedding night and was really cruel about it. On this note underlined, it said I want a divorce.

    I took photos of this note to our marriage counseling session that day, and asked for a separation because I had asked him to not hurt me like he had, and he had left this horrible note out And I didn’t feel safe with him staying at our apartment, trying to figure stuff out. He Started saying saying that I never respect his boundaries and that I should’ve never read that note.

    In the counseling session, said well I guess I’m leaving now and headed out of state, and literally went to our apartment and packed up almost all of his stuff and put it in the storage unit in one weekend and left town across the country. He never reached back out again, except to say that he had move some things around with his health insurance, he was gonna be on his own, but didn’t file.

    I literally never wanted a divorce, but I was encouraged by my counselor, my pastor and people in our church, That this marriage needs to end, and that he has abandoned the marriage. I ended up filing for divorce, and we are officially now divorced but it’s just so crazy how fast it all happened. It’s been six months since he left, and I still feel like I am just reeling from all of this. Everyone in my life said this was abandonment, it’s just so crazy.

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