Minus the question of my view on biblical grounds for divorce, I hear this exact same question from a reader about twice a month. “I’ve tried everything, but I can’t divorce because I’m a Christian. What do I do?” So this isn’t an academic question to me, it’s a real world issue and I do my best to help out. Unfortunately the “no divorce” rule makes Christian men very resistant with doing what they need to do to fix their marriage. They always worry it’s going to crash and burn into a sinful divorce. So they play it far too safe and end up bringing a banana to the knife fight.I disagree somewhat with Athol on this subject, although only because he is working off a different postulate. His actual logic is perfectly sound, as removing the threat of divorce for bad, but non-adulterous behavior absolutely does significantly weaken the possible consequences for a poorly behaved spouse of either sex. In fact, if we extend his logic a little further and take the legal realities of Marriage 2.0 into account, we quickly reach the inescapable conclusion that no man should marry at all, since maintaining a long-term relationship without marrying allows for an even broader range of more easily delivered consequences for negative behavior.
Here’s the key problem that Christians miss with their “no divorce” platform. Once you remove the possibility of divorce from the equation, there is no longer an effective consequence for what would otherwise be a genuine relationship breaking problem. Which means relationship breaking problems can never effectively be addressed and end up simply being tolerated.
And indeed, not marrying is precisely what I recommend to men who are not religious. There is no real reason for them to marry in the present social climate and under the current legal regime.
Athol is actually pointing out what should be an obvious fact. If obedience to Biblical principles is your priority, there is a non-zero chance that your marriage will suffer as a result. But this shouldn't be news for the Christian, as Christianity does not promise the easiest path through life, it is supposed to be the hard and narrow way.
There are two mitigating factors, however. The first is that even when divorce is not a Scripturally permissible option, a second wife is. The theoretical prospect of that is much more likely to keep a wife from behaving badly than the hypothetical threat of a divorce, since the thought of a replacement is intrinsically more threatening to a woman than a simple parting of the ways. While second wives were not a legal option under Marriage 1.0, they are already tacitly recognized in both Canada and the UK, and will likely be effectively legal in the USA in the relatively near future. So, the prospect of potentially taking a second wife could serve as a replacement for the lack of a credible divorce consequence.
Second, let's be realistic here. Given what we know of female behavior in the current milieu, what are the chances that a wife whose behavior is dreadful enough to rationally justify the desire for a divorce on her husband's will not indulge in the sexually immoral behavior that permits Christian divorce? Especially if she's active on Facebook and ten other social media sites. Recall that the standard is "sexual immorality" outside of marriage, it is not limited to adultery. Women in the 35-44 age range are the women most given to "sexting"; 25 percent of them report doing it and it is unlikely that all of them are single or adulterous.
So I'm not saying that Athol is wrong, only that running the risk of reducing the range of actions for which divorce is a permissible consequence is lower than it appears, and that risk is something that Christian men simply have to accept and take into account when they consider marriage.