Christians Divorce At Same Rate As Others But For Different Reasons

(RNS) WASHINGTON–Although traditional Christian teaching rejects divorce and stresses marital fidelity and family values are central to the religious conservatives’ moral agenda, data show divorce strikes born-again Christians at about the same rate as those who don’t profess a born-again experience.

The Barna Research Group, a California-based polling and marketing organization that specializes in religion, even found that those who characterize themselves as “fundamentalist” had a slightly higher divorce rate than the general public.

But other research shows that the way Christians deal with divorce — the reasons they separate and how they handle the pain — might be different from [the way] the general population [deals with it].

couple-1Tom Whiteman, a Philadelphia psychologist and counselor, was disturbed by the data showing that Christians were no more immune to divorce than the general population, so 10 years ago he founded Fresh Start, a divorce recovery ministry.

Whiteman’s doctoral research concurred with Barna’s — devout Christians divorce at about the same rate as others. But, he found, they did so for different reasons.

He found that the number one reason cited in divorce proceedings for the general population was incompatibility, but Christians rarely use that as grounds for a divorce.

“In the Christian population, the reasons are adultery, abuse (including substance, physical and verbal abuse) and abandonment,” Whiteman says.

And Christians tend to hang on to bad marriages longer than others, he says. “The good news is we are staying together longer and taking marriage seriously, but the bad news is we’re putting up with a lot more pain and ending up getting divorced anyway.”

Whiteman believes that Christians who stay in troubled marriages may sometimes be seeking revenge on their mates: “I have heard both men and women say, I’m going to be the instrument of pain in that person’s life.'”

Other unhappy spouses hang on to the hope that their faithfulness in the marriage might actually lead to a change in their mates’ hearts, but that hope is not always rewarded, Whiteman says. “God never promises that he will bring your spouse back. He just promises that whatever happens, he’ll be there.”

The religious spouse may even find his or her faith to be a contributing factor in the breakup.

Whiteman says cases in which one spouse’s religious conversion becomes a “bone of contention” happen occasionally, but the partners hardly ever admit that is the cause. “Usually the unbelieving spouse talks more in terms of jealousy — You care more about that church than you do me.'”

It’s usually the wife who becomes religious, Whiteman says, and her increased activity outside the home creates an off-limits topic of discussion — what he calls an “unsafe area.” “You get enough unsafe areas in the marriage and you’ve got trouble,” Whiteman said.

Once the marriage is irretrievably broken, he says, Christians feel not only the anguish of rejection by their spouse, but a collapse of their belief system, compounded by overwhelming guilt. “Your whole anchor comes undone. You think there’s nothing left to believe in.” (by Pamela H. Long, c. 1997 Religion News Service,; for subscription information, call 800-767-6781)

For more insight on the topic discussed in the above story, read and recommend:

THE COMPLETE STRESS MANAGEMENT WORKBOOK by Dr. Thomas Whiteman, Dr. Samuel Verghese, and Randy Ptersen ($12.99 / ISBN 0-310-20115-2 / Softcover / 256 pp. / 1996 / Zondervan). A step-by-step process that defines stress, gives pretests for identifying sources of stress in your life, identifies unproductive coping strategies, and shows how to make a stress management program part of your daily lifestyle.

THE SECOND HALF OF MARRIAGE: FACING THE EIGHT CHALLENGES OF EVERY LONG-TERM MARRIAGE by David and Claudia Arp ($17.99 / ISBN 0-310-20714-2 / Hardcover / 240 pp. // Audio $14.99 / ISBN 0-310-20978-1 / Two 60-min. tapes / 1996 / Zondervan). Practical insights into making the second half of marriage deeper and more fulfilling.

TEN GREAT DATES TO REVITALIZE YOUR MARRIAGE: THE BEST TIPS FROM THE MARRIAGE ALIVE SEMINARS by David and Claudia Arp ($12.99 / ISBN 0-310-21091-7 / Softcover / 208 pp. // $79.99 / ISBN 0-310-21350-9 / Two 60-min. videos with discussion leader’s guide / April 1997 / Zondervan). This unique book enables couples to rejuvenate their marriages by going on dates that specifically help develop basic and advanced marriage skills. Churches can use its companion video curriculum to conduct a systematic marriage-building campaign in their congregations.

FIT TO BE TIED: MAKING MARRIAGE LAST A LIFETIME by Lynn and Bill Hybels ($12.99 / ISBN 0-310-53371-6 / Softcover / 240 pp. / 1993 / Zondervan). Gold Medallion Award-winning book giving a realistic look at marriage, giving workable strategies for maintaining a healthy, loving relationship as husband and wife.

INSURING MARRIAGE by Michael J. McManus ($5.99 / ISBN 0-310- 20740 / 1 / 112 pp. / 1996 / Zondervan). The author, a leading voice in divorce prevention, presents simple, practical, and proven methods for saving marriages.

MARRIAGE SAVERS: HELPING YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY STAY MARRIED by Michael J. McManus ($14.99 / ISBN 0-310-38661-6 / Softcover / 320 pp. / 1994 / Zondervan). Identifies reasons marriages fail and suggests ways a person, a church, and a community can help couples strengthen their marriages.

THE MARRIAGE MENTOR MANUAL: COUPLES ENCOURAGING COUPLES IN THE FIRST YEAR OF MARRIAGE by Dr. Les Parrott III and Dr. Leslie Parrott ($5.99 / ISBN 0-310-50131-8 / Softcover / 80 pp. / 1995 / Zondervan). This marriage counseling couple offers a practical approach to marriage mentoring.

SAVING YOUR MARRIAGE BEFORE IT STARTS: SEVEN QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE (AND AFTER) YOU MARRY by Dr. Les Parrott III and Dr. Leslie Parrott ($15.99 / ISBN 0-310-49240-8 / Hardcover / 208 pp. / 1995 / Zondervan). Gold Medallion Book Award winner. A complete and thorough way for engaged couples and newlyweds to identify and overcome stumbling blocks to a healthy marriage. Available in audio cassette and video curriculum for small group discussion.

These titles are available at your local bookstore, by calling 1-800-727-3480, or by e-mailing If you live outside the U.S., e-mail for a list of Zondervan’s international distributors.

Article curtsey of © John Mark Ministries