Updated: Oct 14
6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Seeking a Divorce for Irreconcilable Differences
This just isn’t working.
Do you feel like you’re in a marriage that is beyond repair?
Every day is a challenge.
All you do is fight- about how to parent, how to manage money, how to spend your time, how to handle in-laws, the best job scenarios for your family- the list goes on and on and on.
The only thing you can agree upon is My Marriage is OVER; I WANT OUT!
Are you thinking: This is NOT what I signed up for! There are so many things wrong with our marriage, I don’t even know where to begin. We both need a fresh start. Maybe it’s time to cut our losses and wipe the slate clean once and for all.?
Perhaps you’re now looking at the legal options before you. You read “irreconcilable differences”- two magical words for the fastest, most pain-free divorce.
And then you wonder: How did it come to this?
There hasn’t been an affair or abuse. You just can’t get on the same page.
The truth is, we all enter marriage with a strong set of expectations, personal preferences, and opinions.
Do any of these statements resonate with you?
I know what is best for me; I know what I need
I know what’s best for our kids/our family
We’ve tried other things, but this is what I KNOW works best for everyone in the end
These assertions (whether spoken or lived out) create a culture within our home.
It is a culture with laws and rules that we believe are beneficial for everyone else to follow. Maybe, at first, your spouse and children do follow the rules. But over time, that behavior dwindles, and your expectations are continuously unmet.
Tension, bitterness and anger grow.
Love is pushed aside; discontentment and disappointment move in and take root.
Now your spouse shows NO respect; they don’t even know your needs, let alone care about them. There’s no connection anymore, just convoluted conversation.
This isn’t how marriage is supposed to be, you think. Your spouse couldn’t agree more.
So, there you stand: on opposite sides of an impossible hurdle built from all the wrongs, pain, hurt, and years of unmet expectations between you.
You both stare at the irreconcilable differences that could be the demise of your marriage and think, It’s over.
And you know what?
Most people in the world would say this is just fine.
Did you know that “irreconcilable differences” is a “no-fault” reason for divorce in the United States? This means no one is going to jail for doing something wrong; it’s “nobody’s fault”… legally speaking. You can cite something innocuous to initiate a divorce, then sign a dissolution stating, “this contract is over.”
It might be simple if that’s all marriage is: a contract.
But God asks us to make a covenant with our spouse when we marry them.
What God has joined together, let no one split apart (Matthew 19:6).
So, if you are considering divorce based on irreconcilable differences, please first…
Ask yourself the 6 questions that follow in this post
Consider the story of Jonah- a story that shows God’s heart and His ability to save anyone and any relationship- yes, even your marriage
Jonah sets the stage
Jonah resembles you and I in many ways; mainly in how God chose to love him, teach him, and use him for His good purposes, despite Jonah’s many failings and rebellious nature.
In chapter one of the Old Testament book Jonah, God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach a message of repentance to the people.
Rather than obeying, Jonah wastes no time- he boards a ship to a far-away land, trying his best to escape this directive from God. So, God sends a powerful storm; it threatens to break the ship apart.
The men on board questioned why this was happening, and what they were to do. Jonah replied, “Throw me into the sea and it will become calm again. I know this terrible storm is all my fault” (v. 12). They did just that.
Verse 17 tells us that the Lord arranged for a great fish (maybe a whale) to swallow Jonah, and he was inside the fish for three days and three nights.
In Chapter 2, we find out what happens to Jonah while he is there, in the miserable darkness of a big fish’s belly in the middle of the sea.
Can you imagine the kind of heart change that would bring about?
Put a pin in Jonah’s story, we’ll come back to it.
Let’s check out question #1 of the six that I want you to ask yourself:
What did I want when I got married? What did I expect?
Think of answers to the following questions in the context of when you were dating/first married, when your relationship was new and exciting.
Did you want a dream-come-true, perfect-for-you spouse, aka your soulmate? The “perfect” marriage filled with romance, laughter, and adventure? The kind of relationship that makes other people jealous, and matches/exceeds all your expectations, making you feel good?
On what issues were you willing/not willing to compromise?
What kinds of expectations, “rules”, and opinions did you have about marriage, and your individual roles in marriage?
Seeds of selfishness are planted when we’re dating. Those seeds continue to grow in our marriage. (i.e., Have you ever tried to protect your “me time”, even if it comes at the expense of connection with your spouse?)
When we don’t get what we want AND we see our relationship struggle, we blame our spouse rather than looking inward.
“He didn’t give me what I asked for.”
“She wasn’t playing by my rules.”
“It’s her fault our marriage is so crappy.”
We begin to withhold grace, generosity, and love as payback or revenge. The hurt they’ve caused is inexcusable; they deserve nothing from us. If I give, he’s only going to take.
Guess what? Our spouse is feeling the same way about us.
They have their own set of preferences, opinions, and expectations.
Divided we stand, staring at the hurdle from two different sides; ruled by our desires.
He was ruled by his desires, too.
God asked Jonah to be His mouthpiece and talk to the evil, sinful people of Nineveh. But Jonah’s initial response- boarding a ship away from Nineveh- showed his opinion about what God wanted.
Jonah didn’t think he was the one for the job. Maybe God should find someone else?
“Give me a new assignment, please, God. I didn’t sign up for this! it’s too hard; there must be something easier.”
Consider for a moment, your husband/wife…
What does your spouse want?
Think of the people of Nineveh. They lived in a culture of sin, death, murder, and destruction. They didn’t want their corrupt choices exposed.
The dark was comfortable, they avoided the Light at all costs.
What the Ninevites pursued showed the actual NEED of their hearts.
What if God has placed you in your spouse’s life to help them understand their true need; what will actually fulfill them?
If they think having their expectations met, opinions justified, and preferences prioritized will make them happy, you are in the unique position (just like Jonah was to Nineveh) to lovingly show them the Truth: HE IS THE ONLY ONE WHO TRULY SATISFIES (Psalm 16:11, Isaiah 58:11).
So, consider this…
Why did God create marriage?
When we’re trying to jump the same hurdles over and over and over again, it’s easy to think: How was I stupid enough to make this mistake in the first place? I should’ve known better. I keep trying to make it work, but I’ve failed. Our marriage is over. (If you strongly feel this, check out My Marriage is OVER: Part 1 and Part 2.)
This is when we must open our eyes to God’s plan for marriage and understand His purpose.
God created marriage.
He created your marriage.
And His creation has a bigger purpose than just surviving or going on auto-pilot.
His ultimate goal is to use YOU in your spouse’s life to show HIS LOVE for them.
You can respond like Jonah did initially: “Give me a new assignment, please, God. I didn’t sign up for this! it’s too hard; there must be something easier.”
You can cry out to the Lord to restore your marriage, to bring healing and reconciliation to you and your spouse. Just like Jonah did in the belly of the fish. I cried out to the Lord in my great trouble, and He answered me. I called to You from the land of the dead, and Lord, you heard me! (Jonah 2:2).
Jonah’s eyes were opened; He could see and understand God’s purpose, so he knew what he needed to do next.
God loved the people of Nineveh. He wanted to use Jonah to show just that.
God loves your spouse. He wants to use YOU to show just that.
What an exciting opportunity. What a beautiful privilege.
Do you know what to do next?
What have I tried?
Often times, the first thing people ask when they hear you’re on the brink of divorce is, “Have you tried marriage counseling?”
But sometimes we get others involved in our marital mess because we are looking for someone to agree with us; to tell us we’re doing the right thing given our circumstances.
We may think all we’re missing is some good advice.
Pay close attention to who you’re getting your advice from. Is it someone who is just placating your feelings? Or someone who is speaking truth into your life, no matter how hard it may be to hear?
When he focused on his perspective, he ran away from God, ignoring the needs of others and thinking only of his own. Doing so got him in trouble with the Lord. (Remember the storm?) He jumped on board a ship and shared his troubles with his shipmates.
Just as no one lives in a vacuum, so also no one sins in a vacuum.
So, get help, yes. But be wise about the people and sources from whom you seek counsel.
Is there ANYTHING that will turn this marriage around?
God got Jonah’s attention by putting him in an uncomfortable situation. Jonah 1:17 says The Lord ARRANGED for a great fish to swallow Jonah.
Like Jonah, when we don’t listen, God will do something to get our attention. He will sometimes allow a metaphorical whale to swallow us whole.
Our selfishness, our love of worldly things, our pride- all of these will consume us in darkness until we find ourselves living in a stinking fish belly from which we can’t escape.
Could it be that God has placed you in this uncomfortable situation with your spouse because He’s trying to get your attention? Could it be He wants to open your eyes so you will see HIM?
In Hebrews 12, God says He disciplines those He loves so that we can share in His holiness. He loves us enough to squeeze till it hurts. And sometimes it takes a Herculin hug from Him before we begin to see- He IS working.
It took Jonah a little while to understand, also; it wasn’t an immediate turnaround while he sat in the dark in the belly of the fish in the middle of the sea. 3 days and 3 long nights later, he asks for help.
Next, he recognizes God is sovereign- He’s in charge and working all things together for our good and His glory. Jonah is saying, “You’re powerful enough to put me in my place, and powerful enough to get me out of it.” (Jonah 2:3-6)
Finally, in verses 6-9, he admits he needs God; nothing besides God can save him. He confesses his misjudgment of God as narrow-minded, the assumption that God’s grace was only for those who were trying to do right… people like himself.
Jonah didn't think God would love people who were reveling in their sin, so he himself didn't want to either. But nothing is impossible with God.
Because he had an incorrect belief about God, Jonah had an incorrect belief about himself and others.
If we see God as narrow-minded, we are quick to make judgements, point fingers, and seek justice for those doing wrong. Like Jonah, we assume we are “outside” God’s judgment and the sin of our spouse, kids, and those around us.
But God wants to show His mercy, grace, and compassionate love to us as much as He did to Nineveh, and as much as He does to our loved ones.
Believing the truth about God, His grace, and His love changes EVERYTHING. It puts us with our spouse on the same side of the “irreconcilable differences” hurdle; one of us no better or worse than the other. From that point, we can be on mission for God in loving our spouse.
Am I willing to try one more thing?
That’s ultimately what it boils down to.
What do you believe about salvation? Do we have to earn it, or receive it as a gift?
Do you believe God is gracious to us in our sin? Does His grace extend to your spouse’s sin? If the answer is yes, then it covers ALL their sin; you don’t get to draw the line on where His grace stops (Colossians 2:14).
Jonah’s change in belief moved him to repent to the point of change. The moment he turned his heart toward God and saw that His grace was not only needed to save the vilest of people, but also himself, God brought him out of the pit.
He got a second chance.
God can step in and change things that seem impossible.
He can rescue you from yourself. He can rescue your marriage.
Vow to change: an encouraging call to action
Ask God to reveal your heart and open your eyes to whatever He wants you to see as you write down answers to the following questions:
What expectations- spoken and unspoken- have you placed on your spouse? Have these expectations become insurmountable hurdles between you? Are you willing to let go of these expectations/idols to bring unity back to your marriage?
What are the real needs you see from your spouse’s actions? List 5 specific ways you will show God’s love to your spouse this week. Better yet, ask them how you can better serve/love them this week.
Ask God for help- pray that when you think about your spouse, your mind and heart will be filled with grace and love toward them.
Seek to know and understand God’s purpose for marriage. For more information, check out Is Change Even Possible for My Marriage?
Assess your options for help. Seek Biblical marriage counseling or ask your pastor at church for help. Meet weekly with a married mentor couple who can pray for you and speak truth into your marriage. Find an accountability partner who will check in with you daily/weekly/monthly. Don’t stay in the dark, bring your marriage to the light.
Do you think God has placed you in this uncomfortable season because He wants to teach you something about HIM? What are some beliefs you have that are currently being challenged? Search Scriptures to find answers for your questions.
Are you willing to try one more thing? If you haven’t already done so, are you willing to place your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If so, confess your sin to Him and accept His gift of grace. Become a new creation.
Check it out
For more encouragement to see beyond what may seem like irreconcilable differences, and move toward the hope that lies ahead for your marriage, read part 2 of I Want a Divorce.
Listen to the corresponding podcast: