A recent Pew study notes that divorce is contagious. The research team “found that study participants were 75% more likely to become divorced if a friend is divorced and 33% more likely to end their marriage if a friend of a friend is divorced.” Further, the article notes the obvious cause and effect: if my friends’ marriages are strong and stable, mine is more likely to be as well. Marriages endure within the context of “strong, supportive friendship networks,” because the support of friends lends strength to persevere through the “inevitable marital stresses.”
To some degree, the study echoes common sense: if something is treated as acceptable by my friends and family members, I’ll probably treat it as acceptable. This lends further sociological weight to the often-misunderstood concept of church discipline. Biblically speaking, discipline is not first and foremost about punishment, public condemnation or excommunication. Discipline is about the church’s call to holy living for the sake of bearing witness to God’s kingdom. When Jesus outlines the call to community discipline, this confrontation about sin and commitment to spiritual growth is not some abnormal step to be taken in extreme cases; it is a normal part of His disciples’ lives.
As Christians, then, God calls us to make our friends’ marriages our business. How can we do this? Here are a few suggestions:
- Seek first the kingdom. Be clear with your spouse and other Christian couples about the goal of marriage: seeking the kingdom of God. If we are actively working on a mission larger than our own comfort or interests, we will be less likely to think our spouses are there simply to make us happy.
- Time. We must spend time with other couples and individuals to forge bonds of friendship and accountability. Time is hard to come by, but it’s necessary. If we don’t have at least one trusted Christian friend to offer wisdom or share struggles, we put ourselves in a dangerous spot. Relationships of trust, though, take time to build.
- Space for honesty. Whether in small group settings or personal conversations, we must create space for honest dialogue about the difficulties of marriage. We must be genuine and authentic without letting “authenticity” become an excuse for divorce. We must be committed to discipleship and holiness without letting “holiness” become an excuse for arrogance or legalism.
- Develop intergenerational friendships. Look to those older than you for their wisdom and experience; look to those younger than you for the purpose of passing on your own wisdom and experience. Look to those older than you for examples of how commitment can carry you through when initial feelings of romance wane; look to those younger than you as a reminder of the importance of romance for sustaining long-term commitment.
- Watch your language. Language shapes reality. Barbara Dafoe Whitehead points out that our culture has accepted divorce as normal because we have shifted from talking about responsibility (to one’s spouse, children and society as a whole) and have made the individual’s psychological and emotional “fulfillment” the ultimate measure of why we do what we do. Friends don’t let friends use psychological or emotional rationalizations to justify something as painful as divorce.
In the meantime, Christians should take heart. Being an active Christian is a good indicator that you are less likely to get divorced. And the more we make each other’s marriages our business, the more we will truly be about our Father’s business.
If we don’t have at least one trusted Christian friend to offer wisdom or share struggles, we put ourselves in a dangerous spot.