By Joy Allmond
When a couple divorces, how does that affect the future marriage stability for their children?
According to Understanding the Divorce Cycle by Nicholas Wolfinger, people are 40 percent more likely to get divorced if their parents divorce—and 91 percent more likely to get divorced if their parents married others after their divorce.
Joshua Straub, Lifeway’s marriage and family strategist, didn’t want to be one of those statistics. His parents divorced when he was 10, and he was in college when his dad’s remarriage ended.
“This is why I do what I do,” says Straub, who developed his passion for helping marriages and families thrive while he was in seminary.
During one of the first family courses in his master’s of counseling program, one of the assignments was to create a genogram—a family tree where generational history is documented. The goal of the exercise was to expose relational patterns within the context of family.
Straub didn’t like what he saw.
“Each person divorced at least once, most of them twice,” he says. “I even found out about marriages I didn’t know existed. I saw the sins of the fathers being passed on to the next generation. I looked deeper and saw relational patterns that led to divorce. And this is something I didn’t want to repeat.”
The church can help reverse the cycle of divorce in families. Here are four things Straub says leaders should do.
1. Prioritize marriage in teachings. “Marriage is the only relationship that Scripture uses to illustrate the Holy Trinity,” says Straub.
“There is power in that as the foundation of the family. The marital relationship is the relationship we are to prioritize because we become one flesh with that individual.”
Through teaching about the sanctity of marriage, Straub explains, leaders can cultivate a pro-marriage community.
“People are coming into marriages with their own baggage and their spouse’s baggage, and whatever they saw modeled by their parents—good or bad,” he says.
“A lot of our culture today is pro-pleasure, not pro-marriage. So church leaders should cultivate a pro-marriage community.”
2. Understand the importance of healthy families in the church. “The health of families matters because healthy families produce kids who love God and love people well,” says Straub. “And that begins with the marriage.”
Simply staying married doesn’t indicate a healthy marriage, he explains.
“There are Christians who believe in keeping the covenant of marriage but tend to ignore what Scripture says about the way we should treat our spouses,” explains Straub.
“If our kids are watching us handle conflict in unhealthy ways that lead to divorce, they will pick that up. The best gift you can give your kids is to love your spouse well.”
3. Encourage those affected by divorce to grieve the loss. Straub says it has become normal for people to begin dating again within a year of getting divorced.
Moving on to the next relationship or marriage too soon, he says, doesn’t allow time for the grief process—for divorced parents or their children.
“Divorces have an impact on so many—not just the people getting the divorce,” he says. “We tend to avoid grieving and make the transition from one family structure to another too quickly.
“We need to ask the divorced parents in our congregations: Are you allowing your child to grieve the loss of a dream of an intact family unit? Have you grieved that loss as a parent?” Straub says.
“We need to experience and value grieving. This is shown throughout Scripture. The power of grieving impacts who we really are.”
4. Strengthen their own marriages. “Few things hurt a ministry or grieve the heart of a congregation more than a strained leadership marriage,” says Straub.
“Pastors should love their wives more than they love their churches. Many say they do, but their actions show otherwise.”
He says the temptation for many leaders is to appear as though “they have it together,” but church and ministry leaders need accountability in this area as much as anyone else.
“Leaders who don’t surround themselves with pro-marriage community are prone to not having great marriages. They need elders and friends to hold them accountable in their marriages,” says Straub.
JOY ALLMOND (@JoyAllmond) is managing editor for Facts & Trends.