The It-Takes-Two Lie

yoke of oxenI heard it, again, just last week.

A commenter on another blog told how she stayed too many years in an abusive marriage.

Why?  Because, her pastor and elders admonished her, “It takes two.  Divorce is never the fault of just one party.”  They counseled her to find and correct whatever she was doing wrong to cause his violence.

The it-takes-two lie is a common misperception within our culture and our churches.  With no biblical basis whatsoever, well-meaning friends dole out this venomous cliché to those going through marital difficulties or divorce.

Abusive perpetrators hide behind it, responding “It takes two!” with a smile and a shrug when asked why they are divorcing.

Too often, this lie continues to hold believers in bondage to false guilt for many years after divorce from a marriage of abusive bondage.  Too often, it is used as an excuse for alienating those most in need of support and care from their church.

Yes, it is true that many marital difficulties are the result of miscommunication and selfish perceptions by both parties.  Even when both parties are completely committed to the marriage and to each other, we all struggle with the consequences of unintended offenses and miscommunication.  Overcoming these hurdles requires a strong commitment and perseverance by both parties.

Yes, it is true that it takes two committed people working hard to have a strong, enduring marriage.  Yes, it is true that many marriage relationships falter over an accumulation of minor unintentional offenses and miscommunications.

However, the assumption that all divorces are the result of unintended offenses and miscommunication is simply a false assumption.

It is all too common for one partner to simply decide to break their covenant vows; to “deal treacherously” with their spouse (Malachi 2:14-16) or to leave their spouse for the purpose of marrying another (Matthew 19:9).

Yes, we are all human and we all make mistakes, but there is a huge difference between minor, unintentional mistakes and willful violation of covenant vows.

From purely a logical position, it makes no sense to say that it takes two committed people working hard to have a strong enduring marriage, and then to also say that it takes two to divorce.  Both cannot be true.  To claim that they are both true is completely illogical.

It takes two oxen sharing the yoke and pulling together in unison to pull a heavy load.  However, it only takes one ox lying down or running the other direction to wreck the whole cart.

In The Great Exodus, Pharaoh broke his covenant vows to Israel, enslaving them and murdering their children. Israel had done nothing to cause this issue. God redeemed Israel, condemned Pharaoh, and never gave any indication that Israel had done anything wrong. God arranged for Israel to be divorced from Egypt, dissolving the covenant between them.

Fundamentally, propagation of the myth that “divorce is always the fault of both parties” minimalizes intentional unrepentant covenant-breaking sins against a marriage partner while elevating minor unintentional mistakes and well-intended miscommunications.

The actions of the partner who is guilty of “dealing treacherously” against their spouse are erroneously justified, while the actions of the partner who has honestly put forth their best effort in giving sacrificially of themself are erroneously condemned…all in a vain attempt to unjustly force both onto an equal level of shared responsibility.

What injustices have you witnessed under the it-takes-two lie?

[Linked to God Bumps , Scribing , WIP , Beholding Glory , Graceful , Seedlings , Wellspring ]


23 thoughts on “The It-Takes-Two Lie

  1. Joe, I love this phrase: “strong commitment and perseverance by both parties.” It makes me sad when one spouse goes “all in” to make things work, and the other makes a half-hearted attempt. It’s almost like they want to save face in the community, but they really just want out and have no desire to do the hard work.

    You treated this sensitive subject with grace. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • “It makes me sad when one spouse goes “all in” to make things work, and the other makes a half-hearted attempt.”

      Me too, Susan!

      I’ve been surprised, not only at how often it happens, but also at how often the spouse who went “all in” seems to be the one carrying guilt over the divorce…or being ostracized by those who are in a position to be supportive friends…

    • Yes, I’ve seen it both ways.

      It’s good that you can now see the role you played in the past relationship.

      I’ve seen situations where a party who definitely had added to the demise of the relationship had blinders on and couldn’t see (or admit) the role they had played.

      But, for those situations where one party is clearly giving their all while the other party is clearly willfully violating their covenant vows, the it-takes-two lie can have a truly crippling effect on the innocent party.

      It leads toward either staying longer than they should in an unhealthy relationship (feeling compelled to “fix” everything), or toward an unnecessary sense of guilt or failure afterwards (I should have been able to “fix” things).

      Thank you, Brandee!

  2. Oh this is such a hard issue. You are right though, it only takes one person to wreck a marriage. As much as you may want to work it out, you simply can’t force another person remain committed.

    Thanks for linking up with WIP Wednesday!

    • Yes, it is a difficult topic…not one that we usually like talking about. But it can be so crippling to someone going thru a failed marriage…and so freeing to realize that we’re not reponsible for our partner’s behavior and choices…

      No matter how much we may want to, or how hard we try, one person simply cannot be committed enough for two…I know…I spent a lot of years trying…

      Thanks for the input, Mary Beth, as well as the WIP link-up opportunity!

  3. Thanks again. I am thankful for God lead persons who are finally bringing awareness to the church about their stance for so many years. It was such bondage to live under that. Your statement: ” It takes two oxen sharing the yoke and pulling together in unison to pull a heavy load. However, it only takes one ox lying down or running the other direction to wreck the whole cart.” So true!! I love you Joe and am so thankful for your ministry! It is so wonderful to serve a forgiving, loving God who specializes in second chances!!

    • “It is so wonderful to serve a forgiving, loving God who specializes in second chances!!”

      Yes it is! 🙂

      I am so thankful for His redemption and grace! So thankful to be freed from the bondage of both abusive covenants and legalistic rules!

      I love you, too, Cousin Helen!

  4. I have a friend whose husband is, at this point, choosing to abandon the marriage because “his wife doesn’t wipe the counter the way he likes” along with various other smokescreens he’s used to justify his decision. She is willing to stay in the marriage, go to counseling, and work on any area of her life that causes her marriage and husband a problem. But, so far, that’s not good enough for him. She’s brought their church leadership into the conflict and they are dealing with it according to the Matt. 18 pattern. In this case, I do not see that it “takes two” if he is unwilling.

    So I totally agree with you, Joe. And I’m disturbed by the inability to see this on many believer’s and pastor’s parts. In the case you described above, I fear that the abused woman’s pastor may end up being guilty of abuse or murder by inadvertantly “assisting” this abusive husband’s efforts. It’s a sad situation that I’m sure grieves God.

    • Great example, Beth!

      I was hoping you would visit this post, because I knew you’d have good input. 🙂

      Yes, it is very disturbing how many pastors and believers seem to be completely blind to this simple truth. It’s almost as if we’ve heard the dogma “it takes two…divorce is always the fault of both parties” so many times that many have simply failed to even question whether it makes sense or is scriptural.

  5. I love how you continue to break the myths about divorce, Joe. It might take two to keep a marriage going strong, but it one person by themselves can bring one down. No reason for people to have to carry around such guilt when they have done all they can. Thanks for being that voice of compassion.

    • “It might take two to keep a marriage going strong, but one person by themselves can bring one down.”

      That’s it, exactly, Lisa!

      I always love your input and discussion.

      Thank YOU, so much!

    • Well, I’m also glad that you stumbled upon my site, Wanda!

      I hope you find useful input for whatever your situation, and pray God will speak to you through the discussions on this site.

      I look forward to getting acquainted with you.

      God bless!

  6. Dear Joseph, I am in the process of writing a book called; Love Leaves, my Christian viewpoint on how we are to love our neighbors through all circumstances, even divorce. I am to research other books about this topic and came across yours. I look forward to reading it, and I enjoyed your blog post “It takes Two…” Very eye opening. Thank you! I also look forward to finding out more about your writing process, history and future projects!

    • Sounds like an interesting book, your working on, Cindy!

      …and one close to God’s heart of love and compassion toward His children who are experiencing, or have experienced divorce.

      May you be blessed in your endeavors and anointed by God for the ministry to which he is calling you.

      I would love to hear your feedback after reading my book.

      • Joseph,

        Are there any other resources you recommend that I visit, as I do my research. I am to find a few books to compare to what I am writing, just to differentiate between. Did you go through the same process when you wrote your book?

        • I have several books on the topic of divorce listed in my bookshelf on this website, including several for which I have written reviews.

          Although I didn’t discover it until after my book was published, Rubel Shelly’s book, “Divorce and Remarriage, a Redemptive Theology” is quite insightful.

          My writing/publishing process was a bit backwards from what most experts recommend. Then, again, my goals may be unconventional as well.

          My research spanned several years and grew out of a need to reconcile deep religious convictions with the reality of a failed marriage and subsequent divorce. I had no plans, at the time of writing a book.

          Eventually, I developed a series of Sunday School lessons, for use in my own class, on the topic of God’s heart toward His children who have experienced divorce.

          When people asked for copies of my notes, I decided to go back and formalize them…which led to self-publishing the book.

          I don’t have any grand plans of making a living as a writer. For me, this is simply a ministry, through which I attempt to share with others some of what God has shown me…while continuing to learn, myself, from what God has shown others.

          My hope is that people will be freed from unnecessary guilt, and draw closer to Christ, as they come to have a clearer vision of our Father’s heart of love.

          Also, if you want to better understand divorce, it would be a good idea to also learn about abuse. There are a lot of good sites (and books) on this topic (as well as some not-so-good ones). Here is one I frequent that you might find useful:

          Blessings to you, Cindy!

  7. Pingback: Very few thoughts for today, so instead a few links… | Life Inspired Thoughts

  8. I have a question: When you say “intentional, unrepentant, covenant-breaking sins” I need some help overcoming a standard excuse from my h. He steadfastly refuses to admit that any of his abuse was “intentional.” He is finally starting to admit that “sometimes I was over the top in my actions but I never did any of it on purpose.” I respond “When you see my tears and hear my pleas and read my letters where I am laying out in specific detail the behaviors that are hurtful and destructive (yelling, criticizing, crazy-making, manipulation, intimidation) and you continually deny, dismiss, ignore, reject and minimize (or just get mad so I will back off) the truth, how can you say you were “unintentional?” So I get that he has been unrepentant for 28 years (though he is now starting to loosen a bit and doing some admitting since I have moved into the other room for the last 6 months) but he believes he did not do it “intentionally.” How can a person ever really show true repentance when they are making the excuse that “they didn’t know?” even though he is finally making some concessions, I feel like he is again giving the least bit possible (after everything he has put me and the kids through) to somehow gain reconciliation. But then, because he seems to not be doing his behaviors near as often or as intensely as he has in the past, I feel like I am being “hard-hearted” but I fear he will just “wait me out” and then start up again. He has never hit me or done the “big sins” (cheating, beating, porn, gambling, etc. He would be viewed on the outside as a “pretty good guy” and in a lot of ways, he is) but has caused us all so much emotional pain it is unbelievable. Anyway, just a little background so you understand. Any clarification on the “intentional” would be helpful. Seems like a cop-out plain and simple but I also understand that I have been very hurt by this man and maybe I am seeing him through those hurt eyes instead of reality.
    debby recently posted…Condemned or Redeemed?My Profile

    • That denial of intentionality is a typical tactic used by most abusers. If they cannot deny the abuse, then they will deny responsibility for the abuse. When blaming the abuse target ceases to work, then they claim ignorance…I didn’t know…I didn’t realize…I didn’t mean to…

      Frankly, ‘not on purpose’ isn’t good enough. Even if it were true (which is extremely unlikely) it’s not good enough. It’s not enough to say, “Yes, maybe I deeply wounded you, but I didn’t mean to.” This is the person who swore a sacred oath to love, honor, and cherish. If they were actively protecting your heart, they would be unlikely to deeply wound you…and if they did, they would immediately feel horrible and do everything in their power to make it right.

      And, yes, it is also a part of the typical abuse cycle for the abuser to behave better…even charmingly…when they know they’re in danger of losing control. But is all reverses and escalates once they regain a sense of control.

      Yes, the hard part is the second-guessing…the wondering if this time they really are beginning to repent…the hoping they truly are changing. And the abuser knows this…they know and use it to manipulate, to get what they want…control.

      How can a person ever really show true repentance when they are making the excuse that “they didn’t know?”

      They can’t! True repentance fully owns the sin and fully turns from it.

      Blessings to you, Debby!
      joe recently posted…That DressMy Profile

    • Hi, Brandie!

      You should be able to follow the blog. Just click on the word ‘Redeemed’ at the top left of the screen to go to the Home page. On the Home page, look at the right-hand column. You should have a couple of options for either an e-mail feed or an RSS feed.

      Let me know if you have any problems.

      Thanks for your interest and have a very merry Christmas!
      joe recently posted…God BecameMy Profile

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