Three Reasons Some Counselors Are Bad at Marriage Counseling, Part 3: The Counselor’s Moral Neutrality
By “moral neutrality,” I am referring to the counselor’s neutrality when it comes to marriage and divorce. Because they do not hold the sanctity and permanence of marriage as a core belief, they do not see it as their responsibility to hold their clients to that belief. Instead, they declare, “I will respect the couple’s belief about the sacredness of marriage. However, if the couple talks in terms of divorce and has what I would consider to be irreconcilable differences of opinion, why beat a dead horse?”
Malachi and Jesus
Though a counselor may be morally neutral on divorce, God Himself is not: “‘For I hate divorce,’ says the Lord, the God of Israel . . .” (Malachi 2:16).
Jesus reflected this. “‘And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’ The disciples said to Him, ‘If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry’” (Matthew 19:9–10). To Jesus marriage is permanent except for in cases of adultery. The disciples heard Him loud and clear, so much so that they concluded if one cannot get out of the marriage then one should not get married in the first place!
A marriage counselor ought to reflect the heart of Christ when it comes to the permanence of marriage. The counselor ought to fight for the marriage more than the husband and wife want to fight for the marriage, which in most instances is why the couple comes to the marriage counselor! The couple wants someone to stand in the gap for them, telling them divorce is not the remedy, and helping them solve their problems.
The Rationale for Divorce
How have some counselors arrived to the place of being so open to divorce? The reasoning goes something like this: “I am not necessarily for divorce and against marriage. It all depends on circumstances. After all, adultery is grounds for divorce according to the Bible. And, the Bible does not say anything about physical abuse of a woman, and surely that is grounds for divorce. And, actually, there are forms of extended emotional abuse that are more cruel than a husband shoving his wife to the ground one time, so emotional abuse can justify divorce far more than a physical altercation. For this reason, if there is any kind of serious abuse—and of course there is no unimportant abuse—I will not hesitate to recommend divorce to the wife, I mean, to the abused person."
A Comparison to Rape? Outlandish?
“Moral” reasoning is interesting. What would we think of a person who says, “I am not for or against rape”? We’d be aghast. Of course people despise that analogy because they do not believe rape is morally equivalent to divorce. Rape is infinitely worse to them, and we all can identify with the feeling.
But what if God felt the same about unbiblical divorce as what He and all of us feel about rape? Remember, Malachi said that God “hates” divorce. This is not to minimize rape but to highlight what God feels about the defilement and destruction of a marriage.
We have become selective about what is repulsive. For us, something is really evil when it's contrary to another person's will. Sex without consent is violence. Rape is wicked since it is against the will of the innocent.
However, we don't seem to be bothered by divorce, even though it's against God's will. It violates His consent. How can the will of a person matter so much and God's will matter so little? Is it not because we visually see the evil associated with rape and there are no exceptions, whereas we must take Malachi and Jesus by faith, and divorce does carry with it one biblical exception?
Another Comparison: Abortion
Let’s consider abortion and how an exception has divided a nation.
A person argues, “I am not for or against abortion. After all, years ago in the medical profession to save a mother’s life they enacted abortions as a legitimate surgical procedure. Fast-forward to today, is the emotional health of a woman less important than her physical health? An abortion therefore can be the best option for a woman. Besides, an unwanted pregnancy leads to an unwanted child. Regardless, what right do we have to judge a woman’s right to have an abortion? We live in a free country and ought to support a woman’s freedom to choose. We ought to be pro-choice.”
It all sounds so moral. After all, if you can conclude that it is not murder of a fetus if you are saving the mother’s life, then it must not be murder under any circumstances. Thus was born abortion on demand.
Moral dilemmas are used to show there can be exceptions, and once there is an exception then one conveniently goes from arguing about the survival of a mother’s life to the survival of a mother’s emotional life. Then one develops a stance that shifts from emotional health to legal rights and a woman’s choice no matter what the reason. In fact today, in most eyes, what is really harmful and immoral is preventing a woman’s right to choose. The bad people are those who oppose a woman's rights.
Back to divorce . . . and forgive me for creating analogies that disturb us.
Moral Neutrality on Divorce Usually Leads to a Counselor Promoting Divorce
Because God hates divorce, a counselor should also hate divorce. To take a neutral position that argues one is not for or against divorce is to sanction divorce more than God does. Eventually the exception becomes the rule. One falls prey to divorce on demand.
Ironically, the one who tells the couple they ought not to divorce is castigated as judgmental, and we hear, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.” The focus shifts from the divorcing person to the real culprits: the judgmental family and friends. Good people are gagged. Some counselors succumb. At some point, they side with those who see divorce as the solution. The counselor says to himself, "Why fight it more than a few counseling sessions? Besides, I refuse to be judgmental."
“I Am Not Judge and Jury" Line of Thinking
What about the counselor who says, “I am morally neutral toward divorce since I cannot be a couple’s judge and jury”? Certainly, this same counselor would find no difficulty being judge and jury if the couple beat their children. This is violence. Short of violence and the violation of another’s consent, is divorce taboo? Thus, “no-fault divorce” came into being, for many reasons, but not the least of which being the legal profession no longer wished to judge divorce as sinful. But for Christ followers, just because a culture says there is nothing morally reprehensible about divorce does not mean God is unbothered. When divorce is no big deal except for how one will best manage it, we do not reflect the heart and revelation of God.
To counter this amoral drift, we need to see divorce as potentially a violation of His will.
We do not receive His consent to divorce. We are forcing our desires against God’s desires. God is saying “no” while we force our “yes” onto Him. We act against His will. For this reason, Christ-following couples must steer clear of counselors who are known for taking a neutral stand against divorce, in spite of them saying they are pro-marriage. Their pro-marriage stance is short-lived when you both are shouting, “We ought to divorce each other!” Though neither of you really mean it, will the counselor counter you?
Because God hates divorce and because some counselors edge closely to promoting divorce, couples need to ask around about counselors who feel strongly about the sacredness and permanence of marriage.
Perhaps what Peter states applies here: "You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
Do you believe Jesus’ words concerning adultery were meant to counter His Father’s strong admonition of hating divorce? Why do you believe the exception has caused so many to become neutral on divorce?
Do you believe Emerson’s comparisons to rape and abortion are fair? Why or why not?
Why do you think that some “pro-marriage” counselors are more neutral on divorce rather than true warriors against it?
How have you seen others using the exception of adultery to justify divorce in a marriage that did not even fall victim to adultery?
Discussion Questions (for Those Considering Marriage Counseling)
How might you best find out if a counselor you are considering holds a moral neutrality toward divorce?
Are you looking for a counselor to stand in the gap for your marriage or one who will remain passive on the topic of divorce?
Do you honestly want a marriage counselor who holds the same view toward divorce as God and won’t be afraid to hold to that stance? Will you be willing to do whatever he/she suggests rather than take the easy way out of divorce?