“In 2021, a total of 689,308 divorces occurred across the 45 U.S. states that report this statistic,” according to Forbes Advisor, a global platform designed to help people make good financial choices.
Forbes confirmed that half of all first marriages end in divorce; second and third marriages fail at a much higher rate. The platform also identified that evangelical Protestants have a higher divorce rate than any other religious group. Fifty-five percent of evangelical Protestants are married, while 14% are divorced.
A Texas law firm reported the divorce percentage among Christians to be even greater, approximating that “20 to 25% of Christian marriages end in divorce, with higher percentages reported among millennials and younger generations of believers.”
While Scripture makes it clear that divorce is not God’s design for marriage (Ephesians 5:31), Carol Heffernan from Focus on the Family explains that “no relationship comes with a lifetime guarantee. Even men and women who grew up in stable homes are at risk. Further, those who attend church and consider themselves Christians, who promise ‘until death do us part,’ can still have it all fall apart.”
So what can Christian couples do to prevent their marriages from falling apart, especially when reconciliation seems out of reach?
Experienced minister Bert Harper, host of Exploring the Word on American Family Radio and director of marriage and family at American Family Association, encourages troubled couples to seek counseling – not as a last resort, but as a proactive effort at the first signs of deterioration. Harper advised The Stand on when couples should seek help, how to select a wise counselor, and practical ways to prepare for counseling.
When to seek help
According to Harper, married couples will face challenges and need guidance at times. He explained that God designed marriage, and sin corrupts it.
Over Harper’s 50-plus years of ministry, he has identified five issues that commonly cause trouble in marriages:
- Time management
“Even in godly marriages, challenges will arise,” Harper admitted. “No couple maintains perfect communication or unity through every season of life. Sinful human nature, family backgrounds, stress, fatigue, and changing circumstances can and will strain even the strongest bonds.”
For couples considering divorce, Harper said they should complete biblical counseling and practical exercises for six months before moving forward. He found that even lengthy separations could culminate in restored marriages after time spent addressing core issues.
He stressed that couples should never resign themselves to dysfunction as normal or irreparable. They must admit difficulty and bravely seek solutions from trustworthy counselors, mentors, and pastors who uphold biblical principles. Suffering in silence only tightens the chokehold of unhealthy patterns. If professing faith in Christ, Christian couples have access to spiritual resources powerful enough to redeem seemingly hopeless relationships.
“But they must reach out for help,” emphasized Harper.
How to choose a counselor
When seeking a marriage counselor, Harper said a couple must look for someone who who shares their biblical values and possesses genuine wisdom.
Harper first advised checking with one’s pastor or church leaders for recommendations of trustworthy Christian counselors nearby. The leader’s familiarity with the couple can aid in selecting a counselor appropriate for their situation.
In Harper’s opinion, the ideal Christian counselor should:
- Uphold the sanctity of marriage.
- Promote sacrificial love modeled after Christ.
- Bring spiritual resources into counseling sessions.
- Point couples toward God’s design for healthy relationships.
- Demonstrate deep caring.
- Advise with honesty and straightforwardness.
“Look for someone with experience,” said Harper. “Compassion and genuine concern enable counselors to earn trust and speak the hard truth in love. Counseling without grace breeds shame and defensiveness. But counseling without truth-telling fails to bring real change. The best counselors balance grace and truth like Jesus.”
How to prepare for counseling
“To get the most out of counseling,” Harper said, “both husband and wife should prepare properly, even before the first session. Adopting humility is key – accepting that neither spouse is blameless. Realize that you’re not right all the time – neither of you.”
He advised that while defensiveness, criticism, and finger-pointing may feel natural, these will short-circuit counseling.
He reminded spouses, “Be ready to hear difficult truths about yourself that you’d rather not face.
“A counselor often sheds light on issues we’ve been blind to within ourselves. This process takes guts. Let your guard down and be vulnerable. Working through the discomfort leads to growth. If both spouses enter counseling with open minds and soft hearts, breakthroughs happen.”
Additionally, prior to counseling, Harper suggested couples read a book or take a quiz to gain insight into what’s going on between them. For example, the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman can help bring understanding to how each spouse feels loved and can uncover issues to which each has been blinded.
“Bringing fresh self-awareness into that first session gives your counselor a running start in helping your marriage get back on track,” Harper said.
The heart of the problem
While godly counselors and proper preparation offer hope, the condition of each spouse’s heart proves most crucial, Harper explained. Each spouse must move from selfishness to true love. In troubled marriages, he noted that one spouse often pursues control and personal interests at the expense of the other spouse’s needs and desires.
“As you work through issues in counseling,” he said, “aim for win-win solutions, not win-lose outcomes. If one spouse constantly feels like the loser, resentment builds up over time. Eventually, he or she may want to leave the marriage altogether. This often happens if one spouse is dominating or strong-willed. If one spouse thinks he or she is always right, the other spouse feels constantly defeated. This dynamic drives many couples apart, especially after the children leave home.”
Such tendencies can emerge in various forms. At times, the husband asserts leadership in an arrogant, heavy-handed manner while the wife may exert control through manipulation, withdrawal, or micro-management.
Rather than insisting on one’s own way, Harper truly believes adopting Christ’s humility and sacrificial love allows both partners to flourish and their marriage to thrive.
(Digital Editor's Note: This article was published first in the January/February print edition of The Stand).