Amputation As An Analogy

diroceI thought that I was done with discussing divorce as a valid option after I posted the fourth of my series about Divorce as a a Christian’s option. However, something came across my Twitter feed that made me realize that I need to continue to address this topic.

I read quite a few different blogs and forums that deal with marriage and sexuality, and for the most part, I realize that I am somewhat of a fish out of water. The reason for this is that, while I am an advocate for marriage, I accept the fact that some marriages are too far gone to be resuscitated. We often speak of toxic churches and toxic relationships, but it’s not all that common for Christian writers and teachers to come out and say “Toxic marriages do happen.”

Instead, what I read and hear is, “Never give up on a marriage. Believe God can change you and your spouse and remake your marriage into a haven rather than a Hell.” (I do find it interesting, though, for that advice to NEVER be offered to a spouse who is being physically abused.) Recently, one of the Twitter feeds of someone I look up to …. Heck, who am I kidding? This person I totally revere, and this particular tweet compared divorce to amputation and said that it is a fool’s choice.

Amputation? No, But….

Back in ‘91, I began to experience bouts of excruciating pain that seemed to be cutting me in half, across my back. I didn’t know what was triggering them, but finally, one evening, after eating at KFC, I spent half the night tortured by racking pain; I decided enough was enough, to see a doctor.

After asking me questions about where and when these bouts occurred, I was sent for an ultrasound, and the reading confirmed the doctor’s suspicions; I had a number of gallstones. The doctor said that the stones had blocked the duct from the gallbladder to the liver, and whenever I ate fatty/greasy foods (like KFC fried chicken), this triggered my pain. The doctor informed that I had to have an operation to remove my gallbladder.

At that time, I was very leery of the medical profession and so was willing to ask for second opinions. I had read someone who said that doctors were too scalpel-happy when it came to gallbladders, and suggested a treatment that purported to expel the stones. When I asked my doctor if there were other treatments beside surgery, I think I might have scared him a bit (suggesting malpractice?) and so he delayed the surgery he had scheduled for me, and said that they would do further tests.

Dumb move on my part! By delaying immediate gallbladder surgery, I spent two days in the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. I was in total agony in the hospital while they did their tests, and at the end of all this, I was more than happy to be sedated and have them tear it out.

But here’s the thing. After the surgery, the surgeon came by the next day, and told me that if they had delayed even one more day, it was likely that I would have died. The problem had no longer been the fact that I had a sick gallbladder that was producing gallstones. Instead, delay allowed the blockage to cut off blood flow to the gallbladder, and it had “died.” It had turned gangrenous, and would have killed me, if left alone through my insistence on alternative treatments. It needed to be removed because it was gangrenous.

Amputation? Yes.

Okay, that was gallbladder surgery, not a real amputation. We all know that limbs, through infection and disease, can turn gangrenous, just as my gallbladder did. In those cases, amputation is not the decision of a fool, but a medical necessity that is the only choice to prolong life. And it might not even be due to gangrene.

One of the most famous tales of survival in modern times is the true story of Aron Ralston. In 2003, Ralston went hiking in a remote Utah canyon without telling anyone, and in the process, had an 800 lb. boulder slide down onto his right hand, crushing it and trapping him. After days of trying to free himself, he realized that he would have to amputate his own hand if he wanted to survive. His story is told in the 2010 movie, 127 Hours.

The point is that amputation is not a foolish decision, but is sometimes a medical necessity. And in the case of a marriage that is toxic, it may be a marital and spiritual necessity.

When Divorce Is NOT An Option

Do I believe that divorce is a valid option for a Christian? Uh, hello! Do you think I’m typing just to see words appear on my computer? Yes, I believe that!

BUT . . . I do not believe that divorce is something to be taken lightly. Just as entering into marriage is a life-changing event, so too divorce is a life-altering event. Marriage isn’t something you blithefully run into or out of, especially if, unlike the beginning, the ending of said marriage will affect more than just the two of you.

In reading around the blogosphere, I see marriage writers addressing readers who want to divorce over many different things. When I see these questions, I realize our Christian culture has been co-opted by the secular culture around us, to the point that we pretty much have accepted Reb Hillel’s position over that of Reb Shammai and Jesus. (You’re going to have to read my Divorce series for this reference, but it is extremely relevant.) After all, our society has accepted No-Fault divorce, so why can’t the Church, right?

Sorry, but marriage is still supposed to be important to Christians. Whether you believe in Covenant or Contract, it is still binding on the Christian to try to abide by his/her promise made at the wedding.

So am I switching my position, coming around to the idea that only adultery constitutes grounds for divorce?


When Divorce IS An Option

Here is when divorce is a valid option for a Christian: when the other spouse has broken faith with him/her and refused to live in accordance with the vows that s/he made at the beginning of the marriage. We accept that if a spouse has an affair, it is the breaking of the marriage vow, the breaking of the covenant, and as such, is a valid reason for divorce.

But the marriage covenant contains much more than sexual fidelity. As I’ve written before, Hebrew law, custom, mores and teaching recognize that a marriage agreement was a promise for food, clothing and sexual faithfulness (Ex. 21). This biblical formula is in the Ketubah (my podiatrist calls it the “Jewish marriage license) and has been the fundamental marriage vow for Jews for 3000 years.

This promise (food, clothing, sexual faithfulness) speaks to love and care, and was so vital, that to fail to live up to this promise (including sexual refusal, btw) was seen as breaking of faith and valid reasons for divorce. While the Church chose to teach that adultery was the only reason for divorce, Jewish teaching before and after Christ realized that there was more to the marriage vow than just keeping your butt out of someone else’s bed.

CSL’s Rules For Divorce

This biblical reasoning, divorce for breaking covenant/faith with your spouse, is not to be taken lightly or to be used casually. This idea that marriages are easily disposed of is what had led us to the state that we find ourselves in today. Instead, divorce, while not a fool’s decision, is still a radical option, much like a mastectomy would be to a woman facing treatment for breast cancer.

With the serious consequences of divorce in mind, I’m going to present my thoughts on what needs to be done before electing to proceed with this amputation.

  • You have to decide “Can it be truly said that your spouse has broken faith with you and your wedding vows?”
  • Have you discussed your marriage concerns with your spouse? By that, I mean many, many times. A one-time, Mr. Milquetoast “You know, we might possibly not have all that great a marriage, sweetheart” hint doesn’t count. I mean knock-down drag-outs in which you have laid your cards out on the table. In essence, have you had The Talk™? More than once?
  • Have you worked your way to this decision? By that, I don’t mean have you ticked off all the boxes necessary to justify a decision to divorce to the minister or your friends? Instead, have you tried, in more than just a couple of ways, to convey to your spouse the seriousness of your concerns and to get him/her on board your efforts to save the marriage? Does s/he even know that you feel the marriage is in danger?
  • Third-party counseling. I consider this a must. Yes, you know where you think your spouse has broken faith, but have you? By talking with your pastor/a counselor, you can present your issues to a disinterested party, and so can your spouse. You may discover that you have a splinter in your eye that you don’t know about, and this will be a chance for you to improve, as well.
  • Along the same lines, are you making efforts to get closer to God? Are you working on you? After all, as the old truism says, changing your clothes doesn’t change you. Divorcing one wife and marrying another doesn’t mean that you’re trading up if you’re still you at the end of the process.
  • Tell him/her that divorce is an option that you will consider. I think that the Walkaway Spouse, while understandable, is still completely wrong. All too often, I read where someone says, “My spouse left/filed for divorce, and I never saw it coming!” Let them see that it IS  coming; it may just be the wake-up call they need to see the seriousness of the situation.

Marriage is serious and ending a marriage has deep-seated consequences. That is why you have to try to do all that you can to heal and save the marriage beforehand, and I believe that my “Rules” constitute an effort to do so. When all is said and done, please know that divorce is not necessarily a fool’s decision. But, by Billy Bedamned Hangtree, it had better not be a rash one!



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality, Uncategorized

20 responses to “Amputation As An Analogy

  1. Phil

    Dear CSL,
    Once again I feel as though you are writing an open letter aimed directly at me (I’ve missed you posts recently, I hope all is well with you?).
    A very brief resume of my circumstances for those who may stumble upon my comment:-
    Married for 25+ years, 3x children now in their mid to late teens, perfect marriage if looking in from the outside but absolutely no sexual intimacy for several years and virtually nothing for the decade preceding.
    We are currently seeing a marriage cousellor who specialises in sexual health. There have been a number of open & frank conversations which have high-lighted a number of physical hurdles that appear to be hindering my wife’s desire but when suitable remedies have been found for these my wife then openly admits she has absolutely no desire for sexual intimacy in any shape or form to the point where it has been suggested that she has asexual tendancies.
    My logic says I should divorce her as the lack of intimacy is mentally and physically damaging me but the pressure to remain married is almost as unbearible.
    Life is tough……

    Liked by 1 person

    • The four of us were pretty sick for February. Just had no energy after I started recovering, so I basically vegged for several weeks.

      “Pressure to remain…” Yeah, that’s pretty much the answer of the Christian/Marriage combine. When the Church refuses to present accurate teaching about marriage and sexuality, it has to compensate by oppressive theology to lay guilt trips on christians to put up with being sinned against by their spouses.

      If it comes out through counseling that she feels she is ‘asexual’, ask her why you should be condemned to a life celibacy because of it.


  2. Jack

    My sympathies. To jump on the bandwagon with a crisp thought: show me the definition of “marriage” that includes celibacy.

    Having said that, it would and should never be a decision taken lightly, and I think the “rules” at least suggest a thorough process of reality checks and personal examination/growth that anyone considering divorce should (literally) meditate – and act – on.* Even without children (of any age – because I think divorce will affect even adult children), it’s still a tear in the fabric of life.

    *Insert obligatory disclaimer for situations involving actual abuse and/or physical endangerment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Actual abuse IMO can easily include emotional/mental behavior, and may even be part of what Phil is dealing with. The invalidation, devaluation, contempt, starving for closeness and intimacy on various levels can all be devastating. That is important to know because it helps in discerning if divorce is an appropriate action. A mistake, or even a difficult sin to overcome… well, I think those are part of life. Loving spouses work through those things.

      If a spouse won’t listen, work through it, show the basic respect and good will to keep the vows, then one of them (at least) is being defrauded — withholding sex isn’t the only way to defraud. I think this is what CSL is getting at in this post.

      As far as church responses go… By the time you’re thinking about divorce, the appropriateness of celibacy in marriage is an issue that gets completely ignored. Automatic forgiveness takes over if you love her like Christ loves the church. You gotta “die” for her — and show joy at the same time!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. tjcox53

    Laura Doyle, in her latest book made a statement that I think is absolutely true. The statement? The one who is most willing to walk away from the relationship holds the most power to change the status of the relationship, for good or ill. In most cases, in this current time, it is usually the wife.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Phil

    That is certainly isn’t true in my situation as I am the one who is most likely to leave the relationship through frustration at my wife’s absolute refusal to change the status of our non-sexual marriage.

    Interstingly every time I mention my desire for closeness I am met with instant anger and a genuine belief from her that if I really loved her I wouldn’t keep on!

    During our most recent couselling session the subject of enforced celibacy came up. The counsellor then went to great lengths to question my wife’s ability to reject me when she wouldn’t treat the family pet dog so harshly. The net result of this conversation was the counsellor challenging my wife to show her true commitment to the marriage in the form a series of small signs of affection towards me (no sex or even physical contact allowed) over the next 3-weeks. Time will tell as they say……..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeehaw and a big sloppy kiss to that counselor! How did your wife respond to such blunt talk from him/her?


    • tjcox53

      Phil, that may be true at this point, however I can remember a time not so far past when you were much more hesitant and indeed were under the assumption that if you pressed the issue your wife would probably leave.
      I only say this because, if this is true now it’s a new dynamic to the relationship. It may take a while before she believes it, since she’s had things her way for so long.
      I also applaud the counselor taking her to task for her attitude towards intimacy.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Phil

    Initially there were the obligatory tears (she never openly shows her anger in front of anyone but our immediate family) but then amazingly my wife accepted the challenge laid down by the counsellor. I’m not sure she fully appreciates the significance of the task but the next 3-weeks are going to be very telling.

    Our counsellor is a woman which IMO only adds to weight to what was being said.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack

      If your marriage relationship is important (your call), you will probably find that it takes more than three weeks to sort things out – lots more. We are three months into serious disruption of many years of habits and sometimes I feel we are only just beginning. Sometimes, to be honest, I wonder whether we have actually even begun at all. Just identifying and dealing with my own crap is sometimes a full-time job, leave aside my wife’s crap. 🙂 Be patient and have grace – for yourself and your wife as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Phil

    TJ, you are absolutely correct when you say that I was much more hesitant before but I can’t remember thinking that my wife would leave the marriage although there were times when I thought she didn’t care if I were to leave.

    Jack, I have been trying to resolve the issue of sexual refusal in my marriage for years and I finally managed to persuade my wife to go to counselling with me just over 6-months ago. Like you, the first few months of counselling felt like we were getting nowhere. I guess it takes time a counsellor to really understand the dymnamics of a relationship. However, the last session broke new ground and significantly my wife now has a 3-week period in which to demonstrate her commitment to our marriage. This may well be the beginning of the re-building of our relationship (hopefully) or it may signal the end.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Phil

    Thank you everyone for your blessings.

    As OofC so eloquently puts it, some of what I face does feel devastating at times but discussing it on a forum such as this has helped me more than I can say.

    Nice analogy Jack, I’ve been stalled at the side of the road for over a decade! Interestingly even my wife is now saying I should’ve made more of a deal of things 10-years ago before things got quite so entrenched!

    Finally, apologies for some typo’s in my writing earlier, the consequence of hastily tapping things out on my mobile with clumsy big fingers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack

      >>Interestingly even my wife is now saying I should’ve made more of a deal of things 10-years ago before things got quite so entrenched!<<

      Oh what a can of worms that one is – regardless of which of you is saying that.

      My wife has said 'I shut down 15 years ago when you checked out – I don't have any desires any more.'

      First, dear God (and that really is a cry from the heart to God, not an expression) what would I do to be able to rewind and replay, but that is not how we live life.

      Second, your wife and my wife have not really faced their responsibility for the co-created system (to borrow a phrase from Schnarch). Yes, it's abundantly true that I checked out. But not alone, and not solely on my own initiative. Much of it was running from the pain of a relationship that was already on a downward spiral.

      I am not going to blame my wife. I accept and speak for my own responsibility. I am doing my level best to address all the crap that had grown up in my life. I am doing my best to weed and prune and hack and cut and slash and burn. It is often painful but it is vital and I would and will do it – for myself. Not for my wife, not for my marriage and in a funny way that I am not even going to begin to try to explain, not for God. That can't be made to read correctly so you'll have to take my word for the fact that I am deeply a believer and cling to mercy in Christ.

      I am disrupting all kinds of habits and relationships at work and home and I am going to continue to do so, God help me. The path is not always clear or straight but the goals are clear. For the first time I am beginning to understand Jesus's direction to give up an eye or an arm or whatever else may be necessary to pursue him.

      Among the questions is whether my wife and I will still be an 'us' as things develop. I have no idea. I keep coming back to grave doubt but I am going to endure the pain for a while and see. The reason I can reconcile myself to pain for the short-ish term is that I have promised myself that I am *not* going to go back to the old pattern of lonely withdrawal that was a coping mechanism for a love grown dusty, dark and cold. I would *like* to desire and be desired. I *need* to live from the inside out, honestly and with integrity. I'd rather sleep alone with true self than sleep with a wife who is no wife. I am enough myself with God. I am not going to deal with the literal cognitive dissonance of a love that is no love.

      It's not simple or easy, though, nor quick, in spite of my (your?) impatience. There is a lot of history. There are two kids. Family members, friends. Promises made still to be kept – we hope. One day at a time. Just make sure we are facing the right direction with our goals in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Phil

    Jack, I can feel the pressure & pain you’re currently facing through your words. There is only one thing I’d like to add, please also take time to have some laughter in your life! Two years ago I was in a very bad place agonising over my situation but slowly I have managed to enjoy parts of my life to the poiunt where I am now much more content with my lot. This has helped me look at my marriage in a much clearer light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jack


      A couple of thoughts from where I am…

      First, I really do believe, really do know, that God redeems our pain if we are facing God and desire to follow and obey more closely. God is a terrifying surgeon who does not stop at half measures, but no one else can heal us. So, with trust in the Healer and a desire for healing (which at the present time means healing our selves and our marriage), I intend to press on with endurance, sort of like Paul says in Phillipians.

      Second, when I wrote the post above, I had been for several days trying to figure out where some problems originated. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying my own crap and challenging myself about it all, but I had sort of come to the conclusion that this was at least half, or maybe more than half, my wife’s crap. This morning, for a couple of reasons, I had some new insight and think maybe it’s really more of my crap…in which case it’s mine to deal with myself – which is probably good news, if I can figure it out (which is one of the reasons to be working with a good therapist).

      A third observation. I don’t know about other people, but I have to continually remind myself not to confuse location with destination. By that I mean that I find it very easy to assess things at a specific point in time and act/think as if things are going to stay that way. I easily forget that at any given point I am (I hope) moving toward a goal that I have not yet reached. That makes it easy to get frustrated and, frankly, discouraged. There is a solution for that, of course, but it gets back to the point/continuum thing and of course we express ourselves in real time. I hope that makes sense. If not… 😉 …just think “meaningful endurance” and you’ll know what I’m trying to get at (when combined with the first paragraph).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jack

    I want to share something here in the hope that it might help others, because this feels like an important thing for me.

    We had a long conversation last night that basically left me feeling like I’d had a hatchet buried in my sternum. I was really done, out of oxygen.

    I’ve been working with a therapist for several months, and he’s great and very helpful, but he’s necessarily sort of clinical. He doesn’t know me going back years, and he doesn’t know my wife, although I really do bend over backwards to try to make sure he gets a balanced or even positive view of my wife, notwithstanding (or actually because of) our issues.

    I really needed help and it came to me that an old friend of ours – who we actually haven’t seen in quite a few years – might be a valuable resource. I was really right. I told him when we finished talking that he’d been like an oxygen tank for me. The most important encouragement he gave me was to really consider the *good* things and times. Make a list, meditate on it. Now, our issues don’t involve things like adultery or abuse, which might put a different spin on that advice (or, at least in the case of adultery, might not).

    My point – two points, actually – are:

    1. Even if you’re working with a therapist, remember that a trusted, long-time friend may be able to give you perspective that you can’t provide yourself or get from your therapist.

    2. It’s easy to get wrapped around the axle over the negative things (trust me, I know). If you can, remember to bring the good things, good times, good memories, the good reasons you originally married this person, back to mind. Write them down. Seek ways to reinforce those good things in the relationship today. That’s a very scriptural injunction, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

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