Isn't "emotional neglect" tantamount to "any cause"?

Someone emailed:
I understand that you reject the "any cause" ground for divorce, but do accept the ground of emotional neglect. Some of the leaders of our church see "emotional neglect" as being tantamount to "any cause" in today's climate of psychological analysis/argument and in a modern divorce court. Can you comment?

Reply: "Emotional neglect" is a very woolly phrase which can be interpreted too widely, so I agree that it can be unhelpful and misleading. It would be a hopeless phrase to use in legislation, but it does help to encapsulate an idea. Ex.21.10f refers starkly to sexual activity, and Paul reflects this in 1Cor.7.3-5, but I wanted to avoid the situation where one partner demands "sex" when they should be offering love. I also wanted a phrase which mirrored the phrase "material support".

But I agree that the phrase "emotional support" could be used by people who have 'fallen out of love' as an excuse to end a marriage, when really they should get counselling, or go on a holiday, or stop reading girlie mags. I made this clear in one of my emails about a girl who 'no longer loved' her husband.

So I agree that "emotional support" can be misleading, but I used this terms as a good middle ground between "sex" and "love". I'd welcome ideas for a replacement.

See more at Defining Biblical grounds for divorce in Divorce & Remarriage in the Church


Anonymous said...

This email has led me to think about two specific types of situations: the person who has married "foolishly" and the person who has "fallen out of love." Though it is certainly true that some people might be willing to switch spouses as easily as they change channels on the television, that is not the situation to which I am referring. I can imagine people in both circumstances who genuinely devote themselves to the marriage and who work diligently to strengthen and repair it but, unfortunately, fall short. It seems that such persons are faced with the equally undesirable options of either breaking their vows or remaining in an empty marriage that has no resemblance to the ideal (and is arguably harmful to themselves or their spouses).

To be more specific: although single myself, I have worked in a professional capacity and known personally several people of good conscience and strong conviction who found themselves in such situations and were quite agonized. These are people who made concerted efforts to renew and to grow their relationship with each other, as well as seeking counseling both as couples and individually. Some are people who married quite young, long before they knew themselves well, let alone another person. In another situation the person in question, without seeking it out, found herself in a relationship (unconsummated) in which she felt a kind of love from and for the other which in her marriage she could never have imagined (even though she hadn't experienced herself as unhappy in her marriage before this).

While I doubt that these people would find biblical justification for breaking their vows, should they decide to do so, at the same time I'm not certain that they can "will" themselves to embody their vows as spoken despite their best efforts. True, they may remain married and behave externally in a manner consistent with their vows, but is that really the same as embodying and truly living out those vows? Should a well-intentioned error or misjudgment, youthful or not, be adhered to in all cases solely for the sake of maintaining one's vows?

I would welcome any thoughtful comments about how the suffering of these people might be compassionately addressed.

Anonymous said...

I have a similar issue... My husband and I married young and we are both Christians. However, he seems to put me on the back burner more often than not. We have talked about this on many different occasions. We have a child and I feel terribly alone in our marriage. Finally, he vowed to make a change because I told him I was contemplating leaving. Now, I feel that every gesture is in vain because the only reason he is trying is because I had to mention something. I can't get that out of the back of my head. I am still in this situation and I fear that I will be neglected again in the short or long run, as well as my daughter. What do I do? continue being unhappy, and try to reocncile? When is enough enough for someone like me? I want to do waht's right in God's eyes, but I also want to be happt. I feel Ihave tried every avenue and had no luck. Help please, anyone!

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous (19 May 2008 13:31),

-- When you say, "I want to do what's right in God's eyes, but I also want to be happy." The choice of being happy VERSUS doing what's right in God's eyes is clearly a selfish motive, no matter which way you spin it. Look to God for your happiness. Weren't you a happy person before you met your spouse? THEN YOU CAN BE HAPPY WITH YOUR SPOUSE. You need to choose to be happy IN YOUR circumstances. Can a very hungry child be happy & run off and play right after they've received a meal? Enjoy YOUR happy spurts in your marriage (make it work) & allow these moments to come closer together in frequency (make these moments).
-- When you mentioned that you were going to leave your husband, THAT was the first damage that happened to this marriage. His apathy was not the first. The fact that you've got a husband that is listening AND responding to your beckoning cry for help is a good thing. Now FOSTER THAT by directing both of you towards Godly counseling and praying together.

Anonymous said...

How about actual physical neglect? My husband is emotionally and verbally abusive, but he also refuses to support me and his children. Now, I'm not one to think men should work and women stay home or that a man should support a woman, but he won't even work a part time job to help us cover bills. I work full time and he does not even do much housework at all. When he got financial aid for his school (he is not working toward an immediate degree that will allow him to earn but is studying a non-practical subject that he will need a Ph.D. in to even teach), he spent it all on his interests and bought about $100 worth of clothes for the kids and thought he had done a great thing! Does this amount to neglect?

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