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How should a Christian treat his/her ex-wife/ex-husband?

Christian ex-wife, Christian ex-husband

After a divorce, ex-husbands and ex-wives rarely get along amicably and peacefully. More commonly, ex-spouses experience tension and stress or even open and aggressive conflict in their relationship because of deep-rooted emotional wounds and unforgiveness. So, how should a Christian treat his or her ex-wife or ex-husband? The answer begins with living by the principle of the Golden Rule and learning to forgive.

Jesus taught His followers what has come to be known as the Golden Rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT; see also Luke 6:31). God wants us to treat other people as we would like them to treat us, and that includes ex-spouses. If we are to obey the teachings of Jesus, we must be willing to take the first step in treating our ex-husband or ex-wife with kindness, patience, and acceptance—the same way we would want him or her to treat us. Living out this command is impossible without God’s help and a willingness to practice forgiveness.

Why should we forgive our ex-spouse? We forgive because God forgave us. Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14–15, NLT). Forgiveness is not a feeling but a conscious decision of your will. We choose to forgive an ex-wife or ex-husband because God commands us to do so.

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. In The Christian Counsellor’s Manual (Zondervan, 1973), Dr. Jay Adams points out that God does not ask believers to forget all the past hurts inflicted by an ex-spouse. That would be impossible and, in some cases, even dangerous. We cannot simply wipe out all the painful memories. But as followers of Christ, we must do our best to leave them behind us and not dwell on them (Isaiah 43:18; Philippians 3:13). Instead of dredging up the hurts and waving them in front of our ex-spouse every chance we get, we lay them at the foot of the cross. We forgive without conditions, just as Jesus forgave us (Mark 11:25; Luke 6:37; Ephesians 4:31–32; Colossians 3:13). We choose to show mercy and forgiveness to an ex-spouse without any expectation of mercy or forgiveness in return (James 2:13). We let go and let God deal with our ex-husband or ex-wife.

It’s also essential to do our best to keep our children out of the friction of a painful divorce. Be careful not to use children as weapons against an ex-spouse to spy on them or to take revenge on them. Don’t lay the heavy emotional burdens of your broken relationship on your kids. The divorce will be hard enough for them to deal with; they don’t need to be further traumatized by the emotional fallout their parents are going through divorce.

Jesus calls us to be humble and self-sacrificing in our relationships with others (Matthew 5:3; Philippians 2:3–4; Colossians 3:12). This does not mean lying down and letting an ex-spouse walk all over us. Instead, it means doing our best to behave with dignity and respect and let the Spirit of Christ reflect in our words and actions whenever we are around our ex-spouse, even if he or she refuses to change or cooperate. It may also mean setting up practical boundaries, limiting our exposure to an ex-spouse, and making wise decisions about where and when to meet.

God’s Word says to be humble and self-sacrificing, but we can’t do that if we insist on getting our way and having everything on our terms. The Bible calls us to lay aside our rights and desires for the good of others (Galatians 5:13–14). Our motivation for setting aside our own interests to serve others is “out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21). To do this, we must daily die to our selfish desires (Romans 6:4–8; Galatians 2:20; 5:24), take up our cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 14:27).

Ultimately, Jesus commands us to love not only our friends and neighbors but also our enemies (Matthew 5:43–45). We must love our ex-wife or ex-husband and pray for her or him. Sometimes, we can love them up close, but more often than not, we must love and pray for them from a distance.

Navigating the challenges of a post-divorce relationship is complex and multifaceted, especially when children and stepparents are involved. Depending on the circumstances of the breakup, a particularly contentious divorce will sometimes require help or mediation. In the event you are unable to maintain a civilized relationship and open lines of communication with an ex-spouse, you should consider seeking professional Christian counseling or pastoral counseling to support and assist you through the challenges.

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How should a Christian treat his/her ex-wife/ex-husband?
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This page last updated: April 11, 2024