9

I suppose this might be a tough one, but this community has proven to be able to come up with good answers far beyond my imagination, so I'll give it a try.

The Problem

Bob and Alice have been married for two years, now, and they have a small child together. Alice had (and still has) an affair and a couple of one nights stands. Bob found out (about the affair), Alice wants to get separated and divorced. They're both practising Christians and Bob refuses to accept their separation and divorce for religious reasons.

Bob argues that is against God's will that they be divorced. Unless he (i.e. Bob) actively releases her from that marriage, he is not allowed to have sex with another woman - even if Alice would give him explicit "permission" (which she does). He is using this to put pressure on her implicitly stating that he will suffer until the end of his life because of her. Of course he also refuses to officially "release" her because he is convinced that it his obligation to bring her back on the right path instead of (him) just running away. His only options are to continue to live in marriage or - as he calls it - war! There's nothing in between! He is aware that their child will likely suffer from that, but that's only because it's parents are separated and it's mother refuses to do God's will. He keeps quoting the Bible and searching for "qualified papers" that support his position ignoring anything else. Anyone not explicitly sharing his point of you is at least an idiot.

What I'm looking for

My goal is to help my friends settle their differences in a peaceful way so that they both can be happy and provide a nice upbringing for their child. At the moment, my friendship to Alice is much better and I'm afraid she's the only one willing to listen to me and actually trying things I may advice. However, I'm always open for suggestions on how to approach Bob, although I'm convinced that this will be really, really hard.

I will give you some more background information - read as far as you think is necessary.

What caused their separation

After about two years of marriage things between them got troublesome. Most of my knowledge is from Alice who talks quite openly to me about anything. I have no reason to believe she's (intentionally) lying to me but I am aware that her position is - of course - biased. Knowing both of them I find most of what she's saying at least highly plausible.

Alice felt neglected by Bob. It's true, he has a very demanding job, but he prefers to "relax" a few hours a day in front of his computer rather than spending some time with his wife (or child). They had sex (obviously), but less than once a month and to him it was more like a "let's get over it" thing. He neither seemed to really enjoy it nor was concerned about whether his wife did so.

Bob's personality/background

Bob is in his early fourties (like me) and he has been one of my best friend for more than twenty years! In our twenties we both had relationships that lasted few years. We were both engaged - and we both separated before getting married or having kids. My separation was mostly consensual - it simply didn't work - while he got cheated on. We're both Christians and we spent a lot of time discussing religious topics always in an "academic" style - we were not praying together, for example. Up to a year ago or so I thought the way we think about "being Christian" were not equal, but at least similar. I tend to be a bit more liberal, he's sometimes slightly more conservative and "dedicated", but that's about it.

Bob is very, very self-confident. What he says is right and no one should dare challenge his position. (It's not that he's getting angry, though, but rather ignorant.) This goes as far as saying a bunch of psychiatrists are idiots unwilling to diagnose Alice with borderline personality disorder - which he is convinced she has - for reasons he can't really explain. He very rarely makes mistakes. Further, admitting having made a mistake and perhaps even apologizing is even more rare. It is my impression that he is truly convinced he's right and always has been rather than secretly knowing he's wrong but not admitting it.

Alice's personality/background

Alice is almost 20 years younger than Bob, very good looking with a "troublesome" personality. She has been (and still is) in psychiatric treatmend for anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder. Regardless, they got married within a year, moved out of town together and now have a child. I have become a very good friend of Alice and at the moment my friendship to her is even stronger while I feel somewhat "alienated" when it comes to Bob.

During her youth, Alice was quite uptight about sex - partly because a some "incident" in the past. This is when she got to know Bob. It seems she's over it, now, and she loves and enjoys sex more than anything else. She really wants to try things, experiment... You get the point. Bob was open for none of those things so she began looking for it somewhere else and started an affair - which she is still in - plus a couple of one night stands. Of course Bob found out and as a consequence she began to force a separation and things got dirty. Bob was calling Alice a slut on just about every occasion - even in front of her parents - while Alice made Bob move out of the apartment. While Alice feels guilty she is convinced that she had absolutely no alternative other than doing what she did unless she wanted to "make her whole life a complete and utter misery". Bob is absolutely certain that he has done nothing wrong and even if there was some slight mistake on his side, his wife has to tolerate that and do her "duties" in their marriage - which of course includes monogamy and obedience when it comes to his (sexual) needs. (He's not assaulting her, though.)

Further updates (This is where I may add things that happened in the meantime if I think they might be important)

Bob announced that even if Alice returns to him he won't ever even touch her again, because she is "unclean" now and will be for the rest of her life. If she doesn't return, he will do his very best to make Alice's life as miserable as he can.

7
+100

There are times that people make up their minds in such a way that facts and logic have no further effect.

However, if Bob truly appeals to the Bible for motivation, consider pointing him to the book of Hosea in the Bible, where God’s attitude towards His people is demonstrated tangibly by the interaction between the prophet and the prophet’s unfaithful wife. It acknowledges the pain caused by and consequent to the unfaithfulness, but it also speaks of active redemption and the underlying desire for a return and reconciliation. It’s not a long read, and the main question for Bob to consider while reading it is: When God was in a situation like his, what did He do ... and what was His desired outcome?

When it comes to children, there are no verbal instructions as powerful as what they pick up from their parents’ attitudes. Contempt for spouse in one generation becomes unhealthy emotional baggage in the next generation. Regardless of how Bob feels about Alice, he should consider how his treatment of her affects his own child (and his relationship with his child) in the long run.

Don’t expect this to produce immediate changes in Bob’s attitudes or behaviour. His wife still cheats on him and this has got to hurt. However, the goal is to get Bob to look at the situation from a couple of other important perspectives: from God’s perspective and from his child’s perspective.

As for your own interactions with Bob: even if you find his reactions to be over the top, consider riding through this with him. His perspective, however narrow you might think it to be, was shaped by the truly awful discovery of marital unfaithfulness. He might have been overly outspoken to Alice’s parents, but have you considered that she was unfaithful and yet he was thrown out of their home? This is a picture of his broader situation, and it might help for him to reflect on what he can do so it doesn’t keep turning out that way. It sounds like he could really do with a friend right now.

Your goal is for a peaceful resolution, with Bob and Alice happy and giving their child a nice upbringing. Most of this isn’t up to you, and it’s not easy to achieve even when husband and wife both want it. Here, Alice isn’t even willing to give up her ongoing extramarital affairs. I suspect that the starting point for any reconciliation is for each party to understand the perspective of the other person. That’s not to say they’d agree with it, just that they look and really see through the other person’s eyes.

As their friend, it sounds like you’ve heard both of them out. You don’t have to be the one to find the way forward; what you can do, though, is to show them that their side of the story isn’t the only side.

  • 2
    +1 because I agree with all that you said, especially the outcome is not up to Thomas. Besides praying with each of them the only other practical thought I had for Thomas is to offer to babysit for Bob and Alice so they can have undistracted time together. – Laura Aug 14 '18 at 19:27
3

Okay, it looks like there are a few issues here, and both of them were acting in an un-Christian fashion.

With Bob, there is a very clear problem with his pride, but there is also a more subtle problem in that he was clearly failing to meet his wife's sexual needs. Paul writes the following in his first letter to the Corinthians:

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife.

Do not deprive one another, except by mutual consent for a limited time, so you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again, so that Satan will not tempt you through your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

As you can see, Paul explicitly states that neither the husband nor the wife is to refuse consent to the sexual desires of their spouse. The purpose of marriage is the sanctification of sexual desire, so if one party needs more sex, the other party should oblige them.

Further, Paul goes on to state the following slightly later in that same letter:

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

If Alice and Bob reconcile (and, if they're both Christians, they probably should, from a Biblical point of view, given that Paul banned divorce between Christians in this passage), he'll need to take her back fully, and that includes satisfying her sexual desires, regardless of whether or not she's "unclean" now. Further, his behavior calling her a slut is decidedly unloving, and Paul commands husbands to love their lives in his letter to the Ephesians:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.

In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Indeed, no one ever hated his own body, but he nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church. For we are members of His body.

Now, Alice's adultery was also a sin, and that's not good either, but it doesn't excuse Bob's sins against her - this sort of situation is exactly why Paul banned Christian spouses from refusing sexual consent towards each other. Marriage is a covenant relationship, and just because one party violated their duties in that marriage does not release the other party of their own duties.

2

In my opinion there are a few separate issues here and I will try to address them one at a time. Based on your note at the end of the post my answer presumes that "help them get back together" won't achieve your goal so my answer is more like how to deal with the separation.

Dealing with Bob

From what you explain about Bob there is very little you can do to change his attitude toward the situation. That doesn't mean his attitude cannot be changed, it just has to come from someone he respects and would listen to. As his believes are strongly religious I believe that a priest might be able to get to him and help him moderate his attitude and help him find peace.

I would explain the situation to a priest and ask them for help. They might give you some helpful information or be willing to meet with Bob and have a conversation on this topic. I believe he would respect the priest and the church enough to not dodge the topic or refuse the meeting. The hard part would be to find someone that would take some time to help and doesn't have such extreme views as Bob.

Dealing with Alice

Seems that she has already made her decision and knows that she has to look for happiness somewhere else. All you can do here is be supportive and a good friend. Try to keep her from taking extreme actions* during this conflict while Bob deals with the separation (unless absolutely necessary).

*Extreme actions would include, restraining orders, fighting for full custody, leaving the country, ect.

Dealing with the kid

From what I understand the child is way too young to understand what is happening around it so this goes as advice to either parent to help the kid in the future. My parents got separated when I was 8 and from personal experiences I can share what were the most difficult parts dealing with that. This presumes both parents can be civil about the separation and no harm can come out of any of those things.

  • Don't prevent the child to spend time with either parent. Children should be able to spend time and rely on both their parents for help with the issues they face growing up.

  • Don't ask the child to chose between his parents. I have experienced a lot of big holidays (Christmas, Easter, ect.) that I was asked to chose with who I want to spend them with and ALWAYS the other parent was hurt if you didn't chose them. It is never fun and it is no decision a child can make and I still hate Christmas to this day for that reason. Have a set schedule and stick to it.

  • A bit derivative from above but: Don't bribe the child in order to get him to spend time with you. I don't think I need to explain why "Spend Easter with me and I will get you a new Bike" is a bad idea.

  • Don't ask the child to take sides. I am close to my 30s now and I honestly don't know why my parents got separated. I don't want to know. They are both my parents and I still love both of them. I don't care who was wrong and who was right, it was their decision they got separated and I was very actively trying to avoid shaping my relationship with my parents based on their attitude towards one another and I am very happy they didn't try to influence me to take a side.

Having said all that, keep in mind that it would be hard to help as 3rd party. You can just help mediate and steer them in the right direction but they are their own people it is very hard to predict how everything will unfold.

  • The way I see it Bob only accepts two "authorities": The Holy Bible and God Himself. If he were Catholic (he's Lutheran!), then maybe the Pope? Nay, don't think so. This is so sad because I've been a very, very good friend to him for more than twenty years... :-( Currently I advise Alice to make written notes of her (mostly private) conversations with Bob. Date, time, location, perhaps witnesses, who said what, negative things as well as positive ones. If extreme measures come into play - by her or by Bob - they may be useful. The child is too young for anything right now, but I agree. – Thomas Aug 10 '18 at 6:33
  • @Thomas still I believe someone from his church would have easier time helping him than someone outside of it. Hopefully the bounty will help bring some more attention to your issue. Would love to see some other suggestions on this question – Ontamu Aug 10 '18 at 7:12

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