Advising on marital break up


…Or perhaps break down???

A member of my family has not had much to do with the Church for a long while. She got together with a really intelligent guy with great career prospects (not religious) and they lived together for about 7 years before getting married eventually in her Parish Church. At the outset of the relationship (ie when they first started seeing each other) she found he had gone out one night and slept with two other girls (at the same time) and this caused her lots of hurt and anguish- but they worked it through and carried on seeing each other.

Throughout the relationship, she has had to push him into doing everything- moving, renting a flat, buying a house, everything. He feels she is trying to control or manipulate him and refuses to make concessions as far as appologies etc are concerned.

They both used to go out and get silly drunk etc. But as time has gone by, she has become more mellow and as they think about starting a family it appears her position is changing. She’s even started coming back to mass (although tentatively and infrequently). She has lost both parents and I think in many ways she longs for the foundation faith provides. With no parents and no common family position with her husband, she’s a bit of a lost soul, bless her. She has lots of standard lefty reservations about Catholicism which I have been gently eroding over the last four or five years.

About a year before they got married they went to Australia for a year. She was pushing to get married and he was dead against the idea. He wanted kids and couldn’t understand why she felt they had to be married in order to do that-- perhaps the Catholic in her would not break that taboo? Huge rows ensued and on return from Aus, perhaps drawing strength from her proximity to my wife and I as her closest family, they split up…Then a couple of weeks later they got back together and marriage was in the air.

The perfect marriage ensued- I was surrogate father of the bride, the event was rather flash and meaningless for a prayerfull person, but expensive and everything todays homo-consumo wants. Today it’s about 18 months down the road and it appears to be all over. She’s coming round tonight and my wife feels that it’s to tr and secure our “blessing” to leave him. She argues she is not happy and truthfully it is hard to see things ever really improving. They bicker constantly and there seems little love between them-- God only knows how they ended up here! They should have split up years ago! Now she is mid thirties and, well you can guess.

Jesus never condemned sinners in the Gospel. He never condoned sin either, but he didn’t condemn them. What do I say? Do I tell her she can leave him? Or do I tell her to go back and work at her marriage?? Telling her to pray etc is pointless at this stage and believe me, I have prayed and prayed that I wouldn’t end up in this position!

Any words of wisdom for me?


Were they married in the Church? It doesn’t sound like it from your description of it being rather meaningless for a prayerful person. I think that does make a difference in how I handled it. If they did marry in the Church, I would probably advise her to speak with her priest. I think he can give her the best advice and counseling for her situation.


if it were my sister (and it has been) I would be advising her to get her advice not from me or other family members put from professionals in marriage and pastoral counselling.


Yes they were married in the Church and I’ve tried to advise her to go to the Parish Priest. She hasn’t been.


Unfortunately I don’t think she has enough “Catholicity” to feel that would be relevant in her life. She has been to a secular marriage guidance councillour, but after an extended series of sessions they (as a couple) got nowhere!


Is there a program called Retrouvaille in your area?

It started in Quebec ( the name if French for “reexamine”) and it’s been VERY sucessful in restoring Marriages (my in-laws) for example.

I didn’t see a listing in the UK, only in Ireland, but you could give them a call.


I am recently divorced myself, and I just want to say that I don’t think I will ever advise anyone to get a divorce. I really think that is something that has to come from within, not from an external source. If someone is in an abusive or unhealthy situation, then it might would be advisable for them to separate. I think they would need to search their soul to know whether or not divorce is called for in their own particular situation.

I think mostly your job with this family member would be to listen and to pray for her.


Thank you dulcissma, I think you are right. I suppose part of why I wanted to talk this over here is because I am worried that she is going to ask me if she can leave him, do you know what I mean? This has been going on for ages and I have so far refused to condone her leaving him and always said that I would support her what ever she decided, but that I would not advise her to divorce her husband, it’s not my place.

She’s just found out he’s been taking drugs-- not pretty :(. I think it’s stupid and irresponsible and I don’t know how he can expect her to bring a child into that…Know what I mean? She feels niaeve; she should have known, but she didn’t. Maybe it’s a factor in his general irrascibility??? Anyway, it’s the first time I have felt that the light at the end of the tunnel I have been encouraging her to look for has winked out of existence. If her husband will not help himself in this relationship in any way, how will they move on???

There’s nothing obviously abusive-- no gambling-- no obvious physical abuse-- no overt alcholism-- no overt drug addiction-- yet all these things are present in their relationship, if in a more middle class, insidious sort of way.


How does a Catholic advise someone about a situation like this? I can’t help but feel it’s a mistake she made when she decided to marry him. She was no where near her faith at the time and that seems largel the problem. Now, heading for childbirth etc, she is looking to the Church for foundation and framework. It’s now she needs the Church more than ever and I can’t help but feel that this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach out to her in her time of need!


You might want to take a look at this answer from Fr. Serpa in the Ask an Apologist section:

I really think it would be best for her to lay out all of the information to her priest and get his advice on whether leaving is the best option or if there is marriage counseling available in your area that he thinks would work well for them.


Have you asked her what she expects out of marriage? Why would being single help? What has she done to make him feel loved? Can you explain what would make you feel loved? What does love mean to you?

If anything the couple really seems to need to be guided and coached into what it actually takes for a marriage. They might not even really have any real clear sense of mission for the marriage, other than just the wedding.

You should try to get them to some professionals in the situation, but at the same time, they also need friends. You also have to realize how much you can honestly invest, although be generous with you honestly can. Then realize how little influence you have in the situation, but even if indirect you really can help.

In general happy people, are people who know who they are, not overly worried about what people think, and are able to meet some obligations to help others out. If you can help the couple to the point where they can meet the three, then I am sure the problems will solve themselves. Pray that the Holy Spirit can change you to help. Try to help them get to professionals.


And I agree, unfortunately she doesn’t!


Good points! Thanks! :thumbsup:


Then you say something like, “Sorrry, this topic is out of my league. I love you, but I cannot advise you properly on your situation, which is why I recommended that you seek a priest’s advice. If you need someone to take you, I will be more than happy, but I am in no position to give you advice on this subject beyond the advice I have already given to you.”


She should truly never have married him. You don’t push someone into marriage…harp on him/her…beg…whatever…that is just a horrible way to go into something as beautiful as marriage. I would never have begged or harped on my husband to marry me. It’s either there or it isn’t, and she is realizing now that she probably should have let this relationship go before it morphed into a marriage. I will pray for her, but I think that this would be a judgement for the RCC to make…it seems like an annulment would make sense in this case. Doesn’t seem like he ever really wanted to marry her in the first place.:o

Your statement…‘now she is in her mid thirties, and you can guess…’ what do you mean by that? I didn’t get the reference?



I know he was at best, apathetic. He knew it was something she wanted. I wonder if her ignoring what seems obvious with hindsight has something to do with security?

Well she wants to have a family etc and I think she sees the clock ticking. I would hate to see her “rushing” into another relationship because she feels she’s running out of time to have children!


Hmmm…unfortunately…she has some baggage to clear out, I think…emotional baggage maybe from her childhood. It’s often said that how we behave as adults, is a direct reflection of how we were treated as a child. I will pray for her that her heart turns to God…and only the best can come from that, right?:slight_smile:


Thanks, you’re right. She has been asking questions…Coming to mass…I think the biggest thing is that she sees my wife and I and how we are with each other and compares that to what she has and sees something she wants…If you know what I mean. Her complete return to the Church would be amazing! :slight_smile:


What can you do but pray and console her and support on whatever decision she fells she needs to make. She is an adult and can and should choose what she needs to do. You’ve given her some great advice on counseling by priests and others. What else can you do?

Also wanting to have a children in a bad marriage is certainly not a good idea. It’s not a fix to the symptoms you mention here.

Perhaps she’ll take this lesson to heart and follow a plan that will make her happy whatever that is.


yes it would be. God will always lead us to the right spouse…I will continue praying for her.:thumbsup:


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit