I have witnessed this scene too often over my counselling years for it to be a one off situation.
There is a broken, depressed and desperate person sitting in front of me crying. In their mid 40's to early 50's, they have been hanging in trying to save their marriage for the past 15 years.
Their 15 yr old daughter has an eating disorder, which the daughter's psychiatrist partly blames on the home situation, and the 17 year old son is angry, threatening to drop out of most things, and is probably depressed.
Their partner began "exiting" the marriage some fifteen years prior. It doesn't really matter what activity the partner is engaged in - be it addiction to pornography, withdrawal into romantic novels, workaholism, use of alcohol, emotional abuse, obsession with the appearance of their home - the effect is the same.
Intimacy in all forms is reduced often to non existence: the partnership has been reduced to a working arrangement, with various duties such as earning the money, doing domestic work, caring for children, taking some ministry role in their church being divided up between the couple. There is little meaningful conversation or connecting. The atmosphere at home is at best, cool and distant: at worst, tense and argumentative.
The final straw has been their spouse's withdrawal from church life.
The partner sitting in front of me has tried everything they can think of - they have read and put into action every "how to be a good Christian wife/husband" book they can. They have prayed fervently over the years and have often spoken with their minister.
They managed to get their spouse to counselling about five years ago by begging and cajoling. They managed about 3 sessions. The "absent" spouse either was too busy to go, complained about the counsellor's competence, or told their spouse bluntly that they were the person that they had married and they had no intention of changing.
More recently, the client is wondering how long they can continue. Some even feel suicidal in the face of their desperation. Their pastor is still encouraging them to pray for their spouse and change in the relationship: to have hope that God will answer their prayers and their marriage will be restored.
The question I am left with as I contemplate this story, is whether God and His grace is being glorified here?
Often the friends of the emotionally "abandoned" spouse are asking why they are staying in the marriage when it seems to be causing such distress to them and their children. Are those around the marriage seeing the power of God's grace in this situation or not?
Or is the "abandoned" partner able to leave this marriage? Larry Richards argues in Divorce and Remarriage - Four Christian Views, that when such "hardheartedness" is displayed, "the marriage covenant may be abandoned by both parties, whether or not a legal divorce takes place".
I am then challenged by writers such as J. Carl Laney who also contributed to Divorce and Remarriage - Four Christian Views as to whether I, like Richards whose argument he critiques in the book, am affected by my "personal involvement with divorced and hurting people resulting in a personal viewpoint biased towards divorce and remarriage".
How are others coping with these situations that are happening in your communities?