Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

Can I Leave My Wife for My High School Sweetheart?

Can I Leave My Wife for My High School Sweetheart?

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

Dear Roger,

I am a 47 year old male, married for 18 years, with two teenage daughters. I have a 21 year old son with my ex. I married my wife because she was pregnant. While, I did love her in a way I have stayed with her for our daughters … I do not love my wife now, except for the fact she is the mother to my daughters. She is now claiming to possibly have liver cancer.

I did not see my son for 17 years, but he has suddenly come back into my life….as soon as I saw my son's mother, all the love I have felt since we were both in high school came back. We have been spending some time together for about 6 months now. While we both realize this is wrong, I do not want to ever lose her again…. I have loved her my whole life.

Due to our ages, the Army, time apart we never were able to be together for good and that is the great regret in my life. My question is, is it wrong for me to go after this happiness and leave my wife or should I stay because she is sick? I have told her that I don’t love her. I have been sleeping on the couch for almost a year. We have no common interest. We don’t have any sort of affection together. I know loving someone else isn't the way it is supposed to be, but I can't help how I feel.

Name withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

What a shame. I am sorry that things have not worked out with your current wife. I am also grieving for you that you and the love of your life were not able to work things out long ago. Your life obviously would have turned out quite differently.

It is easy now to play the "What If" game. What if we had gotten married right out of high school? What if the Army (and other things) had not kept us apart? What if I had met another "sweet heart" I loved with all my heart and married her and not gotten "trapped" into a marriage I really didn't want?

The corollary to the "What If" game is to look at it like this: "What could have happened, did happen!"

Very seldom do we have the chance for a "do over." That is what I hear you asking for. Unfortunately, I think that in your case, "what could have happened, did happen" (and it can't be undone)." You have to play the cards you've been dealt. Or, perhaps it is more apropos to say, "You must play the cards you dealt yourself."

I don't want to sound harsh. You are not alone. I get asked questions like yours quite frequently. In some cases it is time to pick up the pieces and start over. In others, it is not.

Unfortunately, I don't see starting over as a legitimate nor honorable option for you.

Since your wife is sick with liver cancer (although there seems to be some doubt about this) I don't see how you can leave her in a time of need.

I see no grounds for you to break your marriage vows (Matthew 5:23).

I imagine that you're saying to yourself, "Your answer is not at all what I wanted to hear!" My response is, "I really am sorry."

I am assuming that you are a Christian; and, therefore, if you choose to follow my advice (Biblically based on Ephesians 5:20-33), you're perhaps asking, "What am I to do?"

The biblical answer is quite straight forward. You must learn to love your current wife and break off the relationship with your high school sweetheart. Trying to love two women is most difficult and one will certainly come out on the "short end of the stick." I think we both know which woman that would be.

Whenever I have a husband or wife in your situation I remind (challenge) them with the three levels of Christian love enunciated by Paul in Ephesians 5 and by Jesus in Matthew 5 and Matthew 22.

Love your wife (Ephesians (Matthew 5:25-33)

Love your neighbor (Matthew 22:39)

Love your enemy (Matthew 5:43-47)

I say to the husband (or wife), "Paul said to love your wife as Jesus loved the His church and sacrificed His life for her. Can you love your wife as Jesus loved His church?"

"No, not really," he replies. I'm not certain that I ever loved her. But, I know one thing, I sure don’t love her now!"

Then I say, "Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself. If you can't love her as your wife, can you love her as your neighbor?"

He pauses and reflects before admitting, "No, I can't say I even love her as my neighbor."

"Well, then, Jesus said we are to love our enemies. Can you love her as your enemy?"

We just can't get away from our responsibility to love.

Love is never described in the Bible as a feeling. Love is always an action verb. Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Loving Jesus is not a feeling. Loving Jesus is doing what He says. Love is always portrayed in the Bible as doing something for someone else.

Love is an action verb. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul lists sixteen characteristics of love: "Love is patient; love is kind, love is humble, love is well behaved (etc.)." These sound like simple adjectives. But, they aren't. Paul, as he writes in Greek, presents each characteristic as a verbal adjective. Each of these is something love does--whether the feeling is present or not.

Name Withheld, I imagine that if you were now speaking to Jesus person to person about your question, He might well say, "Go and love your wife. Care for her, protect her, stand beside her and help her to become someone special--whether you feel like it or not."

Name Withheld, thank you for sharing your story. I hope all turns out well. I think that many others will benefit by the answer to your question.

May God bless you with great days ahead.

Love, Roger

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier recently retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Publication date: January 7, 2013