Ask Richard: One Spouse Became an Atheist After a Few Years of Marriage

Dear Richard,

Over the last few years my beliefs have changed drastically from fundamentalist Christian (since childhood) to staunch atheist. There came a certain point in which I finally shed my fear-based beliefs and overcame my indoctrination to religion and embraced rational and free thought. It was a painful internal struggle but I felt relieved and liberated after finally shedding old superstitions, which conflicted with reason and logic.

“Coming out” as an atheist is by far the hardest part. I was married before I became an atheist, and am married to a very strong Christian woman. I love her very much, but confessing my new belief to her has caused great distress and exposed some weak spots in our marriage, as I find it difficult to talk openly about my beliefs in fear of how she might react. In the past years, I have expressed my “doubts” to her; but at the time I was speaking as a Christian. At the time it was nothing but a minor “phase” I was going through as a conflicted Christian.

However, over time I have completely abandoned my Christian faith. I could no longer keep it bottled up inside and I felt that I had to be honest with her about my beliefs. She did not react as I had hoped. I had hoped I would be able to have a calm, rational, and logical discussion with her. Instead, she became very upset and threw things at me in anger and betrayal. In a way I do I feel like I had betrayed her; as I had mainly kept it inside as an internal struggle. Unfortunately it was a struggle in which I could not anticipate the outcome.

To complicate matters, we will be having our first child soon. On the rare occasion in which we do talk about it, she mentions things like “I can’t live like this” or “how are we going to raise our kids?” or “I can’t live in an atheist household” which makes me think she is going to divorce me because of my drastic change in beliefs. That is an outcome I am terrified of, as we will be having a child soon and I have made it clear I did not want to get divorced.

I have tried to present to her some books I have read, in hope she would see where I was coming from and understand my reasons. On the flip side I have agreed to read some Christian books at her request, although I remain unconvinced, I read them anyway.

It feels like a one-way street. I know I cannot force my beliefs on her, or expect a sudden “conversion” to atheism (after all, my gradual shift into atheism progressed over 3 years). I know I will have to be patient, but I find it difficult to even talk about it because I am afraid she will call it quits.

I have no idea what to do and no one to talk to.

-Bad Timing

Dear Bad Timing,

I’m taking from your letter that your primary goal is to preserve your marriage, so my advice will be toward that goal.

As they developed, you told your wife about your doubts. Later, you told her about your complete loss of belief. She did not receive that one well, but you did manage to tell her where you stand. So your truth is basically told, even though she may not fully understand or accept it yet.

The main challenge here is fear. Your wife is afraid of whatever she imagines the word “atheist” means, and you are afraid of what she will do as a result of her fear. But both of you giving in to your fears and avoiding talking will not solve this problem. She is throwing tantrums and you are shutting down what you need to say. Turning away from what we fear only means that it will come up from behind us. Turning away from a problem makes us unable to see it clearly, and unable to see that it has solutions.

Before you begin talking with her, you need to be crystal clear with yourself what your purpose will be in further discussions about this. If you have in the back of your mind even a tiny motive of getting her to eventually agree with your views, rid yourself of that. If she ever becomes an atheist, that must be entirely from inside her, just as your process has been entirely your own. Any attempt to sway her to your opinion of religion will likely result in a divorce.

So do not try for agreement, only work toward understanding. Your only goal should be to give her assurance that despite this difference, your marriage can still be a strong and happy one, and that you can work out mutually acceptable arrangements.

As I’ve said before, (and readers, forgive me for the repetition) begin, continue and conclude with “I love you.” Tell her that you have confidence that both of you are mature enough to talk about this, and that together you will be able to find your way forward. Promise her that you do not have any intention to try to change her beliefs about God or Christianity, you only want to help her see that you will remain the good husband you have always been. Reassure her that you are still the same man you were before you changed your views on religion. You loved her then, and you love her now. You were a good man then, and you are a good man now. Your character, your morals and ethics are measured by what you do, not by what you think. Regardless of your innermost thoughts, you have been and will continue to be a good husband. After all, she didn’t notice this change in you; you had to tell her.

Next, you’ll need to address specific fearful thoughts and assumptions that she may have. To do this, you will need some communication skills. Most of good communicating is not about speaking skillfully, but about listening skillfully. This is sometimes called “active listening.”

Listen to her for the meaning and the feeling, without planning your rebuttal in the back of your mind. Just listen attentively, and reflect back to her a few of her own phrases that help her to know that you are understanding her meaning and her feeling. This will help to draw out of her what is difficult for her to articulate or to simply say aloud. Do not agree or disagree until she is fully finished. When she is done, briefly state in your own words what she has told you, and amend it as she corrects any details. So far, you’ve said nothing about your own thoughts, and she feels satisfied that she has been fully and accurately heard.

In your responses, take one fearful idea at a time. For instance, your wife may tell you about some preconceived ideas she has of what atheists are about. After listening and reflecting very carefully, tell her what your atheism means for you. Avoid using terms like “superstition” or other words about her religion that may carry an insult to her. Just focus on your own thought process, saying that you came to need more to be convinced than you have so far found. I expect that her scary assumption will be soothed by your simple explanation.

Gently find out what exactly she means by “I can’t live like this.” Live like what? Listen to the scary scenario, and then let her know that the two of you will be essentially living just as you always have been, with the possible exception of you not going with her to church. Many strong marriages have that arrangement, and it does not have to be a source of constant tension or resentment.

Another statement you have quoted from her is, “I can’t live in an atheist household.” Lovingly find out what does she imagine an “atheist household” is like. Then tell her you don’t want an atheist household, you want a loving and open household, where both of you can be free to believe as you need to believe, and where, while you may not agree on everything, you still understand and respect each other.

Finally, her question, “How are we going to raise our kids?” is a legitimate and important question. The life of your child will keep the two of you linked for the rest of your lives, whether you remain married or not. Think it out carefully ahead of time and have a suggestion that you think will work for both of you. Be willing to negotiate. I do not think that there is one single best formula for this issue. There are many possible arrangements and agreements that people in similar marriages have made, and with patience and maturity they can work. Here is another post about a Christian/atheist couple, Erik and Kate. They frequently post comments here, and if they read this, they may have some insights to offer. There are several comments on that post dealing with the issue of raising children, and you might find some helpful ideas there as well.

This may take more than one sit-down. Such active listening and earnest sharing can be exhausting. Whenever you need to rest, mutually agree to resume at a specific time. Don’t just say that you’ll talk again soon. You both may be tempted to keep putting it off. Punctuate your sessions with your love for her and your gratitude for the effort she is putting into them.

If there is still too much tension to do this, then I recommend conjoint marriage counseling. It should be neutral on questions of religion, having nothing to do with changing one person’s beliefs to match the other’s. The counselor should play the role of communication coach and referee, helping the two of you to take turns actively listening, honestly sharing and working out solutions.

If that is also not possible, there is one other approach that can at least get your thoughts and feelings expressed without being interrupted or turned into a fight by emotional outbursts and fits of temper. Write her a long, caring letter. Gryph, a reader of Friendly Atheist made a very good suggestion of this method for similarly mixed couples, and it is posted here. This might work to serve as an ice breaker, with face-to-face discussions later.

Bad Timing, although there is tension and anxiety in your relationship right now, this could be the beginning of much better times for both of you. You will both be more relaxed because you are able to just be who you are, and both of you will have practiced good communication skills which will be very valuable when the complexities of raising a child, dealing with an adolescent and negotiating with a young adult each come in their stages.

I feel confident that with large quantities of patience and effort in equal measure, your marriage and your family will thrive. I have not encountered a single marriage or family, including my own, that did not require copious amounts of those two qualities. Marriages and families are the most difficult, most complex and most amazing things that people ever do. They are hard work. The highest joys and the deepest sorrows come from them. We have to accept the whole package. Some of those joys and sorrows are inevitable, and some we can influence for the better with our willingness, humility and courage. I wish you, your wife and your child a wonderful journey together.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. All questions will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a large number of requests; please be patient.

About Richard Wade

Richard Wade is a retired Marriage and Family Therapist living in California.

  • Sarah TX.

    In engineering, we talk about selling the features vs. selling the benefits. Right now, it seems like Bad Timing is focused on the features of atheism – the nitty gritty of what he believes vs. what his wife believes. On the other hand, his wife needs to be sold on the benefits (or at least, the lack of negatives).

  • Siamang

    Sorry, but I couldn’t get myself to picture being able to have an honest two-way discussion with someone who thinks throwing things is part of a dialog.

    This person is over four-years-old, I take it.

    You’re trying to communicate with someone who has no adult communication skills. That’s a far, FAR bigger challenge to a long term relationship than a religious difference.

    All of Richard’s advice is good advice. It’s all part of what makes good communication work. But I think that in order for it to work at all, BOTH parties have to engage in active listening.

    Simultaneously discussing religion WHILE attempting to solve adult communication problems isn’t going to work…. I can’t see how it could possibly work.

    The baby thing is very bad timing. If she’s pregnant now, she’s going to be going through a lot of hormonal stuff with her emotions.

    My advice would be unlike Richards. I would say to have a discussion where you agree to table the religion arguments until after the baby’s first birthday. Seriously.

    Then use the next year plus to work on communication. The baby will force you to get really, really, really good at communication.

    If your marriage survives that trial by fire, and you get to that point where you really work as a team, then the religion difference might look like a tiny little bump.

    Good luck, and may the Force be with you.

    Also, Richard’s advice is awesome. Mine is just a different perspective.

  • littlejohn

    If they can discuss religion without fighting, I suggest this compromise:
    He will read any book she recommends, be it the Bible, a left-behind book, “Darwin’s Black Box,” whatever.
    She will agree to read an equal number of books he names. I would suggest starting her on Russell’s “Why I Am Not a Christian,” then “Letter to a Christian Nation,” then finish with “The God Delusion.”
    I don’t know how anyone could read – really read – that trio of books and not at least understand why some of us are skeptical.
    The pro-Christian books may help him understand her, but almost certainly won’t change his views. If he’s like most serious atheists, he’s already read the Bible.

  • Sarah TX.

    I see what you’re saying Siamang, but from the wife’s perspective… Imagine that you are completely hopped up on hormones, and then your spouse announces calmly and rationally that they are going to kill themselves. To a devout Christian, atheism is a death sentence. An emotional response is to be expected.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    Bad Timing,

    I’m married to a Christian too, but in my case she knew I was an atheist when we were dating. Although there is a bit of give and take, we have always worked out good compromises concerning what to do with the kids. We have gone through periods of not going to church at all and have also gone through periods of being very active in a church. Currently, we are not going at all but it is conceivable that we might join someplace else in the future. My main point is that each religiously mixed couple will need to find their own balance. I purposefully don’t make a big deal of my atheism at home (I do my venting on this and other blogs).

    Keep in mind that there is a big social conditioning aspect to a person’s religiosity and not everyone will be able to break free of that conditioning. If religion is important to your wife, then religion will need to be a part of your family’s life. Just let her know that your own views will also need to be a part of your family’s life. This may mean that she ends up taking the kids to church, but then you will also be able to express your views. The difference is that religious conditioning needs to happen regularly and continuously but you only have to occasionally express your views for the kids to figure things out. Remember that. Always be the friendly, accommodating, mild-mannered, non-confrontational atheist at home.

    Others may recommend joining a liberal church like the Unitarians (or perhaps a liberal Episcopalian church). That is an option but I don’t have personal experience there.

    Jeff

  • Curtis

    Bad Timing married as a Fundamentalist Christian. He conceived a child as a Fundamentalist Christian. Now he is telling his wife, he is an atheist. His wife is furious and rightly so.

    They had a life plan and he is breaking a major part of it – just as they are having children. She feels betrayed and I would agree with her. BT needs to understand how much HE has done to wreck the marriage. His wife has done nothing wrong but her view of her husband and her future have gone topsy-turvy.

    Richard’s advice is good but Bad Timing and his wife are in a bad situation.

  • Simon

    I agree with both Richard and Siamang advices.
    While an open and frank discussion is always good, it is perfectly fine to decide to post-pone it after the baby is born and a bit older. The FSM only knows you will have your hand full for a while.

    You can always try having this conversation again then, and, by then, she would have had time to realize how little your new status actually affects who you are.

  • William

    I think its important to keep in mind that “Bad Timing” already was a Christian. He knows where she’s coming from because he used to be in that place himself. However his wife has never been an atheist and probably cannot even picture what it would mean to be one. That right there is going to affect how they can relate to each other on this issue. I’m sure he doesnt think that all believers are bad people, but she might not have the same view of atheists. So it’s up to him to be a little more accommodating since she’s starting further out from the middle than he is.

    Now that doesnt mean he has to concede every point, just that it would make sense to stick to the really important battles and maybe acquiesce on those issues that dont really matter all that much. You wanna believe that Jesus is your lord and savior, go right ahead. You say the Earth is 6000 years old, now we have a problem.

    As always try and be as understanding as you can. Sometimes you just have to shrug and listen to the country music, even though you are 100% positive it every time you listen to it, a part of you dies. :)

  • ChameleonDave

    What he should do depends on what he wants. If he just wants sex and someone to look after this new kid, then he can keep her, perhaps even pretending to be Christian.

    If, however, their relationship is supposed to mean something, all he can do is try to talk her around, fail, and dump her. You can’t stay in love with a deluded and violent cultist.

  • http://www.myspace.com/youreundoingmybeltwronghun Tim D.

    All I can say is for him to keep trying as long as he can bring himself to believe in that person. If you can honestly say that you see even the tiniest shred of intellectual honesty (or sanity) down in there somewhere, and if you really do feel like you love this person, then that’s a good enough reason in my book to keep trying — not to change her mind, necessarily, but at least reach a point where you can both respect each other’s views and acknowledge that the “other side” isn’t always made up of “stupid arrogant pricks” or otherwise intellectually-challenged folks. I mean, it doesn’t have to be a war….

    Of course, if there comes a point where he just can’t see a future with her anymore, then I would advise him to do whatever he thinks is right, even if it hurts to do so (like divorce).

    [/cheese]

  • Miko

    I’ll agree with Siamang’s conclusion, but for a different reason(*). There’s an adjustment period after becoming an atheist, not just for those around you, but for yourself as well. After a reversion/de-conversion process of a few years, it’s good to take a year or so to reflect on your beliefs. When it’s new, you care too much about the logic of it. I think logic is great, but nonetheless life isn’t a debate society.

    For a handy metric, try to delay discussing it until you no longer think that having her read a pile of books on atheism is a good way to introduce the subject.

    It doesn’t have to be a “year off,” either. You mention that it’s brought other marital issues to light. It’s easy to trot out atheism as an excuse for all of your problems (e.g., “my wife just doesn’t understand the new me…”), but even if it was the tipping point I’d still bet that the other issues (whatever they may be) are really the crux of the matter. Shelve atheism and talk about them for a year instead.

    (*) I’ll also disagree with the argument that Siamang used to get to his conclusion. Whatever you do, never suggest to anyone that they’re just an irrational container for a bunch of hormones. It’s rude, demeaning, and suggests that you aren’t really interested in what they have to say.

  • Miko

    As an aside, I once read (can’t recall the source, so can’t evaluate its accuracy) that men tend to use violence to express power, whereas women tend to use violence to express powerlessness. That’s no excuse for throwing things, but keep it in mind nonetheless. Feeling powerless is a terrible thing. If your attitude even brushes against “I’ve become an atheist, so you will too,” things are going to end very poorly for you.

  • Kate

    I’m the Kate in Kate&Erik (btw Richard it’s Erik…”Eric” was my atheist ex, yuck!!!). I have to say that our situation is different, since we both knew we had different views from the start. It actually works in our favor – if one of us changes our views later on, it’s not like it’ll be a big deal, because we’re already used to having different views on the religion front.

    My advice is see a professional therapist to work things out. Someone who reacts that explosively NEEDS a professional mediator to help work through things carefully, slowly, and calmly. Yes, Erik and I have a great relationship as an atheist and a Christian but it’s built on 100% respect (even though there’s not agreement). We both are similar in many ways (he has liberal political views like me, etc.) and that helps.

    It all boils down to respect and communication. Please, seek a counselor’s help (a real one, not a Christian one). If she wont, you should. It will help! Good luck.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Curtis said,

    BT needs to understand how much HE has done to wreck the marriage.

    Really? Sorry, but what was he supposed to do? Just stop thinking and ignore his doubts?

    The alternative to what he has done – at least, the one that would’ve prevented his current problems – is exactly the opposite of free and rational thinking.

  • beijingrrl

    A close friend is going through the exact opposite situation. She married an atheist and he is now considering becoming a Christian. This is especially difficult for her as she was raised in a Christian commune and has traumatic memories associated with that time.

    The thing that has caused her the most hurt is that, like Bad Timing, he reached this point as mainly an internal struggle. All of her friends, religious and atheist alike, completely understand her feelings of betrayal. I think all of us can imagine the horror of finding out a spouse has been keeping a secret from us for a 3-year period. The nature of the secret really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your partner didn’t have enough confidence in you and your relationship to share their thought processes.

    My friend’s husband also presented his side calmly and was shocked by the strong emotions he stirred up in his wife. It only takes a minute to realize how this is really the only normal reaction one would have. Bad Timing had 3 years to sort out his emotions and thoughts and carefully hid them away until he was ready to discuss them calmly. His wife was blindsided. After hiding it for so long, choosing to reveal his loss of faith while his wife is pregnant is especially self-centered. My friend’s husband chose the day after the housewarming party for the dream home they’d been saving years to move into. I suspect in both cases there may have been a subconscious belief that the spouse would be more accepting at this time because something they desired had finally come to fruition, i.e., there’s just too much to lose by making a fuss over something like religion. For my friend, it felt like the rug was pulled out from under her just when everything was finally right in their life.

    I sincerely hope Bad Timing can work things out with his wife, but he needs to see how by keeping everything to himself all these years he has seriously eroded the trust in his marriage. It’s going to take a lot of work to win back her trust, in addition to working out their religious differences.

  • NoGurus

    The best way to work out this situation is to simply respect each others beliefs, without trying to convert on either side. I am a long standing atheist, and I have had girlfriends of longstanding who were Catholic (several), Christian Scientist, Baptist, Jewish (several), many other faiths, and I have never dated anyone who was an atheist.

    When marriage has come up my answer has always been the same. You be who you are and I will be who I am. I agreed at one point, when discussing marriage, to have the kids raised Jewish, but I would not convert. This was acceptable to my girlfriend.

    The best way I can think of to express this is that kids need all viewpoints and opinions, and having a mixed religious marriage only makes it richer. I cared for my girlfriends deeply, no matter what their religion, and the deeper values of trust, respect, love, tolerance, and especially, integrity were what mattered most. These values are common to all faiths. Being true to yourself is what matters, and ultimately, will be the best lesson you could ever teach the kids.

  • anon

    I’m in the same situation – fundamentalist when I married another one, now atheist. I put off saying anything until it was to the point that when I did, he asked if I really thought he hadn’t noticed all this time. We haven’t talked it out as much as we should have, but the compromise now is that he goes, I don’t, and the kids can go when he’s the Sunday School teacher, and they don’t stay for church. I think it’s fine for the kids to be exposed to it – it gives them information, after all, and so much of literature and culture is steeped in biblical references it’s good to know. Also keeps it from being something surprising and amazing, which seems to be the source of the few adult conversions that happen. Otherwise, they can also see that I’m a good person without going, and I try to give them critical thinking skills as much as possible. As for us, he respects me enough not to throw a fit, although it was a big adjustment at first. I try to treat church as a social activity that is part of his life, and stay interested in knowing what he does there, although I don’t participate. In deference to his activity, I keep my atheism mostly hidden in my community. That’s the least I can do for him; the blowback he’d get at church would be fierce and it’s not enough of a benefit for me to be out to make up for the backlash it would cause him. He may worry about my soul, but we’ve reached the compromise that my soul is off-limits for discussion since I’m the owner. Right now the wife needs time and some space – as was said earlier, this is new to her, and still a shock.

  • http://anti-mattr.blogspot.com mathyoo

    I agree with Kate-seek the help of a good marriage counselor, and make sure they’re not a “Christian” counselor. A good marriage counselor should be able to accept both your atheism and your wife’s Christianity, and counsel you on reconciling your differences and building your strengths.

    Curtis, he has done NOTHING to wreck the marriage. He has changed his beliefs, and he was honest with his wife about it. What she does with that is HER issue to deal with. It’s up to her to choose to accept him or to irrationally reject him. I assume that his values, his love for her, and his love for their soon-to-be-born child are unchanged. It doesn’t make him a bad person and it doesn’t change who he is. If she only loves him because he’s a Christian, I’d say that her love is rather shallow and meaningless. If you really love someone, you accept them with all their foibles, faults and characteristics differing from you.

    Perhaps this is an opportunity for one more Christian to learn that atheists are good people, too.

  • JulietEcho

    Counseling: Very strongly advised.
    Patience: Even more strongly advised.
    Compassion: Crucial, necessary.

    After hiding it for so long, choosing to reveal his loss of faith while his wife is pregnant is especially self-centered. My friend’s husband chose the day after the housewarming party for the dream home they’d been saving years to move into. I suspect in both cases there may have been a subconscious belief that the spouse would be more accepting at this time because something they desired had finally come to fruition, i.e., there’s just too much to lose by making a fuss over something like religion.

    I came out to my family as polyamorous two days before my own birthday. I wanted to avoid any holidays or special days that were about family in general, or about them, and since our birthdays are spread out and holidays are many, I decided to “sacrifice” (in a way) a day that’s traditionally a time for being nice to me. Did I also hope they’d be in a favorable mood because of my birthday? A bit, but I wasn’t counting on it.

    No time is really a “good” time for a revelation that’s going to sting. I think that BT did the right thing by disclosing after he was sure about his new beliefs – I mean, it doesn’t sound like he waited around to tell his wife, he just waited until he was sure himself. And telling her now, before there’s a kid actually in the picture (versus in the womb) is kinder, as the stress is lessened and decisions can be made before their lives are further disrupted by the incredible stressed of first-time parenthood.

    Lying would be unhealthy and only make things worse for everyone involved in the long run. Waiting was a wise thing to do, IMO, since there would be no harm done if BT had come to the conclusion that he *did* still have faith. It could have caused a big crisis over nothing.

    Yes, the situation sucks, but I disagree with those who seem to be blaming BT for what’s going on. Again, sure, consequences are to be expected, but all actions have consequences, and they’re not always best viewed as punishments – they’re just part of the action/reaction thing, and understanding and working within the bounds of the consequences at hand is what’s important.

  • Spurs Fan

    I have been in this exact situation minus the throwing things. It is difficult and it takes some time to learn how to communicate with each other and compromise. But it has worked out well so far — since I’m the one who “changed”, I fully support my wife taking the kids to Sunday School and church (even if they come home singing, “I’m in the Lord’s Army”) and I get Sunday mornings off to work on my own projects (though I do attend a church “small group” with her).

    Perhaps another thing is to focus on major similarities. One thing that has helped us is that we are both political liberals, so even though my wife is a Christian, we can both enjoy bashing Pat Robertson and James Dobson together.

    Good luck Bad Timing. Feel free to use us as a resource. Hearing from others in this situation (e.g. Kate and Erik) has been helpful for me!

  • http://thecrashiscoming.blogspot.com XauriEL

    Screaming and throwing things, hey? Sounds real Christ-like.

    My advice is, ditch the bitch. Cut your losses and move on. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Tough break, and I feel for you, but if you’re being subjected to physical abuse you need to get out and get out now.

  • Platocres

    I’d tell you to divorce her but there’s a kid involved. Is it too late for abortion? (Oh boy, I know I’m going to catch sh!t for that comment, so you can save it or serve it as you wish)

    But seriously. If it isn’t, it might be something to consider. There’s never any reasoning with a fundie. Never. I wouldn’t waste my breath on one no matter how much I loved her. I don’t think that, upon becoming an Atheist, I’d be able to find anything to love in her anymore. I know this is not a popular view, but for me, personally, I find it impossible to love that much blatant ignorance on a regular basis.

    I also wouldn’t be able to settle on how we’d raise our children when it came to religion. Anything else, fine. Raise the kid to be a homosexual, fine. Raise the kid to be a republican, also fine. But it better be a gay republican Atheist.

    Good luck mate, and as for the rest of you, don’t pretend as though I said something you didn’t at least consider yourself.

  • Richard Wade

    Kate,

    I’m the Kate in Kate&Erik (btw Richard it’s Erik…”Eric” was my atheist ex, yuck!!!).

    That has been corrected. Sorry to bring up yucky memories. Thank you Kate, for your positive and encouraging input for BT and his wife.

    And thank you, the several others here who are encouraging a chance for love to overcome misinformation and its resultant intolerance. It’s not a corny cliche to say that love can prevail over much bigger challenges than this, if it is given a chance. I’ve had the privilege to witness it many times, and the good fortune to live it a few times as well.

    Both of these people are equally deserving of respectful and dignified treatment, and empathetic understanding as much as anyone reading this sentence.

    On one hand, we don’t know the depth or nature or cause of BT’s wife’s disapproval of atheists. She, like so many others may not loathe us because of real malice in her heart, but instead because she has been taught by a misinformed culture.

    On the other hand, many here know the horrid anguish of a deconversion like BT’s, and the paralyzing anxiety of having to first hide and then reveal the truth to a loved one.

    To point fingers of blame at either the wife or husband is not to offer an open hand of help, or a friendly wave of encouragement. They both need and deserve soothing and support, not judgment and condemnation.

    I’ve read a couple of comments here expressing an appalling level of anti-Christian bigotry. The only description we have of BT’s wife’s religious views is that she is a “very strong Christian.” That is pretty vague. Calling her a “deluded and violent cultist,” or a bitch to be dumped, or implying that she is stupid, or not worth the effort, or unlovable is a reprehensible thing to do, worthy of those “bigots” you are so sure are so hateful. Look at yourselves and clean your own crap off yourselves before you continue complaining about people who automatically despise you just for your category. Otherwise you should add “hypocrite” to your resume.

  • keddaw

    1. She can’t divorce you, she’s a Christian.

    2. Just eat the baby, problem solved.

    Seriously though, only in a country with a stupid amount of religiosity would this ever be viewed as an issue. most other couples have real problems, financial, sexual, relationship etc.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    There is something not mentioned that I think needs to be addressed. That is the issue of the Christian “family”. I use the speech marks deliberately because it includes parents, siblings, friends and interfering acquaintances. These are the people that Mrs. Timing will turn to when she feels betrayed by her husband (rightly or wrongly) and they will have a voice in her decisions.

    I know it is a stereotype but there may be a mother in law muttering in her ear that Bad Timing never was good enough for her precious daughter. When you start discussing or start counselling I think it is important to lay from ground rules. One of these should be that the marital issues are between the members of the marriage and no-one else.

    Also I feel it important to give a little in any relationship. If that means BT has to go to church once in a while or hold his tongue then so be it. Mrs Timing should also expect to give too of course.

  • mikekoz68

    I think you should rethink the divorce thing, why would you want to be married to someone who believes in imaginary friends. When people ask me if I would date a non-atheist I ask them if they would date someone who truly believes in Santa Claus? Trust me I was married to a Xian it will only get worse- baptising of your child- how will you deal with that? selecting schools, going to church, etc. Life is too short to spend it with an irrational- get out now!

  • JenV

    The baby thing is very bad timing. If she’s pregnant now, she’s going to be going through a lot of hormonal stuff with her emotions.

    My advice would be unlike Richards. I would say to have a discussion where you agree to table the religion arguments until after the baby’s first birthday. Seriously.

    Then use the next year plus to work on communication. The baby will force you to get really, really, really good at communication.

    If your marriage survives that trial by fire, and you get to that point where you really work as a team, then the religion difference might look like a tiny little bump.

    Siamang hit it right on the head. Having a baby, post pardum hormones, sleep deprivation, throw-up, poop and all of the other lovely newborn issues will most likely be most of what the OP will be focused on for months. Speaking from experience, if the OP decides to bring this complicated issue into play when mom is busy recovering from childbirth, post pardum whatever, nursing, mother-instict-overdrive, he’s going to be in for a lot more melt downs, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. This issue needs to rest for a while; the OP needs to prove himself as a father and caregiver, and wait for a while to talk about religion and religious differences.

    Oh, and the throwing thing? NOT grounds for divorce. I’ve been there, I’m not crazy, and I’m still happily married. Communication is a difficult and complex thing…and it doesn’t come easily to everyone…sometimes there are bumps in the road. Coming unhinged once in a while is not a deal breaker. Let’s cut this preggo mom some slack here!

    Good luck OP, and enjoy your new baby! Be loving and kind, and show your wife that you will be there for her, regardless of what you believe (or don’t believe) about God.

  • Siamang

    Miko makes some great points. I need to state something in my defense:

    (*) I’ll also disagree with the argument that Siamang used to get to his conclusion. Whatever you do, never suggest to anyone that they’re just an irrational container for a bunch of hormones. It’s rude, demeaning, and suggests that you aren’t really interested in what they have to say.

    That’s a totally valid comment, Miko, when expressed to another individual. ESPECIALLY when used against a woman on her period. It’s an expression of male dominance, and YES, I do agree it’s rude, demeaning etc.

    But I was speaking about a pregnant woman. Hands up every parent, do I speak the truth about the hormonal roller-coaster that is pregnancy?

    Also, I did NOT say to SAY it to the other person. That’s just rude, demeaning, etc. I said it to UNDERSTAND the other person, and what she’s experiencing. Trust me on this, and my wife will back me 100% on this one. The hormones are an emotion-intensifier.

    To deny that is to deny reality, and that can not be helpful.

  • Siamang

    Also, I’m chiming in with richard on this one…. lots of anti-christian bigotry, and a bit of hard-core misogyny on display here.

  • Ramon Caballero

    I really think Richard has answered his question perfectly, I totally agree, women don’t respond like men, there is nothing misogynist (sic?) about that, it is about understanding.
    Atheist with a Catholic wife, an astronaut kid, an imaginative kid and a fashion girl.

  • anon again, for this thread

    Wow, people are being outstandingly cruel here. Ditch the bitch? Really? You’re talking about someone he loved enough to marry, and the comments about how “fundamentalists can’t change” are pretty rich given that that’s exactly what happened here to cause the situation in the first place. She’s hurt. She’s worried about her family, about her new child, about her husband. She doesn’t know the first thing about atheism except what she’s been told, and what she’s been told is incredibly scary. There are all sorts of ways to have a middle ground, but right now she’s reeling and has no base of information to even start thinking about compromise or what that could look like. I know Richard just said the same thing, but I wanted to throw in my support for being a bit more rational as well.
    Again, whatever way you find to work it out is between you two, and possibly a non-religious therapist. Nobody else should have a say in the matter. There’s no cut-and-dried “be true to yourself, man” when part of being true to yourself is to work things out so that the person you love is comfortable, too. Maybe she’ll eventually shed religion, maybe not, but if you can figure out a way to work it so you’re both happy, more power to you.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    I think you should rethink the divorce thing, why would you want to be married to someone who believes in imaginary friends. When people ask me if I would date a non-atheist I ask them if they would date someone who truly believes in Santa Claus? Trust me I was married to a Xian it will only get worse- baptising of your child- how will you deal with that? selecting schools, going to church, etc. Life is too short to spend it with an irrational- get out now!

    Honestly, if that were her greatest failing, I think I could deal with it. Is it ideal? No. Is it the end of the world? Clearly not; we’ve got people here who manage it just fine.

  • Ron in Houston

    Geez, I’m sorry but people who get angry and throw things have a serious problem. The writer also shows a neurotic streak by accepting blame for that other person’s anger management problem.

    The wife also exhibits some serious cognitive distortions. “I can’t life like this” being a classic one. The wife is blowing her husband’s atheism all out of proportion.

    I’d try to get the wife to see a cognitive behavioral therapist. The problem is that you first have to convince her that she has a problem. I’d wager that will be a problem since I’d bet she’s the type that tends to blame others rather than accepting responsibility for her own actions.

    I admire the guy for wanting to keep his marriage/family intact, but if the wife truly loved and accepted her husband she’s accept that he struggled and decided he was an atheist. Instead she’s upset that her expectation of being married to a “Christian” man has vanished.

    Add all this with the hormones that come with child birth and I’ll bet this poor guy will be walking on eggshells for a long time.

  • Siamang

    I’ll agree and say that my father is someone who married a woman who throws things.

    Not the best indicator of long-term communication health, in my book.

    I think my number one requirement for a life-mate was the ability to talk through disagreements with active-listening and fair-fight rules. Also a person with a high-degree of healthy introspection and a set of useful self-assessment tools.

    That turned out to be more important, in the long-run, than any superficial agreement on the existence of speculative theological entities.

  • Siamang
  • Curtis

    I think people need to look at it from her perspective. There is a big difference between marrying a person with deeply different spiritual perspective and having a change thrust on you while you (or your wife) is pregnant.

    My wife and I are atheists. If after she became pregnant, she told me she was born-again, I would be angry. I would try to make it work but it would be difficult.

    The name Bad Timing is not entirely accurate. He was well on his way to atheism and yet he chose to have a baby with a fundamentalist. He knew this situation was likely. It was his choices that led to this. If his conversion (to or from atheism) was due to a sudden life changing event, I would have sympathy but he knowingly created a bad situation. It is his fault their marriage is in trouble just before their child was born.

  • Bryan Rosander

    As a Christian, I suggest you refer her to a good Christian marriage counselor. They are usually experienced in dealing with these issues and will help her come to a reasonable compromise.

    These situations do come up and the resolutions I have seen were agreeable to both sides. In particular, most of these counselors will encourage her to submit to her husbands authority.

    Most importantly, they will use language that she is familiar with and will give advice that she can accept.

  • Richard Wade

    There are people who fix the blame,

    and there are people who fix problems.

    Blame and fault are very primitive ways of thinking. They focus on the past and on punishment. They don’t improve one molecule of a bad situation.

    One problem solver is more valuable than ten million blame finders.

  • Joffan

    Just to add one nugget to the above interesting conversation, BT, I would observe that you will likely remain Christian culturally. In many ways your “default” set of morals will be unchanged from where they were before, except, principally, as regards your relationship with one organization – the church – and potentially your willingness to change your mind about other details of your moral set.

    While I wouldn’t suggest for an instant that you cite Dawkins when talking to your wife, I think he also assessed himself as a cultural Christian, simply due to the society he happened to be born into.

    Curtis, while BT has changed in religious views from the man his wife married, isn’t it (or shouldn’t it be) our normal expectation, that we will change, and the people around us will change too?

  • Curtis

    Richard,

    There is a big difference between blaming someone else and understanding the root of the problem by accepting your share of the blame. Bad Timing has changed his life view and it has caused problems in his marriage. He needs to understand this and stand in her shoes before attempting to fix the problem.

    His wife married a fundamentalist and had the reasonable expectation that her child’s father would be a fundamentalist not an atheist.

  • Kate

    Richard,

    You rock. That’s all. ;) Erik and I don’t agree on religion, but we follow your posts, and we 100% agree on THAT! :)

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    It’s a reasonable expectation that people won’t ever reconsider their religious views??

  • Siamang

    It’s a reasonable expectation that people won’t ever reconsider their religious views??

    I would say yes, it’s a reasonable expectation in that reasonably one might assume that most people won’t. Just as it’s reasonable to assume that there won’t be snow tomorrow morning in Los Angeles.

    It’s not, however, a reasonable thing to demand that someone never reconsider their religious view.

  • Richard Wade

    Curtis,
    I agree with you. You’re talking about responsibility differentiated from blame. I define responsibility as response-ability, the ability to respond. Both BT and his wife have the ability to respond to the situation, regardless of the original cause. The one who is at the original cause certainly has a duty to make the best of the situation, but he cannot fix this alone. It is not an either-him-or-her choice. Both can and must respond. A marriage is a partnership, and a relationship is like a circuit, going back and forth between the two individuals. His response to the situation can be wise or foolish, generous or selfish, and her response can also be wise, foolish, generous or selfish. This marriage will survive only if both responses are wise and generous, and that is not as difficult as some people assume.

    People are not static, unchanging things like statues. They grow, they change. To expect life-long immutability in all things is childish naivete. Some changes are too much for their partners to adjust to. Many changes can seem too big at first, but with some effort, they later can seem minor. The smallest size of the problem that overwhelms a person’s ability to adjust is a measure of their maturity and personal strength. Often getting through a challenge leaves people more mature and stronger. I think that both BT and his wife have what it takes, if they can only bring it out.

    Couples have overcome much more difficult challenges than this. They did it by both meeting their ability to respond.

  • Bad Timing

    Hello everyone! I must thank everyone for their thoughtful comments, ideas, and advice. I found these things to be very helpful and encouraging.

    I tried to keep my request to Richard as brief as possible (as I am sure he gets many requests for advice) but still convey the point–which was to describe the breakdown of communication between me and my wife. I probably should have been more diplomatic in my description…

    I certainly didn’t intend to make my wife out to be a villain by any means! (I’m afraid I have, and that’s my mistake). She is not. However, the hysterical reaction I encountered was unexpected and completely out of character of someone I have been with for over 10 years.

    To be fair, I realize my “declaration” of being an atheist was equally out of character of me–even after expressing past doubts. It was a much bigger deal to her than I anticipated.

    I’m hoping I didn’t make a colossal mistake by bringing a child into the picture. But I made that decision because I love her very much, not because of her Christian beliefs. We want to have a family and I accept the fact that she may never believe the same way I do. I am certainly willing to compromise, work on our problems, and improve communication.

    I will certainly take Richard’s advice to heart. I do understand this is a disturbing problem for her. (After all, I used to be one of those “fundies”)! So I understand where she is coming from.

    I believe people can change, but it’s certainly not easy. A person’s core beliefs are influenced by a variety of influential factors like fear, indoctrination since birth, culture, family, and suppression of outside views–it can be difficult to have an open mind.

    In my case, it certainly helps when there is a friendly and understanding atheist who befriended a fundamental, conservative Christian like I used to be!

  • http://atimetorend.wordpress.com atimetorend

    Bad Timing (would there be a Good Timing?)

    I share a similar experience in having deconversion take a long time, mostly internal. The open part was admitting doubts, but I don’t think I even admitted them clearly to myself until the end, when faith came off all at once. Natural to me, shocking to my wife. Lots of emotions for most of a year, much better now about a year later.

    It takes a lot of patience from both sides to make things work (obviously), and I think it is important to take the long-term view of things. like you said, people can change, and it’s not easy.

    I think the shifting that takes place though can make the middle ground easier to find. Honestly, in one year since leaving the faith, I can much better understand a liberal or progressive faith, and while neither my wife or I are there, liberal Christians, we can find a lot more common ground to discuss things there.

    Children are a blessing for atheists and theists. Our kids are certainly one reason my wife and I work hard to make our marriage work, but that has been a good thing, fighting through the tough times. Hope you both enjoy your child together and find whatever understanding you need. My heart goes out to you both.

  • Jenna

    Hey Bad Timing,
    I really wish the best for you and your wife, whatever decision you’ve come to. I highly suggest you both attend counseling together, and explain to your wife how you came to be an atheist, and what you can do to keep the marriage.

    No matter what happens, best of luck being a daddy, and take good care of your child, y’hear?