I seem to have a lot of friends who are in what we call “mixed faith” marriages, meaning pairings in which one partner still believes all the same things they did when they first began their new life together while the other one has since changed their views. This may happen more than you think, and it makes perfect sense considering how many of us entered adulthood with its accompanying romantic commitments before we had a chance to rethink our beliefs in the brighter light of mature adulthood.
One friend living through this scenario wrote me this week to voice a concern and to find out if she was unusual in her feelings. My responses follow her questions below:
I shared [a post] about never accepting Jesus as my lord and savior. But after I shared it, I immediately second guessed my atheism (emotionally). There are times when I get a sudden surge of fear that I’ve f***ed up and been blasphemous towards god.
Maybe it’s because my husband is still a Christian and I expected him to have reconverted by now? I don’t know.
But how do I handle being the only atheist in my family, including my spouse? It’s a lonely road. And it is so frustrating that they can’t “see the light”.
Also, a part of me feels like I could easily “slip back” into Christianity. Is that normal for a deconvert or am I failing as an atheist?
That’s quite normal, actually.
We are social beings, and even the things we allow ourselves to accept and speak about and validate are affected by the people we’ve connected our lives to. Pretty much everyone I’ve known who was in a “mixed faith” marriage struggled with this at some point because allowing yourself to fully embrace non-belief would be so contrary to what the people you love believe…it’s a really crappy place to be, honestly.
But at any rate, most people who are married to still-believing spouses at some point find themselves toggling back and forth between faith and doubt because they almost HAVE to in order to remain emotionally connected to the ones they love.
Does that make sense? It doesn’t mean you’re failing at being a skeptic. It just means you want to stay in relationship with the people you love, and it’s worth enough to you that you’re willing to keep one foot in that world and only one foot out. But of course that would impact the way you process everything related to these big questions.I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Frankly, I find it commendable, because it means you really care about empathizing with the ones you love. If you weren’t trying so hard to do that, your brain would be free to stay in the world it favors (which I believe is skepticism). It’s a sign of caring. Make sense?
Makes perfect sense. Thank you. And you’re right, I do love my husband and I want to love him forever. I’ve told myself that I will accept him and his beliefs (and respect them… not try to rip him from them). With that comes the ability to remember what it was like to believe.
You can’t be as connected to someone as your own husband and NOT step back and forth into the way they see the world in the process. If the relationship is any good, it features both partners working every day to understand the other, and that means being able to see through their eyes a bit. Downside to that for is occasionally fearing things you don’t even believe in anymore.
To what extent do you suppose that comes from remaining in relationship to people who still believe those things? And how do you deal with that tension?
And of course, no post about this topic would be complete without reminding folks that an entire book has been written by Dale McGowan on how to deal with the complications brought on by living in a “mixed faith” marriage. It’s called In Faith and In Doubt, and I would highly recommend it.
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