Guest Post: Pray Together or Stay Together

 “So you were a Christian when you married him, and now you’re not sure?”
We were sitting outside our classroom, chatting during our break. My new friend had been asking me for marriage advice, and now things were going suddenly wrong. I shrugged off her accusatory tone and pressed on.
“Yes” I replied, “It’s been hard, but it’s also been a growing experience.
We’ve learned a lot about each other and about…”
She interrupted me.
“So you basically pretended to be a Christian for just long enough to get a good guy
and then immediately gave up your faith?”
I think I should have gotten angry, but instead I just felt sick.
“Of course not! I would never have chosen to add so much pain to my life.”
“How can you support him as a Godly man if you refuse to be a Godly woman?”
“Oh my gosh, I would never do that. Sorry if this is forward,
but I honestly just think you’re a really selfish person.”

She grilled me with more questions, made sure I knew how disgusted she was, and eventually just got up and left. I sat through the last hour of class clenching my fists to keep my hands from shaking. By the time the teacher let us go I was a wreck.

My husband and I had been married for less than a year when my faith began to fall apart. My doubts started with emotional pain, and slowly turned into insurmountable questions. At first, my husband didn’t understand what was happening. He would get frustrated and combative with me when we talked about religion, or he would get sad and shut down. But my husband and I are absolutely committed to good communication, so it wasn’t long before we learned how to navigate our new differences. He learned to be gentler in the way he expressed his opinions, and I learned not to project my frustration with the Church onto him.

Just like any marriage, mine has ups and downs, struggles and victories.

And yet, people continue to assume that my marriage is falling apart at the seams, because I am no longer a professing Christian. I used to feel that way too. I was taught that having common beliefs was absolutely fundamental to a healthy marriage. “The family that prays together stays together!” If someone’s marriage “failed” it was because one or both of them weren’t Christian enough. I was scared at first, afraid that my questions were slowly but surely pulling us apart and ruining our beautiful relationship. But it’s been well over a year now, and we are only getting closer and stronger. I have learned that I’ve always loved him, not for praying before dinner, but for helping me clean the kitchen afterwards. I’ve loved him, not for Sunday morning church, but for Saturday morning cartoons, in our pajamas, eating captain crunch. I’ve loved him, not for his unshakable faith, but for his sincerity and passion.

Our marriage gets stronger every day. Not because we are committed to God, but because we are committed to each other. No matter how religious you are, marriage is not easy. My husband’s faith gives him peace and strength, but it doesn’t grant him superpowers, it doesn’t replace commitment and effort. Marriage still requires us both to make sacrifices, to stay up late and talk out the problem, to be painfully honest and vulnerable. All the hard work and communication pays off. Last night as I drifted off to sleep I marveled at how incredibly connected my husband and I are. We know each other’s hearts on a deeper level than ever before. Our strengths far outweigh our weaknesses and our joys outweigh our troubles. If we continue to communicate and grow like this, there is nothing that could come between us, nothing that could shake us enough for our marriage to “fail.”

So am I a selfish person? Am I giving up on my marriage by questioning my faith? I don’t think so, and my husband doesn’t either. I suppose I could have forced myself to participate in my husband’s faith. I could have caved to my fears and chose to ignore the pain and confusion in my heart.
But I would have been lying.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather share my honest but inconvenient heart with my spouse than an insincere but convenient faith.
This guest post is written by my sister Sarah, who formerly blogged at Enigma: My Journey of Self-Discovery. You can find her on facebook to keep up with her blogging in the future.

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  • Ashley Noelle

    I can relate so much to this post. I am an atheist and my husband is Christian. We go through almost similar thing together. It is comforting to know that we're not the only couple that is experiencing this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Cheryl Chamberlain Duwe

    Beautiful and courageous, both of you!

  • elbereth32

    Wow. That was way out of line. My faith is between me, my husband, God, and a select few I ask for advice from. I do not appreciate others making assumptions about me, good or bad, and I try very hard not to do that to others. Even if I can't completely control my thoughts, I can sure control what comes out of my mouth! Sorry you were put in that situation. You did not have to stay and listen to someone put you down. Times like that cause my sarcasm gene to go into overdrive and what goes through my mind is usually the opposite of helpful.

  • Hannah

    Beautiful…I'm so glad you and your husband are making it work and growing closer together. God bless <3

    - Hannah

  • Michelle Hughes

    I have a hard time understanding why anyone behaves the way the other woman in this post did to Sarah. It just doesn't make any sense to make statements like that…and quite honestly, it paints a poor picture of a Christian. I'm sorry your sister had to go through that, but it sounds like she and her husband have a handle on how to make their marriage work. Thanks for sharing.

  • Katy-Anne

    Wow that was hurtful Sarah, I'm sorry. I also miss your blogging. :)

  • Laughter

    Oh my goodness, this is me and my husband, too! We got married as christians, and now I am an agnostic humanist. Since I changed world views, our marriage is slowly getting better and stronger for the same reasons Sarah details.

  • Michael Mock

    I… wow… just, wow. I've run into that before – that impicit, unshakable assumption that if you lose your faith, you must never have had ("true") faith to begin with – but it still just blows my mind. It seems to say, in essence, "I have no idea why people lose their faith and absolutely do not want to find out."

    For whatever it's worth, I know (at least online) probably six or seven couples who married as Christians, had one partner lose their faith, and managed to stay in healthy, happy, committed marriages. Sometimes the other partner also lost their faith, but often the marriage became mixed-faith in mid-stride, as it were. So this is something that does happen, at least frequently enough to be not-too-unusual among my iFriends.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    This is a very beautiful post and that woman was rude as hell.

  • Aubergine

    Melissa, my wife and I have those hard talks too. They can sometimes be pretty difficult when they are happening, but deep down I know that those talks are a sign of a healthy marriage (or any relationship!) and that I'm glad that we're talking. Having learned that, we always do our best to keep our communications open!

  • Jessica

    The conversation you mentioned at the beginning reminds me of this post from Justin Lee. I think you would appreciate his words about the importance of listening and loving rather than jumping to assumptions about people.

  • Rosa

    I have known several Christian women who left their husbands when they "converted" to evangelical or fundamentalist churches (I'm afraid from the outside I can't always tell the difference.) I always wonder if it was actually over something else or if the pastors really convinced them about that "not yoked to an unbeleiver" thing.

    I'm so sorry that conversation happened to you, and so glad things are working out.

  • Arachne

    I grew up hearing "the family that prays together, stays together". And i would try to pressure my husband into praying with me at night because thats what we were "supposed" to do(what my family did, not his, although we were both cradle catholics), and it would only cause problems.

    A couple years down the road, after a few rocky spots, we got better at communicating to each other. And I lost my faith in the meantime. Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been.

  • TwisterB

    I think faith, to me, is where you seek comfort from. If your husband is comforted and encouraged by his faith in god it would be wrong to try to take that away from him, and while you know you aren't doing that, I expect that some people might think that by not believing in god you are forcing your husband to "chose" between you. So a christian person looks at their life, and the comfort and satisfaction they get from being christian, and then see you as someone who is endangering that feeling for someone else.

    So their anger isn't really about you at all.

  • Amanda

    Enigma, your "friend" was no friend… but I think you already know that. My husband and I aren't exactly on the same keel, religion-wise — if pressed, he's likely to list himself as a humanist or atheist, and I fall under the "progressive Christian" umbrella, but he is the best man I know.

    Religion is an entirely human construct anyway; what matters is who you are and what you do, not what label you claim.

  • Enigma

    I was hoping some more bi-faith couples would come out of the woodwork on this post! It IS good to know we're not alone. It's certainly a challenging situation ((hugs))

  • Enigma

    It's not that i have a hard time standing up for myself, it's just that i always want to believe that everyone is a genuinely good person, so i tend to avoid confrontation, especially if i don’t know someone that well.. Its usually not until later that i realize how abusive a person was!

  • Enigma

    Thanks Hannah :)

  • Enigma

    Aww thanks Katy-Anne. I've a got few posts in the making, I just need a new name for my new blog and then i'll be up and running again!

  • Enigma

    So crazy how people assume the worst isnt it? I mean obviously there are struggles, but it also facilitates so much communication! Glad to see there are others out there who are growing through this as well! :)

  • Enigma

    "that impicit, unshakable assumption that if you lose your faith, you must never have had ("true") faith to begin with"
    UGH. That drives me crazy! And it happens to me all the time!

  • Enigma

    "Religion is an entirely human construct anyway; what matters is who you are and what you do, not what label you claim."

    YES! Thanks Amanda :)

  • Doug

    Heh, I'd hazard that a majority of the ire people direct outwards is a projection of their own insecurities and frustrations.

  • Anonymous

    I could so relate to this post, because my own husband accused me of faking it after we both learned-months into our marriage-that I could in no way subscribe to his fundamentalist beliefs. I didn't know what a fundamentalist from a BJU church was, and thus I married into a minefield. He hates that I am not with him in his church, obeying and submitting to him, etc. And to top things off, I have a sibling who questions my Christianity because there are now issues in my marriage (and she doesn't know the half of it nor have I shared it here) and she has, I believe, persuaded one of my children against me. It is all very heartbreaking. I have tried to persuade said spouse that if we could just learn to have reasonable communication (he goes into yell/interrupt mode at the drop of a hat) we could still have a good relationship. All for naught so far.

    You and your hubbie are entirely blessed to have such a commitment to good communication. That is so crucial. Thank you for your article.

  • Amy

    My hub and I have been through a similar journey of shedding religion, but it was NOT easy at first… Both of us were worship leaders and in ministry since day one of being married. Ministry had been a HUGE part of our life, so when I started shedding religion before him, me letting go the whole area of ministry was NOT ok with my hubby. We were a team. People wanted both of us, so for my hubby this was almost a deal breaker. It was messy. It was hard. There were definite crossroads that we came to in our marriage. I remember the day he looked at me and said, " I don't know if I can live with "this" anymore?" and his finger was pointing at me. The "this" being all of me. The changes that had happened and the new person I was becoming. There was SO much fear in him from all the religious shit that we were taught.. the teachings that you had talked about…being "equally yoked" and how our relationship was going to crumble now. But as we walked it out, and talked and hashed, and cried and got really raw and real with each other, we both realized what lies those teachings were, and that loving each other was enough. We love each other for the people we are NOT the religion. We found that ministry was not all that we had in our relationship.. thank God…but that there was so much more.

    Beautiful post. Thankyou for sharing your journey.

    BIG hug.. Amy

  • Sheila, Canary Islands

    Obviously I can't know about this particular woman, but that sort of over-the-top illogical reaction usually comes from an unspoken fear. In this case, I suspect that she's terrified that her marriage is falling apart, and she's terrified that makes her a bad person, so it's a huge relief that she can find someone who's "worse" than her that she can dump on.

    Of course you aren't worse than her.

  • hopestillflies

    Thank you. For reasons totally unrelated to the original post, this comment was really helpful for me tonight.

  • Laughter

    I married as a Christian, to a Christian. Now I am an agnostic humanist and my relationship with my husband is BETTER, because now that we have one less thing in common, we've been working more on connecting where we can. It's been tough, but so, so good. I'm forever grateful this man in my life is so willing to accept me, no matter what I am.

  • Family Way Doula

    My husband and I were both raised Catholic. I rejected the Church and it's teachings before Confirmation, after struggling to make the faith in my heart match what I was being taught all through my childhood. My husband was from a much more devout family and was in College before he stopped considering himself Catholic. He is now a non-denominational Christian who worships solitarily and without much ceremony. I, on the other hand, have been deeply devoted to my pagan faith since I was 15 years old. We rarely have spiritual issues or strife between us, but we do tend to argue over the amount of sway/exposure to Catholicism our children will receive through our families.