Closeted Atheist Fears Spouse Will Leave Him

Living in fear…

When I first came to the conclusion that I no longer accepted any established religion and washed Christianity off my palate I was at a crossroads. I was an agnostic deist when my wife and I exchanged vows and within the first year of marriage I came to the conclusion through my studies (and prayers) that there was no supreme being. My wife, however, had not altered her beliefs. Living in a state of perpetual fear that she would reject me for what I came to believe was something that haunted me for months.

Alas, I am a philosopher and could not ignore the teachings of Plato and Shakespeare. Know thyself” and “To thine own self be true” were phrases that echoed to the very fiber of my being and as such I could not ignore these very truths that I held to be self-evident. I confessed to my wife and was amazed to find her loving and accepting of me in spite of having “turned my back upon god.”

There are many others I am sad to report who are not as fortunate as myself. I recently posted about my wife still being a Christian, being an open atheist myself, and subsequently received letters and emails in response. This is one that touched and moved me and I felt compelled to share it:

“Thanks for that blog post as I’m one of those few still peeking through the cracks in the closet door. I told my wife a couple yrs ago that I was taking an agnostic stance which was hard but she accepted it and we simply don’t talk about it which hurts but oh well. At that time I remember her stating that she was glad I wasn’t an atheist because she didn’t think she could take that or live with me. A year after that I came to the conclusion that I am an atheist and I shut the closet door.”

What do I say to that?

It saddens me when a person has to hide who they are from the one they love the most. I witnessed a man who did this for over a decade all the while pretending to worship and believe. How he could do this without going mad I cannot fathom. I don’t intend to bash and indeed don’t look down upon that at all. It IS scary living in fear of losing someone you love and thus perfectly understandable. But living a lie to oneself is just as scary…

What could you say?

I do not advocate pushing anyone into doing something they are not willing to do themselves.

You could say it the nice way:
  • You both read the same book and came to different conclusions
  • It doesn’t change your feelings for your spouse
  • It doesn’t change who you are or how you live your life
  •  A lack of god does not denote a lack of morals
  • There are many couples who successfully respect differing belief systems
  • You still love and appreciate them no matter what
  • It isn’t your intent to hurt them but rather to be honest
You could do it the dickish way:

Well, at least we atheists don’t hire people to kidnap our kids and take them to third world countries to “deconvert” them:

I personally wouldn’t advocate the dickish route unless you’re looking for a divorce.

In all seriousness, I think honesty is the best policy. It is certainly a shitty life to live a lie. If they truly love you then they will accept you (ALL OF YOU) and still honor their vows to spend the rest of their life with you. If not…well at least you were honest.

Like I said earlier I would NEVER tell someone when or how to do this as each relationship is different. I’m not a therapist, psychologist, or sociologist. I’m no expert. This is all just my take on things.

-Paul Loebe

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  • Tideliar

    Very hard choice. My wife hates my atheism but is OK with refering to myself as agnostic. Seeing as agnosticism is a philosophical expression of atheism I’m OK with that. FWIW she’s not religious, simply ‘spritual’…the word alone, atheist, seems to carry a lot of baggage to some folks.

    I will continue to gently talk about it and explain over the coming decades. We’re commited to a life together so I’m in no real rush 🙂


    You should not be afraid to tell your spouse about your religious beliefs. Not talking about it is just like lying about it. If your spouse rejects you because of your non-belief, then you would be far better off alone.

  • Adam


    When I do Zogbe polls, it always lumps Agnostic/Atheist/Humanist in one group.

    If “atheist” is a dirty word to your wife, you coul go the “humanist” route without having to pretend that there *might* be a god.

  • Cafeeine

    Richard Wade, an atheist counselor offers quite insightful and empathetic advice on these matters. He has a column, ‘Ask Richard’ over on the Friendly Atheist.

  • busterggi

    Yes, well I was a deist/pantheist when I married. I was totally open about it, so much so the RC priest who officiated the wedding gave a sermon against me & my beliefs at the service.

    Eleven years later the marriage fell apart for a number of reasons one of which was her claim that I was preventing her from attending church – I never actually stopped her, I just refused to go & she wouldn’t go alone.

    I’ve no advice but I wsish you well.

  • Paul Loebe

    My wife and I are have a very good relationship. We may be an exception but I support her in her spiritual endeavors as she equally supports me in my lack if belief. It is all about respect and love.

  • Michael R

    There is an easy way out. Even Richard Dawkins technically considers himself an agnostic (I think he calls himself a 6.9 out of 7 on his spectrum of theistic probability).

    Indeed, if you ask atheists generally whether they are sure that god does not exist, few are 100% sure.

    Really, we are all agnostic.

    As George Costanza said on Seinfeld: “It’s not a lie, if you believe it”.

    So, take this grain of truth and make agnosticism your worldview. Then there’s no need to freak your wife out. You can respect each other’s beliefs and live happily ever after.

  • You should not be afraid to tell your spouse about your religious beliefs. Not talking about it is just like lying about it. If your spouse rejects you because of your non-belief, then you would be far better off alone.

    I just can’t agree with this at all. Without knowing the exact circumstances of their relationship, none of us knows whether he would be better off leaving his wife. For all we know, ending their relationship could destroy him.

    Many people make personal sacrifices to make their marriages work, and I am sure, in many cases, that includes remaining silent about one’s own beliefs on a particular subject, like politics or religion. I once knew a happily married person who confided in me that he only went to church because his wife wanted to go. He wasn’t happy about it, but he wasn’t going to risk his marriage objecting.

    I agree with “Michael R.” The difference between being an agnostic and an atheist is just a matter of degree, and there is a great deal of overlap between the positions many atheists and agnostics take.

    It’s mostly religious people who want to draw a sharp dividing line between agnostics and atheists, believing the latter to be nihilistic and beyond all help, whereas believing the former are “open minded” and that there is still hope they can still be reached, or “saved.”

    If this is the case with this man’s wife (and there isn’t a greater underlying problem with the relationship) then unless he is confident that he can talk it out with her and get her to understand that calling himself an “atheist” doesn’t intrinsically change who he is, or the basis of their relationship, then I would suggest he comes to terms with calling himself an agnostic.

    Yes, it’s not ideal (how many marriages are?) but he has to decide whether it’s something really worth risking his marriage over. I have seen both men and women make huge changes in their lives for the sake of their marriages, and make all kinds of tough sacrifices. It happens every day, and while I don’t envy this guy’s situation, it’s really not much different from many husbands and wives face at some point in their marriages.

  • Jeannine

    I’m not here to bash my husband’s new found atheism. But I’m hurt and concerned. Married over 3 decades. 3 kids.

    A tiny bit of me is worried about his ultimate outcome and salvation, but the God I believe in, is not a scary one. So that’s not really my focus.

    My faith is very important to me- although I don’t force him to attend Mass with me at all.

    But when we married, he believed in God. So, he has changed & for my husband now to change on this issue makes me feel very very distant. And maybe betrayed a bit. I feel a HUGE Disconnect between us now.

    How can we be soul mates if he doesn’t believe in a soul? How can I fully trust his values if I don’t know what they are anymore (and that’s not just b/c of the rejection of Christianity but b/c he’s not interested in ANY faith). Nor has he studied a lot that I know of.

    We have 3 children and have been married 31 years. This causes me great pain.

    I fear I’ll never be as close to him as we once were. IT’s a big deal to me. And I don’t like how he slips in comments about his new “non beliefs” to the kids. A lot of this is also happening with a generalized & increasingly cynical look at the world and some bitterness as he ages. That’s not fun either.

    I worry he has no moral compass. NOT BECAUSE he’s atheist but b/c of how he’s acting…I honestly don’t know how to feel close to him with this WALL between us. Any constructive comments would be welcome.

    • Jeannine,

      I feel for you. I really do.

      I am in a similar situation, except I am the atheist. I would like to respond and (hopefully) help, but my response if rather personal. You may email me with the subject ‘Freethought question’ in the subect line.and I will email you back. If not, I still wish you all the best. My thoughts are with you.

    • Willingly Blinded!


      It’s been a year since your post so i don’t know where you’re at with things. Your husband married you because he loved you. Love, in my opinion, transcends everything, including religious/non-religious beliefs. Its the thing that’s real and doesn’t require some kind of special faith that some belief systems require.

      It sounds like there are 2 big, main struggles for you. One, obviously that he became an Atheist, and second that he seems to have changed due to how he’s acting. Atheist or not he should be the same man that has loved you and now loves you for who you are. Do the same for him!

      Unfortunately, it sounds like he’s got some deeper issues or views that are causing him to use his Atheism as a vessel for unkindness, selfishness, or whatever ways he’s acting that you’re talking about. Don’t hate the Atheism, don’t hate him, but hate his behavior. Talk with him kindly and sensitively. Tell him what you’ve observed, how his words and actions come off to you, and how they’ve effected you. Also be honest with yourself too! Do you just THINK he’s acting different because hes an Atheist? How much of your perspectives are out of insecurity? If you know you’re secure with yourself and are confident he has changed, then talk with the man you love and find out what else is in the way, get it out, make sure he wants to change and work on whatever is hurting the relationship, then grow, heal and be happily married!

      If sadly he continually denies any wrong doing on his part, and it’s clear he has some issues, then take a break, separate, give each other space, and hopefully with solitude he will realize the error of his ways and reconcile. Then when all is said and done, he’s become a better man for you and you guys have peace. But if he doesn’t come back, then do whatever you need to do to heal and find peace without him in the picture =/

  • Willingly Blinded!

    8 weeks into filing for divorce now after my wifes doubts, suspicions and anxieties boiled over. One of her prerequisites for us to get married was that I became a Christian. After a month of being broken up because of that, i decided to lie, we got back together, and we got engaged a few months later. Yesterday was supposed to be our anniversary so I begged and pleaded for her to come back to me. Ive been hiding other struggles I was ashamed to admit during our marriage as well, which made things far worse. She absolutely refuses to come back and is threatening restraining orders if i see her, and she said if I loved her then I should divorce her. I have hurt her so bad… now she calls me a fraud, bipolar, that she’d rather marry a stranger, that our love was nothing, etc… I feel insanely horrible. I love her, and I want to change the things that I need to work on but I will never again lie about my beliefs. I wish she could see that we can still have a beautiful relationship despite the things I was hiding before. Everything’s out, but Its too late.