There are a number of scenarios that can create a spiritual divide between spouses:
- You started your marriage with similar beliefs, but your spouse has since decided to leave church
- The two of you disagree on the finer points of doctrine or theology, and haven’t been able to find a church to attend together…so you attend separately
- You each hold vastly different beliefs–maybe your spouse is atheist, agnostic, or a follower of another religion
- Neither of you were believers when you married, but you have since converted to Christianity and your spouse doesn’t share your conviction
The good news is that there are things you can do to ease the ache and keep the intimacy alive in your marriage despite your differences. Let’s dive in.
DON’T NAG OR PRESSURE YOUR SPOUSE TO GET INVOLVED
Whether your spouse attended church with you in the past or has never attended, nagging them won’t get them there. In fact, it might drive them further away. The last thing you want is for your spouse to dig their heels in and avoid the subject even more.
Instead of bringing up church over and over, let your life be the message. Respect your spouse’s decisions, even if you disagree, because this is their choice to make. After all, worship that is compelled or demanded isn’t truly worship at all, so you want it to come from the heart. In the meantime, you can live out your faith as an example to them.
MAKE SURE YOUR SPOUSE ALWAYS KNOWS THEY’RE WANTED AND WELCOME
While you don’t want to fuss over your spouse’s absence at church, it’s never a bad idea to let them know they’re always welcome (from time to time). For example, if there’s a special event or service coming up in the next month or two, you could mention it casually: “Honey, this event is coming up in a few months. I’m not asking you to go right now, but I’d love for you to think about it. Maybe in the next few weeks, we can talk more about it.”
Instead of laying on the guilt, you’re leaving your spouse the freedom to choose whether they want to be involved–which could actually encourage them to join you.
ALLOW YOURSELF TO GRIEVE AND ADJUST TO REALITY
Being in a “spiritual mismatch” with your spouse is a painful experience, so allow yourself to grieve over the situation. This is a genuine loss, and it’s not what you envisioned for your life. It’s okay to process that in an emotionally healthy way.
Your spouse’s faith will only develop if it’s internal. It’s not productive to try convincing or converting your spouse, and you’re not likely to win them over through debate. So stay focused on your own spiritual journey and keep moving forward together, even though you mourn this missing piece.
STAY FOCUSED ON WHAT YOU HAVE IN COMMON
Moving forward in your marriage means focusing on the other common values and interests that brought you together in the first place. Stay connected to one another through the things you do still have in common. That, combined with nonjudgmental awareness of your differences and mutual respect, will keep your intimacy alive.
STRIVE TO UNDERSTAND YOUR SPOUSE’S PERSPECTIVE
When the occasion presents itself, it can be healthy to have intellectual conversations together about faith–as long as they don’t morph into hard-lined debates. Invite your spouse’s perspective and be open to what they have to say. Do your best to resist the urge to shut down or feel threatened because your spouse isn’t telling you what you want to hear.
In order to stay close, you’ll both need to be committed to keeping a sense of openness and honesty. If your spouse’s faith isn’t there, you don’t want them to pretend it is. Instead, create a safe place for your spouse to be open and vulnerable.
The more you know and understand your spouse’s sense of spiritual doubt, the deeper your intimacy will be. A lot of times, genuine faith journeys have seasons of doubt–these don’t necessarily mean your spouse will never come back to belief.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU ADMIRE ABOUT YOUR SPOUSE–AND TELL THEM
Often, when something feels amiss in our lives, it’s easy to laser-focus on that. Instead, make an extra effort to tell your spouse how much you respect and admire them. Compliment their good qualities, their character, the values they uphold, and the moral choices they’re living out.
PRAY FOR YOUR SPOUSE
The most effective and productive thing you can do for your spouse during this time is to pray fervently for them. Pray that whatever has hardened in their heart or mind will be softened again. And pray for your spirit, too, because having a spiritual rift with your spouse is deeply painful.
With time, prayer, and patience, there is hope. Your story isn’t over yet, and a change of heart is possible for your spouse. Until then, continue to be a source of love, connection, and intimacy for them.
This post was written by Drs Les & Leslie Parrott. You can find their site here: www.lesandleslie.com