What do you do when you feel like you’re in an unequally yoked marriage?
It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! I introduce a post, and then give you all a chance to link up your marriage posts below. And today we’re going to talk about husbands walking away from the faith.
Here’s a note I recently a received from a woman whose husband is no longer a spiritual leader:
My husband and I met while in our church’s college group. We were both actively involved as leaders. I was drawn to him as a spiritual leader. We dated for two years, but after we got married he revealed that he had bitterness towards the church and felt he had been hurt deeply by people there. He is still a loving, gentle, and devoted husband, but I struggle deeply with this change in his heart. He recently stated he wasn’t sure why it was important to read the bible independently. I am unsure if he spends time reflecting and or praying for our family. He has agreed to be involved in a home group, but I struggle with feeling bitter and angry at him for his lack of spiritual leadership. I long to love and serve alongside him, and am not sure how I as his wife can can support him as he works through this other than praying for him.
Here’s another one coming from a similar place:
Is it possible that God really wants me to stay married to a man that refuses to spiritually lead us? To someone who wants to be a Sunday morning Christian, someone who has no desire to seek the Lord or his ways in any aspect of his life? Someone who is so stubborn that they refuse to change the way they interact with their wife and children despite going to many parenting and marriage classes? I keep trying to do what’s right by staying in a marriage that in so many ways is crippling me from moving ahead. We go to a church that is very weak in their teachings so I don’t have a pastor or even a women’s ministry that would be helpful in this situation.
I want to take a stab at this today, but first, I’ve written quite extensively on some of these topics before, and I think those posts would likely help here, too.
I’ve covered what to do when you feel like your husband isn’t a spiritual leader.
And I’ve covered what to do when you feel like you’re in an unequally yoked marriage.
Here’s a reader who has written a beautiful post about praying for her unsaved husband constantly–and then God answered very dramatically.
Go read those (especially the one about the spiritual leader) and then come back here.
Okay, are you back now? Good.
Today what I’d like to talk about is resentment: how not to let the resentment about your husband walking away from the faith block your own spiritual life, and then block his.
What I see in these letters is a lot of anger. Their lives did not turn out as they wanted. They dreamed of a proper Christian marriage where they could serve God together, and instead they feel alone. And they’re angry. Really angry. They may phrase it differently–I’m lost, I’m floundering, I’m sad–but if you read those letters, I see anger.
And I understand.
But your anger will never accomplish the purposes of God.
And anger is a funny thing–anger is a lot like fire, which is probably why the analogy is used so much in the Bible. Fire needs oxygen to grow. Without oxygen it just peters out. But with oxygen it can blaze up and engulf you.
Are you feeding your anger about your husband’s spiritual life?
You very well might be if you’re doing one of these things:
You replay your past
Our first letter writer is looking at her dating period where her husband was serving the Lord. She thought that was going to be the rest of her life. And so it hurts even more than he changed.
But we don’t stay the same after we’re married. Life happens. It sends us curveballs. We mature. We meet different people. And sometimes people change in ways that we don’t like.
But when you made your marriage vows, you vowed to always love your husband–not just love him as he is now.
Tip: Live in the moment with your husband. Think about what is good about him right now. Encourage him in where he is right now–even if it’s not where you want him to be. Stop thinking about the past.
You focus on his faults
Our second letter writer seems to be focusing primarily on all the things that her husband is doing wrong. And when we do that, we will find LOTS of things to criticize. It’s human nature!
Yet one of the best predictors of a good marriage is that people scan for things to praise, not criticize. When people are looking for the good they see the good and they think about the good. And that will suck the oxygen right out of that anger. But when you’re looking for the bad you’ll feed it.
Tip: What can you thank your husband for today? In the first case, the husband is going to a home group. She’d like him to do more, but that’s a pretty big step if he’s doubting his whole faith!
You thank God for what you do have
Sure, your husband isn’t spiritually leading the family. But is your marriage a good one? In the first case, this looks like a good marriage from what we can see. He’s agreed to go to a home group. He’s not making a big deal out of his lack of faith; he’s just struggling.
I have lots of friends with non-believing husbands who have a huge amount of fun with those husbands. They go on bike trips together. They have fun with the kids together. They laugh a lot.
And I have a lot of friends with believing husbands who have horrible marriages.
You can have a great unequally yoked marriage. No, it’s not ideal, but no marriage is ideal. And the reason that my friends with the good unequally yoked marriages thrive is because they’re not always focusing on what they’re missing. They’re focusing on what they have.
Tip: Build a great friendship with your husband. You have a lot in common other than just faith or you wouldn’t have chosen him in particular to marry. Stress those fun things again!
Do those three things and you’ll see your attitude start to change.
Are you pushing your non-believing husband further away from God?
Many women in unequally yoked marriages make things worse. Our husbands start having doubts and we overreact, thinking that if we can just prove that they have no right to have doubts that we will somehow silence it. We’ll get our husbands back again. So we try to defeat all his arguments, hoping that if we can show how his thinking is faulty we’ll change his feelings. It doesn’t work.
Let me suggest an opposite approach. This is where the admonition in 1 Peter 3 to “win him without words” comes in. When our husbands are doubting the faith, we don’t try to rail him back into it. We just are gentle about it.
And part of being gentle is settling a question in our spirit, and it’s this: God is big enough to take care of your husband’s doubts.
Let me share this quote I put in another post that fits quite well here, too:
Questions are okay. God can handle questions. And many of our husbands will go through periods of questioning.
They may question what they’ve been taught in their particular church background (in the first case, for instance, it looks like the husband is primarily rejecting his church’s manifestation of faith, rather than God overall).
Your husband may be rejecting your cultural expression of Christianity without actually be rejecting God. Please do not confuse the two or you just push him away and drive a major wedge between you–where he is unable to talk about the faith crisis he’s going through because you’ll misinterpret it and think he’s not saved when that’s not the issue. He just may not believe all the doctrines of your particular church anymore.
Here are just a few examples:
- He may decide that hyper-conservative Christianity is not for him.
- He may change from a Republican to a Democrat, or from a Democrat to a Republican (and we read a lot about faith into this)
- He may decide that God could have used evolution to create the world
- He may decide that he hears God better through Roman Catholicism (or through Protestantism)
Many of us, if our husbands did one of these things, would think, “He doesn’t believe in God anymore! He’s become an unbeliever!”, when really he has just decided that he believes differently.
Can you give him room to believe differently than you? Can you give him room to explore these ideas?
Remember this: God gives us room. God welcomes our questions.
In our marriage, we went through a ten year period like this. My husband was questioning everything EXCEPT God. He was questioning so much about what the church teaches on various subjects, like science, prayer, gifts, etc. etc. And it was a scary time for me. But I left the door open for my husband to still talk to me about his doubts. I’d listen, even when I was scared inside. And at the end of that ten year journey we both ended up at roughly the same place–it was just a different place than where we started. But we both have a much greater sense now of the reality of God in our lives.
Now some of our husbands WILL reject God, and not just reject church, and that’s certainly hard. But if you’re in a marriage where your husband is struggling with WHO God is rather than IF God is, then let him be.
Cherish Your Marriage
Just because it’s unequally yoked does not mean that it’s invalid. So to answer our second letter writer’s question: Yes, you have to stay married to a man who doesn’t lead you spiritually. Absolutely. In fact, God tells us this explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16:
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
So cherish your marriage and love your husband! And if there are bigger issues that are harmful in that marriage (as looks like it may be the case in the second letter writer), then work on those issues and find good ways to address them. But just because a man is not living out a Christian life does not mean you can leave him.
How would that work, anyway? What would you really be saying?
You are not a living a Christian life, so I am going to BREAK MY COMMITMENT and BREAK UP OUR FAMILY and TAKE OUR CHILDREN because you are the one who isn’t holy?
That really makes no sense. Again, if it’s a dangerous marriage, that’s a different situation. But on the whole, we are to cherish our marriage.
So often we get into ruts where we just can’t see the good. All we can see is all the mistakes our husbands are making. When we do this, we’re often blind to our own mistakes. And we limit what God can do in our marriage, because God works best when He has humble hearts to speak through.
Please, if your husband is walking away from the faith, show him compassion. He likely has reasons. Give him room for his doubts, just like God does. Love him during this journey and celebrate the things you do have in common. And I pray that your husband will find his way back.