Marriage is fraught with countless challenges: home ownership, finances, children, jobs, navigating the good days and the bad, and sometimes even just getting along. Being married to your best friend—someone who shares your likes and dislikes—is a blessing and makes life fun and exciting. Even your differences can be fun. Maybe her prankster personality makes you smile more and take things less seriously. Maybe your insistence on saving money each month keeps him from spending frivolously and allows you to take that vacation you both want.
But what happens within a marriage when those differences go beyond simple likes and dislikes and enter into the area of faith? What do you do when an unbelieving spouse does not share in your faith and wants nothing to do with religion?
So, how do you live with an unbelieving spouse who does not share your faith in God? How do you handle the fact that the person you have pledged your entire life to doesn’t share the most important thing in your life? What can you do for your spouse and for your marriage?
These five suggestions may help your unbelieving spouse and give you solace in your struggle:
1. Actions speak louder than words. Open a dialogue with your spouse, but talk in a way that is loving, never accusing or belittling. Radiate the joy of Christ. Let your spouse see the love you have for your faith and for Christ. Share thoughts you have, just like you would share your thoughts about an interesting book you read or a movie you saw, but don’t pester or pressure. Most of all, let your spouse witness you living your faith by treating others well, reading the Bible, praying the rosary, spending time in prayer, praying before meals, faithfully attending Mass, and doing all of these things with a happy heart. The joy you exude may just be contagious.
2. Reassure your spouse that he or she is the number one person in your life. Let him know that, although you do not share a faith, the bond you have in marriage cannot and will not be broken and that your marriage is sacred to you. Support your spouse in the things he likes. Keep in mind that an unbelieving spouse may feel left out or even resentful or jealous of the time you spend doing things related to your faith. Talk openly and honestly with your spouse and explain that, while this is an integral part of you, you understand that it is not so with him. But never make an unbelieving spouse feel bad for his lack of faith. Guilting someone into believing in God will not work and will only cause further resentment. Love your spouse unconditionally, just as Christ loves us.
3. Allow the Holy Spirit to do His work. It’s hard to live with the passage of years when it doesn’t seem like any change is taking place. Remember that God works through many different events and many different people. He is probably working through you right now.
4. Read about St. Monica and ask for her intercession in your life. St. Monica understands what you’re going through because she went through the same thing. Monica was married to a pagan and prayed daily for his conversion. She was also the mother of St. Augustine, who led a wayward life until his conversion. Monica put her faith in God and prayed continuously for both of them.
5. Pray. Pray every day. Pray unceasingly. Prayer offers you peace—a peace that can only come from a Christ whom we know is on our side, not on the sidelines. Yet, what you must realize is that God’s timeline and ours do not often match. It may seem like God isn’t listening. You may even begin to think that prayer is pointless because you aren’t seeing the results that you want when you want them. That’s understandable. But be assured that they are working. God does hear you. He knows your pain, and He knows your love. During those times, redouble your efforts. Tell God you’re frustrated but that you trust Him. Then say a prayer of thanks or a prayer asking for strength.
In addition, you might think of changing the way you pray. There, of course, is no right or wrong way to talk lovingly to God, but if you are experiencing frustration or weariness with your current prayers, try a new method of prayer. Find a renewed joy in the rosary. Take it with you in the car and pray a decade as you drive. Hold it in your hands as you sleep. Pray it as you work out. Offer up your suffering (yes, anguish is suffering too) for a poor soul in Purgatory. Begin a novena to your favorite saint asking for his/her intercession. Ask not just for your unbelieving spouse to grow closer to Christ, but for the strength to be the light of Christ in that person’s life.
Padre Pio once said, “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” This may seem overly simplistic, but he is right. Your task right now is to pray, to act as a servant of Christ, and to let God do His work.
Making More of Your Marriage
Marriage is not just a contractual agreement. It is also a Sacrament. And it is that part that means even more than the legal or contractual aspect because it is a promise before God to help care for and guide the soul of another person—and any children who come.
Ideally, when choosing a spouse, choosing someone who shares your faith is optimal. Your shared faith will foster a healthy marriage and sustain you through the inevitable difficult times.
But not everyone marries someone who shares his faith. Or maybe it didn’t matter at the time of the marriage, but now you have returned to your faith or have recently found a home in the Catholic Church. Whatever your situation, a marriage that is lacking in a shared faith can often leave one or both spouses feeling alone, isolated, confused, sad, and even angry. The strain on a marriage can be immense. Those of us who have a faith in Christ know that faith enriches our lives and makes them better, but that does not always mean our faith makes things easier. During dark times, it may seem like God is missing or that He has forgotten us. We may feel so broken and shattered that we are tempted to shout out, just as Christ did on the cross, “My God, why have You forsaken me?”
But our Lord is a loving Father who would never forsake His children. He did not abandon Christ on the cross, and He will not abandon us, even when it feels as if He is nowhere to be found. Our faith tells us this is so. In Matthew 28:20, Christ says, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Hold tight to His words.
If you are married to someone who does not believe in Christ, you may often feel overwhelmed with negative emotions. Yet, 1 Corinthians 7:14 tells us: “The unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother.” Christ is telling us that He may be working through us.
Furthermore, Christ takes the marriage vow very seriously, even if one spouse does not believe in Him. So do not forsake your vows. Cling to them. Honor them, just as you honor your spouse. Being a sacrament, a Catholic marriage will also bring with it tremendous graces. As Jesus said in Mark 10:9, “What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” Though you may encounter difficult times with your unbelieving spouse, remember your love and devotion. You both made a vow for better or for worse.
We invite you to read HLI’s series on Marriage; the information is downloadable.