You and your wife invariably have different views on all sorts of things. What if one of these differences is how you practice your faith? Perhaps one of you is Catholic and one is not. Perhaps one of you is very active and engaged with your faith, and the other is not as much. You still have to make it work as a couple. If you have children, you have to make it work for them too. How do you handle this potentially sensitive topic?
Spiritual intimacy in marriage is about more than just spending time in God’s Word. It’s about learning how to connect with your spouse through your faith. Often times, couples say that they “can’t connect with their spouse” because they’re not in the same place spiritually. But, there are small things you can do as a couple to become more like-minded in your spiritual walk. Whether you and your wife are of different religions, or just varying “degrees” of Catholic, explore ways to more effectively relate to your wife regarding your faith(s).
1. 1 Corinthian 7:12-14,16
12 To the rest I say: if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; 13 and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
2. 2 Peter 1:5-11
5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, 6 knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, 7 devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. 8 If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. 11 For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.
3. Luke 17:5-6
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
4. Romans 1:14-17
14 To Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wise and the ignorant, I am under obligation; 15 that is why I am eager to preach the gospel also to you in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek. 17 For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”
1. Paragraph 1634
Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome. The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage, but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation to religious indifference can then arise.
2. Paragraph 1644
The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.” They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.” This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together.
3. Paragraph 818-819
818 “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church.”
819 “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth” are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: “the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements.” Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to “Catholic unity.”
Small Group Questions
1. In what ways is your own faith journey a solitary experience? A communal experience?
2. Do you and your wife have different levels of commitment to your faith? If so, how have you handled this? How have you handled your children’s faith formation?
1. If your wife and you are not “on the same page”, set aside some time to discuss this topic. The following are sample questions:
a. How important to each of us is our own religious faith?
b. How involved in religion do we want our child to be?
c. How involved does each of us want to be in our child’s religious formation?
2. Related to the above, write down a list of the five most important religious or spiritual beliefs that you have in common with your wife. After each of you have composed your lists, share them with one another. How are the lists similar or different? Are there any surprises? If so, why?
1. FAITH AND MARRIAGE — WHEN SPOUSES HAVE DIFFERENT BELIEFS
BY: DONNA ERICKSON COUCH, M.A.
After the romantic dust of my marriage settled, the fundamental questions of life surfaced dramatically when my closest friend was killed in a car accident. As I grappled with grief, my husband, Dana, comforted me as best he could. When I talked, however, about my need for God and church (I had drifted away from my Catholic faith), he was silent. Eventually he told me that, while he didn’t mind if I wanted religion again, he would not participate.
About 10 years into our marriage, I not only forged my way back to my faith alone, but also embarked on a spiritual quest that changed my life. Through years of confusion and struggle, I prayed and suffered in silence as I tried to reconcile my simultaneous love for God and for my nonparticipant husband. I worried about my role in Dana’s salvation and agonized over how to raise our children in the faith by myself.
Nagging questions plagued me: Why had this happened? Would God come between us? Was there anyone else like me in the community? Many years passed until, with the help of my studies in faith development, interpersonal communication and mysticism, I finally made peace with the uncertainties. These rather different topics resonated with me at an opportune time, and I received four transformative insights:
1. After a few years married, it’s common to experience a spiritual awakening.
The richness of Catholicism often doesn’t resonate until long after the wedding day. Upon completion of Confirmation class or during college, many churchgoers drift away from their practice of the faith. When thoughts turn to marriage, faith is frequently downplayed or discarded by those with limited adolescent or childhood views of faith. We may allow the naïve presumption that “love is all you need” to prevail. Religious practice becomes low or sometimes not even on the priority list.
Later, perhaps after a child or two, it’s common to experience an awakening, a need for God and community again. Frequently, those who return are surprised to discover a treasury of meaning in their original faith. Along with the elation of this breakthrough, however, may linger thoughts about the negative effects this may have on significant relationships. Does God come between people?
2. Authentic spirituality isn’t divisive.
As my inner life grew and I couldn’t share it with Dana, I felt an increasing distance developing between us. When I tried to describe my feelings to a friend, he quoted me the words of Jesus, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword….and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” (Matthew 10:34-36).
Though discouraged, I nonetheless pressed on and, with the help of prayer and a spiritual director, found deeper meaning in this biblical passage. I learned that, even though the incompatible beliefs we hold about God can indeed feel insurmountable, time and maturity quell the fear. Like with marriage, when we commit to God for the long haul, it’s natural to experience times of tension.
Perseverance matters most when it comes to love and provides the backbone of authentic spirituality. This awareness led to yet another related insight: All expressions of love are expressions of divine love. As our capacity for God’s love increases, so does our ability to love others. Paradoxically, my deep love for God empowered me to love Dana on an even deeper level. In the end, the “sword” of God’s love actually keeps us together.
3. The inner journey is a solitary journey into God.
In another Scripture passage, Jesus says that there is no marriage in heaven (Mark 12:25). This was in response to the Pharisees when they questioned him about the eternal consequences of multiple marriages.
If we can imagine this concept as a blueprint for the spiritual journey, an important insight is revealed: While there are many companions on the outer journey, no one may walk the inner path with us. While we can try to describe our personal relationships with God, no one else—not even those to whom we are wed—may share those experiences completely.
God calls each of us into a type of “mystical marriage” which demands that we forsake all others. No one escapes the rigors of the solitary inner journey. Those of us who walk in faith without our spouses have the opportunity of learning this sooner and in a slightly different way.
4. All relationships are mirrors of the divine relationship.
Admittedly, we have a need to share what is deep inside and we long for someone to understand our zeal for God. Fortunately, an “inner landscape” reverberates throughout creation and is communicated through the many people we call friends and intimates. All of our relationships, not just with those who share our faith walk, teach us about God.
Can we see and hear the divine in everyone? Equipped with a bigger vision, we can welcome the challenges of living with those who, without words, can teach us about the subtleties and whispers of God’s presence. Meanwhile, spiritual directors and friends can help us process the complexities of relationship with God. Frequently, others serve this need better than the ones with whom we live.
If you find yourself in the middle of a spiritual awakening, while simultaneously married to someone not on the same page, you can take heart. The challenge of living an intentional, God-centered life provides an opportunity to experience what it means to fall in love again and again—with your spouse, your faith and the beloved Holy One.
When God means something different to your spouse, it’s not the end of the world but rather the starting point for a profound encounter with love’s sacred mysteries.
What advice do you have for an “unequally yoked” marriage?
Here are a few principles to keep in mind as you face the daily challenge of living with a mate who doesn’t share your deepest spiritual commitments:
1) Be patient. Try to remember that God loves your spouse even more than you do. He may be taking your partner on a spiritual journey that you know nothing about. He may choose to use you in the process, but He doesn’t need your help. So don’t play the role of the Holy Spirit. Stay in prayer and trust the Lord to do what He wants to do.
2) Don’t stand in the way. While perfection isn’t possible or even necessary, your behavior can attract or repel your spouse where spiritual things are concerned. You’re living out what you’re experiencing with God. Is it appealing? Is your relationship with Christ making you a more enjoyable person to live with – or just a more religious one?
3) Be authentic. You should not only share your faith with your spouse, but your concerns as well. In other words, don’t be afraid to reveal your personal weaknesses. It would be hypocritical to pretend that you’re not worried when you really are, or that you don’t have doubts when you really do. Your transparency can be especially healing if your mate has felt – accurately or not – that spirituality has become a competition in your marriage. The spouse who struggles with faith issues needs a “safe” and gentle partner to come home to. A holier-than-thou approach is sure to deepen the divide – not only between your partner and yourself, but also between your partner and God.
4) Stay balanced. There’s no doubt about the importance of faith. But it’s possible to lose a healthy perspective when you’re worried about your spouse’s spiritual welfare. You can’t be too devoted to Christ, but overspiritualization and hyper-religiosity will hurt your efforts as much as falling into the opposite error of apathy.
5) Examine the reasons. Take time to explore and understand the underlying reasons for your spouse’s skepticism. What was his religious experience as a child? Was his faith nurtured or hindered? Was his parents’ faith real and meaningful or a hypocritical chore? The Bible is clear: we’re not authorized to judge others (Matthew 7:1). Sometimes in marriage we’re prone to judge because of what we know – or think we know – about our spouses. Only God can see the individual heart.