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Thriving in a mixed-belief marriage
Does your partner have spiritual doubts? Are differing beliefs causing conflict in your family? Read these five suggestions for strengthening relationships after loved ones experience a faith crisis. - photo by Kristin Ahmed
I had always known that this might happen: After three years, my husband had decided that he no longer wanted to take part in our faith. Although I wasn't completely shocked by his decision, the pain and loneliness of finding myself alone in our family's spiritual practice was very real.

Things have gotten easier as time goes on. There are still moments when I struggle, but I feel like I have learned a lot of valuable lessons. Here are some suggestions for families and couples dealing with an unexpected faith crisis.

Be accepting.

It's so important for both partners to feel accepted for who they are, even if they are experiencing spiritual doubts. Tell your partner that you love them for who they are, not because they meet a checklist of spiritual credentials. Remind your partner often of the reasons why you love them. Your spouse may already be vulnerable after admitting spiritual doubt. Reaffirm your love and trust in your partner.

Avoid manipulation.

The intimacy of marriage can make a spouse's faith crisis especially difficult to deal with. Spirituality was something I thought that we would be able to share. I was heartbroken when I discovered that my husband didn't place the same value on spiritual doctrines and practices that I did. My fears about the well-being of our family led to subtle and not-so subtle attempts at nagging, manipulating and forcing my husband to do things that I thought were necessary. Eventually, I felt that I needed to stop trying to force spirituality on my husband. I had to recognize that he was on his own spiritual path, even if it was different from the path I had envisioned for him.

Become spiritually self-reliant.

Once I stopped trying to change my husband, I realized that I was focusing on his behavior and ignoring my own spiritual deficiencies. I was experiencing the classic "beam and mote" syndrome from the New Testament (Matthew 7:3-5). Instead of trying to point out ways that my spouse can improve, I now try to focus my efforts on my own spiritual progress. I am far from perfect, but I have noticed a difference in the way that I pray. I now meditate on ways I can build a relationship with God.

Find support.

Whether you take part in an online forum, or chat with family or members of your congregation, it's important to reach out. At first, I felt ashamed and out-of-place when I came to church alone. I came to realize that most people were friendly and sympathetic. Give people the benefit of the doubt before you judge them (or yourself) too quickly.

Have faith.

The hardest part of dealing with my husband's choices is recognizing and redirecting my worried thoughts. Spending more time reading uplifting material has helped me to create a more positive outlook. If your spouse or family member is struggling to believe, express love, but also have faith that God loves you and wants your family to succeed.

Every faith crisis and family is different. While I am still learning from this challenge, I have had many spiritual experiences as I strive to improve my relationship with God and my husband. Marriages can truly thrive as both partners increase their expressions of love and mutual respect for one another.
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