I am married to a doubter.
While I was well-aware of my husband’s agnosticism before our wedding, a few years into our marriage, it started to bother me. I wanted him to come along with me on my faith journey. I was worried for his soul, frustrated that I had to take the lion’s share of educating our kids in the faith, and jealous of other Catholic couples around me.
All of a sudden, I was asking him to change. I felt like God was the most important thing in my life and I wondered how we could remain close if God was barely a blip for him. I nagged him to believe, to attend Bible studies with me.
It bothered him too. He wondered why he was no longer enough. He was (and is) a great husband. He was faithful to the promise he made me that he would attend church with me every week, support me in my faith, and raise our kids Catholic. And, he feared that my getting closer to God might draw me away from him.
Today, I can say that I have a stronger marriage and a stronger faith in God, and no, it’s not because my husband became a believer. Over time, God revealed to me that my concerns were unfounded. I can grow closer to God without growing apart from my husband. God revealed to me that he is a powerful presence in my marriage even when my husband and I don’t see eye-to-eye on faith.
Here’s what I learned:
No one comes to Jesus through nagging
I distinctly remember standing on my front porch, upset with my husband because he would not attend a Bible study with me. I forcefully told him, “You are wrong. God is here. Heaven is for real. You need to try harder.” But mid-sentence, I just stopped. I felt the pressing on my heart, God didn’t want us to fight about this.
My husband is not going to come to faith through nagging. I know because I tried – a lot. I nagged him to come to Bible studies with me, to pray out loud with me (even though that made him uncomfortable), to sing the songs at Mass. The only thing the nagging accomplished was adding tension to our relationship, so I stopped. I never again tried to convince him I was right. Once I stopped, I was finally able to truly hear him, his thoughts about what he does believe, and where he doubts. Knowing he won’t be badgered, he is able to hear me as well — my thoughts, beliefs and doubts. We still don’t agree, but we both feel open to talk about what we believe without judgment. We have conversations, not fights.
Your spouse’s faith journey is not your journey
About 20 years ago, a friend married a man who was by all definition, an atheist. Her husband and I had lots of heated conversations about science and religion. “Prove it,” he’d always say, getting the last word in. But, that was just the beginning of his faith journey. Over time, through discussions with friends and family and the quiet witness of Catholics around him, his heart softened. A few years ago, I had the privilege of standing behind this man, my hand on his left shoulder as he was welcomed into the Catholic Church. Your spouse is on their own unique journey, and sometimes the outcome might surprise you. After all, with God, all things are possible.
The grass isn’t always greener
One of the most difficult things for me was dealing with my jealousy of the Catholic couples around me. I longed to share this part of my life with my husband, to hold hands and pray with him and our children, to ask God to bless our marriage, to read the Bible together.
Dwelling on these unfulfilled desires made me miserable. I felt like I was missing out; like I could only be better Catholic if he was.
Then one day it hit me, I was comparing my entire marriage to one aspect of the marriages around me. A friend who seemed like she had the perfect Catholic marriage shared a marital struggle with me. All marriages have challenges, and when I really thought about it, I wouldn’t trade my marriage for any other. My husband and I are best friends. Although we do disagree, we rarely fight and we get along easily. He makes me laugh every day and I feel like I can truly be my authentic self around him. He never judges me. He holds me up when I feel weary. He shows me grace after grace. My husband and I have a great relationship and I was able to see that more and more once I stopped comparing.
When you look for it, you will find your spouse loving you like Christ loves his Church
Although we don’t speak the same language when it comes to matters of faith, my husband loves deeply. He is Jesus in the world to me every day because he loves me sacrificially, sometimes in small ways, like charging my phone every night, and sometimes in big ways, like when I lose my temper with our children and I am stuck in self-loathing. When I feel least deserving of love, those are the moments he loves me the best. He steps in with a hug and tells me the truth I need to hear, the truth I know from the Bible: I am worthy of love.
This is how God loves us. Not because of what we do, but because of who we are. My husband loves me because I am who I am, not because of anything I do. It has been such a gift to recognize that even though my husband does not know Christ as I do, Christ is in him.
God already has your spouse
One day I was praying pretty fervently for my husband, and said, “Jesus, if you love him, come down and get him!” I felt Jesus laughing at me, as he does sometimes when I imagine shaking him and demanding things, and felt him say, “I already have him, Anne.” Then I had a visual of my husband being carried by God.
No one cares more about your spouse’s soul than God does. Pray for your spouse, but remember that God is already holding them.
Obsessively worrying about the state of my husband’s soul didn’t bring him any closer to God. So, I tried a different tactic. Meeting him where he is and loving him for who he is may or may not bring him closer to God, but it does help our marriage when I love him as Jesus does. I’ll let God handle the rest.
“Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry” -St. Padre Pio