How to stop a runaway wife...
October 6, 2008 8:37 PM   Subscribe

How do I keep my wife from leaving me?

Let's assume I haven't been beating her (I haven't) or cheated on her (no way) and that I've been as good a husband as she could ask for. She admits as much. But she still wants to leave me. I am committed to my religion and she finds that completely incompatible, though I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time. She is convinced it would never work.

This will sound weird, but she seems like she doesn't even want to leave, but she also seems determined. I thought maybe someone out there might have some sort of brilliant insight that I'm not getting from my circle.

We are an extremely happy couple outside of this whole issue. She just doesn't seem to want to be married to a churchgoer. When church is not in the picture everything is more than perfect between us.

She has told me that if I would leave the church it would all be okay.

Some things I'm not hoping to hear, though you're welcome to think them:
1. "You're better off without her."
2. "Let her go, it's her decision." (My question is not necessarily how to force her to stay. It's more how I make her want, or decide to stay)

Not so much interested in the philosophical or moral arguments as I am the practical ones. I'm especially interested in anything from anyone who's been on either side of a similar situation. What made you/would have made you want to stay? What did you do to get them to stay?

I feel like I need to reinforce the fact that I love my wife very much and have sacrificed a lot to be with her, and I did so joyfully. I love my life with her and I want it to continue that way.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (43 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know how to keep her from leaving, but one thing to consider from her point of view*: there is a third party in your marriage: God. You welcome his presence, she doesn't.

*I'm an atheist, FWIW
posted by jamaro at 8:47 PM on October 6, 2008 [7 favorites]

She has told me that if I would leave the church it would all be okay.

I know that is what she is saying, but I find that so hard to believe. So many couples make religious differences work, even if it may be a struggle. I wonder if perhaps this isn't just a reason she has latched onto to sort of encompass and simplify the other nebulous (and maybe even subconscious) problems she is having in the relationship.

You should probably suggest some sort of couples counseling (not connected to your church, mind you), but I'm sorry to tell you that there may be nothing that you can do to make her want to stay.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:48 PM on October 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I think you meant "some things I'm hoping NOT to hear"....

Is it safe to say that it's not the actual going to church that's bothering her? Your "I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time." has two different weasel word phrases in it that seem to reserve the right to inject unwanted religious conversation into her life anyway. I can't speak for her, but I know that I'd walk away from that, sooner or later, no matter how sweet the other person was. You can stay in my life and my bed but get out of my belief system!

What if you go to church and leave your religion there when you come home? Like, completely? No talking about it with her at all.

If you can't do that, you seem to have a simple decision between your wife and your religion. Pick, and don't look back.
posted by rokusan at 8:49 PM on October 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I sense that there is a whole lot of stuff you aren't telling us - no one just jumps up and says "if you don't quit your church, I'm out" without having a very compelling reason. You did mention that you "have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time" - just how much have you and your church tried to "win her over?" How much intersection is there between your church and your home?

There are a million things other than beating or cheating on your spouse that can destroy a marriage. What else has been going on?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 9:00 PM on October 6, 2008

I don't think we've got enough information to answer this one, anonymous. What's your time commitment to your church? What denomination are you? What does your church believe on the standard hot-button issues that might make your wife uncomfortable (abortion, the role of the wife in the household, evolution vs. creationism vs. ID, etc.)? Do you share those beliefs?

Does she have specific concerns about your beliefs? You say she doesn't want to be married to a churchgoer-- is she an atheist? A member of a non-Christian faith? Have you made time to sit down and let her enumerate her concerns to you? If you were in her shoes, would they seem like valid concerns to you?

Lack of physical abuse and avoidance of infidelity is a good thing, but it's hardly the sum total of what makes a good spouse. Let the mods know if you want to provide more detail for us.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:02 PM on October 6, 2008

I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time

This is one of the few clues you have given us to the real issue. It may be that you need to promise completely (not for the most part) to not discuss religion ever (not just "not all the time"). If this is really what is bugging her, then a promise in these weak terms is utterly useless. No wonder she's convinced it won't work.

The phrase "She just doesn't seem to want to be married to a churchgoer" seems somewhat self-serving. I bet if you asked her why she wants to leave, "I don't want to be married to a churchgoer" is not how she would formulate it.

It sounds like there might be a problem with communication here. It might be possible to salvage this marriage, but having a professional mediate would be helpful. See a counselor.
posted by grouse at 9:02 PM on October 6, 2008 [4 favorites]

Your question makes me suspect you're not listening to her. I'm sure she has a reason that we would consider valid and reasonable, but it sounds like you -- probably closest person to her in the world -- either don't know what it is or don't acknowledge her perspective. Are you really clueless about what her point of view about this is, or are you intentionally framing the situation to make it sound like she has no good reason? Either one of those could be part of why she is planning to leave.
posted by salvia at 9:05 PM on October 6, 2008 [7 favorites]

When church is not in the picture everything is more than perfect between us.

No it's not. It never is. Even strong relationships are messy and challenging at times. To pretend that things are perfect outside of the church issue ignores any problems that might by festering in the background.

I'm guessing that you (or she) changed your relationship to the church during your marriage. Take a look at what drove that change. You might find some opportunities to draw closer to your wife.
posted by 26.2 at 9:06 PM on October 6, 2008

Two words: LICENSED counseling.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:07 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

One more question. Are you a recent convert to your faith?

The zeal of the new convert can be offputting to others, especially those nearest and dearest, and confusing to the convert-- after all, you're reaping great benefits from your spiritual life, why wouldn't everyone want to share in that experience?

People just aren't that uniform in belief, though, and an approach that suits you fine may not be one your wife finds OK for her.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:08 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

This will sound weird, but she seems like she doesn't even want to leave, but she also seems determined.

You can't second guess someone's thoughts, intentions, and feelings. You'll never truly know what is going on in her skull - all you can do is take her at her word, or judge her intentions based on her actions.

My question is not necessarily how to force her to stay. It's more how I make her want, or decide to stay

She has given you an ultimatum: her or church. You can ask her if there is anything else you can do to get her to stay, but it sounds like she has made up her mind here.

Not so much interested in the philosophical or moral arguments

Which is revealing because ultimatly I bet your wife isn't so much concerned about how you spend a few hours every Sunday morning, but is actually making a choice about you based on your philosophical and moral outlooks - all of this is fitting under her label of "church going."

Look, either your wife is completely bonkers (and we shouldn't automatically rule this out) or she has come to a conclusion, whether justified or not, that you two are not compatible in a way that is significant enough to work around.

Faith, or it's lack, is a big deal to most people. It's how many of us define ourselves as individuals. So, don't confuse your wife's ultimatum. She's not asking for a simple, black-white, yes-no, go to church or don't type change from you. She is basically saying that the person you are, down to your very core beliefs, is not the person she wants to be married too. In other words, it sounds like to keep your wife you'd have to significantly change your ways, your outlooks, and your thought processes... something which everyone does as they grow into adulthood, but not something that is easy to do once you're older and set in your ways.

Despite the good times, some people just aren't compatible. I'd be interested to learn how old you were when you got married, or how long your marriage has lasted... I'm willing to bet you got married young, rushed into it, or have only been married a short while. I also bet that your wife herself has gone through some core transformation which has caused her to question her commitment to you.

She could also be cheating on you and is just using the "church going" as a good catch all for dumping you.

Going forward, there are several things you can do:

- get counseling, if your wife will go for it.
- stress the fact that you both should take time in thinking about this choice.
- seriously evaluate your position in this relationship - do you really want to spend the rest of your life with someone who isn't interested in, or respects, this large aspect of your core personality?
- seperate - live apart for a while, see how it goes

Sadly, barring some bizarre change in your wife's priories, I don't see your marriage as sustainable.
posted by wfrgms at 9:08 PM on October 6, 2008 [7 favorites]

I agree that the church issue is probably her convenient distillation of whatever other beefs she has with your marriage. Maybe it's just an I should come first, no matter what, or maybe it's concern about children (which you never mentioned) and the inevitable choices there. As noted many of us have seen interreligious couples make things work over the years so it isn't as simple as that, or maybe it is, if she doesn't believe it can. Are there any other members of your church married to someone who has remained outside the church? Do you know anyone else who's done this -- from Christian/agnostic (apparently your situation) to Christian/Jewish to Baha'i/Muslim and so on?
posted by dhartung at 9:14 PM on October 6, 2008

What religion are you? I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was relevant.
posted by Crotalus at 9:17 PM on October 6, 2008

On Religion: Does God love you? Then he doesn't need you in church. And you certainly don't need to rub it in her face. God wouldn't like that much either.

Quit making your marriage about religion; make it about making a commitment to your wife. And if it means 'no churchy talk', then cut it out. You're not picking one over the other; you already agreed to commit to her. God would want you to respect the sanctity of your marriage. You don't need to save her. Be her husband, not her religious conscience.

Yes, you'll miss church. Bonus: you'll gain back the attention of your wife.

Oh and this: I feel like I need to reinforce the fact that I love my wife very much and have sacrificed a lot to be with her, and I did so joyfully. I love my life with her and I want it to continue that way.
Yeah. I bet, she's sacrificed quite a bit too. It's a marriage, not a scorecard.

Tons more scary: it's might not about religion and she (and you) are using that argument to fight....and instead are really avoiding the deeper issue

Go try counseling. Only from someone outside religion. Realize that perhaps, she'd be happy away from you.
posted by filmgeek at 9:22 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you need to gain some deeper understanding of how, exactly, "churchgoing husband" leads to "must escape marriage" according to her reasoning. Once you have a more specific sense of what her concerns are, then you can do a better job of addressing them. I'm a churchgoer myself, but I can think of about 10 different reasons someone might not want to be married to a religious person-- for instance, she might well:
--be annoyed that you try to preach to her all the time (as others have suggested)

--have had a bad experience with religious people, and be afraid you'll turn into one of "them"

--disagree with your religion's views on family life, and not want to be in a relationship founded on those principles

--feel strongly about raising her children atheist, and be afraid that you'd object

--be worried about the extent to which this new commitment will absorb your time/money/social resources

--be resentful and feel betrayed that you've changed what she believed to be a fundamental part of your shared marital values

--dislike the cultural aspects of your new faith (holiday traditions, dress codes, whatever) and not want them to intrude on her own identity

Or, as Rock Steady suggested, this could have nothing to do with religion; she could simply be using that as the focal point for generalized, unrelated feelings of distance and disaffection.

OR, it could have nothing to do with leaving; she could just be playing the "divorce" card in hopes that you'll back down from a life choice she disapproves of.

In any case, sounds like much much more conversation is in order. You love this woman; your interest should be in understanding her perspective and figuring out what will make you both happy, NOT in manipulating her or figuring out how to "make her want" the same things you do. Talk to her.
posted by Bardolph at 9:27 PM on October 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

When church is not in the picture everything is more than perfect between us.

I find it hard to believe that you merely attending church causes such conflict. That would make her extremely - almost pathologically - intolerant. So I have to wonder if there is something beyond your church attendance that causes the problems. (I'm not saying you are not being truthful; I'm just giving my honest reaction to what you provided.)

Are there rules that your church imposes that prevent you from doing things with her that she would like? (Some churches forbid drinking, or even going to places that serve alcohol; some forbid even going to movies. Such restrictions can obviously cause conflict if the partner enjoys those activities.)

Does she feel that you are trying to convert her to your religion all the time? Are you? Do you say or do things, overtly or subtly, to imply that you are superior due to your religion?

I do think you need to dig deeper and find out exactly what is causing the problem. You also need to consider if you are indeed willing to not attend church in order to save the marriage. Warning: if it's mere attendance that is problem, then how much control over the rest of your life are you willing to cede for the sake of peace? You could end up resentful, which doesn't help your relationship either.

I was in a somewhat similar situation. My ex-wife and I were of the same faith, but tremendous conflict entered the marriage because she felt compelled to hold myself and our daughter to her own idealistic and impossible standard of "christian" behavior, and condemn us when we fell short. (This was not in itself what ended the marriage; there were far bigger issues involved.) There were many times when I felt that we would have done much better without the church involvement; it's hard enough to maintain a good relationship without adding complications. Church should make marriages stronger, but in reality, unfortunately, the opposite is often true: it can create a division. (Hmmm... Jesus himself said something about that.)

I hope you can figure it out. I would highly recommend a counselor. Get some recommendations and find one you can both agree on. These kinds of dynamics are what they deal with every day. A good counselor can help you cut through all the layers of confusion and get to the heart of the issue.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 9:28 PM on October 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

How much of your life does your church demand of you, outside of the requisite couple of hours on the sabbath day? Are you expected to hold demanding 'callings' that take up time that you could better use to work on your relationship with your spouse?

How much "feedback" do members of your church give you regarding having a nonmember as a spouse? Is your church especially nosy in your personal affairs to the point that it would be impossible for your wife to overlook it? (Some people grow up in churches were 'culturally' this is par for the course; if yours is one of these, please understand that your marriage is nobody's business except yours and your wife's -- anybody else's opinion of it is just a lot of hot air).

How invested is your extended family in this same church? Is your wife on the receiving end of a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle cues from them that she doesn't fit into their idea of the perfect spouse for you because she's not a churchmember? Is she repeatedly targeted with ham-handed conversion attempts or love-bombing from total strangers?

Is your own personal social core centered around people that you know from church, with very few from outside of it? Are you OK with your wife forming friendships with non-churchmember people?

If any of these questions give you pause, you need to dial down the churchiness. A LOT. Not saying you need to consider not going to church services. Not saying you should break off any friendships. But do realise, your wife may be seeing a real imbalance between the stress and importance you put on your church involvement, and the leftovers she may be getting when you're at home with her. I don't think any loving wife would be so fed up with a churchgoing husband if it was merely a sunday-only type of deal, no matter what her own spiritual path was.
posted by brain cloud at 9:32 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

If this indeed has something to do with your religion, your use of the words "for the most part" speaks volumes. If she doesn't want you twatting on about Jesus/Xenu/Santa/whoever and trying to convert her, it's not "for the most part". It's that she wants you to knock it the hell off.

Again: if this has something to do with your religion. It's possible she's picked it because it's intractable and blameless and she no longer cares enough to try engaging you on some other issue which actually exists.
posted by genghis at 9:36 PM on October 6, 2008

How do I keep my wife from leaving me?

She has told me that if I would leave the church it would all be okay.

Pretty much answered your own question there, didn't you?

Leave your church.

What? What's that you say? Your church is so important in your life? It's so important to you that my crass, coarse suggestion breaks the bond of trust between you, AskMe Asker, and me, AskMe Answerer? In other words, my suggestion is a.. deal-breaker?


Hope this little exercise was useful to you.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:42 PM on October 6, 2008 [15 favorites]

I personally know that it would be a dealbreaker for me to be married to a church-going person. She told you how you can stop her from leaving: no more church. If you don't want to do that -- and I would completely understand why not -- then you can't expect to somehow cajole her into staying with you. It seems she has made herself perfectly clear, and you just don't want to face that. Religion is a deal-breaker for a lot of couples, and she has decided she can't be with a church-going person.

Is your wife an atheist? I am, and if she is too maybe I can provide some insight to see how futile it is to fight her decision. The following is written from the point of view of an atheist person, and is by no means intended to be an objective look at religion. To understand how your wife might be feeling, I'm not candy-coating anything. It is not intended to offend:

You need to understand that you steadfastly believe in something that she thinks is completely ridiculous and possibly harmful in general. She thinks your belief is irrational, and no one wants to think their spouse believes in crazy things. Imagine if your wife suddenly joined a cult with all these creation and end-times stories and lots of contradictory moralizing, and it was completely clear to you that it was all made up. You would want her to leave the cult. The more it became apparent that she was clinging to those made-up beliefs, that there was no reasoning with her, you would lose more and more respect for her and she would be less and less attractive to you. It's hard to see someone embrace things like that and want to be in a relationship with them. I've seen atheist friends try and they often start wishing to be in relationships with people that they feel are more rational. It can be maddening to see someone spend so much of their life devoted to something that, to them, carries as much weight as the tooth fairy, or the Norse pantheon, or what-have-you. This isn't a big issue with friends, but it is with spouses.

I'm almost certain you don't like hearing it described that way, and that's understandable. It doesn't change the perception, though. What I'm saying is there is a part of you, a big deal-breaking part of you that is so bothers her that all the good times you've had together cannot make up for it. You said yourself that everything is great outside the church-going thing -- contrary to being a reason to fight for the relationship, it should make it all the more clear what a huge problem this is for her.

I understand that you don't want the relationship to end, and you don't want to give up church. But there aren't any magic tricks to change your wife's mind. If she doesn't want to be with a religious person, that's it. Every time you go to church, she's going to feel frustrated and irritated and a decrease in attraction for you. Every time God comes up, the same. If you have kids, she's not going to want to raise them religiously, and that's going to cause a big problem. If you already have kids and you're trying to raise them religiously, she might even feel as if it's child abuse (some atheists do). It's a deal breaker for good reason. It's not some trifle.

Again, your options are just as she put them: no more church, or else she leaves. If you try to keep both, I don't think it would work, but if it did you'll be married to someone who doesn't like a huge important part of you.
posted by Nattie at 9:45 PM on October 6, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm going to take a little bit of a leap and assume you are a recent convert to your religion. I'm assuming this because if your wife is this adamant about not being married to a church goer, I'm guessing she didn't marry one in the first place. In other words you changed the rules of the game on her.

I'm also assuming you are a recent convert because recent converts tend to have a certain zeal and child like naivety to them. Especially when it comes to people who don't share their views. They've found this wonderful inspiring life altering thing and they just can't for the life of them understand why everyone doesn't see the "truth" like they do when it is so clear and joyous to them. They embrace their faith uncritically and totally. And often they transform their entire life and even their personalities at time to come into line with their new faith. I'm not saying this is necessarily you, but the stark simplicity of your question seems to suggest you are blind to what is upsetting your wife and how your religion may have changed you from the person she married.

You need to ask yourself how has becoming a church goer changed you.

Are most of your friends now from church?

Do you no longer read certain books, watch certain shows, see certain movies because they are not consistent with your faith?

Do you try to bring your religion into every aspect of your life?

Do you regularly question the religious beliefs of your friends and family?

Have your political views changed?

Have your hobbies changed?

Do you no longer swear or drink?

You don't mention children, but if you were to have children would you insist on raising them in your faith?

I don't know if any of these apply to you, but I think they are questions worth asking yourself and then maybe you can better understand what might be bothering your wife and whether these are things you are willing or able to change.
posted by whoaali at 10:27 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've been pretty close to in your wife's shoes -- I'm a guy, an atheist, and I was in a relatively long-term, committed relationship with an evangelical Christian. The relationship broke down over her constantly trying to convert me. My attempts to strike a middle ground were rudely rejected. The moment it finally broke inside me is when I realized she was serious and committed about having my children in the near future, and raising them to believe I would burn in hell, and that she had no problem with any of this. I was gone within 72 hours.

So, if you see any of yourself in this, don't be surprised that she's working on getting out.
posted by Alterscape at 10:32 PM on October 6, 2008 [3 favorites]

She could also be cheating on you and is just using the "church going" as a good catch all for dumping you.

Makes sense.
posted by Neiltupper at 10:44 PM on October 6, 2008

I think what really strikes me about your question is that, even though it's supposedly all about your wife's feelings (about your religion) and how you're interpreting them, what comes through to me is a desire to have her back overriding whatever actually underlies her desire to leave ... so long as she stays. You request "practical" answers only - as though a religion-related conflict could stay out of the philosophical sphere. You refer to her as a "runaway" wife (uh, she's not your property!) and start your post by comparing yourself to wifebeaters and cheaters, which - and I'm not claiming this was your intention, mind you, just the result - comes off as you trying to minimize any actions you may have taken to cause her to want her to leave. Because sheesh, you're not beating her or cheating on her, so in comparison what's the big deal, right? Everyone else has already noted the way you talk about talking religion with her, and the earlier commenter who pointed out that relationships aren't scorecards also resonates. It just doesn't sound like you're listening to what she wants or needs.

You end your post, "I love my life with her and I want it to continue that way" - that's great, but does she love her life? This is someone you love - what are you willing to give up for her to be happy, since her happiness presumably matters to you? Your religion, or at least a major part of your attitudes and practice of your religion? Or, if it was the only way she could be happy, would you step out of her life, still loving her? That might be what it takes. I'm not saying that's what it will come down to, mind you - my point is that you need to put her needs equal to or above your own.
posted by bettafish at 10:51 PM on October 6, 2008 [13 favorites]

though I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time.

Listen, if you tried to "win me over" to your religion, ever, I'd be out the door. It's presumptuous and insulting.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:18 PM on October 6, 2008 [13 favorites]

I am committed to my religion and she finds that completely incompatible, though I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time. She is convinced it would never work.

I'm kind of confused (as are most of the commenters, it seems). You're already married, so it's clear your wife was convinced things would work at some point. Did you get saved after the marriage? If so, you can simply hold to I Cor. 7:14, "the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband," and move that promise not to evangelize to her "for the most part" to "not at all, unless she suddenly becomes interested." That may help.

Otherwise, I'm at as much of a loss as anybody else. It seems like there must be some other reason she wants to go. Listen to her carefully, and do go to a non-religious therapist if she agrees to it. Good luck.
posted by timoni at 11:55 PM on October 6, 2008

Like others, I want to pick up on the phrase "I have promised for the most part not to try and win her over all the time". While I suspect that you meant this in a lighthearted way, it does speak volumes.

Many (not all) people who actively evangelize for their religions strongly communicate that unbelievers are on some fundamental level "not OK", that there is something deeply deficient about them that only a relationship with God will make whole. Conversely, one of the things I think people expect from their marriage is a sense that their partner accepts them as fundamentally OK--that their faults, foibles, vices, occasional stupid actions don't render them fundamentally damaged.

If you're right that she seems like she doesn't want to leave, it may be because she still believes you're fundamentally OK. If she seems determined to leave anyway, it may be because through your evangelization you're communicating (perhaps contrary to your intention) that she's not.

If you do believe that your wife is fundamentally deficient unless and until she shares your belief, then I don't think your marriage can last. If you don't believe that, it will be important to find some way to communicate that. I also think, as others have mentioned, that you will have to live by a promise not to attempt to convert your wife directly. If that conflicts with an evangelical imperative from your church, perhaps you can reconcile the two by trying to evangelize through example rather than through words--that is, being the most loving, joyful, compassionate person you can be, and letting others see the role that your church plays in making that possible. But as far as your marriage is concerned, the most important thing is letting your wife know that your love for her is not contingent on her sharing your religious belief.

Good luck. . .
posted by muhonnin at 12:41 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rhetorically, do you have any doubt whatsoever that your wife is real? That she loves you and wants the best for you? That she watches over you and does her best to keep you safe? That she is a forceful presence in the search for living well? That having her in your life is essential to your wellbeing?

Just curious.

Seems kinda self-evident that she is real. No faith required here.

Religious feelings may be one of those little mental quirks that feels like free will but is really an individual-specific gene. It may be beyond your control to dump it. If that need exceeds your need to have your wife in your life, anything you do now is doomed to failure later on when another decision crisis arrives.

I'd seriously consider how much you love your wife. If you really love her, you are more interested in her happiness than your own. (Your religion presumably praises this type of feeling?) If so, help her be happy.... help her leave. If you don't love her this way, help her be happy.... help her leave.
posted by FauxScot at 4:07 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am a religious person in a permanent relationship with a not at all religious person. It has taken him awhile to be comfortable with that, but now he actually defends religion against those who say things like it is the root of all problems in our society. Some things that have helped:

I don't try to convert him. Never have. Never will.
My religious denomination is not evangelical and does not teach that non-believers will be punished. If it were, I would not be a part of it.
Through me, he gets to see that my congregation and denomination do a lot of good in the world.
When we have conversations about religion, morality, etc we are both open to the possibility that we might be wrong.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:16 AM on October 7, 2008

Is your religion one of those 'non-believers are going to hell' ones?

Because I'd find it a pretty fundamental schism if that were the case. If you loved me, you would have to try to convert me, because otherwise you would believe I was going to hell forever and ever. But you trying to convert me would anger me to a great degree. So you'd have to not try to convert me, which would be compromising your love for me and your faith at the same time. Which means I would be causing you to compromise your faith while all the while you would be loving me a little less, and possibly resenting me and thus loving me a lot less. That would make you unhappy and it would make me unhappy. Knowing that I couldn't live with a relationship thus diminished, I would want to leave, to save you from that pain and to save me from being the cause of it.

If that's the case, is there a less hell-fire and brimstone version of your base religion that you could switch to? One that wouldn't declare she was going to hell because she was a non-believer? Not every church is precisely the same, and you might find that if you didn't have a preacher preaching it at you every Sunday, the idea that all non-believers go to hell started to seem a lot less real.

And someone else has already mentioned it, but I think she could be feeling her biological clock ticking like Marisa Tomei but without the possibility of birthing an Oscar. If she's afraid to have the same sort of dilemma I outlined above when it comes to your future children, and she's feeling that she really wants children (or that you already have young kids), then she may be trying to get out while that's still a possibility for her. Because whatever religious differences the two of you have now will be magnified a million times when there are three of you, and you both want to indoctrinate your child into different belief/non-belief systems.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:38 AM on October 7, 2008

Is your wife a strong feminist, and your church pushes couples to adhere to traditional gender roles?

I am a feminist, but I used to be quite active in church. One of the three main reasons why I started to avoid organized religion, is because I find many beliefs and practices anit-feminist. For that reason, I don't think I could ever date a "churchgoer", and if he becomes one I might break up with him.

Could this be her issue?
posted by sixcolors at 6:18 AM on October 7, 2008

It's more how I make her want, or decide to stay.

You have gotten some good answers related to the religious thing, but I just wanted to point out that, whatever the issue, you can't make another person want something they don't want.
posted by Pax at 6:34 AM on October 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ok can you tell us which religion you are talking about? I mean your religion could be sacrificing animals for all we know or is just as simple as waking up early on please be more specific in regards 2 what aspects of the religion she doesnt like...I am pretty sure that the problem she has is not that you have a relationship with god but the things you have to do in order to keep this relationship according to your specific religion......
posted by The1andonly at 6:54 AM on October 7, 2008

If your wife knows how deeply you love her she must also know that you will not rest until you have saved her, sooner or later. If she doesn't want to be saved, her only choice is to leave.
posted by Dragonness at 7:44 AM on October 7, 2008

People have laid out some really good lists of practical lifestyle differences that could be contributing to this, but there's a huge potential issue I don't think anyone's mentioned yet: birth control. If your religion teaches that reproduction is an intrinsic part of sex and birth control violates God's purpose, but your wife wants more control over when/if she has children, that could be the problem. That's a very personal thing that affects one's own body and everyday life at the deepest level, and if your wife feels you or your religion is pressuring her about reproduction, she may feel like you don't respect her decisions. She's unlikely to change her mind about something that big; if that's part of her objection to your religion, you'll probably have to yield to her or let her go.

You might also, maybe without realizing it, be expressing contempt or disapproval for other people based on their religions, drug/alcohol use, sexuality, manner of dress, or interests. In that case, the solution is simple: don't talk about it. At all. Ever. Don't dwell negatively on the lifestyle of neighbors, movie stars, politicians; don't criticize her family; don't encourage her to change her friends.

* Also, anon, a bunch of people have asked for information--if you want to explain more, you can memail a moderator and they'll post your comment for you so you're still anonymous. Just making sure you're aware of that option.
posted by hippugeek at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

There's been a lot of good advice in this thread that relates to her stated reasons for leaving. I'd urge you to give those comments serious consideration.

That said, I've been through a divorce. My wife and I were compatible in most respects (and we're still good friends). Religion wasn't an issue, but frankly, her stated reasons for leaving and the underlying reasons were not entirely congruent. Those underlying reasons were ones we did not admit to ourselves at the time (despite seeing a marriage counselor). I only really became conscious of them after the divorce, and am still somewhat uncomfortable contemplating today.

When you say When church is not in the picture everything is more than perfect between us that stands out as a big red flag to me. There are probably other issues that you are unaware of or are studiously ignoring—ones that may be difficult to confront.

You cannot just make your wife want to be with you, but if you can get to the bottom of your problems (whether they're all about religion or something else), you can try to address them. You're going to have to ask her, and keep asking, and lie down and take whatever she has to throw at you.
posted by adamrice at 7:55 AM on October 7, 2008

This is the question, from your wife's approximate perspective.

Perhaps that will help.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:12 AM on October 7, 2008

I say dump the church. Your relationship with God is between you and God. The church is just a social setting.

Think of it this way: If she was asking you to pick between you and your friends, you'd pick her, right? That's what she's doing. Don't confuse god and church.
posted by ewkpates at 9:14 AM on October 7, 2008

I have been the OP's wife, or in a similar situation. In my 20s, I was in a relationship with a person who was a non-practicing Southern Baptist; at the time, I was a non-practicing Catholic. Religious issues were fine between us, with the fundamental differences of our faiths acknowledged and left as Things We Disagree About, but not on the Big List of Problems.

Then he got seduced into the International Church of Christ. While I am reluctant to use hyperbolic terms, ICC used brainwashing and cultic techniques on him: pressured him to accept a roommate who monitored and formed his behavior, filled four evenings a week plus all day Sunday with church social activities, told him that my mother (at the time, in hospice) was destined for hell because she believed in the Whore of Babylon instead of in the true Christ, encouraged him to cut ties with his family except for the level necessary to get money from home for church obligations, pressured him to quit school and take a job with a church member, and told him in no uncertain terms that he could not find salvation while dating me. He was filled with fear - for me and for himself - and pleaded with me to recant my baptism and join him. I went to church with him a few times and was love-bombed by an obvious targeted team of people who knew an awful lot about me, personal and private info included. He became someone other than the man I had accepted into my life, and I told him it was ICC or me. He chose his church.

I cannot tell from the OP's post whether he is involved in something like this, an all-encompassing church that extends its tendrils into every aspect of a modern person's life with a fear-based theology that shuns unbelievers, or if he is just an excited happy person like I was when I found my spiritual home as an Episcopalian. However, I do know that alarm bells are going off in my head.
posted by catlet at 9:24 AM on October 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

[a few comments removed - if the OP would like to reply to any of these comments/qustions, please memail me or another mod]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:39 AM on October 7, 2008

On Religion: Does God love you? Then he doesn't need you in church.

What? Clearly, going to church is a big deal for this guy. He identifies himself as a churchgoer. It's totally unrealistic to expect someone to not go to church. Many, many religions believe that worship is an important and central part of the exercise of their faith. I agree that if Anon's wife is not into religion he should not push it on her, but to expect him to forgo worship is unrealistic. If the problem is him going to church, it's also probably that he believes in something at all and, more specifically the form of religion he's gotten involved in.

Anon: The only way that you can save the marriage is by changing the way you practice your faith. I suspect you are unwilling to do that, so the marriage is probably over.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:17 AM on October 7, 2008

I think we've nailed the root of the question:

Is your commitment to your church more or less important than your vow to your spouse?

How we practice faith and where, when, and how we worship, maybe these are more important than a marriage vow.

There are unhealthy churches and unhealthy marriages. It is difficult to know here which one is more unhealthy. "We are an extremely happy couple" and "I love my wife very much" suggest that perhaps you should give church a break. Ask your wife to a Unitarian service once a month, followed by dinner at the expensive resturant of her choice.

And talk to her. All the time. About everything.
posted by ewkpates at 4:16 AM on October 8, 2008

Ewkpates, good points, except for the last one - if he could leave the church out of it, that would help.
posted by Dragonness at 11:35 AM on October 8, 2008

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