My wife is a devout christian and I'm increasingly becoming a non-believer
March 15, 2009 7:35 PM   Subscribe

My wife is a devout christian and I'm increasingly becoming a non-believer. Should I tell her?

We both met in church, started dating, and got married when we both shared a common religious belief. For a number of reasons I could no longer identify myself as a christian (for details see my previous post here).

I've largely kept this to myself and never discussed this with her about my evolution, for a number of reasons 1) to protect her as the religion works for her 2) to preserve the marriage 3) to save myself from enormous trouble.

The problem is I'm a little sick to pretend and continue to do all this christian functions (i.e. church, gathering...etc.). Should I come clean about this and face the consequences?
posted by mchow to Human Relations (41 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might find some comfort in the story of Charles and Emma Darwin, and the way that they were able to balance faith and skepticism in their marriage.

And yes, you must discuss this with your wife. Make it clear that your priority is your marriage, and making it work, but this is too important to hide.
posted by ocherdraco at 7:48 PM on March 15, 2009

Could you go to a Universal Unitarian church, or another church that is more comfortable for you? I have a few atheist/agnostic friends that go to UU with their spouse/kids, and find it not so bad. I think that would allow you to skip the "I don't know you anymore" type thing that she may come back with if you outright said, "no more church". This may be more cop out than confession, but that might work better here.
posted by kellyblah at 7:52 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yes, you need to talk to her about this. No, I can't tell you how she's going to take it, having not met either of you.

Check your MeFi mail.
posted by valkyryn at 7:55 PM on March 15, 2009

If you don't, it'll gnaw at you until it becomes unbearable. Your three points above? You're only doing number 3. #1 is a lie you're telling her and #2 is a lie you're telling yourself.

I don't envy you that conversation, and I cringe at the thought of all the well-meaning people from your church who may try to come by and counsel you about this. I'd recommend that you have clear boundaries in mind on that front when you go and talk to her about it -- I don't know what faith you come from on this, but there are some churches where you'd come home from work one day to find an intervention waiting for you. I'd personally want to keep anyone who isn't family or maybe a pastor out of that conversation.

I'd also go to great lengths to let your wife know that you still respect her beliefs and support her (if indeed that is the case), and that you expect nothing from her other that she do the same with you. If she's a woman who holds her faith dear, this is likely going to be very hard for her, and you're likely going to need a lot of patience to help her reach acceptance.
posted by middleclasstool at 8:10 PM on March 15, 2009

Should you tell her and face the consequences? What is the alternative? Hold it back and create internal turmoil and lie to her the rest of your life? The only question is how to tell her and when. We on the internets cannot tell you that. I would say sooner rather than later and directly without valuing her belief, but I do not know you or her.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:12 PM on March 15, 2009

Telling her and not telling her both present different problems, but it's impossible to see into the future and determine which one will be worse. On the other hand, once you tell her you can never un-tell her, whereas if you don't tell her you can always change your mind. So actually it seems like not telling her actually gives you more options. Hmm.

On the other hand, I would tell her.
posted by delmoi at 8:18 PM on March 15, 2009

Your first question, which mentioned that you had "recently" read the bible and started having doubts, was eleven days ago. I think it's probable that you've not quite worked out how you really feel about all this, let alone what you're going to believe for the rest of your life. It would be good to share some of how you're feeling with your wife; this is a huge part of your life, after all. But I'd be careful not to declare, out of the blue, "I'm an atheist and everything you believe is stupid," without giving things a chance to settle down.

You need to talk to someone, I think. Maybe not a preacher, and maybe not even your wife in too much detail. A counselor or psychiatrist of some sort, or maybe get MeFi user 'pater althias' (who commented in your previous question and sounds like she has a lot of advice to offer) or another user to suggest someone. Maybe a phone call to someone out there on the internet who has been through what you have. You need to work this out a bit before dropping bombshells on your wife, is all I'm saying.

I'm not advocating keeping all this from her until one day you can make definitive pronouncements; do give her a clue that something is up, that you're thinking things over. You know her, you, and your relationship; use your own best judgment, of course.
posted by amtho at 8:28 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you should tell her, but don't try to push your lack of belief on her. I hope she will not try to throw you back into belief, either.

I am agnostic for the same reason as you are. I come from a very religious background, and when I tried to understand it better by reading the Bible and following the faith as the Bible told me to, I found it to be absurd, even cruel. Unfortunately, I do not think this truth is something you can easily tell someone who still believes, and I would caution you against saying to your wife, "I've read the Bible, and that's why I doubt God." Keep it simple: "I no longer believe." If she asks for more information, by all means tell her, but it will complicate it. Believers have a tendency to take statements against the Bible very personally.

So long as she is at least moderately rational, she will be able to live happily with you. In times when she can't, say to her, "I know you believe different, so pray for me." Also be quick to remind her that the Bible actually talks about being married to nonbelievers. This always takes away the heat and reminds the religious that it's not their job, but their god's, to change your heart. (Of course, we know your heart isn't likely to be changed, because there's no invisible, caring man in the sky watching you do everything from drinking coffee to having sex.)

I'll second the Unitarian church. If I had to subject myself to any church again, it'd be that one, because it is moderate--very much so. If this is not an option for you, though, I think you should just not go to church with her. I realize this may cause friction and arguments, but to do anything else would be torturing yourself for an hour+ each week. Explain this to her--politely--by saying she would feel stressed and upset if she had to go, each week, to meetings that supported things she either (a) didn't believe or (b) staunchly disagreed with.

Finally, while I think the chances aren't too good for it, you may find your wife is doubtful these days as well. Depending on your age when you met in church, she may have grown out of a lot of the comforts and fairytale stories that religion has to offer, but not felt comfortable enough to tell her.

If you feel you can't discuss this well with her over dinner, choose your words wisely and write her a letter. That will give you the opportunity to state your case, 100% and clearly. If she doesn't accept any of this, ask her to go to a non-religious counselor with you, because you want to have a happy, peaceful marriage.
posted by metalheart at 8:28 PM on March 15, 2009

OK, my typing and spelling is terrible and rushed lately. Sorry.

- I meant "psychologist or counselor", not psychiatrist

- I meant 'pater alethias', not 'althias'

I need to focus better. Apologies.
posted by amtho at 8:30 PM on March 15, 2009

"I know you believe different, so pray for me."

I meant differently. :|
posted by metalheart at 8:31 PM on March 15, 2009

"Honey, I have been doing a lot of thinking about this lately and I've come to the conclusion that [the church] no longer works for me, and I have decided to redirect my time and my energy. Naturally this is a personal decision I have arrived at after a lot of introspection and is no reflection whatsoever on your faith, and you know I love you and the kids and this doesn't change that one bit and we will still have pancakes on Sundays."
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:31 PM on March 15, 2009

Oh sorry for some reason I was under the impression you have kids, no idea where that came from.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:33 PM on March 15, 2009

I would tread very carefully in doing this. She did after all marry you in a Christian setting under Christian rules, with every expectation of a Christian lifestyle. She could see this as a clear dealbreaker. Especially if she thinks you are going to go to hell, and that if she can't save you from this fate, you could drag her down too. You didn't mention if you have kids or are planning to have them, but that just intensifies the situation.

Maybe take Turgid Dahlia's suggestion a step further and say that you have decided to concentrate on doing good works (helping the poor, secular versions of whatever charitable purpose you feel strongest about) instead of purely church-related activities. And stress how important doing good works is to the Christian faith. And try not to make it an ideological war, perhaps focus on "I need some time to figure out where my faith truly lies: whether it's with God as we know him, with science, or with something in between. In the meantime I plan to devote the time I normally would be devoting to worshipping Jesus, to doing things in the community that Jesus would approve of." But which are, of course, not necessarily religious.

I think a swap of your time/energy for something that is obviously good, that crosses the boundaries of secularism and Christianity, will be a lot easier for her to handle than a cold turkey "Honey I don't believe it so instead of going to Church from now on I'm going to watch football."
posted by np312 at 8:48 PM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Should I come clean about this and face the consequences?

What do you think the consequences will be? She's your wife, hopefully you can have a conversation about faith without the walls falling in. You should be having conversations like this with your wife all the time. About religion and everything else.

Also, you sound like you would stop going to gatherings, church, etc. that are important to your wife. I don't especially like golf and I don't see the appeal of it, but I go golfing with Mr. TXVT all the time because it's important to him and I like spending time with him. Maybe you could compromise on what to attend.

I think turgid dahlia's suggestion would come across as a shutout and a shutdown. I made this major life change/decision without ever discussing it with you, so sorry...Bring up your specific doubts and have conversations.
posted by txvtchick at 8:58 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

The longer you wait, the worse it will get.

I don't want to build this up for you, but religion is a Big Deal to a lot of people - and it certainly sounded like it was to you and your wife.

Maybe if you bring it up as you increasingly questioning the faith, she'll be better to understand and empathize (and hell, maybe she'll convince you to be Christian again, or maybe you'll convince her to be Agnostic). But if you say nothing, nothing will be fixed.

Everything can be healed with light and air, me pop said.
posted by OrangeDrink at 9:21 PM on March 15, 2009

I made this major life change/decision without ever discussing it with you, so sorry...Bring up your specific doubts and have conversations.

That's an interesting point, but the problem here is that this would be a discussion about a person's internal intellectual processes and subjective outlook on unqualifiable, unmeasurable, unfalsifiable matters. That's a recipe for a massive argument where neither party gives any ground and both sides refuse the others' perspective:

"Sweetheart, I don't think I believe in God any more."

"Oh you are so sleeping on the couch."
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:29 PM on March 15, 2009

You certainly must have any conversation about a substantial change in worldview before you have any children.
posted by rodgerd at 9:33 PM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

As we dated it became clear to me that we were headed in different directions. While I have absolute faith in 'something' -- Creative Intelligence, for lack of a better word; whatever the hell it is that makes grass grow through sidewalks, helped me remember my ex-wifes birthday just in time to save my ass, etc -- I am absolutely not down with jesus and leviticus and all of those bums; it's cute, fun story and all, but basically a bunch of jive written by primitives living in tents, shitting in holes in the ground, trying as best they could to make some sense of this whole thing but lacking scientific method, not to mention toilet paper. So I'm dropping out of that whole scene, I dumped bibles and crosses and all sorts of shit, burned most of it, gave some of the crosses to my sister, who still has some sort of belief.

In any case, I'm moving in this direction and my sweetie at the time is moving away from being a psychotherapist and Reiki master and toward some church which seemed to me to be mostly centered around a bunch of women cooking a bunch of food and eating together for hours on Sunday afternoons. Some escapees from fundamentalist religions, some lesbians, the odd witch or two, an eclectic group of Sunday-afternoon food-eating gals. Somehow, this didn't square with my beliefs or hopes or desires, and I shut my mouth, and she shut her mouth, except when she was eating with these gals, and we really began living a lie.

Because it'd started so damn strong, it was very difficult to face the fact that we'd moved on and into or onto different paths, that what we had was a friendship, a sharing of the days of life but not of shared time in our relationship with whatever it is that god is, if anything. Which is to say: it was over, all over but the crying, took us a long time to get out, gather our courage and wave one another goodbye. But we did so. I miss her warmth and her kindnesses and her sweetness and her beautiful smile, her beautiful poetry. I don't miss the schism which had entered into our lives, I do not miss living a lie.

Do what you will. My hope would be that you'll tell her what's shakin', and as noted above, it doesn't have to be 'Hey, your religion sux, you're braindead for believing that jive, get a grip'; rather than that, you can just start moving off into volunteer work or whatever, a practical Christianity. Maybe she'll come onboard, maybe she won't, if she's not interested you've got more information to base your actions and decisions upon.

Talk. It's a marriage. But if you don't talk it's not a marriage, not really, it's naught but a binding contract, sanctioned by a body of people who no longer ring true for you and also by the governing authorities where you live, etc and etc.

Good luck.

I wish you peace.
posted by dancestoblue at 9:49 PM on March 15, 2009 [3 favorites]

Thanks all for the comments. They're great.

I understand that honesty is the best policy and communication is the key for all marriages- but this is a dilemma where honesty can cause serious damage to our relationship. To feed you more background 1). She believes the christian belief is the core of our marriage (she always says we knew each other according of God's plan. 2). She's trying to convert her parents to christianity, and she needs me on this. 3). She is a rather dependent person, and my choice of belief will definitely affect her in an unpredictable way, probably for the worse.

This is not an easy situation, and that's why I don't want to break the news to her before I can weight all options.
posted by mchow at 10:37 PM on March 15, 2009

2). She's trying to convert her parents to christianity, and she needs me on this.

You're trying to help your wife convert her family to a religious belief you no longer believe in yourself?

I'm working hard to avoid pointless JudgeMe here, but you really, really need to take a step back and look at how you're conducting your life at this point.
posted by rodgerd at 11:33 PM on March 15, 2009

2). She's trying to convert her parents to christianity, and she needs me on this.

You're trying to help your wife convert her family to a religious belief you no longer believe in yourself?

No I never accepted this request, but my abandonment of christianity will be seem as a sabotage to her own effort to convert her family. You know, even your husband not setting a good example as a christian...etc.

Things get 10 times more complicated than they should when it involves the family, particularly on your wife's side. This is one of the big considerations I need to factor in.
posted by mchow at 12:45 AM on March 16, 2009

Since you posted more about this, I can see why you're hesitant. What if you eased her into the truth? Don't lie, but ease into it. For instance, tell her you're "dealing with doubts" and that, to see to that, you're reading more of your Bible. She may want you to read or pray with her for a while, amongst a few other things. In a few weeks' time, consider saying the full truth, that after reading and much thought, you don't know that you believe in it anymore.

You can't know what her reaction to this will be, but since she views this as such a connecting point for you both, you need to make sure and ease into it. You also need to make an effort to separate religion from relationship, else she might take doubts in your faith to mean doubts in your marriage. As you're easing her into this, make sure to tell her how appreciative you are of her being willing to listen to you and (hopefully) not judge you.

From your post, I can tell you really care for your wife, and you want things to work. However, I guess you need to make sure that you can and are willing to compromise. I think religion and politics are two areas that couples almost always have to agree, or nearly agree, on. I know of only a few relationships where this hasn't been the case.

I think before you even talk to your wife, you need to decide to what degree you'll be willing to compromise. Will you be willing to deal with her wanting to pray with you, when you don't believe in the act? Will you be able to sometimes go to church functions for her, as a show of your love, disregarding the man in the sky silliness? Will you be able to accept the irrationality (read: oftentimes rejection of science and reason) that often goes hand in hand with religion, particularly the less moderate kind? How much do you need her to compromise?

These are things you'll need to map out for yourself, so you don't get caught off guard and agree to things you will later regret, or fail to communicate what you need from her. Also, I can't favorite rodgerd's comment enough.
posted by metalheart at 12:59 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've never been married so take what I say with a handful of salt.

But from what you've said it seems that your wife married you expecting you to be what you said you were. A devout christian. And while I want to say love conquers all, religion is for some people one of the few things that trumps that.

If you really have stopped believing in god then to base a relationship off that continued belief is a pretty serious thing to roll with. For myself I'm agnostic yet I still go to church on Easter with my grandma.

My point being is that attending that function with her makes her happy even though she knows I don't believe in any of it.

So if these functions are an important part of your wife's life then honestly I don't think it will go over well if you tell her you are having some doubts about your faith as well as wanting to pull out of attending these things with her.

The question then is, is it more important for you to be recognized as an atheist (from stopping to attend church/functions) or to publicly being thought of as a christian while privately your wife would know of your doubts.

I'm guessing that the time you spend at church together is important to your wife. If you make the matter of attending church less about what's said and more about quality time with your wife than maybe coming clean with your wife will work out better.
posted by Allan Gordon at 1:02 AM on March 16, 2009

1). She believes the christian belief is the core of our marriage (she always says we knew each other according of God's plan. 2). She's trying to convert her parents to christianity, and she needs me on this. 3). She is a rather dependent person, and my choice of belief will definitely affect her in an unpredictable way, probably for the worse.

This update makes ill-feeling and possible dissolution of your relationship seem inevitable.

She believes specific human events, specific events in her life, are subject to divine intervention. One of the most important such events in her life was her marriage to you, which she sees in unequivocally spiritual terms.

Googling, these results that pop up have the damning (no pun intended) verses I was looking for.

She will in all likelihood be outraged, because this situation is for her nearly impossible to deal with. On the one hand she can divorce. In other words, be compelled by your lack of faith to do a sinful thing that will inspire self-loathing, and that her peers will almost certainly look down on her for. Her other option is a lifetime of resisting your corrupting influence and attempting to save you.

Then there is the extra-biblical path. She can water down her faith, which would almost certainly require leaving her current church (again, inspiring bitterness), and involve a lot of cognitive dissonance. The final option, loss of belief in Christianity, is highly unlikely, and isn't likely to happen on any timescale that would salvage your marriage.

I'm doubt this relationship can work after you tell her, which you almost certainly will have to.

Don't just confront her with some new label (non-believer! atheist!). Act as you feel is appropriate believing what you believe. If that means not going to church, stop doing it. If she asks why, address specifically you aren't going to. The conversation will unfold naturally, but avoid jumping to big sweeping labels that she'll be prepared to lash out with canned responses against. Be honest about when you don't have all the answers answers, where you have doubts. If you're met with attempts to reconvert by others, explain you've thought it over in great detail, and what they're saying just doesn't resonate with you - explain why. But hold your line, don't say you believe things you don't.

You: I don't think I'm going to church this sunday?
Her: Why not?
You: They believe things, and discuss things, in terms I can't identify with any more.
Her: What?!?!
You: Well, God, for instance. They talk about this being that is extremely personal, and I just don't see that kind of presence in the world. I don't think what they're talking about when they talk about God is real.

This is still the person you care about. Realize your wife is in a difficult situation, and may treat you very poorly because of it. Let her in on your thought process. You know what its like to be where she is.
posted by phrontist at 1:43 AM on March 16, 2009

Maybe you can help her see the light. So yes. Tell her.
posted by watercarrier at 3:36 AM on March 16, 2009

Let her know that you need her, and exactly what kind of support you need from her -- i.e., if the relationship is not, according to you, based in religious faith, what is it based in? You need an excellent, even eloquent way to convey this to her, so that she feels needed and she feels that there is real meaning and purpose in your life together.
posted by amtho at 4:25 AM on March 16, 2009

Frankly, if you can't live honestly around her, RUN THE FUCK AWAY.
posted by kldickson at 4:41 AM on March 16, 2009

Tell her the truth. She probably already knows something is up.

And as you know the Bible teaches that if an unbeliever is content to stay with a believer, the believer should stay with them, so you aren't risking divorce here, at least from her side.

As to her parents, no one can save another human. That is God's work-we can only share and be God's instrument in it. The results are up to Him.

As to her, I weep for her, because this is going to be very hard for her, but otoh, God will get her through it.

Tell her.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:10 AM on March 16, 2009

And as you know the Bible teaches that if an unbeliever is content to stay with a believer, the believer should stay with them, so you aren't risking divorce here, at least from her side.

The Bible also teaches that the devil can quote scripture for his own ends. The experiences of my acquaintances teaches that, if his wife does freak out enough to divorce him, any Bible verses to the contrary will be ignored or rationalized away. (in the above case, the Bible verse might be considered to apply only to cases where one spouse is a recent Christian convert, not where one is a recent deconvert). Anyway, this isn't exactly a doctrinal question - you can have three women sitting in the same pew, one of whom will drop a nonbelieving husband like a hot potato, one who would never do such a thing and who will think her husband's fears of losing her are laughable, and one who will just try to string her husband along for a year or so until this "phase" of his wears off.

OP: you didn't mention if you have children - that may be really important, either way. If your wife's brand of religion now disturbs you enough that you need to make sure your kids have other options, being honest is going to be the only way to accomplish that. Contrariwise, if you're fine with the kids' religious upbringing, ensuring a stable household for your kids is about the only possible justification I can see for living a lie for the rest of your life yourself. I say "possible" justification - in my opinion, any religious attitudes that would make your wife divorce you aren't fine for indoctrinating your kids.

Finally, if you don't have kids? Be honest! That's supposed to be part of what a real marriage is, and life's too short to spend it in a fake marriage, wondering whether (with your more-understanding-than-you-feared wife or with someone else) you could have had the real thing.
posted by roystgnr at 5:41 AM on March 16, 2009

You'll know, I think, whether and when to be honest with her about your doubts/change in belief. She lives with you and knows you well; she probably already senses that something is wrong.

When you talk to her, it might be a good idea to emphasise that you love her, care for her, and respect her beliefs, even though yours have changed. Ask her for the same respect for your situation, as a sign of her love for you.

As for the question about church attendance... I like the suggestion, above, of spending the time you'd spend at church on an activity like volunteer work that does some good. Depending on the state of your beliefs at the moment, you could also try attending different churches in your area: perhaps Episcopalian (in general, Episcopalians are fine with those who regard the Bible as a historical, man-made work) or Unitarian (in general, they believe that Jesus was a great man, but wasn't the son of God.) Even attending a Quaker meeting, if there's one near you, might be a helpful thing.

You will have to decide for yourself what church events to attend with your wife. Maybe attending social events but not services would be a good compromise. txvtchick said it best with her statement about golf, above.

One last thing: since your wife believes that "the christian belief is the core of our marriage," she may equate your leaving the church to leaving her. To reassure her that this isn't the case, maybe you could set aside some time on weekends for just the two of you to do fun things together that aren't church-related.

Good luck.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:50 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

No I never accepted this request, but my abandonment of christianity will be seem as a sabotage to her own effort to convert her family.

Ouch. Yeah, that makes it worse, sorry. This is going to be a hard thing for her. I'm sorry that both of you are going to have to go through this.

I'm hoping you can find some middle ground on Sunday morning as others have suggested, but your number one goal here is loving acceptance. You need to shower her with love and let her know that abandoning her faith is not the same thing as abandoning her, even though it will very likely feel that way to her for a while.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2009

Don't tell her anything. Just look at the church as a socializing experience.

Fake it 'til you make it.
posted by torquemaniac at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2009

but this is a dilemma where honesty can cause serious damage to our relationship.

I understand how difficult this will be for you, but that's the thing about honesty: if it can cause serious damage to your relationship, then it's probably even more important that you be honest. I'm not saying that your wife is going to leave you, but if she does because Christianity is that important to her, then that's her prerogative. You can't trick or deceive her into staying with you, and it wouldn't be right. All you can do is try your best to get her to understand your point of view enough to keep the marriage intact. Nothing more, nothing less. And there's a chance that even if she understands, it won't be enough for her if it's important that her spouse share her faith. As an atheist myself, I even think it would be reasonable of her to desire that. It'd be pretty awful of you to keep her in a relationship that is something other than what she wants.

And can you imagine how hurt and betrayed she would be if you hide it for years and then it comes out somehow? She would have every right to feel that way, too. Do you think she would be more or less understanding in those circumstances? The longer you keep it from her, the greater potential for disaster, I think.

You might also want to consider whether or not you're not going to feel differently about your wife as time goes on if you become even less of a believer. There are couples that make such differences in faith work, but they're definitely a minority. Right now you want to stay with her, but you may feel differently as she tries to convert more people and needs moral support for it. She might say religious things that you start to find increasingly irritating and irrational, even though you love her. And so on. Would it really be fair to drop a bombshell on her like that, out of nowhere? Again, that would upset her greatly, and understandably so.

You've got to have a talk, and while you should stay optimistic you've got to accept that if it ends the relationship, it was for the best. The alternative is far worse.
posted by Nattie at 7:02 AM on March 16, 2009

I missed the opportunity to comment on your last question, but noticing how recently it is, I think its important to decide how permanent is your belief. Before you make such a dramatic and important announcement to your wife, I'd recommend giving yourself more time to come to terms with the feelings your having at the moment. This isn't a decision to be rushed. I strongly second Amtho's comment above.

At the very worse, tell your wife you're having troubles with doubts, not that you feel you're becoming agnostic or no longer a Christian. It may well be that by including her, and others, into the internal discussion that has been causing you such problems will help you to overcome them, or at the least, find a less stressful way to deal with it. Regardless, the longer you keep these feelings inside you, the more they will build up, and you will find yourself detesting other Christians and quite possibly, your wife by transferring your disdain for having to "go through the motions" and wondering why everyone else hasn't come to the same conclusions as yourself. As Athmo said, at least find someone who you can sit down and have a real conversation with concerning these issues.
posted by Atreides at 7:14 AM on March 16, 2009

"2). She's trying to convert her parents to christianity, and she needs me on this."

Can you convert someone, though? I mean, it's not like olives, where if you eat them enough times, you start to get the taste. Religion, as I see it, is like falling in love - you can like someone well enough, but you can't make yourself love them. You can't make someone believe. You have to feel it deep down. It sounds like you no longer are, and you need your wife on this - whether you are having a crisis of faith, or are slowly realising you don't believe.

Really, you're breaking up with God here.
posted by mippy at 7:25 AM on March 16, 2009

As I mentioned in your previous thread, the Freethought and Rationalism discussion forum has a section called Secular Lifestyle. There are lots of discussions there started by people who are in precisely this position.

e.g. My wife's a fundie
How to deconvert wife? (basically... you can't make these choices for other people)
Atheists married to religious spouses
Trying to work it out with my wife
Spouse's reactions to deconversion

There's also lots of discussions about 'coming out' to parents/family/close friends, and they may also be helpful as you work through this.

I would also advise you that the first stage of leaving your faith is pretty rocky. A lot of people are upset and angry at first. It's similar to the grief process. You might want to let yourself settle down a bit before approaching your wife. She'll also be upset at first, and it might be easier if you're not both agitated at the same time.
posted by heatherann at 7:38 AM on March 16, 2009

In Plan B, Anne Lamott comments that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. That mindset (and Lamott's writing in general) gave me a better vocabulary for the conversations I had to have with still-Christian friends about my disappearing faith. Obviously, none of my friendships carried the weight or responsibility inherent in a marriage, but I think that it could still be of value to you to think about finding a common language to discuss spiritual life with your wife that allows for your doubts and her faith. Christianity may market itself as an all or nothing thing, but it's really not: you're supposed to live the faith, continually growing, and that means not only outwardly acting like a Christian, but internally wrestling and reckoning and pondering. That wrestling may take you to places you (or your fellow believers) are uncomfortable with--but God, if he's there, isn't uncomfortable with it. Anyone who gave me a hard time about exploring the possibility that my faith was no longer working for me, I told them--I may screw up, I may turn my back on something I shouldn't, but if God wants me back, he'll find a way to let me know. What shut down conversations was when I tried to argue that the Bible is wrong or that Christianity doesn't make sense, because that put still-believing people on the defensive; having a conversation about how and why my personal faith did or didn't work for me generally went a lot better. It sounds like your wife may be stuck in a mode of thinking where entertaining any doubt is scary and feels wrong. You might encourage her to read either some of Anne Lamott's writing or Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. Bell's book is good for asking questions like "What if [standard assumption within Christianity] is incorrect--what if we've been translating the word wrong this whole time? What does that mean for our religion and my personal faith?" He's not suggesting that Christians should stop believing or should radically change their beliefs, but he gets at the idea of a living, growing, adaptive faith as a counter to the stuck, scared, "this is the way we've always thought, so it must be true" mode of thinking.

My point is, I think you should talk to your wife about this, as others have suggested, but I think you need to find a way to do so using enough of a common vocabulary that it won't just be you saying "I don't believe in the Bible" and your wife saying "But the Bible is true!"
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:53 AM on March 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't see how you can have a healthy marriage and not tell your wife. Religion is certainly an important thing to many people, and clearly it is to your wife. As to what sort of effect this would have on your marriage, only you would know.
posted by chunking express at 9:14 AM on March 16, 2009

I've known plenty of married couples who disagree on matters of faith. One goes to church, the other does whatever.

IMO (and this is purely opinion), if a person would leave you because you don't share the same faith, they aren't a person worth being with. They are no friend of yours.

Marriage does not mean that you have to agree on everything. I think my SO's half-hearted Catholicism is silly, but we still get along fine. None of my friends who decided to get dirty a couple of Wednesdays ago had a problem with my non-participation in their wacky ritual.

Of course, if your wife is militantly Christian (to the point of trying to convert her parents!), her attitude regarding the whole thing may be in serious need of adjustment to brook living with a heathen.
posted by wierdo at 10:43 AM on March 16, 2009

Maybe you should look around for a spiritual counselor. I used to work with a therapist who also did spiritual counseling and marriage counseling. I haven't been in this situation but I think there are people out there specifically trained to help you deal with this sort of thing.
posted by BoscosMom at 11:33 AM on March 16, 2009

As most of you have pointed out, I need to tell her about this one way or the other. A healthy marriage cannot stay that way. I think the best way at this point is to do it step by step.

1) trying to distance myself from this church and do more good works instead on Sunday and on other times.

2) As txvtchick pointed out, I can try to see the church functions as some kind of social events or time that I choose to spend with my spouse. I don't have to shut the doors to all things religious, just to keep it minimal.

3) She's my wife and I think she has a sense of what's going on already, so I'm just waiting for the right moment where the conservation will take place naturally.

No we don't have any children and that's a plus in this regard.

I must admit I don't have a clear system of thinking at this point when it comes to religion, and I need to sort things out. I don't necessarily reject the notion of God, but I've moved on and talked away from the church's official version of what to believe. I think this is the kind of message I need to give her, in a very careful way.

posted by mchow at 8:31 PM on March 16, 2009

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