How can I best relate to my unbelieving spouse? I understand now why the Bible urges us not to be "unequally yoked." We're not on the same page spiritually, and it's becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile our differences in this area. What would you recommend?
In many ways, you need to treat your spouse just as you would if he or she were a believer. If you're the husband, you're to love your wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). If you're the wife, you're to treat your mate with respect as head of the house (Ephesians 5:22-23; I Peter 3:1). In fact, it's precisely because your spouse is not a Christian, that it's especially important to demonstrate daily what a Christian is. Your purpose: to attract them to a relationship with the Lord.
The apostle Paul advises that as the believer in the marriage, you're to go the extra mile: "If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him … How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 16)
In other words, your first priority is your spouse's spiritual welfare. It's also important to keep in mind that your choices will affect the spiritual state of your children if you have any (1 Corinthians 7:14).
Does this mean it will be easy for you to live with a non-believing spouse? Hardly. Chances are it will be difficult and demanding. After all, the two of you live in two different worlds. Trying to explain to a non-Christian spouse your deepest spiritual insights and feelings is like trying to describe color to a person who's been blind since birth. So be realistic about your situation. Remember that this is not a "preaching mission." Don't nag your spouse to "get right with the Lord." If he or she is to be won at all, it will be through your love, respect, and quiet example of genuine godliness.
Here are a few principles to keep in mind as you face the daily challenge of living with a mate who doesn't share your deepest spiritual commitments:
- Be patient. Try to remember that God loves your spouse even more than you do. He may be taking your partner on a spiritual journey that you know nothing about. He may choose to use you in the process, but He doesn't need your help. So don't play the role of the Holy Spirit. Stay in prayer and trust the Lord to do what He wants to do.
- Don't stand in the way. While perfection isn't possible or even necessary, your behavior can attract or repel your spouse where spiritual things are concerned. You're living out what you're experiencing with God. Is it appealing? Is your relationship with Christ making you a more enjoyable person to live with - or just a more religious one?
- Be authentic. You should not only share your faith with your spouse, but your concerns as well. In other words, don't be afraid to reveal your personal weaknesses. It would be hypocritical to pretend that you're not worried when you really are, or that you don't have doubts when you really do. Your transparency can be especially healing if your mate has felt - accurately or not - that spirituality has become a competition in your marriage. The spouse who struggles with faith issues needs a "safe" and gentle partner to come home to. A holier-than-thou approach is sure to deepen the divide - not only between your partner and yourself, but also between your partner and God.
- Stay balanced. There's no doubt about the importance of faith. But it's possible to lose a healthy perspective when you're worried about your spouse's spiritual welfare. You can't be too devoted to Christ, but overspiritualization and hyper-religiosity will hurt your efforts as much as falling into the opposite error of apathy.
- Examine the reasons. Take time to explore and understand the underlying reasons for your spouse's skepticism. What was his religious experience as a child? Was his faith nurtured or hindered? Was his parents' faith real and meaningful or a hypocritical chore? The Bible is clear: we're not authorized to judge others (Matthew 7:1). Sometimes in marriage we're prone to judge because of what we know - or think we know - about our spouses. Only God can see the individual heart.
If you need help working through these issues, call our pastoral counselors. They'd be happy to discuss your questions with you over the phone.