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What to Do When Your Spouse isn’t a Believer

What to Do When Your Spouse isn’t a Believer

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By: Brittany Ann

Should Christians marry non-Christians? Unfortunately for many starry eyed single Christians out there, the Bible clearly states the answer is no.

We find this in 2 Corinthians 6:14 which reads, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”

(Please note: This isn’t because non-Christians are somehow “less than” or “not good enough.” And it does not in any way imply that someone who isn’t a Christian can’t be kind, loving and a wonderful person or that they can’t help you grow in faith. Most are lovely people, and I’m sure plenty would even encourage you to grow.

BUT if you truly want to make God your #1 priority in life and spend your days growing in Him, it only makes sense that you’d want your other half to share the same goals and dreams for your life. In an unequally yoked marriage — you’re headed in different directions spiritually.)

But what about if you’re a Christian already married to a non-Christian in an unequally yoked marriage? What should you do then?

After all, life can be messy sometimes and things don’t always work out as planned.

Perhaps your faith wasn’t that strong when you married, and you’ve grown since. Or perhaps you were once both strong Christians, but he fell away.

Either way — now you find yourself in a situation where you’re wanting to grow in faith while he could care less. Maybe he’s even hostile towards Christianity. That’s a very tricky situation to be in. And that’s when we turn to the Bible.

The Bible on Unequally Yoked Marriage

For information on how to live peacefully as a believer in an unequally yoked marriage, we turn to 1 Corinthians 7, which has a section devoted to the topic:

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. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 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 7:13-16

It’s a short passage, but combined with the rest of the chapter, cross-referenced with other portions of Scripture and combined with practical advice from other spouses who have been on both sides of the debate (ie: I did a LOT of research on this one, folks!), I do believe it is possible to grow in faith while still married to an unbeliever, and here’s how:

*Note this article has been written from the perspective of a woman but applies to husbands married to a wife who is an unbeliever as well!

1. Respect Their Right to Decide

Whether you agree with your spouse’s beliefs or not, the truth is that they are still an adult and they are still entitled make their own decisions. You cannot force, nag, manipulate or pester them into caring about Jesus and Christianity, nor should you try to. It’s their choice.

As I wrote in a previous article, You are Not Your Husband’s Holy Spirit: “There is a Holy Spirit — and you’re not him!”

Even if you’re in an unequally yoked marriage, it is not your job to change your spouse, make them grow or get them to convert. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours.

You can invite your husband/wife to church if you think they might come. You can share some of your testimony if you think they might be interested. You can tell him about the cool Bible story you just read if you think they’d care.

But you can’t force them to believe or care. You have to let them choose for themselves.

2. Take Responsibility for You

Just as your spouse has the right and responsibility to choose what they will believe and how they will behave, you also have the right and responsibility to choose for yourself how YOU will behave.

This means that if you choose to be a Christian, you also choose to act like one. 

This means practising the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)

It means living out all of the characteristics of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13: patience, kindness, no envy, no boasting and no pride. It means no dishonouring others, putting yourself first, angering easily, or keeping record of wrongs. It means rejoicing in the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping and always persevering.

Can you say you do all of these things consistently?

(Seriously — take a good long look at those lists. How well do they describe the way you treat your spouse when you disagree?)

Because the Bible does not say “Respect your husband IF he does things your way” or “Submit to your husband IF he is kind to you.” Being in an unequally yoked marriage does not let you “off the hook.”

Rather, the Bible says you are to submit to your husband SO THAT it will be a testimony to them.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. — 1 Peter 3:1-2

Now, of course, this is where it gets very tricky. Because we know that while we are to submit to our husbands (using the Biblical definition of submission), we also know that we are supposed to submit to God first of all. And it can be REALLY tricky to know where that line is!

You want to be polite and respectful, but you don’t want to go so far as to let your husband be a complete jerk to you while you’re just a helpless doormat. That’s not okay, and that’s not what Biblical submission is about at all.

But on your wedding day, you made vows before God and man – vows to love and honour and cherish – and God still expects you to keep them. 

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. — 1 Corinthians 7:39

**Please note: There ARE some very real exceptions to this, including – but not limited to – divorce and adultery. You can find more on this topic here: Is Divorce Ever Okay?

3. Seek to Understand

Okay, so once you understand your husband’s rights and responsibilities within your marriage and your rights and responsibilities within your unequally yoked marriage (because you both have both — though I can’t adequately cover them all in this article), what happens next?

Seek to understand.

Talk to him. Don’t just assume where he’s at or how he feels; find out how he actually feels and what he actually believes and why.

I will warn you, this may be painful. You may not like (you probably won’t like) everything he has to say. But remember step #1 — that’s his choice. Your choice is simply to get to know him and understand his thought process as much as you can.

For example:

  • Does he believe in God? Or is he convinced there is no God, open to the idea of an alternate god, or unsure?
  • What does he believe about the Bible? Does he believe any of it is true ? Does he think it’s ridiculous brainwashing?
  • How does he feel about you being a Christian? Is he supportive, indifferent or opposed?
  • How does he feel about church? Does he just think it’s boring and a waste of time, or is he totally opposed? Are there certain aspects that he feels strongly about?
  • Is there a particular reason or experience that turned him off from Christianity, or is he just not interested?
  • How did his family handle religion growing up? 

As you are having this conversation, be very careful not to show judgement or argue. Yes, you are absolutely allowed to have feelings too, and yes, there are some misconceptions that you may want to clear up. BUT now is not the time and place for that.

Because if he feels like you are judging him, trying to change him, or not really listening, it may cause him to shut down and close up. This is not what you want. You’re just trying to gather more information and put yourself in his shoes so you can understand the situation and get some insights in how to best approach it.

4. Discuss Expectations and Non-Negotiables

Of course, even once you’ve laid a foundation of respect and understanding, you’re still going to have to figure out how to navigate all of the small decisions that you will need to make in your family on a day-to-day basis.

Decisions such as:

  • How will you spend Christmas?
  • Will your kids go to private Christian school, public school or homeschool?
  • What kind of movies, music and reading material will you bring into your home?
  • Will any of your family members attend church and how often?
  • Will you tithe or give to those in need? To whom will you give and how much?

If you wait until these issues come up to talk about them, life is going to feel like a never-ending tug-of-war between who gets their way the majority of the time.

Instead, you’ll want to talk about as many of them as you can in advance, preferably when you have time to sit down together and have an actual conversation – not just in passing comments here and there. Of course, there will likely be issues that come up seemingly out of nowhere (you can’t anticipate everything), but the more things you can discuss, the better.

And how do you decide who gets to do which thing “their way?”

Start by finding out which topics are MOST important to each of you. Perhaps Christmas has always been a huge deal in your family, but it wasn’t really in his. If it’s a huge deal to one of you and the other doesn’t really care that much, there you go.

Next, find out which parts or aspects of the issue each of you care about the most. For example, maybe you BOTH care about Christmas, but you really want to go to church and he really wants to sleep in and open presents with the kids. Why not take the kids to church the night before or later in the day and do both?

If there are any issues you absolutely refuse to budge on, don’t give him false hope by saying “maybe.” Just be honest with each other with the what and why — but do it in a polite way.

But honestly, there really should NOT be many issues like this AT ALL. Almost everything can be figured out by working together and finding a solution that works for both of you (even if it isn’t what you prefer).

In our family, we go to a Catholic Church I’m honestly not a huge fan of. But I’d MUCH rather our family all go to a church that isn’t my favourite, than have that be a source of stress and contention in our marriage. I can supplement with Christian radio and Bible studies and sermons online all I like, if I feel the need. Going to a church that isn’t my favourite isn’t the end of the world and there’s no need to make a fuss about it.

My husband respects my right to not convert to Catholicism at this time, and I’m more than happy to send our kids to Catholic church and school.

Yes, they’ll learn the “Hail Mary” (which I’m not a fan of), but it isn’t going to kill them. This is what works for us.

5. Choose to Focus on the Positives

Would it be nice if you and your husband had the exact same beliefs? Sure. But that’s not your reality, unfortunately.

So instead of complaining about it, why not choose to focus on the positives and make the most of it?

  • Is your husband a good person? That’s great!
  • Does he love you and your family and treat you well? Praise the Lord!
  • Does he let YOU go to church even though he’s not interested? Fantastic! And one of the biggest positives? Your differing beliefs will absolutely challenge and grow your faith – in a GOOD way – if you let them. When you and your husband believe the exact same thing, your beliefs go unchecked. You can rest on faulty assumptions and habits that are just your way of doing things.But when you don’t agree and you try to come together, it absolutely forces you to examine your beliefs, know why you believe them and make sure they are actually true and solid.

For me, I found out a lot of the things I had been taught growing up weren’t actually true!

Learn what you believe and why enough to defend it, and your faith can grow in amazing ways as a result. And that’s a very, very good thing.

6. PRAY!

And last but certainly not least — PRAY!

Just because your husband isn’t receptive to faith now doesn’t necessarily mean he never will be. We serve a God of miracles — a God who can do ANYTHING. Nothing is impossible for Him. Even an unequally yoked marriage.

Will your husband one day be on fire for Christ? I have no way of knowing. But I do know that as you are faithful to what God has called YOU to, He will be with you every step of the way. 

Article supplied with thanks to Equipping Godly Women.

About the Author: Brittany is a wife, a mother of three, a writer, author, teacher, and lover of Jesus!