"He doesn't get me! He hates my music, won't go to church, and we have nothing in common. How is this marriage supposed to work?" She wept as she bared her soul. "No one understands this loneliness. No one!"
As a life coach, women invite me into their struggle. Little did my new client know she had just entered mine. I can understand the depth of her pain because I, too, love a man who does not love my Lord.
New Faith, New Struggles
Thirteen years into our marriage, I accepted Christ. As of yet, my husband has not acknowledged his need for a Savior. He believes there is a God and resents being labeled an "unbeliever," but he thinks I've taken "this thing" way too far. My passion to follow Jesus seems to have led us down different paths, and we both admit that the spiritual chasm in our marriage has caused tension. Yet, I also know the Spirit has come to comfort and guide me in ways I never thought possible.
When I became a Christian, my life changed. I listened to different music, made new friends, spent Sundays at church and evenings in Bible study. Suddenly I wasn't the woman he had signed up to marry! In addition, I claimed to love someone else—Jesus—and to my husband this new love seemed like a real threat.
Looking back, I see times when Scott felt abandoned and when his justifiable feelings of jealousy and rejection were projected as resentment and silence. My desire for him to follow me into this new life actually pushed us farther apart. And in my own lonely, empty places, I began to lose respect for my husband.
Take the Initiative
Yet if I was lonely, how much more lonely was Scott? In the midst of my divine ache, I turn to Scripture, worship, godly friendships, and prayer—but where can he turn? If I am the Christian, shouldn't I be the one who reaches out to him?
For those of us in spiritually mismatched marriages, we are called to be the one to take the initiative toward strengthening the marriage. If we are honest, our battles are often with our own pride. In fact, sometimes we may even use God as an excuse not to change.
In 29 years of marriage, I've spent 16 years pursuing Christ, but only the last 6 years pursuing my husband. My eyes have been opened to see Scott in the same way God must have seen me: a lost soul in need of his grace. It hasn't been easy and I certainly don't profess to have all the answers, but through learning God's Word and wise counsel, I've come to a place of renewed love and respect for my husband. After years of trying to change him, I realized it wasn't Scott who needed to change—it was me! I've made many mistakes along the way, but I've also learned some valuable lessons.
1. My husband's salvation is for him, not me. It would be easier for me if we went to church together, had the same friends, and could be more like-minded. But I realized I was praying more for my own comfort than Scott's soul. Scripture reminds us, "And even when you ask, you don't get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure" (James 4:3). I realized my motives were selfish and wrong. Now my hope isn't in his salvation, but in God who desires to grant it.
2. It is not my job. Scott doesn't want to be my project; he wants to be the desire of my heart! I can pray for him, encourage him, and weep for him, but I can never be responsible for him. Peter reminds us that God is patient, and "he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent" (2 Peter 3:9). God desires my husband's salvation more than I could ever imagine.
3. Make him a priority. My many roles pull me in many directions, and I admit I have often put my plans above my husband's needs. Scott has also felt rejected and lonely at times, and it is important for me to see life from his perspective. It is crucial to be attentive to his priorities while continuing my Christian growth. I find encouragement in this challenge from Scripture: "Let the wife see that she respects and reverences her husband [that she notices him, regards him, honors him, prefers him, venerates, and esteems him; and that she defers to him, praises him, and loves and admires him exceedingly]" (Ephesians 5:33, Amplified Bible). I trust the Lord will help me walk the fine line between reverence for him and honoring to my husband.
4. Respect him. My pastor said, "Inside every man there is a king and a kid. The one that comes out is the one you talk to." I've seen my admiration inspire and motivate Scott; I've also watched my words and attitude tear him down. We can affirm and praise the man we love or condemn and belittle the child we want to control. Disrespect will crumble any marriage and is devastating to a man. Wives in a spiritual mismatch may find it difficult to respect a husband with differing moral values, but making him feel inferior through an attitude of spiritual arrogance will cause him to resist God all the more.
5. Pray! An unbelieving spouse can reject all his wife's efforts, but the power of faithful prayer is unstoppable. "Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18). Prayer can reach husbands even without their permission.
6. Submit. Scripture urges women in spiritually mismatched marriages to follow Jesus' example by choosing submission; "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 behavior of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1–2, NIV).
I'm a strong-willed, independent, confident woman. A few years ago, the mere idea of submission made the hair rise on the back of my neck! Yet 1 Peter 3:1–2 specifically addresses women married to unbelieving men, urging us to witness with our lives, not our words. We can see true submission as an opportunity to quietly live the gospel. Submission is a voluntary response to relinquish one's rights for God's greater glory. It is hard to lay down my right to be right, but in the light of God's glory, releasing my pride has lifted both of us to a place of confidence in our marriage.
Loving Him, Loving God
My soul still aches for spiritual oneness in my most intimate relationship, but no spouse can fulfill the divine ache that drives me to the feet of Jesus. If we don't find our fulfillment in the Lord, we can easily place unrealistic expectations on our husband, whether he is a Christian or not. If we allow God to use it, a spiritual mismatch in marriage can be an opportunity to find deeper intimacy with God.
"Unbeliever," "unequally yoked," "spiritual mismatch"— these are all unflattering terms for a marriage that's split because of one person's belief in Christ. Though our marriage hasn't been the easiest aspect of my spiritual journey, I can honestly say I have grown deeply in faith and perseverance in the mission field of my marriage. My spirit cries out for my husband to know the One I know, yet my job is simply to pray, live the gospel, and trust. I know God is working in ways I could never fathom.
Kathy Cordell is a writer, speaker, life coach, and ministry leader who lives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with her husband, Scott. They have two adult children and two grandchildren. Connect with her at http://www.FreedomSteps.org.