Almost a year ago on Valentine’s Day, my husband gifted me with an eight-page letter detailing all the issues that he has in regards to the church we both attended. He said he was done with all of it. We have been married 16 years. While our marriage hasn’t been perfect, I have always felt like we were OK because we had each other, our belief and our family.
At first I was devastated, completely blindsided, hurt. I had questions. He felt he had found a different truth and that he was happy.
But what about me? What about our kids? We have three boys that I all of a sudden felt like I was going to have to raise, spiritually, alone.
Not long after the letter, my husband started behaving in ways that expressly went against the practices we both committed to and agreed to teach our sons. Also, stories emerged of flirtations with other women, et cetera. I have felt my life crumbling out from under me. Our religious beliefs and practices have been such a significant part of our shared commitment to each other and our children.
How do I move forward in my marriage when I feel like he has taken away everything I wanted and fell in love with? I’m in the angry stage of things now and because I wouldn’t marry the man I am married to now if he was to ask me again today, how do I find love, forgiveness and compassion for someone who has hurt me so much?
Religious differences aside, it’s impossible to have a stable and secure marriage when your husband is flirting with and potentially pursuing relationships with other women.
While it’s common for many marriage partners to go through changes in preferences, beliefs and habits as the years roll on, significant changes that redefine the actual marriage promises are much harder to tolerate. Your shock and devastation are understandable.
You both made promises to each other, to God (presuming that is whom you serve) and to your community based on your common beliefs and goals. Your husband’s surprise change in direction leaves you with more questions than answers about your future.
It’s important to draw a distinction between the different types of betrayals you’ve experienced. Yes, they’re all betrayals to the original promises you both made to one another, but some are handled differently than others.
He might not believe in your religion any longer, but does he believe in marriage? Does he believe that fidelity to you transcends every other commitment in life? If your husband won’t make a commitment to marital fidelity, then you’ll have to make some difficult decisions about what you can tolerate in this marriage.
Most marriages can work through significant differences in beliefs, but only if there is a basic foundation of romantic and sexual fidelity.
Not only is his commitment to fidelity something you need to clarify but also his commitment to principled living.
Your husband isn’t a bad person for leaving your church and shouldn’t be made to feel that way. Living a principled life has nothing to do with any specific religion but rather what is best for stable marriages, families and communities.
In his reaction to leaving your church, your husband may snub his nose at any religious restraints he believes are holding him back. If he wants to have a healthy marriage and family, however, he’s going to need to stay responsible, mature and centered in the time-tested principles that have built and strengthened relationships throughout history. You can expect this of him even if he doesn’t share your faith.
I get the impression that despite all of the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing, you are still open to figuring out how to stay married to him. If there is an actual problem with womanizing and he’s willing to forsake his flirting and commit to you as his one and only, then you can both begin the work of integrating his new beliefs into your marriage and family culture.
Your husband is seeking direction for his life and you get to do the same. Even though you have to accept things you don’t agree with, it’s critical to get clarity, strength and support so you can know what’s essential at every stage of this long process.
As you seek personal direction for your life, remember to keep your heart soft. This is difficult to do when you’ve been wounded so deeply, but it is essential for healing your marriage and family. Your husband’s struggles are real for him, otherwise he wouldn’t be putting everything at risk by acting on them. It’s critical that you keep your heart soft and open so you can hear why he’s moving this direction. In these kinds of discussions, you will find areas of agreement. Listen for what he believes instead of only hearing what he doesn’t believe. Build on these shared beliefs and strengthen your family practices around these discoveries.
Even though your sons will be confused about these changes, you can still let them know what will and won’t change for them. Your sons don’t need to be thrown into the details of his faith crisis, but they deserve to know why dad isn’t attending the same church or participating in certain practices familiar to them. Obviously, you’ll need to determine how much is appropriate to share, but you don’t need to hide the fact that dad now believes different things than mom.
If your husband is willing to commit to certain moral principles, these can be the guideposts for your family while you both work out the particulars of how you’ll handle the specific religious commitments.
Your husband may have left your faith, but you don’t have to stop living and teaching your beliefs. He can learn to make room for your faith in the same way you’re working to make room for his beliefs. It’s likely he’ll have specific concerns about what you teach your sons. There is no easy answer for how to navigate this, as he may genuinely believe they’ll be harmed by certain teachings. Do everything you can to listen to his concerns while expecting him to hear and respect your concerns.
As difficult as it may be, it is still possible to love your husband even though he’s choosing a different path with his spiritual beliefs. Once you both know that you’re committed to giving each other mutual respect, difficult concerns will be easier to navigate.
You have many difficult conversations ahead of you.
Looking for ways to spend time together as a couple and family will help send signals to each other that this relationship matters and you want to find a way to feel closer and connected. Most couples in these mixed-faith situations hold tight to the common areas, even if it’s only a shared commitment to doing things as a family.
Your husband has changed his religious practices, which understandably creates tremendous anxiety for you. Principled living will help both of you find common ground as you raise your sons. Your home can still be a sanctuary of peace and purpose.
Thanks to Amy Cluff, LCSW for her helpful suggestions.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.
Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to: