When One Spouse Abandons the Faith

Dear Dr. David,

My husband and I were married just over three years ago.  For the first several years we went to church together regularly. We were in a Bible study, and even went to pre-marital counseling to help us adjust to a blended family. I was very excited to be marrying a Christian man.  

About a year ago he told me that his spiritual beliefs were different from mine. He told me he no longer believed in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He started reading New Age material and refused to go back to church with me and our children. I was willing to find a church where we both felt comfortable, but he refused to go to church again. As you might imagine, I am devastated and not sure what to do. I feel manipulated and trapped and am considering leaving him. He is not the man I fell in love with and never would have married him if I had known this was going to happen. I have been praying for him and am continuing to attend church with our children. Still, it feels like something very important is missing in our marriage. What more can I do?

~ Alone in Church

Dear Alone:

I sense your anguish. There is nothing sweeter than worshipping side by side with your mate. You had that for a season, and now, for uncertain reasons, it is lost. He has lost his love for the Lord, and this is sorely disappointing to you. Something important is missing.

Your note says he has drifted away from the church and the Lord. You give no mention of other troubles that may be going on. I wonder if he is struggling with other issues, and pushes away from the church because of conviction or inner struggles. When we are not right in our spirit, or carry guilt or pain, we often push away from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit.

I am also reminded of the words of the Apostle Peter, when he instructs wives "to be submissive to your 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, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." (I Peter 3: 1-2) While you are experiencing loss, you also have an opportunity to pray for your husband and witness to him by your behavior.

You also note your children are still attending church. They have an opportunity, as well, to show the power of God in their lives. Perhaps in time, as he sees the change that being in the presence of God brings, his heart will soften. Look for ways to share your spiritual joy with him, not in preachy terms, but in the radiance of Christ. In the same passage the Apostle Peter goes on to say, "live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil, or insult with insult, but with blessing, because you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." (I Peter 3: 8)

Continue to seek the Lord in this trial, and He will give you His peace that passes understanding. Perhaps in time your husband will return to church with you.

Dear Dr. David,

After many years of deep depression I finally sought help.  I finally became willing to seek counseling and take medications and feel much better. Unfortunately, now my wife of fifteen years has no feelings for me. I, for the first time in years, understand what the depression did to her--all the emotional turmoil and giving of herself when I was unable to reciprocate.  She is so depleted, she even asked for a divorce.

I have tried to tell her that I am a different man, but every time I slip in any way she is reminded of the past many years. I fear that even if I were to be perfect, which I cannot be, it would not be enough for her. She still feels like she has to walk on eggshells, when that really isn’t the case. I have tried to prove my love and affection for her, but she cannot accept it. What do I do, and where do I go from here?  It is difficult to accept that divorce is the right thing to do, but she is unwilling to move forward.

~ Jim

Dear Jim:

You are part of a growing number of men who find themselves having made too little change, too late. Many women have spent years tolerating abusive situations, and then just when they are ready to give up, he changes. But, the change is often superficial, or is made too late to save the relationship.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am determinedly in favor of marriage—your marriage included. But, I sympathize with women who have pleaded with their husbands for in-depth change, and in return have been short-changed. In talking with them I know they feel their only recourse is to leave. And many do.

Your note indicates your wife is still with you—doubtful that you will sustain the effort, but still with you. There is a flicker of hope. I have several practical steps for you to take.

One, continue your counseling, medications and commitment to change. Don’t quit doing what seems to be working. So many men, and women, refuse to give themselves over to in-depth change process, including counseling, medications and of course, the work of God in their lives. Stick with it.

Second, be patient with your wife. She is not going to instantly trust you just because you have finally found help and healing. She has a right to be distrusting, angry and even unforgiving. Forgiveness will be a process for her and you must give her the time and space to heal.

Third, encourage her to seek her own counseling. She would do well to have her own special retreat where she can talk about the years of anger, broken trust, and depressive lifestyle. She needs to talk, talk, talk about her feelings, knowing she is not being rushed to forgive and move on with her life.

Fourth, seek the heart of God, together if possible, but separately as well. God can touch our hearts in a moment in ways that others will never be able to do. We agree with the Psalmist who said, "Remember your word to your servant, for you have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life." (Psalms 119: 49-50)

Fifth, even if your wife leaves, don’t give up your path of healing. Your wife may decide she needs a "breather" from the oppression she has lived under for the past many years. If so, let her go. Bless her. See if she would be willing to date you periodically, but let her know that you will honor her request. Your actions and attitudes during these stressful times will speak volumes to her.

Finally, do what you can, and leave the rest to God. I cannot promise you, of course, that your wife will stay in your marriage. I can promise you, however, that God will never forsake you. He cares for you and has high plans for your future. Trust in him.

Photo credit: ©Unsplash/Jon Tyson

Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.

Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.



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