Making Marriage Work When Only One Spouse Believes In God

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Listen to the program at the link below.

Maria Peyer and Mike Bixby are one of those couples who just seem made for each other. They hold hands when they sit and talk. They’re happy to spend the morning cooking brunch with their children in their home in southern Washington. Bixby and Peyer have known each other since they were young, but got married only a few years ago. 


Bixby and Peyer have known each other since they were young, but got married only a few years ago.

“It just hadn’t been the right time, until it was. God bless Facebook,” says Peyer.

“She Facebooked me, and asked if I remembered her, and then it just went from there,” Bixby says.

But there’s one big issue where they do not see eye-to-eye. Peyer is Lutheran. Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all pastors. She’s an assisting minister. Bixby is an atheist.

“I do not believe that there is any sort of a higher power. I’ve made several attempts to go back and have faith, and it just doesn’t work,” he says. “It’s not an open question for me anymore.”

“I would really like it if he could feel God’s love the way I do. And it’s one of those very few places where I feel like I can say, ‘I hear you, I understand what you’re saying, I love you and I think that there may be more to it,’ ” Peyer says.

Written By: Deena Prichep
continue to source article at npr.org

26 COMMENTS

  1. I’m sorry but I have to say I find this bizzare. I’ve come to realize that I could not be together with a believer. For a long time I told myself otherwise; I said to myself that one’s belief is separate from one’s person. I thought that it didn’t matter if my partner had supernatural beliefs, as long as she was a nice person.

    But only a few years ago I realized I had to be honest with myself and admit that I have immense difficulties even spending time with religious people, let alone listening to their kooky ideas. Therefore I could not be in a relationship with one. It’s not something I’m proud of. Social norms tell me that I should accept people regardless of their looks, gender, sexuality, etc. And now I feel bad because I cannot extend my acceptance to religious minded folk. But one’s belief is a choice, unlike most other characteristics, and listening to religious opinions just makes my mind boil. Even if a person does not express her religious views, I will still be uncomfortable around her knowing what her brain is capable of believing.

    The only way I can rationalize how Mike and Maria overcome this difference is, that they don’t actively deal with it. They suppress the difficult questions in an attempt not to rock the boat. They choose harmony in the relationship over dealing with hard questions. But I can’t do that in a relationship. I would like to get to the bottom of why my partner believes the irrational things she does. Over time I would get more and more frustrated with knowing her beliefs, and it would surely pulverize the foundation of that relationship.

    To me, one’s view of reality is not a minor question. We can’t just agree to disagree, as if both sides are equally valid. Which way the toilet paper roll should be or if one can cut her toenails in bed are minor questions. But the existence of god is not. It is a profound question, and if my partner wrongly believes in one, it tells something about her personality. No matter how nice and attractive she is as a person, her belief in a being similar to Santa or the tooth fairy is a deal breaker for me. It took some time to come to terms with this, especially since this will greatly reduce my chances of finding a partner. Over half of the women in my country are believers or at least wishy-washy spiritualists. But I’ve dealt with questions relating to religions almost every day for years now, and I can’t ignore them any more as if they were insignificant.

  2. When my wife and I got married I was a lifelong atheist and my wife was a Catholic who went to church, and confession, communion, etc. It didn’t cause any problems at all, we were both comfortable with the situation. she never tried to convert me, and vice versa. Without any persuasion from me she gradually dropped away from the Church and is now an atheist.

    I think a bigger problem in marriage could be where two people have different faiths. We have friends who after being staunch liberal Catholics all of their lives, the wife became a fundamentalist young earth creationist and their marriage is almost intolerable for both of them. Very sad.

  3. In reply to #2 by ArloNo:

    When my wife and I got married I was a lifelong atheist and my wife was a Catholic who went to church, and confession, communion, etc. It didn’t cause any problems at all, we were both comfortable with the situation. she never tried to convert me, and vice versa. Without any persuasion from me she gradually dropped away from the Church and is now an atheist.

    I think a bigger problem in marriage could be where two people have different faiths. We have friends who after being staunch liberal Catholics all of their lives, the wife became a fundamentalist young earth creationist and their marriage is almost intolerable for both of them. Very sad.

    But if she hadn’t become atheist and she really held to doing what the RCC tells her (unlike most Catholics) there is potential for lots of problems not least in the family planning department. Then there are the children. They have to be raised Catholic, First Communion, Confirmation etc, etc.

    Michael

  4. In reply to #1 by Aztek:

    Social norms tell me that I should accept people regardless of their looks, gender, sexuality, etc. And now I feel bad because I cannot extend my acceptance to religious minded folk. But one’s belief is a choice, unlike most other characteristics, and listening to religious opinions just makes my mind boil. Even if a person does not express her religious views, I will still be uncomfortable around her knowing what her brain is capable of believing.

    Which social norms are these ? There are are lots of religious people who can’t abide atheists. Sure you want to accord religious people the same human rights as anyone else but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to them talk about religion.

    Michael

  5. I wish Peyer and Bixby continued married bliss, whatever it takes. But this is just the typical maudlin accomodationist “see: science and religion can get along after all”, nauseating piffle that NPR routinely peddles: NPR even airs a program named “On Being” nationwide in the US that specializes in this sort of thing underwritten by grants from the Templeton Foundation and other organizations that promote god-bothering.

    Also on display is NPR’s standard issue pseudo impartiality – splitting a “controversy” straight down the middle giving equal weight to both sides regardless where the facts lie. Of course NPR’s true colours become apparent in the requisite “impartial expert” they trot out: one Erika Seamon M.A. and Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies, perhaps not a Sam Harris type.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting for a program criticizing how religion destroys couple relationships and often does not even let them develop in the first place.

  6. In reply to #1 by Aztek:

    I just think you’re right because you’re looking for honesty and truth in relationship. Tolerance doesn’t mean I believe whatever you say. In fact I think it is not a quality to be nice with everyone’s ideas. Everyone should be challenged.

    I couldn’t date a person of faith, because they could virtualy believing in anything, they are ultimately driven by their emotions and not their reason. If their feelings are wrong, they are wrong and there is nothing you can do to change them. That’s why I can’t totaly rely on nice moderate believers. It just appears to be a coincidence that their feelings are in phase with what reason tells us is right.

    I’m glad to live in France, where there are many atheists and there is a real separation of church and state.

  7. I think I could be O.K. with the most vague, “God is Love” sort of deist something, but that is about it.
    I love my wife’s mind, and I consider strong adherence to the irrational as a weakness that I try to overcome daily.

    I wouldn’t tolerate ANYONE filling my kid’s head with such nonsense.

  8. In reply to #1 by Aztek:

    very eloquently written.. you have conveyed your thoughts as is..
    sad repercussions of this attitude, that includes mine too, is that our window of chance of getting a partner gets too narrow!

  9. Good for them. However, it is, in fact, a marriage between a rational person and person capable of extreme delusion. You’d have to work very hard to ignore that. The sex must be great, because the sunset conversations wouldn’t be.

  10. I wonder if they allow their kids discuss religion at dinner.

    Mss Peyer comes from a long tradition of religious belief in her family. I think that tradition is way more important for her than what she actually believes.

    My wife and I have gradually become atheists from being Catholics. She has not so much time spent thinking about it and sometimes she still has the feeling that there has to be ‘Something’. Then I answer: “Sure, there is something.”

  11. my ten year marriage has got to the point where we are now living separately, religion became an increasing dividing issue between us. Her beliefs are vaguely Christian and she goes to a Methodist prayer group occasionally, but to me it seems that she simply refuses to look at her beliefs closely at all, and knows they can’t be defended logically. Recent events e.g. The young girl shot in Pakistan seemed utter proof to me that faith is the source of much of the worst evil in the world but she wouldn’t accept this and regarded it as a personal attack on her.
    it wasn’t the only issue all the others were there in force (work, kids, love life etc) but I would never want to be involved with a believer of any stripe ever again.

  12. I think in these situations people don’t deal with the dissonance, they skirt around it. My wife and I are atheists but we have a good friend who is a devout catholic. She’s intelligent, schooled in arts and great fun to be around but we simply don’t discuss religious belief otherwise I expect the relationship would come apart at the seams. She knows from conversation that we do not accept supernatural explanations for anything and we have never ventured into discussions about religious belief.

    I’ve said before on this forum that if religios keep their beliefs between their ears and by which I mean they don’t impose their systems on me then I don’t feel I have to exercise the right to question their reasoning.

    Is that accomodationist? I expect theer are those who will say so but as far as I’m concerned there are times to resort to confrontation and its a wise man who knows when and how.

  13. Marriage and partnerships are about give and take. (Catholicism is about all take and giving only delusions! )

    If dogmatic religions like Catholicism intrude, a weak sheeple partner, will be forced to strain their marriage relationship trying to recruit their partner and any children, under pressure from priests and relatives acting on the preached requirements of missionary activity.

    The first sign of an abusive intrusion, is likely to be an insistence on a wedding at a particular church or a conversion of the partner as part of a “marriage package”.

    The loyal marriage partnership must be between the couple without intruding third parties.

    “Brides/Bridegrooms of Christ” are of no use to husbands/wives or families.

    Loyalty, like charity, begins at home.

  14. Some time ago I was in a serious relationship a muslim girl, she was aware of my total lack of interest in religion and seemed ok with it for a while. We even talked about marriage and kids. In the end we broke up because of her guilt over our physical relationship, it then came out that she eventually expected me to convert to islam and make everything “above-board” as it were. The very few times we had actually talked about religion I told her I just didn’t have it in me but I listened as patiently as I could on the subject out of respect to her – I think this maybe gave her the false hope. I don’t really regret the experience, but yeah, I was young and dumb.

  15. “Peyer is Lutheran. Her father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all pastors.”

    Aztek @ 1

    “one’s belief is a choice”

    and how much of that belief consists of not having learned how to resist a choice made for you by early conditioning?


    amor vincit omnia

  16. In reply to #15 by Alan4discussion:

    Marriage and partnerships are about give and take. (Catholicism is about all take and giving only delusions! )

    If dogmatic religions like Catholicism intrude, a weak sheeple partner, will be forced to strain their marriage relationship trying to recruit their partner and any children, under pressure from priests and relatives acting on the preached requirements of missionary activity.

    The first sign of an abusive intrusion, is likely to be an insistence on a wedding at a particular church or a conversion of the partner as part of a “marriage package”.

    My mother was an Anglican and my father a Catholic. Married some 60 odd years ago in Australia. There was no pressure I know of for her to convert. But the wedding did have to be in a Catholic Church (although in a side bit I think as she was not Catholic !) and the kids did have to be raised Catholics. No need to get the partner to convert if you are guaranteed to get the kids in time. The RCC has always played the long game and it worked for more than 2000 years.

    Michael

  17. In reply to #13 by Clappers:

    What a surprise, he is the atheist, and she is the religious one.

    Who would have guessed

    My wife was raised in a atheist family and me in a Catholic one. We are both atheists but she’s more atheist than me.

    What’s your point ?

    Michael

  18. What a surprise, he is the atheist, and she is the religious one.
    Who would have guessed
    My wife was raised in a atheist family and me in a Catholic one. We are both atheists but she’s more atheist than me.
    What’s your point ?
    Michael

    My point is that where spouses have an atheist/religious difference, it is very likely that the woman is going to be more religious

  19. In reply to #22 by Clappers:

    My point is that where spouses have an atheist/religious difference, it is very likely that the woman is going to be more religious

    Why, because women are more gullible? Not as smart as men? Why is it more likely?

  20. One time I got involved with a Muslim, and he tried to convert me to Islam knowing that I was an atheist. He just couldn’t accept me for who I was. However, in a couple of years, he turned into an atheist….

  21. My marriage is currently breaking up (living apart) I am sure there are lots of reasons, but the fact that she did profess a faith and I am a rationalist was a huge,divisive issue.
    I couldn’t understand how she could be on all the rational sides of issues like gay marriage, women’s rights, reproductive rights and other issues that her own religion were against and still accept its teachings on morality. She even spoke up in a meeting where a strategy of “anti-gay rights” was discussed in the hope of attracting more members (A methodist church it’s congregation is aging rapidly), she managed to torpedo that one. I mean why associate with people who would even consider such a thing?
    In any future relationship I will make sure damn early that the other person is not religious, it has caused me far too much stress and pain and as we have two boys who we both want the best for, it will probably continue to do so.

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