Unequally Yoked Marriage: 6 Ways to Make it Work

It’s not a secret that I am unequally yoked. I’ve been asked, how I make my marriage work. My husband, an atheist, joins us for weekly mass, we send our children to Catholic school, he volunteers there too. We also say grace before meals and when I cantor, he sits with the boys in the pew, making sure they participate according to their age levels.

For a while, it was difficult for me to explain how I made it work, because it was so ingrained in the fabric of my marriage and conversion back in May of 2012. Here are 6 ways, by no means exhaustive, of how I make my marriage work as a Catholic, married to an Atheist.

@fillpraycloset #unequallyyoked

  1. Pray: You’ll need to pray in every season. Pray for him, for whatever he needs, for His will to be done, for his days to be fruitful, to be open to the tapping on the door to his heart. My preferred way of praying for my husband is while he’s sleeping. I just place my arm over his chest and hold him as I pray my intentions for him. I ask to see him as God sees him and to respond to him that way too. I ask that his heart softens towards me and my journey just as my heart softens to his. Pray for yourself – why not? I pray for myself all the time.
  2. Never give up: Just when you think there’s nothing left to be done, you’ll be surprised. He may just want to go to that mass with you, or special church event. This may not mean that he’s converting per say, but he’s converting how he thinks about your spiritual life. This is a partnership, a relationship, a give and take and give again. He also may just surprise you and take a picture of a cathedral for you while he’s away on business because he knew you would love to see it. (yep, that just happened to me a couple of weeks ago)
  3. Remember him and Him: If you’re a new convert, this is for you. When you are new in your conversion journey, it’s a love affair. Truly. You can’t stop thinking about it and everything you think, do or say is seen through the lens of faith. You want to spend all of your time in this new faith, this new love. This is how you loved your significant other when you first met, remember? The world stopped and started with them. That’s got to be a hard thing for your husband to live through (in my case). I’m not saying dampen your journey or keep it all to yourself (I tried that – HARD), but don’t forget him in the process. It’s a tough balancing act, I know. Pray for the grace to be balanced in this area. The more mindful of it you are the more it will show that your love for him hasn’t changed, just expanded to include God.
  4. Practice the Little Way: Love your significant other in little ways. I highly recommend reading St. Therese of Lisieux A Story of a Soul. She created this way of loving God and it works just the same as loving your husband, your fellow Christian, even people you don’t like. “St. Therese translated ‘the little way’ in terms of a commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives.” This goes hand in hand with number 3, I think. You can live the ‘Little Way’ for God and for your husband knowing in your heart, that it’s all grace. My priest said something to me once that really put things into perspective for me. He said “Cristina, of course this is hard. Think of this as school, you’re in the 5th grade of your faith and he hasn’t even gotten through Kindergarten, yet. You’re trying to make him understand algebra. Just help him count.” Exactly. WHOA! Put more succinctly, meet him where he’s at!
  5. Trust: Just because a conversion has taken place doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bath water. You fell in love for reasons beyond your faith. From that common ground, trust that it will work out the way it’s supposed to – if there is love. I know it sounds very cliche, and maybe it’s supposed to. I really believe that if there is love, especially where there is a belief that marriage is a sacrament – something not to be broken, a sign that you are set apart for God and something truly holy; it will work. He’s and your husband is on your side. That’s a great recipe for success.

If you’re looking for another resource, and if you’ve read my blog long enough, you know that another resource is always necessary – take a read of The Secret Diary of Elizabeth Lesseur: The Woman Whose Goodness Changed Her Husband from Atheist to Priest. Almost too good to be true, Amazon’s summary goes on to state:

This inspiring book gives you a splendid example of how to live as a Christian in a secular environment that can be indifferent or hostile to your Faith. For Elisabeth Leseur had two great loves: God and her husband Felix, who was an atheist. Felix loved Elisabeth as well; yet to their mutual sorrow, he couldn’t share the life of the Spirit that Elisabeth cherished.

Occasionally the happiness of their life together in upper-class Parisian society was shattered by Felix’s frustration and impatience. How could such an intelligent woman waste her time, as he saw it, with ignorant superstitions? Sometimes he and his friends would even ridicule and mock her faith.

But Elisabeth loved Felix too much to allow their home to degenerate into an emotional war zone. She realized that confrontations and arguments were useless; she chose instead to keep quiet and pray for Felix. In her secret diary she recorded how she used his efforts to destroy her faith as means to grow in love for him and for God.

If you do happen to read this book by Elizabeth Lesseur, or have read it, do tell me what you think of it. Have I missed anything on this list? If you’re in an unequally yoked marriage and there is a tip I’ve not included, please for the love of dark chocolate brownies, add it in the comments!

This post contains affiliate links, because writing doesn’t pay the bills, but you could if you clicked and bought sumthin, cha-ching! 

Source: https://www.littleflower.org/abouttherese/learn/stThereseLittle.asp

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62 thoughts on “Unequally Yoked Marriage: 6 Ways to Make it Work

  1. Oh my gosh, as I was reading this post I was thinking, “She should read Elizabeth Lesseur’s diary”–and then you mentioned it! What a beautiful book–for any married woman, but especially for one in that unique situation.

    I admire the way you are handling the challenges of your “unequally yoked” marriage. That’s got to be tough–but with God, all things are possible! God bless you!

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    • I am going to reread it again in August with a friend who is also in a similar situation. There are so many unequally yoked relationships – and it may be for reasons other than the religious kind.

      God bless you more! Xo

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  2. You and your husband have a wonderful marriage. It’s obvious your love and respect for one another play a big role here.

    I’ve never been in a relationship with someone who is religious. I honestly don’t think I would be able to enter into a relationship with someone who is.

    But it makes me wonder how I would react if my fiancé decided to convert. I would hope to handle it with as much grace as your husband has, Cristina.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know a lot of couples who are of different faiths or one person is religious and the other agnostic/atheist. I don’t think any of them have had a problem directly related to that.

    Coexist. And love. :-)

    Being spiritual without being religious can bridge some gaps here, too. (Mind the gap!)

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  4. I agree with everything you said, but I wanted to add something a little bit beyond straight up prayer. I went through a long period where my husband would say really mean things to me about my faith. Truthfully it damaged my trust in him for awhile. What I found to be key was offering up those hurts to God for his conversion, not retaliating, and making an effort not to jealously guard and nurse those memories of hurt. Plus keep the faith thing more low key while at the same time not hiding it…I don’t attempt to listen to Catholic radio or podcasts when we are driving together (except he likes to listen to Father Roderick and I happily oblige lol). I turn off Catholic Answers when he gets home. I don’t know, it was a slow process but we seem to finally be past that bad period…thank God! I’ve read part of Elizabeth Lesseur’s Diary, it’s one of those ongoing reads when that I pick up when I need it! Sorry for leaving such a massive comment :)

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    • I did the same. I listened to podcasts when he wasn’t home, prayed as soon as he left and read the bible when he was traveling. I minimized it as much as I could and would slowly feel my way around being more confident. I remember one night trying to muster up the courage to ask if I could go to church. I prayer Our Fathers all through the basketball game he was watching. He had no idea of course, and I, well I just chickened out and never said anything. This is by no means an overnight process. This happened over a year or so, and to some extent still exists today. I am still sensitive to how this could affect our marriage. I never want to forget that he has different beliefs and impose mine. Praying for you, sweets.

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  5. You really do have to meet people where they are. Faith comes in time…we just have to believe, and pray (like you said), and lead by example. I’ve learned that you can’t make someone believe something that they aren’t ready to believe…it’s better to show them the way than to tell them the way. I’m trying to do this with my kids at the moment!
    ~Katie

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  6. I was the one away from the church for years and my husband was completely faithful to the church.
    When we got a new priest he and my husband worked cleverly to get me back in the door.
    Also, my mother and I praid for years for my father to return to church. He left in anger at God when he was 20.
    Four weeks before he passed away he was back in mass. A true miracle.

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    • Worked cleverly? I would hope that there was no pulling or dragging involved!! Your father returning to the church – like a Prodigal Son! Bless his soul.

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  7. I think in the end it’s all about love and respect, Cristina. I have seen marriages where both partners are practicing Catholics and they don’t have half the love and respect you both seem to have! Faith, hope and charity – but the greatest is love, is it not? :)

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    • Love is the greatest of these. We aren’t perfect, but there are some things that we try to do well and this is top top of that list. It’s important to both of us that the kids see a united mama and papa on this one!

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  8. I truly appreciated all the comments to this post as well as a brave post you wrote Cristina. I have watched my close friend in this scenario for over twenty years. Her husband is also an alcoholic so it adds more to the mix. They have an incredible, loving marriage with five grown children and three grand children. She is a strong Christian, a leader in her church and very active.

    Three things that I have observed over the years of our friendship are:

    1) I have never seen her stand in judgment of him regarding his drinking or his lack of faith in God. He held down a very good job but was drunk every night. Yet, the only words I see coming out of her mouth were kind and respectful when she talks about him. Of course she would like to see him stop drinking for many obvious reasons, but the point is – she did not JUDGE him for his choices.

    2) She lives in a state of forgiveness. She has chosen to do that and I believe that goes with not being judgmental of his actions. She realizes it is HIS life and he must choose what path to travel.

    and 3) She has never given up hope that he will come into the knowledge of her faith and also be sober.

    I applaud her. Yes, it was difficult raising her children under these circumstances but they RESPECT their father and personally, I believe that has everything to do with HER attitude.

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  9. Christina- I’m so glad you wrote this. I have two friends (a former couple I’m going to send it to). They are broken up despite the fact that she is about to deliver their child in a few weeks. She can’t get past the fact that he doesn’t believe in God as strongly and profoundly and she does. Basically they have both told me that her deep beliefs won’t allow them to be together. I’ve told them I thought they should try. I’d love for them to read this and see that it’s possible. I don’t know that it will change things, but it’s worth it for me to at least place it in front of them. Thank you. <3

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    • I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me. This is a polarizing topic and I hope that they can work things out regardless of any takeaway from my suggestions. I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers as I am sure a lot of your close mutual friends do. No one is trying to convert anyone, it’s not anyone’s place to. But we are called to love one another, the rest… Keep me posted as much as you’re able, Deanna.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Once there was a woman who tried everything to convert her husband. Finally, she decided to have a pastor, etc. over for dinner and thought there would be no way for him to avoid this matter. After all, she was doing it “for his own good”, you know?”. Anyway, once they arrived, he excused himself and while in the bathroom, he escaped through the window.

    Sometime later, someone other than his wife convinced him of his ways and he converted.

    Let’s face it, they want to be in the lead and don’t really like to be told what to do by their wives. My husband is very stubborn in this way, but ultimately, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am glad that he doesn’t let me control him. I think it is much more attractive overall.

    You are going about things in a most beautiful way. No nettling, no pushing. I am sure there are plenty of gals with so called catholic or religious guys who refuse to go to church or love in the way that your husband chooses.

    God really does look upon the heart and plenty of men out there would be wise to take his example.

    Love this.
    Love you.
    Praying for you.
    Michelle

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    • Thanks Michelle, such a dear heart. I don’t think I ever really tried. When we had our first “discussion” about my belief in God, after about 48 hours, he just said, how about I go with you. Literally, my head cocked to one side and I gasped. In the smallest voice, I can still hear it, I said, “really? you’d do that for me?”. His response “Why not?” He’s that guy :)

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    • Marriage isn’t easy. Cliche, I know. It’s taken a lot of learning, unlearning and relearning for me to get that this is a mutual thing. I am so used to independence and speaking up for myself – it took me a while (even before I converted) to see that we’re on the same side of things, and from that place, we can “take care of business”, so to speak.

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  11. I really love your story Cristina. Your husband sounds like such an amazing man. Both my husband and I are religious in our own ways. He grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school. As he’s gotten older he has pulled back. I am more open about my faith. I try to get him involved but if I push too hard he takes five steps back. It’s a tedious process trying to find the balance.

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    • I say don’t even try. I learned the hard way that it wasn’t my battle to fight. There’s really no need for me to. It’s hard, as a married couple, you always want to be in everything together. It’s hard to see that regardless of differences, it’s the love that’s common and keeps you on the same page. Whether it’s faith, or for example, him liking Million Dollar Listing and I would rather have my tooth pulled ;) , we’re always looking at each other before we go to bed every night. You know? We are always together.

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story, Cristina. While my husband and I are both Catholics, I think there is something to be learned for everyone in your post.

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  13. It really is a wonderful story. I am curious, just on a conversation topic, would you have even considered dating him, had you been strong a strong Catholic before you met him?

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    • That’s a good question. For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t have even considered him. I was raised not to date Hispanics (can you believe it!). Marry up! So I went against the grain on that one. Given that, I’d say yes. If I were a strong Catholic then, I would have most certainly dated him.

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      • That’s good to hear! The unequally yoked passage was one that people preached to me a lot, so it brings up unpleasant memories in what should’ve been a wonderful time in my life. My family couldn’t be happy for me and three different pastors (ones I considered friends, and still do) refused to marry me and my now-husband. I understood. They were following scripture and their consciences wouldn’t let them join me and my husband in matrimony. But they represented “church”, and it left a bad taste in my husband’s mouth. I wonder what the Catholic’s response would’ve been.

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      • I’m so sorry to hear that, Loni. They married us! So long as he doesn’t try to keep me from the faith, and he agreed to that, that was the grounds for which they married us.

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      • That makes me smile. I am very happy for you, and very happy I met you through this A to Z. :)

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      • Thanks, Loni. Same here! You and a handful of other bloggers made my heart a little bigger. If that makes sense! xo

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  14. You have a beautiful perspective on your marriage. Thank you for sharing it. This is my first time here from CWB. I was pleasantly surprised to see you are a lay postulant with the Dominicans! I’m at a Dominican parish and find such beauty in the Dominican perspective many times.

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    • Hi Jenn, thanks for stopping over. I love the Dominicans (as you can tell). We don’t have a Dominican parish close to us, but I went to one in NYC over a weekend. It was such a wonderful experience. How blessed are you to have one so close by.

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  15. I think this post goes also for “equally yoked” couples, meaning of the same faith. But just because a couple is of the same faith, does not mean they are in the same place spiritually. I have seen so many women hit a spiritual “growth spurt” and then try to drag their husbands along behind them.

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  16. Cristina, beautiful post! Lots of wisdom in there from you But from what I read of your husband on your blog, he seems like a great guy who truly loves his family. I’m praying with you! xo

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    • He is a great guy. He made pancakes and sausage for breakfast for me. I had a rough night and he knew that fluffy pancakes, sausage and coffee would make it better. God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. He gave me a man he knew would love me no matter what.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Loved this post Cristina! I am in a similar situation and I appreciate you sharing this because clearly based on the comments there are plenty of others out there in similar scenarios. Elizabeth Leseur’s Diary is a live saver and truly teaches you how to offer up any resulting suffering for the the benefit of another’s conversion. I’ve heard too to pray that perhaps someone other than us will open their heart. I have full confidence that my prayers will be heard in time. I hope it’s not 33 years like St. Monica, but if it is so be it :).

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    • Oh don’t get me started on my friendship with St. Monica! There are days I bend her ear the whole commute home from work. I am so glad you enjoyed it. I wrote it, in part, for you and another dear friend who shares the same situation. <3

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  18. I can’t imagine how difficult this is for you, but it’s wonderful that you are growing in your faith and witnessing to your family- even if it seems difficult or awkward at times. While my husband has not ever been an atheist (at least not during our relationship), he went through a dark period of anger/doubt for sure and that was stressful enough. Prayers for you & your family during this journey of faith (or lack thereof)!

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    • It’s not difficult so much as it is a challenge. If I think of it as something difficult, I think I’ll be more prone to get frustrated and snippy. And snippy, for me, is not a good look. Maybe it’s because I’m so short! My attempt at light humor. Thank you so much fro your prayers, they are very appreciated.

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  19. Hi Cristina – I can relate to your situation in many ways. Although my Husband believes in God he does not profess salvation or attend church. Yet as you say I pray, without ceasing and just this week he volunteered to come to VBS with us. It was so nice to be there as a family. I know that in all things God has my good in sight and I believe the same for my husband. Thanks so much for being so open and sharing your story and encouragement.

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  20. Thank you for sharing your journey. My husband and I are both cradle Catholics, but we are in different places in our faith journey. Right now I feel about as far apart as we have ever been, but I have hope that he will grow closer to Him again. I also know that me pushing him won’t help anything, so I pray and I hopefully set an example he will want to follow.

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  21. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. My husband and I were of the same faith when we married. Both very devoted and active in our faith. A few years ago he left the church. It was very painful and has been difficult, but we’re doing okay. I needed a few of these reminders, so thanks again!

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  22. So thrilled that I discovered this (and you) through SITS Girls. I am in an unequally yoked marriage as well. I am Christian and my husband is agnostic. It’s challenging but fortunately he’s supportive of my journey and allows me to minister to our children.

    Thanks for sharing (and happy belated SITS day)!
    xoxo

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