Here's a link to the index for this series
Note: This post got looooong. If you find you don't have the time or desire to read all of it, skim the "Summary" section and skip to the last two sections on "Current Developments" and "Reflections."
As my blog tagline says, I want this site to be about remedying deficiency. One candidate for this is in my marriage. I'd like to start posting about my thoughts on being in a marriage in which one believes in god (Catholicism) and one does not. I have tried to read a lot about this topic in other blogs, sites, and forums. There is a lot out there. I don't know that I'd say much of it is helpful. I'll categorize my survey of the landscape like this:
- Wishy washy: of the sites and people providing advice that actually try to be helpful, most of what is provided is not very concrete, direct, or specific. "Bear with it," "hang in there," "be patient," "respect one another" and so on.
- Bail-out: A good number of posts and discussions simply ask/say this: "Do you have kids yet? No? Run for the hills." Nuff said.
- My spouse doesn't care: The ones discussing staying together often do so from the point of relating personally with the type of situation but are often in a form of it in which the other spouse is only a believer for social or emotional reasons and doesn't actually care if the spouse believes or not
Sure, this is somewhat of a caricature, but I think you won't find it to be much of a stretch. I'd like to at least attempt something different. I'm not sure how this post "series" will continue as I develop my thoughts. For now, I'll simply "bare all" about how the last 10 months has gone and what my current thoughts are.
My marriage has been about the worst part of this entire "quest" for many reasons. I'll try to handle them in a reasonably organized fashion...
--( Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping... )--
For better or for worse, I attack subjects I want to learn about. It's been like this forever. I always think that when I'm done with "just this next thing" I'll finally be at peace and able to kick my feet up and relax and get to "what matters." Unfortunately, something always comes along and piques my curiosity so that I either a) don't even finish the current task or b) switch gears as soon as the current task is done. This has been, by far the most prolonged, involved, draining focus I've ever had. I'm tempted to call it a chore because my interests are usually things that are reasonably fun for me: taking my bike apart, studying cell phone plan prices, destroying a mutlilevel marketing scheme mathematically, installing FreeBSD on a dual-booting MacBook. Stuff like that. This one has never really been "fun." I've liked learning more and more, but it's never been fun. Mostly because it's been constantly saturated with emotional whiplash of various sorts and from various sources.
The point is that my marriage has suffered because of the time investment. I want to read at every moment because to me, the sooner I get this done (just like every other project, remember?), the sooner I'll be able to put this all behind me and "start anew." It's been extremely hard to be patient because I hate limbo land about things and this is so fundamentally life-altering that keeping it suspended feels like I can't do anything with my life's direction until it's done. What's my moral system? Do I give money away or not? Should I pray every day? How should paint the picture of how the world works for my children -- with invisible forces or without? Things like that. Not being able to definitively answer whether or not Christianity is true makes these things tough. Half of the whole point is that if it's not true, I want to get cooking on "re-learning" about other areas of life and rebuilding myself (see, I've already got another hundred projects lined up and this isn't even done).
My wife would quite appreciate if I spent more time with her and my children. I want to do that, and more so absolutely recognize that I should do that... but I often don't. I get caught in that "last" article or "last" comment to post, etc. Before I realize it, it's 7:30p and it's time to put the 2 year old to sleep. I can half make up for my time lapse by snuggling her to sleep... but that's not good enough. Anyway, I think this is enough to describe both why it's like it is and also not leave too many questions as to why it would make things tough in a marriage.
--( No one is "Pro-Me" )--
One of the hardest things about deconverting when the last seven years of life have been completely invested in Christian living is that I am soooo alone/lonely/miserable. There's hardly anyone who relates with what I'm going through... at all. When I tried to pose a hypothetical situation to my men's group leader in which god didn't exist, he didn't even let me finish the sentence before informing me that "he couldn't" imagine that god didnt' exist. I pointed out that it was just an exercise and restarted the sentence and he cut me off again and said that he simply/literally "could not" imagine such a scenario. I was somewhat stumped at that point.
Many of the smiles have become slightly strained. Not in a malicious way, just in a way that reflects the fact that things are awkward and no one is quite sure what to do with me. Conversations skate around various subjects when I know that they really want to ask about my "quest." Eventually I'm proven right: "So... how's everything going?" or "Any progress?" Stuff like that. It's understandable, but difficult. It's probably difficult because I don't ever have anything to tell them that will make them happy. My "progress" has consistently been in the direction away from the faith, not toward it.
Which brings me to my catch-phrase: "pro-me." The hardest part about the friendships is that for quite a while I've had friends who somewhat admired my geekishness. They liked my little research projects, computer skills, etc. They love hearing about my exploits as a research engineer at an awesome company (what sanitized details I can reveal, anyway). This brings us to quite a clash in how we view the current situation. I see this as an extension of who I already was: curious, detail obsessed, persistent, researching, etc. They see it as me losing a part of me. That's damn hard to be told by your friends that you're not who you used to be when you think you are. My gripe is that it doesn't seem like anyone is "pro-me." As in, "Yes! Go for it. I encourage to you to use all of the [god-given] gifts you have and get to the bottom of this. I've always trusted you and know you just want to understand the world more accurately. I'm confident that you won't stop until you've satisfied what you think you need to know to move on." No, everyone would prefer that I would have never even touched this subject. Cameras, computers, bikes, and pyramid schemes were fine -- god is not.
So, to conclude this section. Bring this under the homestead roof. It's unbelievably difficult to feel like the quality of your relationships has deteriorated, you're being judged (mildly or more severely), that it's not okay to pursue what you want to know, etc... and have that also be the case with one's wife. The one place where I would really, really, really appreciate support is in my own house with my own wife. But she's "one of them" (I write that phrase with levity, not malice). We're completely on other sides of the canal on this one. She thinks I've abandoned her. I think she's stopped supporting me. She thinks I'm free to just "choose" to "come back to the faith" and I think she's wrong for thinking so. We both feel misunderstood. From my perspective, it's tough to have her in the class of people who are not "pro-me." I would love for her to be able to see what I'm doing and trust that it's a good thing and place whatever reliability on my answer to this question as she's put on my answers to the other questions I've really invested in answering.
This has all been to say that I think this "grudge" has kept us distanced. We just don't "rest in each other" like we used to. I don't really feel "at peace" with baring my heart to her and I'm sure she doesn't either. She feels like we've lost the spiritual/religious ground we used to share and I feel like she judges me unjustly, doesn't respect me, and doesn't trust that I'm just doing what I have to do. She's in the category of those who think I should never have embarked down this path. She's explicitly stated that she wishes I would have considered what I was getting into and simply stopped. That's frustrating as I don't think I had a choice and thus feel misunderstood.
--( I'm kind of an a-hole )--
Yes. I'll say it. I've "slipped" in a lot of ways and completely see it and acknowledge it. My stress level is high and I burn out. This makes me prone to want to "escape" into media, goofiness, or technology (like reinstalling my OS, encrypting my hard drive, etc.). My language is quite a bit worse than it used to be, and while I think some of that is legitimately that I don't really think there's a cosmic being judging me for it, I think some of it is simply due to a shorter fuse. I'm a lot more on edge and it makes me prone to take out my frustration with all of this on those around me, which typically means my wife. I'm more argumentative, more pouty, more sensitive, and more prone to lash out. This obviously hasn't helped the relationship.
--( Interactions )--
I'll wrap up by saying that our interactions are quite a mixed bag. There are a lot of reasonably good times, but an awful lot of hard discussions. She always wants me to go to the religious stuff I used to attend (Mass, praise and worship opportunities, etc.) and I don't. This gets us on the merry-go-round. "But I wish you would be there with me." "But I hate going to stuff like that; I feel like people are watching me during prayer time." "No they're not." "No, I'm pretty sure they are -- I've seen people staring at me during prayer time!" And so on...
Or about children. She wants to raise them Christian and I want to raise them "neutral" (if such a thing is possible). If she does teach them [about] religion, I want an equal say as well. But she doesn't want that. I don't even want to dogmatic. I think it would be as ridiculous to indoctrinate a child in religion as I do to indoctrinate them in atheism. I simply want them to be open to answer this question when they're old enough and curious enough to do so on their own time and don't think that injecting dogma into them at an early age helps that. In fact, I'm fairly convinced that no other occurrence makes one less able to try and be unbiased in the first place.
We have a lot of recurring discussions that often involve the phrase, "I wish you just..." That could be "believed," "understood me," "were open to doing x," etc. There's lots of things like this. Essentially, I think we're constantly revisiting the central issue which is that both of us feel alone, alienated, and misunderstood. I think we both think we're more of "the victim" as well which isn't helpful. Two victim-challengers fighting for the title. Not a healthy recipe.
Despite how horrid all of the above might sound... we actually have had a pretty darn good week. We had a fantastic conversation last week (or weekend) that really helped things out. I wish I could remember more of it. I think some of it simply occurred because of us both softening to one another. My wife was out of town the previous week at her parents' house. Some relatives were visiting from AZ and she went to spend the week with them while they were here. I think it gave some time for reflection and it was during that time that I made another pass at the current state of "advice" on unequally yoked relationships.
To get it out there straightforwardly: divorce has absolutely come up in discussion and entered both our minds at various points. I can't see how it wouldn't. At least on one occasion, I brought it up completely rationally: would my wife be happier were we to be apart? I really think it's something we needed to consider. While immediate pondering and reflex push one to say, "No," it's a valid question and deserves facing. If I put on my 10-years-in-the-future glasses, do I think one or both of us would be better off without this marriage? At the time, I wasn't even thinking about me. I just wondered if she had someone who was religious if she'd be happier down the road. She said no. That was that.
Kids also came up a lot in my reading during that week. I went out to several Minnesota Atheist Meetup events that week and some had asked about my marriage. I said that it was definitely not very joyous at the moment and that things were probably worse than the last time I talked with them about it. Kids came up and one thing that struck me was that separation wouldn't fix that issue. It'd still be an issue. Do we both "fight" to indoctrinate them? Agree to keep it "neutral"? Do something else? That'd remain. And that's probably one of the hardest facets of future-thinking. Given that, perhaps separation was a pointless thought-investment after-all.
Divorce/separation really hasn't come up all that much. I'm mainly getting it out on the table for the benefit of anyone else reading this. Talk about it. Lay it out there. Think it through. It's not like it won't creep in when things are hard anyway, so one might as well bring it in the light and think about it intentionally rather than letting any thoughts about divorce occur when emotions are running high and blood is boiling!
In any case, my wife came back and I think we had some kind of argument centering around me not being involved in our family life (like I wrote above) and for whatever reason I was inspired to try and mend things. I brought my computer upstairs to our bedroom and queued up Tony Bennett's rendition of "Just the Way You Look Tonight," the song for our first dance at our wedding, and waited until she came to bed. I brought her over to me, and started the song. We danced in our room at the foot of the bed with the newborn sleeping in the bassinet until the song was done and then talked for quite a while. I let her know that I still wanted to be a good man, reassuring her that even if I do come out on the side of non-belief, I don't have any intentions of becoming uncaring, mean, horrible, removed, etc. I still want to be a great father and husband. I acknowledged that I'm quite absorbed and need to change that. I also tried to promote her understanding why I tend to be absorbed -- I don't even feel like I can move forward with life until answering this. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but it is how it feels sometimes. I also tried to re-explain the loneliness and how I want her more than anyone to support me. That's especially true since I feel like I'm constantly "on guard" when I'm around our Christian circles and the last place I want to feel like that is at home. Anyway, I think sharing helped mend things quite a bit and led to a great week. I've been more involved with the kiddos, helpful around the house, and we've spent more time together. Good deal!
I'll end what became a crazily long post with some reflections to try and add to the mix of the current takes on these situations. First off, I'll say that I think it's absolutely possible to make something like this work. It probably won't be very fun at many times, but does not to fall into the category of either "run to the hills" or "it works because my spouse doesn't actually care."
I won't advise running away and my wife emphatically does care!
--( Discussions )--
I would say that every conversation that has turned into an attack, debate, or guilt-placing-exercise has gone horribly. I think the success of our marriage is going to rely on not doing this... ever. Or at least as rarely as possible. Neither of us can see the other as being the source of the issue. She's not stupid/irrational/unjustified/ignorant for believing... and I'm not satan's-spawn/malicious/willfully-hating-of-religion/possessed/cruel for not believing. Make sense?
Neither of us are likely to convince the other and thus I don't think spouses should be the ones to debate each other... at least that's my present stance. Leave this to the books, countless web sites that are there for each to read, and others in one's life. I think our relationship will be healthier if she refrains from trying to convince me that it actually is my choice to disbelieve (where as I think it's not) and in me refraining from trying to convince her that her beliefs are false.
--( Who Wins? )--
My current reflection is that the only way to make something like this work is for the marriage to become a "lose-lose" situation. Let me develop this a bit. No one anticipates something like this. Both of us are hurting. Both of us wish the other came over to our side. Both of us think we're either more right or have been more heavily wronged. To put it bluntly, I'm fairly convinced at this point that we both have to give that (pardon) sh*t up.
We both have to lose, at which point the marriage, overall becomes win-win. The alternatives? She insists on raising our children Christian and me having no say. Or I insist that she doesn't even teach them about her faith while I only teach them secular/naturalist principles that can be established via science. Both of these are win-lose scenarios, but I hypothesize that these types of situations will actuall kill the marriage long term. I honestly don't know if I could stick around were I in a relationship where my spouse literally asked me to keep my mouth shut about something I put so much work into for no other reason than she believed in it. I equally don't expect she'd put up very well with me telling her to keep something extremely important to her completely to herself and to never speak of it.
This is a marriage which implies equality, at least in my mind. I paint this as a lose-lose necessity because I think we'll both have to drop down the bar of our ideal/how we imagined our marriage to make this work. But that's the cost of making things work in light of the current situation... which actually will make the marriage a win-win success.
--( Obstacles )--
I see several obstacles. I think maintaining communication and openness is probably the biggest. When we lose the ability to relate to the other in this, we deteriorate. This has to come from both sides. I've noticed that when she stops recalling that I did not choose to doubt and hints at this being willful on my part, I really get upset. She also is heavily affected when I leave out the obvious hardship she's enduring by having the Catholic man she chose stop being Catholic.
The "children issue" is far from done and I see my lose-lose solution threatened by an unfortunate tendency of my wife (and many other believers) to be overly influenced by authority for the sake of it being authority. She related that she was not sure what she'd do if she was "instructed" to carry out her promise to raise our children Catholic. It would put her in a tough spot; should she choose to do what seems best for our family and our relationship or what's best in the eyes of the Church? We were (and she still is) quite "dogmatic." We were not "pick and choose" Catholics. That will make it extremely hard if not impossible if a priest tells her that she will be "abandoning her Catholic duties" should she not raise her child explicitly Catholic and perhaps even demand that I keep to myself about it all. We'll have to see how this plays out.
Lastly, I think common ground could be a struggle. Everything we used to say was infused with god this and god that. I would talk about how I acted on "the Lord's word" at work or in life or how "god spoke" to me in my daily prayer time or present some reflection on how an area of our life reflected Jesus' teaching. Things like that. That's all gone now. My thoughts now are things like, "Wow, if the B theory of time really is correct, the whole Kalam Cosmological Argument fails. Fascinating!" First off, most people don't care about that to begin with. Secondly, the point is that most of my thoughts are atheistic in nature and just won't uplift my wife. It makes it challenging, because I love to share reflections and yet can't since they will either be uninteresting or angering! Rebuilding some common form of interests, intellectual focus, etc. will be a definite obstacle to overcome.
Wow! I never knew so much would come out on this. I hope to continue posting updates and further reflections/developments as thing progress. We're in a pretty darn good spot right now and I'm trying to understand why (though, that takes a back seat to simply keeping it this way!). We may look into seeing a recommended marriage counselor, though my research (hehe) indicates that they can be expensive. It might still be worth it, just sayin'. My primary focus right now is on keeping things "lose-lose" so that we maintain the peace and connection. As soon as one of us goes for the "win" in some way... I find that we lose the sense of common struggle, refuge in the other, and so on. Keeping those will make the actual hardship bearable rather than adding to it.