Married to an Unbeliever - And Wanting Out
- 2011 4 Jan
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Dear Dr. David,
My husband and I have been married for 9 years. I am a Christian, but he's not. He was not a Christian before we got married either. I did not ask God for help in making decision about marriage. I thought that with my love, he would change. He's been doing what he wants, what he likes without thinking of consequences. He only cares about investing in businesses, making money. He thinks that money defines himself. He does not have any plan for our family (children). I know that I have made mistake when not obeying God (marrying a non believer). I have been praying for God's solution. I don't want to consider divorce (I know God hates divorce). But, it seems like that's the path that we're heading. He does not want to change. I can’t discuss anything with him. He's just quiet and just does his way, no matter what I say or feel. I have been asking God if I should stay in this marriage. I don't know what to do at this point. Please advice! ~ Confused
Your letter is similar to many others I receive where there is a profound lack of mutuality in the relationship. While you are to be applauded for loving your husband, it is naïve to think a mate will change simply because of being loved, though we certainly wish it would be so.
Mutuality—meeting one another’s needs—is a primary ingredient in any relationship and is part of the gospel plan. Mutual submission under the Lordship of Christ is God’s plan for marriage. (Ephesians 5: 12-25) Lopsided, self-centered relationships simply don’t work, and your marriage appears to be an example of that. Many relationships today seem to be self-oriented—meeting our own needs without regard for the needs of our mate. This is a recipe for ultimate disaster.
Having said that, I have several concerns about your thinking.
First, you seem stuck on the notion that you married an unbeliever. While certainly the Scripture warns about that, God can still redeem your marriage. Your life can be a testimony of God’s redeeming love, and we’re told that your behavior can win him over without a word. (I Peter 3: 1) It will take hard work, and practicing sound principles of healthy relating.
Second, you note that your husband doesn’t want to change and you seem quite passive in your response. In thirty years of counseling, I haven’t found many people who really want to change. Most of us want relief, but don’t want to change. Your husband would be quite an exception if he really wanted to change.
Third, expect resistance. Again, few of us want to go to the doctor, or want to hear a troubling diagnosis. Few of us want to go to counseling to hear what our mate has to say about us. Few of us want to hear the therapist label what we’re doing wrong, and what must be done to repair the marriage. I speak at length about the cost of change in my book, Nine Critical Mistakes Most Couples Make, and what it takes to change a troubled marriage.
Finally, what should you do since he doesn’t want to change? You need to speak clearly to him about the issues and invite him into a change process—counseling. Should he resist, which would be normal, you’d turn up the heat. You’d let him know that you’re going to counseling and expect him to join you. You’d develop clear goals for your marriage, and discover the ways you enable him not to change. You’d set clear boundaries, with consequences, for what will happen should he maintain his staunch refusal to change. Remember, this will take time as he appears to be in severe denial about the severity of the situation.
To date, your husband has had little to lose by being selfish and stubborn. He’s been able to live in his self-centered world with little regard for your needs and feelings. In fact, he probably has little understanding of the pain you’re in. So, again, turn up the heat. Get clear about what you need from him, specifically, and what it will cost him if he decides not to change. Then, pray for wisdom in how to approach him and, with God’s guidance and Godly counsel, take action.
David Hawkins, Ph.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.