Q. My boyfriend (29) is the best man I’ve ever met. He is loving, doting, faithful, smart, interesting, funny, sweet, a great communicator, fun to be around, active, has wonderful friends and a close and amazing family, and he’s as handsome as they come.
I (28) happen to also think I’m pretty great, and share many of the same qualities he does. We’ve been together almost two years and have been living together for eight months. What’s the problem? He’s Christian and I’m not. (I’m nothing and prefer not to even say atheist or agnostic.)
It doesn’t come up in day-to-day life. We both try to keep a lid on it. He doesn’t regularly go to church so it doesn’t come up every Sunday either. He is 100 percent a believer in Jesus Christ being his lord and savior, though, and he prays (like really, really prays a lot about everything) and thanks God and feels blessed every day. He had a very, very rough childhood and I don’t begrudge him his beliefs at all.
It comes up when we talk about our future. Whether we could marry. How we’d raise our kids. What would happen as we aged, grew old, and died. We’ve pondered not having kids. We’ve pondered not getting married and just going on with our day-to-day. I’ve told him I can accompany him to church (we’ve gone a couple times). I can hold his hands as he prays. I can continue to respect and encourage his emotional and religious growth. But I just don’t share it.
We’ve been having rough talks lately and it came to a head last night when something in him finally clicked and he got the notion that our relationship is a trial and that all of a sudden it was clear to him that he cannot marry and have a life with me if I do not believe.
He wants me to believe. Part of me wishes I did — things would be wonderful for us, and maybe I’d get some of the peace and assurance that his beliefs bring him (and I could certainly use another source of strength/calm/love in my life). But the other part of me really truly does not believe and cannot wrap my head around faith and the concept of God and Jesus and there being one right religion, etc. I’ve never felt lost or empty or alone, and have never had a desire to be saved, found, or any of that. I cannot fake it, either.
Does anyone have any advice? Should I try to become a believer by surrounding myself with it and just see what happens? We are about to start couples therapy. Has anyone been through anything similar?
If Only I Believed, Brighton
A. You can’t fake or force belief. You might change your mind about religion over time, but it has to be all about you. You shouldn’t try to alter your values to appease someone else.
It’s possible that you could enjoy becoming involved with a church community. Organized religion (besides the religion part of things) is about the people, the events, the connections, and the support system.
But — your boyfriend isn’t asking for involvement. He’s asking for faith. Stay honest in couples therapy. Explain that you are open to his philosophies and that you occasionally want to believe, but that it’s not part of who you are. If religion and belief have become his priority, above all other things, you’re just not a match and you have to walk away.
A lot of people do compromise on religion and it seems as though they have been going about it just fine. The issue now is that he refuses to continue the compromise. Either she is a believer or he can’t marry her. Very sad.
Do I have advice? Yes. Break up. Harsh, yes, but this is one of those things where never the twain shall meet — or highly unlikely anyway. You’re both good people, but not right for each other long term.
I was in a very similar situation. I thought I could never “believe”, and then I decided to at least learn about it. I went to a Catholic church. Total disaster. Then I found a nondenominational Christian church and took a few very open-minded religion classes that were geared toward people who have doubts and I have to say, they really truly did encourage all sorts of questions. I know this isn’t for everyone, and you definitely shouldn’t “fake it”, but for me it clicked. I wasn’t brainwashed, and I wasn’t bullied. If you really love this person, it can’t hurt to at least explore.
You’re not religious. If he can’t accept that, then you both need to move on. Even if you were to “try,” if it doesn’t pan out, you may end up resenting him and the reality is that you’re just wasting more time.
I resonate with this so much because I feel exactly the same way as you about religion. I personally think your boyfriend is being a bit of a jerk. You’re willing to accept him as he is even though you don’t share the same beliefs. He doesn’t show you the same respect. If he needs someone to believe in the exact same ideals that he does, then this is unfortunately a deal breaker.
How come he can live with a nonbeliever but not marry one? What other arbitrary rules does he have?
You cannot out-therapy religion.
When I first read this I thought “trial” like “test period.” But now I think he meant “trial” as in “a test of his faith” as to whether he gives in to the devilish notion of marrying a nonbeliever. If that’s the case forget it, relationship doomed, he’s on a mission from God.
“I can hold his hands as he prays. I can continue to respect and encourage his emotional and religious growth. But I just don’t share it.” This is beautiful and should be enough.
As a wise man once said, you gotta have faith, yeah you gotta have f-f-f-f-faith.