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How spouses can avoid arguing over faith and God

Posted: September 26, 2014 1:38 p.m.
Updated: September 26, 2014 1:35 p.m.
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There are many ways to help each other understand religion more. Maybe it's as simple as letting each other know about religions and faith leaders they don't know about.

A mix of faiths, belief systems and values saturate the American cultural climate. It’s been that way for a while, and it’s something that people navigate every day.

One of the places tension may arise is at home, when spouses are of different religions than the other or one spouse believes more deeply in God or feels more spiritual. According to Religion News Service, 59 percent of religiously unaffiliated couples have a spouse who is religious.

It can be tough for married couples. The Huffington Post reported back in 2013 that when one spouse loses their faith, it’s hard for a married couple to stick together. But according to some studies, religion has been linked to having little to no effect on divorce rates.

What are some hints for helping husbands and wives navigate when one spouse is more religious or spiritual than the other? Here’s a look.

Talk to them about faith

There are many ways to help each other understand religion more. Maybe it’s as simple as letting each other know about religions and faith leaders they don’t know about.

Or it’s about being honest. Marriage expert Rob Jackson wrote for Focus on the Family that there are plenty of ways to get your spouse to identify more with their religion without being too pushy or in-their-face about it.

Spouses should be open and honest with their significant others about the positives and negatives people face with religion.

“Your mate will benefit from your companionship when you’re serious about your devotion to Christ and realistic about your struggles, too,” Jackson wrote.

Don’t be pushy

Talking about religion is one thing, but pushing it on someone is something else. According to Live Science, a study found that families who have kids who got their religious beliefs from their parents get a “mixed blessing” for kids. If parents share religious beliefs, kids are more likely to adapt the ideas and principals of that religion. But if one is more religious than the other, and one is more enthusiastic about religion than the other, then how kids grow and act later in life can differ.

Sometimes having a little patience with each other is the right move. Take the case of Nancy and Barry Kennedy for example. Nancy Kennedy of Power to Change explained that her husband Barry was miles lower on the scale of spirituality than she was. The two would clash often on religious beliefs and what they valued in life.

Kennedy tried pushing for her husband to get more involved with religion, but he wouldn’t. It frustrated Kennedy so much that she continued to wonder what she could do to give her husband a new lease on life and find God.

But then it hit her -- all she could do was pray for her husband and not be pushy.

“I told myself, That’s it! I’m going to pray for Barry for the next 80 years, if that’s what it takes. And I’m going to love him. Period,” she wrote on Power to Change.

She no longer struggles to identify with her husband’s lack of faith. She doesn’t stress over how he isn’t faithful. Instead, she’s thrilled that one day -- no matter how far away -- he could find faith.

“I’m no longer pining away in self-absorbed isolation waiting desperately for my husband’s salvation to bring marital fulfillment,” Kennedy wrote. “Instead, I’ve decided that if it takes 80 years, then I want those years to be as enjoyable as possible for the both of us, despite our spiritual differences.”

Find common ground

When it comes to marriage, though, values prove to be more important than general beliefs.

Dale McGowen’s book “In Faith and in Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families” points at how what people value and want for their families in life has more pull than just straight up religious beliefs.

McGowen wrote in the book that couples who have one member who is less spiritual face similar issues as interfaith couples. But Becca McGowen told RNS that there’s not enough known about how those couples work together.

“We need to hear more stories from these families, and the variations we will hear in the stories of humanist/Muslim, atheist/Christian, agnostic/pagan couples, etc., will be an important part of this new narrative,” Becca McGowen said.

Lack of information aside, spouses who differ on religious beliefs -- or the difference in the amount of belief they have -- should still find common ground through what they do believe, Dale McGowen told RNS. It’s not so much that the couples need to be divided because they aren’t on the same level of faith.

Rather, they should meet in the middle and still recognize the spirituality they share.

“We have these black and white views of each other, the religious and nonreligious,” McGowen told RNS. “But the common ground is extraordinary between the two, and the fact that this is overlooked is something I really wanted to look at. You don’t have to go searching as far or hard for the common ground.”

That’s how it is for Maria Peyer and Mike Bixby, who are still together despite Mike’s disbelief in a higher power and Maria’s faith in God. The two were featured in an article by NPR, which reported that Peyer and Bixby will make compromises with each other -- for example, Bixby will attend church with Peyer occasionally -- because of their faith in something else: love.

“I can love you and think you’re wrong, and you can love me and think I’m wrong,” Peyer told her husband, according to NPR. “So I appreciate this opportunity to grapple with it, and I appreciate you for being the one I get to grapple with it with.”

Email: hscribner@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: @herbscribner

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