Should This Atheist Propose to His Christian Girlfriend? December 15, 2008

Should This Atheist Propose to His Christian Girlfriend?

Interfaith dating is never easy — it’s certainly tough when an atheist dates a Christian. But a few couples have found ways to make it work.

Atheist reader Steve is hoping he can make it work with his Christian partner. He writes this in an email:

I am a 36-year-old male who has been an atheist for six years. I am in love with a 37-year-old female Christian. We have talked many times of marriage and have just recently moved in together. This marriage would be the 2nd for both of us. Her family is what I would call extreme right wing… very anti-gay anything, very opposed to us living together, pray in restaurants, etc. To make matters worse, her brother is a preacher.

They don’t know of my belief (or lack thereof) and I’m sure it would not go over well. They want us to be married by her brother (I haven’t even proposed but plan to over the holidays). We do love and care for each other very much and she assures me that it will all be fine, but I have my doubts. I won’t give in on the religious wedding and have suggested going to Vegas or Hawaii and then returning home to have a reception with our families. This entire situation has become a huge source of stress for me and, although she doesn’t say it, I believe its troubling her, too.

I honestly don’t know where to proceed from here.

Part of me thinks she and I should make her parents aware of my position on religion (she’s scared to death of that) and tell them to like it or not — that’s just the way things are — and then proceed to handle our future with or without them. But she is close to her family and I would hate to be the one to divide them. Anyway, I think she would always resent me for that. My father thinks that I should just go along with whatever she and her family want to do because once it’s over it really doesn’t matter. He may have a point, but in the last year I have become very “militant” about my atheism making it known to anyone and everyone (except her parents) and almost daring anyone to say anything to me about it, so I don’t feel like I should have to compromise my position to have some sort of “hokey” ceremony.

What do you and you readers think we should do?

I also would like to ask other atheists out there: How do you make a relationship/marriage work when the core beliefs are so different?

To this point, my girlfriend and I just never discuss religion, but it bleeds over into so many other areas like politics and holidays. Anytime we have broached the subject, two people who never argue get in a massive fight. She is the best companion I have ever had and I love her dearly, but I can’t seem to get over the fact that I think her beliefs make her delusional. Harsh, but true.

I think it’s possible to make the relationship work despite the differences. How do you do this?

  1. You need to respect the other person even if you don’t respect the other’s beliefs. Talk about religion. Argue about religion. But ultimately, you need to find a way to live with those differences. If you can’t, then maybe marriage shouldn’t be in the picture.
  2. Figure out if kids are going to be a part of this relationship. If you plan on having them, how you plan to raise them (with a religion? Without? With a mixture?) will be a point of contention that needs to be worked out beforehand.
  3. The families will always be there whether they like you or not. Ideally, they’ll find a way to make it work, but they probably won’t. After all, they think you’re going to Hell and dragging their daughter with you. You need your girlfriend to stand up for you. And you need to constantly show them that you’re a kind, decent guy who wants the best for their daughter. Whether they think any differently of you, I don’t know. But if they don’t, they don’t need to play a major role in your life.

As for the wedding ceremony, why not create your own, a mix of her culture and your beliefs? Would your girlfriend be ok with that? If she’s planning it, she can do it with your non-theism in mind and everyone else would have to go along with it. Easier said than done, I know, but if her family ends up planning your wedding with both of you not taken into consideration, then you might need to go elsewhere and just get eloped.

Does her family need to know of your beliefs? Perhaps, if you want a non-Christian wedding. Unless you can offer them a better explanation of why you don’t want something traditional. If you can get beyond the wedding, maybe they don’t need to know at all.

Am I wrong on any of these?

What else would you suggest to Steve?

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  • beckster

    My husband and I had a semi-religious wedding to make our parents happy even though we both were non-religious (him atheist, me nearly atheist) and I really think people make too big of a deal of the wedding day. It’s just one day so I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. What is absolutely important if you want your marriage to last, is to sit down before you get married and work through the religious issues, particularly when it comes to children. It is amazing how people who are quiet about their beliefs suddenly become very outspoken when they have children. You may also want to work out before hand how you will handle religious issues with in-laws. We take the approach that each of us deals with our own families. Unfortunately for my husband he is the one with the most work 🙂 Interfaith marriages can work, but it is critical that you both respect each other (I won’t say respect each other’s beliefs because I find that impossible) and work out a plan BEFORE problems about the holidays and other such things come up. Best of luck.

  • Kate

    You should TOTALLY provide a link to the Kate & Erik post. 😉

    In all seriousness – the ONLY way that my relationship works on the parent side is having Erik be FIRM with his parents about boundaries re: religion. The fact that this girl (and she’s 37!!!!!!) and still scared of her parents is a giant warning sign. Run, and run FAST, in the other direction. If she’s afraid to even tell her parents about her boyfriend’s atheism, then she’s never going to be able to stand up to them when they try to evangelize to him.

    The second red light I see is that he secretly thinks that her beliefs are stupid. I had a very respected counselor tell me that the only way an interfaith relationship survives is if you are void of any shred of ever thinking you’re going to convert the other person. Relationship research shows that one of the STRONGEST predictors of later relationship failure is contempt – thinking her beliefs are stupid is only dooming the relationship to fail.

    The third red light I see is that they never discussion religion. Uh guys…it WILL come up someday, and when it does, it will be outright ugly, disastrous, and violently explosive. You can’t just “not talk about it”.

    You were dead on with your advice, Hemant, and I just don’t see them being able to realistically address those three points. ESPECIALLY the parents. That goes way beyond a religious issue to a simple psychological one – if you’re 37 and can’t stand up to your parents, your relationship will FAIL.

    There are definitely ways for interfaith relationships to survive, even atheist-Christian ones.

    This, however, is a relationship with no hope of success. 🙁 Sorry.

  • Kevin

    I say he should not propose. They things can work if you both put aside your beliefs. If you are anything like myself, that simply is not possible.

    I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I was more or less realizing I was atheist and was dating a girl who was a pretty strong Christian. I went to church and what not, but something was always off and I couldn’t help but be critical of what the pastor was saying.

    My entire life would have been like that. So I said “no thanks.” One of the best decisions I have made. I am now with a woman who is an atheist like myself and I am much happier. I don’t have to waste my Sunday mornings!

    Anyhow, the point is, if you are critical about religion and if you will have to be faced with religious ceremonies (etc) for the rest of your life… I would say you should revisit the reasons you want to marry her. I have no doubt that you would be able to find a woman that makes you just as happy, but that woman would be an Atheist so you would be happier 😀

  • Honestly, I think the couple should hold off on wedding or engagement talk until they come to a better place with their differing beliefs. Hoping things will just ‘work out’ might backfire in the end.

    You are right in that he needs to show just what a good person he is. But for some people, it won’t be enough. And I am talking from experience.

    Take some time together to work it out, find what you both are willing to accept and what you are both willing to concede. And find out just how important it is to her what her family thinks.

    Whatever happens, my best to them both!

  • I think Steve and his girlfriend should tell her family about his position and talk about it. Communication is the best way to resolve any potential conflicts, and they might as well work it out before-hand, not after the fact. This would minimize the possibility of a negative surprise or issue the family might have in a time that should be spent celebrating their love for each other. You really need to be able to be open on this now, or it may come back to bite you.

  • I think there are still too many issues for them to work on before they think about marriage. Forget the wedding itself, he said they couldn’t have a conversation about religion without arguing. That’s not going to go away with an “I do.” Does she know everything he said in his letter to you? Even the part about her being delusional. Relationships need to be built on trust and honesty. If his feelings are that strong, she needs to at least be aware of them. She probably has a few about him also. All of that needs to be out in the open. Once they can be completely open with each other and not get into “massive fights” when religion is brought up, then it won’t matter what either family thinks.

  • zuckerfrosch

    I’m an atheist married to an agnostic (deist) with religious parents. I disagree with compromising anything you’re not comfortable with. For example, I was not willing to have a religious wedding, because I consider a marriage to be a mutual promise between partners. I wouldn’t want to start that off by lying to my wife, and having her know I was lying. But however well that decision went over with family, the choice not to baptize or circumcise our son was a much bigger deal. On the one hand, baptism is just water, but I figured if we just did it to make the parents happy, standing up to them the next time would be even harder (and not satisfy my side of the family at all). I would recommend deciding together and standing firm early, because it will come up bigger and bigger.

    All that being said, the key is to discuss it first. Before I’d even consider marrying my wife, I told her where I stood on these issues, and listened to where she stood. I think if I waited until she was 7 months pregnant before letting her know I wouldn’t baptize our kids, it would have been immensely unfair of me. And if you already have kids who are grown, if it’s not baptism, it will be another religious ritual that ‘outs’ you to her parents, or makes your kids different from hers. And if not kids at all, something will cause a confrontation, and you definitely want her on your side when it happens, and not quietly agreeing with you to your face, and with her parents to theirs.

  • I appreciate the problem. My wife’s father was a methodist preacher and my interest in atheism took off around the same time that he died, which my wife took as some kind of personal insult to him.
    I’m not quite sure what my wife believes ( i suspect that she doesnt read my atheist books because she doesn’t want to find out something she secretly already knows – so religious discussion doesnt really happen in our house) we dont attend church – but the kids do occasionally go with their granny and attend church youth clubs. It doesn’t overly concern me that they get this religious input as when it comes down to it, I think i will be able to be honest with them about what i think, so they’ll hear my side eventually.
    This really has caused some stress in my marriage though, so proceed with care – I would probably put up with the religious ceremony if you are really serious about the relationship – but you need to be clear on the issue of children, whether they will be attending church and how they are going to be brought up because you can bet the grandparents will want some input in to this.
    Think long and hard about this because any minor disagreements you are having now will only be amplified ten fold when you get married.
    But good luck.

  • Joseph R.

    This issue hits very close to home for me. My wife is a born again christian. I am an atheist. We have been married for 10 years in January. I think that there are several factors that go into a successful mixed faith marriage. One of those factors is respect. Another post mentioned it. You don’t have to respect her beliefs but you must respect her(and her family). Another aspect is children and how they should be raised. Our son goes to church with her parents. I didn’t really like the situation that evolved into our son spending “quality” time with grandparents at some crazy fundy church. I wanted to take him away from that situation by taking him to a UU church to offset the crazy. I compromised by taking him to the UU church every other Sunday. I have explained to our son my beliefs and Mommy’s beliefs and the differences. At first my wife wasn’t really happy about it, but she got over it. My point is that learning how to compromise and pick your battles are important skills in any successful marriage. Also, I am still somewhat closeted about my beliefs. Her parents don’t know that I am an atheist. However her brother does. I have entertained the idea of telling them, but I just don’t want to place any tension between my wife and her mother. It’s just not worth it. Just another compromise, I suppose. I love my wife and she loves me. That’s the most important part of our marriage.

  • meotreo

    I think that the relationship is doomed and I don’t think it’s the religion that’s going to do it in. At 36 and 37, hiding from confrontation via non-communication is a huge red flag. Not discussing issues because of the inevitable fighting that will follow or not being able to speak frankly to one’s parents are prime examples.

    That aside, I think your unwillingness to negotiate about a ceremony, “hokey” or not, speaks volumes.

    Proposing, at this point, is probably a bad idea.

  • TheDeadEye

    Talk to her. Find out exactly what she believes in. Is she a fundie? Does she “thank Jesus” this and “praise Jesus” that? Or does she hardly mention religion? Can she get thru the average day without praying? Does she believe the Bible is literally true? Is she a young Earth creationist? Does she believe in evolution? Does she honestly believe that the story of Noah’s arc really happened or admit that it’s just a fable?

    If/when you have children together: Will she want them home schooled? Will she bring them to her church for Sunday school? Will they go to a religious school? Will you be allowed to discuss atheism? Can you veto any/all Church involvement with your children? Will she let you raise “skeptical” kids? Non-religious kids?

    Hard questions, yes, but these are the questions that you need to ask before getting married/have kids/spend the rest of your life together. Then ask yourself if you can live with this person and possibly raise a child in that environment.

  • Kate

    Joseph – Always happy to find out that others attend UU as well…

    What do you call an atheist with children?
    Answer: A Unitarian Universalist!!!

    Not implying that you actually identify with UU 😉 but it is a common place for interfaith or atheist parents to take their children. As an atheist, I completely love UU and am so happy to have found it.

  • I am in a similar situation; I am an atheist, and I will be marrying in 4 months my Christian finance. I’m lucky in that she’s from a fairly liberal church, and isn’t super-dedicated, so our problems to deal with were less than the guy in the above case.

    Your three points are spot on – we’ve already discussed and decided on each others beliefs and agreed to not be to nasty about them. We’ve decided to raise our kids in the same way I was raised – to allow them to choose for themselves what faith (if any) they’ll follow. And both her, and my, parents understand that they are welcome to be a part of our family so long as they keep their attempts at religious/atheist indoctrination to a minimum.

    I think anyone entering this type of relationship, without addressing these issues ahead of time, are asking for trouble. I hope that the guy in the above case can make it work, and that his loves family can come to accept him (and his children) for what they are.


  • Jesse

    One thing I try to remember about my wife’s Christianity is that just a little while ago, I used to have similar beliefs. Sure, they may be based in an unjustified trust in a magic book, but that was a trust that I had and maintained for two decades. I can’t disrespect her for doing the same. It also helps that she’s more logical about her faith than I was about mine. She’s already given up her belief in an all powerful unchanging God, and the belief in eternal torment. I don’t have to respect her beliefs, sure, but I find a lot to respect about my wife.

  • I can’t seem to get over the fact that I think her beliefs make her delusional

    How could he possibly marry this woman if that’s how he views her? Is this going to get better with time? Is the problem going to go away? Clearly not. And the religious family will always take her side and will always make it worse for him. Don’t do it. Bad mistake.

  • Kate

    I completely neglected to realize that you DID already provide a link. Go me.

  • Varda

    I really wish that I could tell Steve to look past religous differences and propose. But I really can’t do that.

    There seems to be too many differences of opinion here to make this work. And if she’s close to her familiy then Steve is going to have to put up with their nonsense.

    In the end though, it’s up to Steve to determine if he can turn a blind eye to hate, intolerance and ignorance for the rest of his life. I doubt that he could. But stranger things have happened.

  • One thing I wonder is how religious is his partner, really? I noticed that they had “recently moved in together” which doesn’t look like something a more theologically conservative Christian would do.

  • “which doesn’t look like something a more theologically conservative Christian would do”

    But they’re not supposed to divorce, have teen pregnancies or get STDs either – and yet they are the leaders in those areas…


  • Take it from an atheist who dated a Jehovah’s Witness for FOUR YEARS – it does not work. Get out while you still can. When you disagree about really key issues like morality, gay marriage,evolution, prayer…it just doesn’t work in the long term. You can both be polite and tolerant and avoid topics like the plague, but eventually everything built on such a shaky foundation comes tumbling down.

  • Erik

    I’m a lifelong atheist and just got married to a christian two months ago. She goes to a liberal church and has open views, so we respect each other while disagreeing about religion. We were married by her methodist minister at our local botanical gardens. She accepted that I couldn’t make any vows in the name of god since I did not want to enter our marriage as a hypocrite. We were able to compromise and modify the traditional methodist ceremony so that my portions left out references to god and hers remained religious, which allowed us to be married while respecting both of our beliefs. (It was certainly helpful that her minister came from a family of atheists and was amendable to this!). We also used secular readings during the ceremony instead of biblical passages, and had a bluegrass band play our ceremony music.

    Steve mentions his gf’s right wing family but doesn’t say how far in that direction her own beliefs go. You have to make compromises in a wedding and a life to accommodate her beliefs, and she will have to do the same for you. If either of you are unwilling to do that, you should split up now. If she’s not willing to defend you to her parents and wants you to pretend to be something you’re not, then she doesn’t love you enough and you deserve better.

  • Stephen

    I’m not as pessimistic as Kate, and wouldn’t go as far as to say that the relationship can’t work, but they really shouldn’t be thinking about marriage at present. They first need to sort out for themselves that they are primarily there for each other, and that the relationships with their families are very much secondary.

    If she is 37 and scared of telling her parents that he isn’t religious, that is a bad sign. Is she still not ready to stand on her own feet at 37? (And was that partly the cause of the failure of her first marriage?)

    I can’t say my wife and I really followed Kate’s advice. We didn’t discuss religion much at all. I consented to a religious wedding, which she wanted, as long as she didn’t expect to drag me off to church more than twice a year. My son goes to a religious school – which has done an excellent job in turning him into an atheist 😉 I keep my thoughts about religion pretty much to myself, except for commenting occasionally on the contents of the bible when it comes up naturally in the course of conversation. I never attempted to convert her, but she was clearly perplexed to discover that I knew the bible better than she did. And I do notice that she finds long lie-ins on Sunday mornings more and more attractive these days …

  • OK, my advice would be not to get married but to “live in sin”. If they want to get married then it is about them and not about their parents or other family or friends, them. They need to be comfortable and honest with each other for their relationship to grow. Marriage might be a step in this but it isn’t the beginning or end.

    Once the couple can discuss and resolve their religious differences or agree which topics are unresolvable but unimportant to their relationship then they can consider what to do about extended family members. My attitude is that they can either like it or lump it and I’d tell them straight out that I didn’t believe in their jibber jabber, fool. But then I’m not in that situation and my unwife is extremely tolerant of my lack of social skills. In the end though that’s the situation, they’ll either have to accept the situation or cut off all ties. Either would work for me and my new wife could visit the in-laws while I played World of Warcraft on Sundays or help out at some other secular activity. Probably something that would annoy them like gay rights campaigning.

    Once the parental issues are decided one way or the other then hold the wedding. You can even invite the in-laws along if they promise to play nice.

    I think that’s better than getting drunk and telling “Dad” at the stag night that his magical thinking is ill conceived nonsense that you have no intention of going along with.

    The key is to be diplomatic about it. 😉

  • Jason

    My last long-term relationship was with a very devout Christian. To my benefit and her credit, she put up with me when I was a very immature, childish, arrogant atheist. Sadly, she had friends telling her that dating a non-believer was an invitation for disaster and a bad thing, etc. For her sake, I didn’t confront her friends, and just passed over their irrational discrimination.

    However, it very well might take some serious, serious understanding to get over the hurdle of disbelif vs belief. I remember telling my girlfriend that I would happily go to church with her and support every possible aspect of her faith (locally, of course, you wouldn’t find me picketing against gays, for example), but only True Belief(tm) on my behalf would be sufficient to make her feel complete.

  • bob

    I have been seeing a wonderful woman for the past 4 years. She is a Christian and I am an atheist. We both knew this at the onset. We are serious, and feel like we will spend the rest of our lives together. We are both close to 50.
    Problem – she attends church every Sunday, and tithes. I do not attend with her and resent her choosing to be there instead of with me, and I feel that once we merge assets and incomes, I will resent her giving 10%+ of her hard earned money to an organization that I consider to be based on myths, lies, and greed….but, we love each other.
    There is just no easy way for strong personalities to work around these differences. Is it a mistake to get involved as we have, I don’t know. Probably. Is it worth working through, I don’t know.

  • llewelly

    These people ‘never’ discuss religion, but every time they come near it they get into a ‘massive fight’.
    This couple has no real hope of fulfilling any of Hemant’s 3 points of advice.

    I recomend they make a snowball, preheat the oven to 425 F, put the snowball in the oven, and bake at 425 F for 30 minutes.

    If the snowball remains they should take that as a sign and get married.

    And yeah, link the Kate and Eric post.

  • Sandra

    I was in a relationship with a man who considered himself to be Christian, I was Buddhist. Though not a practicing Christian his parents are, and while we were together that caused problems for me because he was never willing to discuss this with them. We never got married, my personal choice, but we have a child together and his family is (still) constantly trying to determine how I “should” be raising their grandchild. Remember children are an issue which will transcend separation/divorce.

    Wouldn’t you research anything else? Do the same here. Make an informed decision not one based on emotions, hope and (dare I say) faith.

  • Dan C.

    If you want to make it work with her, learning to keep your mouth shut when you discuss religion (or at least remembering to be more careful about what you say) will go a long way.

    As far as her parents go… it might help to come out to them and then see how that changes your relationship with the girl. Things might either become intolerable or suddenly change for the better. There’s no way to know until you try it.

    For now I would advise against marriage. Get the religion thing settled first. It’d be unfortunate to get married only to have it blow up in your face.

  • vivian

    Since most comments seem negative, let me be the silly postive person. First off, he obviously loves her, for good or for bad. And if she has no problem with him being an athiest, than there is no problem, period. I agree that he should tell her family, and she definately needs to stick up for him. But he is marrying her and not her family (that is what my husband tells me all the time!).

    About the wedding, tell the family that you want to elope since this is your second marriage, and if they still insist on a wedding, than have it somewhere neutral. My husband and I got married by the lake, and if it had rained that day we were going to have it in a charming old school house. Maybe try a historical manison/museum, or even in someone’s backyard. Who can agrue about against a small (cheap) charming wedding when you’ve done the overdone, expensive wedding once already?

  • Sara

    In response to Steve’s question: “How do you make a relationship/marriage work when the core beliefs are so different?”

    I only date other non-theists, avoiding the situation entirely. This sounds picky and closed-minded, but I feel that I have pretty good reasons for it. A truly religious person will have a vastly different world-view from mine, which will have a broad affect on his life. I respect this person, but we are incompatible in the most basic of ways. If he is religious but it is not really a part of his life or world-view, we may be compatible but I do not respect him. Neither option sounds like the start of a lasting relationship, so I just don’t even bother.

    Steve, I don’t envy your position, but if you truly think that her beliefs make her delusional, marriage is not a step you should be taking. That sort of lack of respect for her beliefs is not a good foundation for commitment.

  • RBH

    I think it’s possible to make the relationship work despite the differences.

    I think that marriage in their present circumstances is asking for a world of hurt. Given the description, it doesn’t appear that they’ve got any idea how to handle the religious difference. In particular, this remark is telling:

    To this point, my girlfriend and I just never discuss religion, but it bleeds over into so many other areas like politics and holidays. Anytime we have broached the subject, two people who never argue get in a massive fight.

  • DSimon

    This has been a really fascinating thread.

    One thing I’d like to know is, how does it look from the opposite side? Any Christians here with experience in long-term relationships with atheists?

  • Kate

    Let me see if I can get my Erik to chime in…he dates an atheist, after all. 🙂

  • Polly

    “Militant” people in general are hard to live with. Lighten up.

    But, tell the family. It’s going to come out eventually no matter what.
    What are you waiting for, for them to die?

    Sounds like your wife is just a nominal xian. Her instruction manual tells her not to be unequally yoked, not to have sex before marriage, to honor her ma & pa, and not to divorce except for adultery (no info there) and not to marry a divorced person except, presumably, if they were the jilted party. So, she’s no fundie. My wife has more hangups than that and we don’t have any problems. We actually agree more often about my mother’s religious hypocrisy than we ever disagree about religion. It shouldn’t be a roadblock.

    It would be nice if you wouldn’t think of her as “delusional”, at least not especially so. I’d wager that you, like everyone else, are operating under a few delusions of your own.

    And what does SHE think of a nonreligious wedding? Not her family, but her, herself. You’re not the only one getting married, is she on board with a nice civil ceremony? Interestingly, you didn’t mention her side.

  • I agree with… well, a bunch of people here. If you don’t deal with these problems now, they’re just going to get worse instead of better once you get married. If you can’t even discuss religion, how are you going to discuss questions like how the kids (if you plan to have them) are going to be raised? And I don’t agree that a wedding isn’t all that important. A wedding is your vows to each other for how you’re going to live your life together. Do you want to have that be a lie? Do you want the start of your married life together be “I caved in and lied about something really important to me just so I wouldn’t upset her family”?

    I’m not necessarily saying, “Break up.” But I am saying, “Don’t get married until and unless this stuff gets worked out in a way that you’re both okay with.”

    Now, that being said:

    In-laws who are controlling and insensitive, in-laws who act as if their family traditions and their relationship with their child should always take precedence over their child’s adult relationships, in-laws who welcome you only to the degree that you go along with the way they do things… that’s hardly a problem that’s limited to strict religious believers. Maybe you could think about how you would deal with this problem if it were showing up in a more secular form, and then translate.

  • so I don’t feel like I should have to compromise my position to have some sort of “hokey” ceremony

    I think this is a bad sign. Marriage is all about compromise.

    I don’t know if his girlfriend not telling her parents about his atheism is a sign that she can’t stand up to them, or a sign that she knows they’ll be completely intolerant. Either way bodes ill, particularly if she’s close to them. There’s a lot of potential friction there, and she’s eventually going to have to wind up choosing sides.

    It sounds like neither one of them is too interested in supporting the other’s perspective. Given the failure rate of marriages even where there’s a high degree of accord, I’d recommend against the marriage.

  • Gabriel

    If you are having this much trouble and doubt now marriage won’t make it better. Marriage will only make it worse. When in doubt don’t propose. You should only get married if you are really sure. Hell, you have both been married and divorced before.

  • I agree with you completely on points 1, 2, & 3. If they argue about religion when they do talk about it, but get along fine when they ignore it, there are problems ahead. I don’t think every issue can be worked out before marriage, but this is definitely a big issue that can’t be ignored.

  • Aj


    Take some time together to work it out, find what you both are willing to accept and what you are both willing to concede. And find out just how important it is to her what her family thinks.

    I agree, he’s not going to find a clone of himself. This isn’t just a problem for just atheists, people tend to be varied. There are going to be disagreements. Families are going to disapprove, that’s the way things are for everyone.


    I agree that he should tell her family, and she definately needs to stick up for him. But he is marrying her and not her family (that is what my husband tells me all the time!).

    That’s right, he isn’t marrying her family. She needs to stick up for herself, if she wants to marry him. She has to make her family know that she’s the one who’s going to marry who she wants and how she wants.


    “Militant” people in general are hard to live with. Lighten up.

    People who are nihilistic or apathetic are hard to live with. If they’re not militant about anything, nothing matters to them, they don’t care about anything.

  • Mike

    There’s no way to tell which way this relationship is going to go at this point. It sounds as if you’re living in that brief window of time where ignoring your conflicting views is enough to keep the peace. That’s not going to last long. I’d hold off on the proposal.

  • Axxyanus

    My impression is they should both be working on their listening/communication skills. The religious topic is important to both of them, that may cause them both to react defensively when the subject is broached. So in my opinion they have to work on restraining the defensive reactions and listen for what is worrying the other and make the other feel they understand his view and worries even if they don’t agree with them.

  • Take it from a 21-year veteran of a “mixed” marriage: you are not just marrying the other person–YOU ARE MARRYING THEIR WHOLE FAMILY. If I were a betting man, I would bet on such a marriage to fail within the first five years.

    Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

    Anyone who says otherwise is single.

  • Art

    My wife and I married despite having basic philosophical differences. She considers herself “spiritual” and a basic Christian but has problems with organized religions. She was attending a church regularly when we met but never found a new church to go to once we moved to another city.

    We agreed to respect one another’s beliefs and, if we had children, to give them exposure to both philosophies and allow them to make up their own minds. We ended up with two boys. I never prevented her from exposing them to religion, allowed them to be baptized and be awarded god-parents, go to church camp, etc. When they asked me about my beliefs I laid out the case for atheism.

    Well they both chose atheism for themselves and I have to tell you that was initially a sore spot for my wife. She felt that I was pushing my beliefs on them. This caused some real divisive moments in our marriage. I was very firm with her that they had made up their minds on their own and the boys reinforced that to her so eventually it no longer became an issue but I really try not to talk atheism with them in front of her. I can tell it will always be a sore spot. Who knows why? Maybe it makes her feel like an outsider in the family. Maybe she still holds sway to the whole eternal damnation crap and sees her offspring in the fires of Hell.

    If I had it to do over, I’m not sure I would add that point of contention to marriage. There’s enough differences just being of the opposite sex to add something in with that disruptive potential.

  • Polly


    People who are nihilistic or apathetic are hard to live with.

    False dilemma. Did I hit a nerve?

  • Steve

    Wow what a passionate subject! Thanks to everyone, the good and bad, for your posts. I do want to address a few things…

    If you haven’t already figured it out, she is very liberal. We are living together (although I still don’t think her parents know this) and we completely enjoy each others company. We share many common interests and really disagree on this one, although large, subject.

    We both have children from previous marriages that live quite a distance away from us and they are all older children and I have even raised a free-thinking 18 year old. So children will not be an issue.

    I did write that I wasn’t interested in a “hokey” ceremony and that I thought her views on religion made her delusional and maybe I should have tamed that down a bit. Although I do think that anyone that believes in a young earth, Noah and the ark, water to wine, etc. is delusional, it doesn’t mean I don’t love and respect her. She has just been raised this way.

    Her family live several hours from us, so maybe my wanting my position known may be more of an “I’m an atheist, hear me roar!” stance. May or not be in the best interest of the relationship.

    With that being said though, the one main issue I take with her parents and if pried out of my girlfriend herself, am that they think I’m somehow “lost” or that I’m damned to hell. I find that very arrogant and demeaning and it has really become a pressing issue because I have heard all of her family, with her being the lone exception, talking about how people they knew were lost and damned.

    Thanks for posting my questions and again, thanks for the responses.

  • Lexi

    Tell her family before they get married that he is an atheist.

    Because if they find out after, and she is forced to choose between him and them (because likely her family will force her) it will be that much more annoying if she chooses her family over him. At least if he tells them now, and she chooses them, he knows what’s up.

  • AR

    I find this bizarre. You may be in love, but for me, it would be like marrying someone who you’re in love with, but thought that black people were savages and “that’s just how her family is as a tradition.”

  • beckster

    With that being said though, the one main issue I take with her parents and if pried out of my girlfriend herself, am that they think I’m somehow “lost” or that I’m damned to hell.

    You will just have to deal with it because they aren’t going to change their minds about it. I felt the same way in my angry atheist phase. I have come to the conclusion that if you don’t believe in hell, then who the hell cares if they think you are going there.

    Some in my family believe the same about me and my husband. I just feel sorry that people I love have so much stress in their lives over something made up and I tell them this in a sincerely empathetic tone. My sis tells me she worries daily about me going to hell and I tell her “I am so sorry you have to carry that burdensome belief” and then I go about my day without giving it another thought while she wastes hours on her knees.

  • Aj


    False dilemma. Did I hit a nerve?

    You chose to ignore the second sentence to pull this crap, interesting.


    She felt that I was pushing my beliefs on them.

    They get baptized, exposed to religion, go to church camp, but you’re the one forcing your views on them? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, religious people can be very self-centred and arrogant, they think that their views are the “default” and anything different has been forced on other people. Nevermind that people are born without belief in gods, a.k.a atheists.


    I did write that I wasn’t interested in a “hokey” ceremony and that I thought her views on religion made her delusional and maybe I should have tamed that down a bit. Although I do think that anyone that believes in a young earth, Noah and the ark, water to wine, etc. is delusional, it doesn’t mean I don’t love and respect her. She has just been raised this way.

    Because delusions and delusional are terms used by psychology, as well as in “diagnosis” of mental health in psychiatry, people tend to get upset about it. In a general sense it’s a persistant false belief held despite strong contradictory evidence. God (a supernatural creator), the great flood, a young earth can be included in that definition.

    With that being said though, the one main issue I take with her parents and if pried out of my girlfriend herself, am that they think I’m somehow “lost” or that I’m damned to hell. I find that very arrogant and demeaning and it has really become a pressing issue because I have heard all of her family, with her being the lone exception, talking about how people they knew were lost and damned.

    If she really thought you were “lost” why would she marry you? I think you should suck it up and ignore it unless her family start invading your personal space and harassing you. Try to avoid the issue. You’d be lucky to find in-laws that are anything like you.

  • Polly


    You chose to ignore the second sentence to pull this crap, interesting.

    Your 2nd sentence doesn’t change a thing.

  • Aj


    Your 2nd sentence doesn’t change a thing.

    It does, but it seems you are simply unable to understand it. Not that it asks too much of you, it’s rather simple.

  • Steven

    I’m a bit late to the discussion, but I hope I can offer something to consider for my fellow Steve.
    One of the things that my wife has always required from me is respect and I feel the same way. It is more challenging to respect someone if you consider their beliefs delusional – which sounds like another way of saying stupid and ridiculous. I’m not saying that it can’t be done, but it adds another obstacle to a successful relationship. If things are difficult now, how will they be in a few years when the bloom is off the rose?
    Yes, I’m still a hopeful romantic and I’d like to believe that love will conquer all but I think it needs a helping hand. If Steve really wants his girlfriend to be a part of the rest of his life, then both of them may have to make compromises. How about atheism-lite and theism-lite? Less guilt and fewer calories all around. I’m not trying to trivialize the serious concerns here at all. It is sad that once again religion promotes division and discord instead of harmony – on a personal instead of an international scale.

  • Don Pope

    Regarding some of the comments here:

    “thinking her beliefs are stupid is only dooming the relationship to fail.”

    Well, I’m an atheist married to an otherwise smart Catholic woman. I think her beliefs are stupid and she knows it, but we have been happily married for 16 years. I don’t try to de-convert her and she doesn’t try to convert me.

    The family is a lot more of a factor here.
    If they are dead-set on making your life miserable and if she will allow them to do it, then the relationship won’t work.

    Fortunately for me, my in-laws are very nice people who respect our ideological differences.

  • Canfan

    Like other atheists who posted here, I see trouble ahead if you don’t discuss before you marry. In-laws are important and you don’t just disagree on religion – it seems you disagree deeply on secular values as well.

    My atheist father married my Catholic mother and agreed to raise the kids Catholic, but he knew what he was getting into. He decided that my mom’s moderate conservative Catholicism, although delusional, had enough secular values in common with his own that he could live with it. She made (and still makes) a great wife and mother to his kids. He always kept his bargain 100%; he never pretended to be religious, but he never spoke against religion and we were all raised Catholic. Then, when we turned teen in the ’70s, all of us in turn made up our own minds and became atheists or agnostics like our dad.

    I followed my dad’s footsteps and married a Catholic. I decided my wife’s liberal post-Vatican Catholicism, although delusional, had enough secular values in common with my own that I could live with it. She’s a great wife and mother. I would have kept my bargain on childraising but my wife let me off the hook – the more we talked the clearer it became that she, like many North American Catholics, was actually a deist heretic. She, not I, suggested UU so we could both take the kids to church, and the 4 of us have been happy UUs ever since.

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