Is a Religious Conversion Like an Affair?

From the forum…

Sleepy:  I was reading Athol’s blog yesterday “Quirky Gifts and Flair” and read this line… she starts checking out of the relationship because she’s unhaaaaaappppppy and about to Eat, Pray, Love an exit.

So, my wife of 20+ years and 4 kids who has always been anti religion started to convert to Catholicism in secret. When I figured it out, I felt like she was cheating on me (about 6 months of individual and couples therapy and I still feel this way) as this was done in secret and her reason for needing god was that we were no longer good as a couple and she needed “love”. I flipped and basically took a position of no contact as if this was an affair, which she has done with just enough complaint that I know she still wants too.

Without going into all the details here (if there is a lot of interest I could add a thread in the 911 Relationship ER section) I guess my question is how evil am I and are there others out there who have felt this way?

Athol:  Well Eat, Pray, Love refers to a book, but the answer to your questions is yes / no / kinda / sorta / it depends.

It’s usually a critical junction when one half of a couple changes their religious status, either becoming more religious, less religious, or changing religions. They can be a wide variety of changes in personal interests and personality from benign to quite alarming as someone changes from one religious viewpoint to another. It’s always hopeful that an inter-faith marriage will stay stable, but the more divergent the expressions of belief are, the greater the stress is on the marriage.

This is largely the same effect at work as shared beliefs of any sort. Two democrats or two republicans are likely going to be more comfortable married to each other than a democrat and a republican are. It’s all about being able to relax with each other at the end of the day instead of wanting to disagree about something. Same deal if someone suddenly becomes crazy about a diet while the other isn’t. It’s a relationship stress to have one of you wanting to eat Paleo and the other being a Vegetarian… though the old joke stands that if you really want to piss off a Vegetarian give them vegetables to eat… most of them just want to eat pasta all day.

The more fundamentalist (Wikipedia) the conversion the greater the stress on the relationship is. Note that Wikipedia link to fundamentalist covers Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and even Non-Religious fundamentalism. As soon as one half of the couple digs in their heels and states they are right and their partner is not merely in misguided disagreement, but utterly wrong… or even literally damned and/or evil for whatever reason… the relationship is heading for seriously choppy waters.

If you’ve ever had your partner educated as to your total failure of morality by their near entire social group, you’ll know just how hopeless your situation is. You could be a tax-paying, law abiding, full and complete stop on red, look both ways before you cross the street, girl scout cookie buying sweetheart, but having 20-30 people tell your spouse that failure to believe in [religious belief] turns you into a horrible fallen person hell bent on destroying everything precious and good… well, it has an effect. Speaking as a good evangelical Christian back in the day my first serious girlfriend was Catholic… it doesn’t take many people giving you “Godly frowns of concern” to make you feel uneasy about your relationship. That was a Catholic girl too, not even a clutch-the-pearls Non-Christian… that would have had people directly saying things to me like, “I’d like to encourage you to seek the Lord’s guidance”, which is how evangelicals tell you you’re retarded.

And yes I get that there are a wide variety of expressions of belief from rather insipid, to rather psychotic in intensity, even within each faith or even denomination. I’m painting with a wide brush here.

Anyway… back to the question at hand…

My knee jerk reaction to your situation is that you have two issues rather than one issue.

(1)  The state of the marriage.

(2)  Her interest in Catholicism.

What she’s saying is essentially, “Because of (1) I’m (2)” which is trying to turn it into one issue. This is a poor solution because the marriage issues aren’t going to be fixed by going to church and it is obviously driving a bigger wedge between you.

My advice would be to figure out the marriage issues as marriage issues, and allow the religious issue to be handled as a religious issue. So grab the free forum booklet and answer the nine triage questions in a 911 thread on the forum and people can help you get to the bottom of things.

Or put another way, if the marriage is chugging along just great, everyone getting along well, lots of sex and laughter… would it matter very much at all if she was a standard issue Catholic?

I will say this much though, I’m not convinced she’s been hiding it from you as a way of hurting you, more as a way of trying not to lose you in the process. When I became an atheist, I kept that a secret a looooooong time. I thought I was risking my marriage coming out about it, which because my faith was part and parcel of my attractiveness to Jennifer, I think it really was. When I finally told Jennifer she bawled her eyes out with me feeling like the worst husband ever. Even after that, it took fourteen years before I felt comfortable publicly identifying as an atheist.


As official MMSL policy, I personally don’t care what you believe or disbelieve in. I obviously self-identify as atheist because I don’t believe in a deity, but I’m not trying to actively convert anyone to that point of view on MMSL. I only try and get involved in religious issues on MMSL when it seems to be clearly screwing with the marriage. At this point the entire fabric of western civilization is sufficiently screwed up that individual marriages are like sandbags keeping back the flood-waters. I don’t care what type of sand you have in your bag, just that you have a sandbag that isn’t going to fall apart.



  1. Reminds me of a line from “Steel Magnolias” (as spoken by Dolly Parton)- “Sammy says he can deal with another man in her life but he’s having a little trouble with the Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost.”

  2. sconzey says:

    She shouldn’t worry. 1 Corinthians 7:14 says that only 1/2 believing spouses is required.

  3. The most dangerous thing to do is convert from Islam. That ways lies violence.

  4. Trimegistus says:

    I think that to “religion” in this context you should add “political ideology.” If your partner suddenly becomes a fanatical Party member, you have the choice of either becoming a loyal Party member yourself, or gradually losing your partner to the Party’s charismatic leaders, attractive media figures, and the sense of purpose and belonging that comes with joining a Movement.

    It’s not a coincidence that totalitarian regimes strive to break apart all normal human interactions and replace them with interactions mediated by the Party. See Orwell’s 1984 for the logical endpoint, in which love between two people is a treasonous act because it means they don’t love the Party and the Leader enough.

  5. If she has joined the church, the good news is they tell her to win her husband with a gentle and quiet spirit. She will be going a different direction, but they tell her not to leave her husband, but to respect him and stay with him especially if he is an unbeliever. She may struggle with thoughts of being better than you, especially since she is new. But the only way to truly respect your husband is to humble yourself, and hopefully she figures that out too. I hope it works out for you.

  6. Mandrill says:

    We’ve been dating since high school we never once left this town
    We use to go out on the weekends and we’d drink ’til we drowned
    But now she’s acting funny and I don’t understand
    I think that she’s found her some other man

    She left me for Jesus and that just ain’t fair
    She says that He’s perfect, how could I compare?
    She says I should find Him and I’ll know peace at last
    If I ever find Jesus, I’m kicking His ass

    She showed me a picture all I could do was stare
    At that freak in His sandals with His long pretty hair
    They must think that I’m stupid or I don’t have a clue
    I’ll bet He’s a commie or ever worse yet a Jew

    She’s given up whiskey and taking up wine
    While she prays for His troubles, she’s forgot about mine
    I’m a gonna get even, I can’t handle the shame
    Why last time we made love she even called out His name

    It coulda been Carlos or even Billy Ortez
    But if I ever find Jesus
    He’s gonna wish He was dead, Amen

  7. Mandrill says:

    I actually just converted to Catholicism. I was baptized/received Communion/Confirmed (the Trifecta) during the Easter vigil. My wife was raised Catholic but only goes on Easter and Christmas “for the children,” otherwise she’s Pontificating about how terrible the Church is.

    I went for months, twice a week, long hours, this was not a quick process. If your wife is sneaking out or lying about where she’s going and with whom it might as well be an affair. My wife knew about it and was pissed off–why was I spending so much time with those zealots? I did it because I felt if could have forgiveness it would enable me to put a lot of things behind me and have a better future. It’s worked for me but it’s done nothing for my marriage; I had more fights about it than I would have had otherwise.

  8. I’d have to agree with that part near the end of the blog about civilization (not just Western civilization) showing evidence of being seriously screwed up. I think it comes from a foundational misunderstanding of the ideas of good and evil. The best (and almost universally used) parallel is light and darkness. You can’t turn up the intensity of darkness. You get darkness by eliminating light. Some lights might be too intense for our comfort, or flashing in an annoying way or a color we just don’t like or even focused in directions we would rather not look. But taking away light doesn’t produce a neutral condition. It produces darkness. Our various ideas of what is good might clash at times, and some are even mutually exclusive. But eliminating expressions and declarations of what is good doesn’t produce a wonderful Utopian neutral society. The absence of good isn’t neutral, it is evil defined.

  9. CoffeeCrazed says:

    Borrowing from geometry, this does not even take necessarily a change in the angle of the vector but can be done by a change in the force of the vector.

    I was in a mutually Christian marriage, fairly fundamentalist by outside standards. Ex-W started leaning more and more charismatic, which further eroded at the qualities she lamented I lacked. Honest to goodness, I even had a “leader” of sorts tell me once that our union was unequally yoked, equivalent to the state of me being an unbeliever.

    Now, I do like to qualify that ex-W was not demonstrating external hypergamous traits, simply trying to get out of me what she seemed conditioned to want. That was our downfall.

  10. “If she has joined the church, the good news is they tell her to win her husband with a gentle and quiet spirit. She will be going a different direction, but they tell her not to leave her husband, but to respect him and stay with him especially if he is an unbeliever.”

    Uh, yeah. They **should** say that. But my experience has been that most churches are filled with women who will tell her to leave that ungodly man. I love my church, but I wouldn’t touch the women there, or any other church I’ve attended, with a ten-foot pole.

  11. holdingallthecards says:

    Agreeing on religion, money, family (both kids and parents/inlaws), and politics is the foundation of a stable marriage. Everything else is just small stuff, comparatively.

    Everything can and will go sideways or down when one spouse diverts from the original opinions that the other spouse counted on during the engagement.

    So unless the whole Catholic change is just something she’s trying out for size, I believe the marriage is in serious doo-doo.

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