I was honored to be asked for input on a terrific article by Marisa Sandora at For Her on this painful topic. Here’s a sample.
So how can those of us in this situation try to convince our non-practicing spouse to attend church services? “The same way we get our spouse to do anything,” says author and therapist Dr. Gregory Popcak. “We explain how important it is, we insist that we be taken seriously, and we refuse to let it go.” Popcak is the executive director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems. He’s written more than a dozen books integrating Catholic theology and counseling psychology, including Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.
“Research on couples who experience faith differences shows that when there is conflict about church, it rarely has anything to do with religion,” he says. “It is all about respect. Respect involves more than being nice to each other. Ultimately, it involves trying to see the truth, goodness, and beauty in all the things the other person finds true, good, and beautiful. Couples who manage faith differences well usually don’t see eye-to-eye on religion, but they work hard to try and see what their partner finds good, true, and beautiful about their beliefs and religious practices.”
Modeling respect and generosity in every aspect of the relationship, not just religion, is the key, stresses Popcak.
Deacon Doug Kendzierski of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, who’s been married for 27 years and has three grown daughters, echoes this advice, saying honest communication is key. “Suppressing priorities and feelings is not only dishonest, but ultimately harmful. At the same time, a good relationship is not about “convincing,” it’s about explaining and understanding,” he says. “You should be honest about the importance of the family unit at church (i.e. public unity, example for your children, supporting you, togetherness, etc.). Be careful not to be judgmental, merely open and honest about the effect on you, and your concerns regarding the potential impact on the children and the family. Beyond that, prayer is the most effective approach; don’t discount the power of prayer.” READ THE REST
The only other thing that I would add that didn’t make it into the article is that if you are attempting to address this issue in your marriage and you are becoming more and more aware of my above point–that you aren’t really dealing with a religious issue as much as you are dealing with a spouse who really doesn’t respect you and this plays out in many other areas of the relationship where there are differences of opinion–you will almost always need to seek professional help to heal the marriage and, ultimately, resolve the spiritual issue as well. Why? Because when one is married to a spouse who refuses to see the value in your point of view, you don’t have the influence you need to be able to change the marital dynamic on your own. It takes having someone else who can provide a reality check for the disrespectful spouse to get that spouse to see what they are really doing. The sooner you get help for this issue, the better, because the stakes–your children’s future faith–are too high.
For more information on books and faithful counseling resources, follow the links in the article above.