Q: What if your partner does not believe in God?

A: "Love thy neighbor as thyself" does not include the qualifier "unless your neighbor does not believe in God." We have known many people who hearing in daily news reports of atrocities committed in the name of God simply cannot bring themselves to use this word to describe what they feel in their hearts.
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Often, disbelief in God is a stand that the individual takes against the cruelty and destructiveness of organized religion. We do not have to feel personally attacked or disrespected by these people. Pressuring your partner to change his or her mind is not helpful to your partner or to you. Nor does it honor God, in whom we presume you believe.

In our opinion, having a partner who does not profess a belief in God does not have to be an insurmountable problem. We have counseled hundreds of couples who believed in God who nevertheless acted quite destructively toward each other, and we have counseled many couples who did not believe in God, or had differing beliefs, whose relationships were strong and happy.

We once counseled a woman whose primary complaint was that her husband refused to attend the spiritual-growth workshops and seminars that were so important to her. He also wouldn't read the books or listen to the tapes that she believed would help both of them develop spiritually. Needless to say, he also wouldn't attend church, and he did not like discussing anything having to do with God. All of this distressed her very much.

Central to our counseling approach is our belief that in a healthy relationship, neither partner attempts to change the other. When we asked this woman what her husband was like as a human being, she described him as "extremely kind and loving, a wonderful father, very tolerant," and "the kind of man people call when they need help."

We pointed out to her that she was living with a man who practiced, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He just didn't talk about it. He didn't conceptualize how he lived his life in religious or spiritual terms. We asked her which one of them was more consistently happy. She said that her husband was a much happier person than she.

We are not belittling the significance of a shared faith in God and the sense of unity that can come when two people are able to converse about God. However, if you are not willing to leave your relationship over the absence of this form of communication, then you will be happier if you accept it. This means that you do not attempt to change your partner's views about God. This also means you identify the deeper "triggering thought" behind the emotions you have around this issue, and then you release those emotions. There are many ways to let something go. You may have some tried-and-true methods for this. In case you do not, here are some that we find helpful:

  • See the One you turn to in prayer standing before you and watch as you hand over this thought and feeling.
  • See a blackboard with a description of this thought and feeling written on it. Take an eraser, perhaps an eraser touched by Divine light, and erase the board clean.
  • Put the thought and feeling into a yellow trash can. Secure the lid tightly. Tie a huge purple helium balloon to the trashcan. And watch as it floats up into the sky, never to be seen again.

    You don't have to convince yourself that it's OK that your partner doesn't believe in God, especially if this is something you feel very strongly about. All you are doing in letting go of the thoughts that distress you is stepping away from a useless battle. The instant you are aware of a desire to proselytize, criticize, judge, or pressure your partner, pause and take a moment to remind yourself that God's peace can be yours now.
    Hold your partner in your blessing and love, say a few gentle words of truth to yourself, then go about your day in peace.

    The important question in considering the health of your relationship is whether you each turn to the gentleness and peace of your hearts. In other words, the real issue is whether you support each other through difficult times and make life easier on each other. Do you and your partner experience oneness and love? Are you kind and tolerant? Are you quick to forgive? God is often just a word that we use without much thought. Yet if the two of you are experiencing goodwill and a deep connection, you are both experiencing a part of the reality of God. So do not destroy this experience over arguments about concepts of God. God is love. And after all, the experience of love is so much more valuable than any words about love.

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