A year ago I sent my wife an email telling her that I no longer believed in God. I had been in hiding my atheism for about two years, at that time. We have two children. When I stopped believing in God my biggest fear was that my wife would leave me and that we would have to raise our kids in a split family. Not only that, I love my wife. I absolutely do, but I didn't know how she would react. I've heard story after story of marriages ending when one person loses their faith. And, I was raised in the faith, so I heard every single week what was preached from the pulpit about those who lose their faith. The only reason why anyone would leave the church was because of sin. The thing I never heard in church was that anyone would leave the faith do to an intellectual difference between what Christians accept as evidence and was is considered evidence in a scientific sense of the word.
I won't rehash why I lost my faith, I've written several blog posts that cover that in detail. What I think I've failed to talk about clearly in past posts was how completely trapped I felt once I lost my faith. When I got married, I believed in God so thoroughly that it was how I defined myself, above all else, I was a Christian. I told my wife that I would have never even considered marrying her if she wasn't a Christian. And, of course, she felt the same way. My biggest fear when I lost my faith was that this would destroy my marriage. And, coming to terms with realizing that everything that you've believed in for the majority of your life is completely false, feels a lot like the floor below you just dropped away. I was frustrated and angry, and I felt completely alone. Even talking about this with the one person I love the most, would change our relationship forever. So, I had no choice, but to hide my loss of faith.
That might have been what was driving me and my wife apart. Something was very wrong in our marriage, even before I lost my faith. It became harder and harder to talk to each other. Our marriage had become distant, and I hated the direction it was going. Talking about the problems only ignited another volley of angry nights. The catch 22 of the whole thing was I didn't want to talk to my wife about my faith because I didn't want to lose my family, and not talking about my faith was causing me to lose my family.
It's a whole different perspective on this side of the fence. What was it that was really the problem? We have a difference of opinion about the existence of a God. We're talking about a difference of opinion. That's it. Not spousal abuse, not adultery. It's not even in the same category. We are talking about different ideas about what we think of the world around us. Is that worth destroying a marriage for? Imagine if it was political and not religious, would you divorce if your spouse changed political parties?
Don't get me wrong, I know what it's like to be a Christian. I know how important faith is. And, I know that in the Christian faith, they are told that everyone who does not believe in God will spend eternity in Hell. Just the idea of Hell alone is enough to not ever question whether or not it's real, isn't it? I mean to question it, could cause you to be kicked out of Heaven, and who wants that? I understand what it's like, being that Christian who is terrified that all of your family members that you love, and aren't Christians, are going to Hell. And, it really is a huge leap to ask someone to step back from that belief and accept that it's ok for others to not believe in any of it. It's just as hard to realize that people who aren't Christians, aren't evil, they are good people, honest people, kind people ... just not Christians. I felt the same way. Anyone who isn't in the faith, isn't really to be trusted.
Like I said, I didn't know how my wife was going to react when I sent her that email. Emotionally, I think it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. She went through all the emotions I was afraid of. At first she was angry, but she also felt betrayed. I'm sure she was confused, and then she just felt like the trust between us had been broken.
I titled this post "For Better or For Worse" because going through this, I thought a lot about what my marriage vows really mean. When I got married, I had certain expectations of my wife. I wanted to marry a Christian. I wanted to raise our kids in a Christian home. What I had never really thought about is that people can change over time, sometimes dramatically. The person that you marry could change so much, that they might not even resemble the person that you married. The other thought that I hadn't considered before was, what if it's you who changes? And, also, when is a change like that enough to consider divorce?
My wife told me that last year, she started making plans for a divorce. My worse fear was about to come true. Somewhere in the midst of all that we were going through, our relationship began to change. We began to talk, really talk. I know I opened up like never before, and so did she. Looking back now, I was absolutely right, talking about this did change our relationship forever. My wife would probably describe it more like a miracle. It sort of feels like a miracle to me. My wife now accepts that I don't share her faith in God anymore, and she's come to terms with that. She knows that I love her and that I would do anything for her and for our kids. I am really looking forward to this Valentine's Day. It's a special day for us to take the time to truly appreciate that we have something special. It is something special to have someone to love. And, if that isn't living happily ever after, I don't know what is. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.