FreeThought Fort Wayne

        Be Reasonable

Now What? (A Response to Andy’s Personal Question)

Posted by mikebftw on June 13, 2008

(This is my response to Andy’s post from a few days ago.)

I’m a little envious of Andy’s brother for being able to handle a mixed-belief relationship so neatly, honestly, and openly. Surely it has to do with the character of the people involved, but there’s also a situational element that we shouldn’t overlook. That is to say, both participants came into the relationship with (I presume, from Andy’s description) existing, articulated worldviews. From this standpoint, as long as they were honest with each other, they couldn’t fail.

However, what happens when the order of events is reversed: first comes the relationship, then the worldviews? This best describes my relationship with my wife. We were both raised in Catholicism, but we weren’t exactly regular churchgoers at the time of our wedding. Being Catholic was simply a portion of our individual identities, and provided a base set of beliefs that we took for granted (i.e. there is a God, the basic Christian narrative is true, etc.), but to which we didn’t really commit much thought or effort. Originally, I was the one who suggested we get married in a church, but I was motivated more by the idea of “doing the right thing” than a particular closeness to the church or its doctrine. (We ended up getting married on a beach in a civil ceremony.) As most engaged couples hopefully do, we had several conversations regarding what kind of lifestyle we wanted together, how we would raise our children, and so forth. While we never committed to a stringently religious lifestyle, we did agree on raising our children as we were raised, in the Catholic church.

We had been married for about a year when I really started engaging in and scrutinizing my belief system. I have to admit that when you come to the realization of your naturalistic worldview, there’s nothing scarier than anticipating how your loved ones will react. So many questions came to mind – Am I a fraud for this? Am I still the same person she wanted to marry? What about our kids – can we find a compromise, or will one of us have to watch our children raised in a way that we completely disagree with? Again, we were never the most religious couple, but I still felt this kind of anxiety – I can’t imagine what a more devout couple would have to go through.

So, how does one deal with a mid-relationship change in beliefs? My personal experience is a work in progress. The first step is to appeal to the qualities necessary to make any relationship work: honesty, compromise, and a sense of humor. Honesty can be difficult, especially given the negative attitude toward atheism that dominates American culture. It’s just plain scary to face how the most important person in your life will react – it feels like you have more to lose in that moment than you know how to deal with. However, if your relationship is built on trust, you owe it to yourself and your partner to be completely honest. If you’re in the middle of a relationship, hopefully you’ve mastered the art of compromise by this point, so applying it to your beliefs is a logical transition. For my relationship, a sense of humor has always been most important. My wife and I have a knack for knocking each other down a peg if one of us is taking ourself too seriously. Presently, she likes to refer to our freethinker group as FWAC, as in “Fort Wayne Atheist Club,” pronounced “fwhack,” despite my insistence on calling it FreeThought Fort Wayne. She also (rightfully) makes fun of my sometimes nerd-a-rific interest in all things scientific. Meanwhile, I have found ways to tactfully poke fun at the sillier aspects of her beliefs, not in a mean-spirited way, but in a “funny ’cause it’s true” kind of way – like Dane Cook did.

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6 Responses to “Now What? (A Response to Andy’s Personal Question)”

  1. dystressed said

    Good points Mighty.

    It would be very difficult to get past such a major difference in belief between two people. As though marriage weren’t hard enough already. I hope it all works out. Maybe the wife would attend with you sometime and see that we’re not all out for the proverbial blood (or the literal kind of blood for that matter).

    I am looking forward to writing my post on Sunday and you have given me a good idea for a topic.

    Thanks

  2. theodoersing said

    I would just like to point out that even if your current worldview was adopted after your relationship with your wife, it did not happen in a vacuum. It would be a bigger problem if both you and your wife’s worldviews never changed, and you never changed. While it is possible you might change drastically as a person over time, as well one should through life and experiences, I wouldn’t be so worried as to think you are a completely different person than who your wife married. While people do fall out of love and sometimes cannot accept drastic changes in beliefs and habits, the fact remains you are still you.

    It is also necessary to point out that you are growing, not regressing. You are trying to make sense of your life and make positive steps, no matter what knowledge you are seeking.

    If you suddenly lost all drive to work, care and love and became despondent and sought your solutions through drinking or drugs, etc., then (aside from needing help) there would be much more concern for the integrity of your marriage. I obviously do not know your wife, and she may be more rigid and less forgiving than I imagine, but I’m willing to bet most people are willing to work through problems and life’s concerns.

    I can say from my own experience that I too have been worried that I am growing away from my wife. She has matured dramatically since we’ve been together, but I’m sure my worldview has become much more complex and important to me than hers has. She still stands behind me and loves me more than ever, as I her, but I worry I am not the man she fell in love with.

    I like to think I’m like a fine wine. I get better with age.
    Perhaps a better analogy would be likening me to taking a chance on a cheap stock that turns out to be a goldmine of a bargain in hindsight.

    Either way, give your wife reason to accept and love you for who you are (even if it is ever-changing) by showing it in your thoughts and actions. Only the hardest of hearts could not appreciate this, and if this were the case, it would be time to consider moving on.

  3. andyscathouse said

    Mighty,

    I vote we make a parody website called FWAC, pronounced “fwhack, like atheist an version of http://www.landoverbaptist.org/ but more in your face than the rational response squad.

    Your wife has a good sense of humor even if it is meant as a dig. I know this is serious and I am glad we are all talking about this…. This is a huge issue and I have many more posts on the subject. Yup, this is different than my brothers situation. However, I don’t think my brother is talking about children yet. I bet if they have children they will be raised Catholic.

    You are not betraying your past. This is honesty and yout search for the truth. Keep talking to her and give her some slack on the baby. We all made it out of the church. Reason will happen later but I suggest you educate about the diversity of religious and non-religious belief early. That is enough for now. Listen and Love.

  4. I am fortunate enough that my wife and I don’t really put a lot of weight on worldviews within our marriage. It’s just not an issue and never has been. We love each other, we agree for the most on how to raise our kids and still enjoy each other’s company.

    We will be going on our 11th year on July 1st and to be honest i’m the one who has changed the most, but then again between the two of us, I had the furthest to go. If anything I am catching up with her, if we look at this kind of thing as a progression.

    As long as “being an atheist” doesn’t become a central point in your life you should be fine. I think if you became a member of Opus Dei, your wife would probably have just as much of a problem with it, only because she may see these things as too extreme in either direction.

    Keep your wife and your kids as the focus of your marriage and you really can’t go wrong. Also, you should try buying her chocolate, women LOVE chocolate.

  5. mightymjolnir said

    Thanks all for the comments.

    I should probably mention, for my wife’s sake and mine, that we really are in a good place when it comes to what we believe and how that affects our relationship. On second read, my post seems a little overdramatic in places. That’s okay in that I wanted to reflect on the collision between the last throes of Catholic guilt and a newfound acceptance anxiety, but it came through a little stronger than I had originally intended. I also left out the important lesson that, especially for people as thoughtful as those I’ve met in FreeThought Fort Wayne, the reality of “coming out” is usually a lot less stressful than we may worry about. Looks like I need some more practice at this whole “writing” thing.

    m

  6. […] 18, 2008 by andyscathouse This is a follow up from my earlier post and Mighty’s asking, “Are you out with your family and friends about not believing in the […]

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