Three Years

by Alise


This month marks three years since my husband told me that he no longer believed in any kind of God.

After three years, I feel like I should be able to talk about this easily. Being three years into something generally brings a bit of comfort. You know that you don’t have all of the answers, but you also aren’t a complete novice any more. You’ve got some experience. You’ve got some language to express what is going on.

I still feel as new to this whole interfaith marriage thing as I did that afternoon in our living room.

When people ask me how I cope having a husband who is an atheist, I never know how to answer.

Depending on who is asking, I know they are probably looking for a particular answer.

Some are looking for the sad story. How it grieves my heart that he’s no longer a believer. How I pray constantly for his soul to be saved. How being unequally yoked is a burden that weighs heavy.

Some are looking for the angry story. How I’m pissed that he changed his spiritual beliefs after almost thirteen years of marriage. How I can’t believe that he’d leave me as the sole spiritual advisor to our four children.

Some are looking for the inspiring story. How I maintain a quiet and gentle spirit so that I might win him back. How I radiate peace and calm in the face of these trying circumstances.

I’m always afraid that I’m going to let someone down. I’ll let down the Christian community because I’m not working hard enough to convert my unsaved husband when there’s an expectation that I should be doing more. I’ll let down the atheist community because I do miss the religious connection that we shared and I’m not quiet about that. Feeling sad is negative, feeling content is negative. I’ll let down the others who are in mixed faith marriages because I don’t have neat answers to their questions.

When we first started this journey, I was so frustrated because I couldn’t find stories. How could men and women in mixed faith marriages not be writing about it? How could they not be sharing their experience so I could know how I was supposed to feel? Why was I so alone in this when I knew that I was not alone in this?

But now, three years later, I understand better.

There isn’t a single story to tell.

It’s sad and angry and inspirational all mixed together. The emotions catch me off guard. A sense of loneliness on a Sunday morning when I’m in the middle of a worship song that we used to sing together.  A hint of frustration when I am unable to ask my spouse to pray with me about something troubling.  A feeling of gratitude that I am able to navigate this road with the person that I love the most in the whole world.

That’s the most important thing. No matter how much I feel like I need to have the right answer, no matter how conflicted I feel as I try to sort out what that answer even is, almost sixteen years ago we promised we would love one another no matter our circumstances.

Nothing that happened three years ago can change that.

59 Responses to “Three Years”

  1. Preston October 2, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    You stayed. For me, that’s the most God-revealing. Thank you, friend.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 5:11 am #

      We BOTH stayed. This informs much of my view of God and salvation.

      • Heather October 2, 2012 at 9:17 am #

        Ditto – that is huge and the hardest thing. And yes, our stories are never one thing. Thanks for sharing the the honest, complex truth.

  2. Tamara October 2, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    A tear and a smile. You know I know. xo

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      I know. Thank you for being another to walk this journey with me.

  3. Sheila October 2, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Beautiful Alise – as usual, you are authentically real. I relate to every part of this because of my own journey. Thank you for your courageous transparency. I realize that anything else I’d try to say here would be, well, expected or predicted or scripted. Not appropriate to what you’ve shared.

    Both of you keeping your promise blesses me beyond telling.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:41 am #

      Thanks, Sheila. There’s always going to be an element of expected with this. I think most of the issue lies with me, not with other people.

  4. Christie October 2, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Well said. I admire your honesty and am glad that you and your husband have found a way to navigate this new course together.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:45 am #

      I think it’s mostly through laughter. We do like to do that a lot.

  5. Ed October 2, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    powerful, tough, and beautiful post. it’s not up to you to provide the narrative people crave, especially if there is genuine concern for you.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:55 am #

      I think it’s mostly that I don’t want to hear that I’m doing my marriage AND faith wrong. One or the other, maybe, but both feels a little overwhelming. And when you start talking about writing, it’s not just for the people who care about you as a person – you become an issue. (Which is a post for another day.)

  6. Sarah Askins: Poet-Writer October 2, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Beautiful, Alise. This is your story, and no one has the right to conform it their idea! Love this, friend.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:02 am #

      Love you back! And I think you make a good point. I feel like *I’m* the one who should be conforming, but nope. I can just tell the story.

  7. Jessica October 2, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Alise, thanks for sharing a story, so that those of walking similar paths can relate even though all the stories will be different.

    I think what bothers me most about the perspectives or comments I’ve encountered on interfaith marriage, especially if one partner has no professed faith, not just a different faith, is the assumption that your spiritual beliefs are the truest part of you, therefore there’s something missing in the partner with no faith.

    I think spirituality is a key part of all humans, but I think that spirituality can be worked out in so many different ways not just through religious beliefs or spiritual practices. For me its come down to the values of family, love and respect, I see my husband living out, faith or no faith. There’s nothing “missing”.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:12 am #

      I wrote a few years ago about “Christ at the center of our marriage” being a bad phrase. I believed that for a long time, but it’s just not biblical. And I agree with you entirely – I don’t see missing in my husband. It’s different, but it’s not less.

  8. Miles O'Neal October 2, 2012 at 8:13 am #

    “Almost sixteen years ago we promised we would love one another no matter our circumstances.

    “Nothing that happened three years ago can change that.”

    I know you don’t like pat answers (that’s evident ion your writing). But when caught off guard, those two sentences seem like a really good answer. If it’s not the answer they want, that’s their problem.

    And there’s the crux (sic) of your problem. You aren’t letting anyone down. All you need to be is honest. You are responsible for you, not them. If you have a better answer at the moment, great. I pray God gives you insight into the people asking, so that you have an answer that impacts them deeply. That’s what happened with Jesus, and I pray it happens with you.

    Either way, if they feel let down, it’s because they set themselves up for failure by setting you up. Either way, you only have to be you– not their Answer.

    I generally won’t even ask such questions any more unless I really know the person, or unless it’s clear it’s a good time and I sense God in it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

    When my son was 14 or 15, he finally admitted something I had suspected for a year. he no longer believed. As a youth pastor, I got looks and questions. Pretty much my only answer, whether people asked how I felt, or how I coped, or what I was going to do, or anything else, was “I love my son. It’s between him and God.”

    The best thing you can do for your husband is hold on tight to Daddy God, and live out the two great commandments. From your writing, you’re doing a great job.

    Kudos to you both. And if I may, hugs for you both.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Deconversion is hard to understand if you’ve never been through it. When you’ve lived through it with someone, it’s far easier to see how they got there, but for those who have not, it’s just confusing. And I’ve found that it can be easier for those on the outside to talk to the ones who are still “in” than the ones who have left, which makes things extra awkward.

      And yes, we both like hugs, especially me! ;-D

  9. Gabrielle Sutherland October 2, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    What a beautiful and inspiring post. We don’t know each other, but you have touched me. Thank you.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

      Thank you for your comment. That means a lot to me.

  10. Lore Ferguson October 2, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    I echo Preston’s comment. This is good. I like it.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm #

      Thanks Lore! I appreciate it!

  11. Mary DeMuth (@MaryDeMuth) October 2, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    I so appreciate your gut honesty here, and that there are no easy stories to tell.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

      Exactly. If we’re true in the telling of our stories, they get messy really fast. Thank you for the kind words, Mary.

  12. the Blah Blah Blahger October 2, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Okay, seriously…this gave me the chills. Thank you for being an example of how to BE love!

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

      Thanks! That is always my hope in my relationships.

  13. Diana October 2, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Ah, friend. You owe no one anything – no explanation, no exegesis, no rationale, not one thing. I am truly sorry that people make comments that cut through your own sense of identity – as a wife and/or as a follower of Jesus. Your husband’s journey is HIS journey; your journey together is YOUR journey. And I am sure for you, as wise and honest as you are, it is indeed a mix of things – loneliness, sadness, frustration at times. But also a deepening sense of wonder at your own commitment to one another, which is a beautiful and to-be-treasured thing. Thanks for your honesty in this place – you model it so well for the rest of us.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Thank you, Diana. I have found that most are profoundly supportive of us, but I don’t like to let people down, and even if they don’t say that, I sometimes feel like I am. That’s a me problem more than anything else.

      I just wish honesty had some easy answers once in a while ;-D

  14. Amanda October 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    I’m just excited for an excuse to be your friend. Thank you, Deeper Family family.

    Beautifully and honestly told, Alise. I’ll be thinking of this one, on many levels, for a while. Thank you.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Thank you, Amanda. I feel the same way!

  15. laura @ hollywood housewife October 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    I grew up in an interfaith family and chose an interfaith marriage. I totally understand that these emotions can be complicated, which is why I’m one of the people NOT writing this story. Thank you for attempting to put words to it, I loved reading this today.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

      I expect the choosing of an interfaith marriage is a whole other thing. For us, it was a change, which throws a different kind of expectation. But really, once you’re IN it, the way you do it is pretty much the same.

      And yeah, complicated doesn’t even begin to explain it some days. (Of course, that it’s tremendously UNcomplicated is a whole other thing to try to explain! Ha!)

  16. Guy October 2, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

    I love your comment on both of you staying and the effect its had on your view of God as much as I did your post. Thanks for sharing what seems so graceful and delicate of a situation.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      Thanks. It’s funny – I was always the wooshier of the two of us in our faith, but his deconversion so changed how I view God. It’s been scary and beautiful.

  17. kim October 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Thanks, Alise. You owe none of us any particular story. But, I so want you to keep telling us your’s – it’s really beautiful.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Thank you, Kim. It’s an honor that people support us in the telling.

  18. HopefulLeigh October 2, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I love how honestly and authentically you navigate these issues, Alise. There are no easy answers, no “one size fits all” explanation. This is life, messy, complicated, beautiful. Thank you for continuing to share this aspect of your marriage with us.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

      Thank you. I like sharing the other stuff more, because that’s the WHOLE of it. But this part also matters. I’m grateful for a spouse who is okay with the telling as well. He’s pretty awesome.

  19. Kirsten LaBlanc October 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    Thank you for posting this. I know & I know why no one writes about it. I think there is a certain sense of guilt and maybe shame in it. None of it is deserved but I think it’s so often there. Anyway – thank you for making me feel not so alone.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

      Yup. I’m working on some larger stuff about this, and the guilt part is HUGE. I’ve tried writing it into a blog post, but it’s so hard to explain in 500 words.

      Anyway, I remember how alone I felt in those early weeks after my husband told me. I don’t want people to feel that, so I’ll keep looking for those words and tossing them out there.

  20. Ryan October 2, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    I just discovered your blog today, so I haven’t had a chance to dig around…so you probably discuss this at more length elsewhere (and feel free to not respond if you do–I will dig around and find it). But 3 years out, are you glad your husband was honest with you about his deconversion? Or would it have been better for you and your family if he had kept quiet about it and continued going through the motions? I am nearing a similar decision myself, and while I want to be honest with my wife, I fear very much that it will be too painful.

    Regardless, thank you for sharing this.

    • Alise October 2, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

      On my blog, look through the “interfaith” tags. Those are the ones where I write about our story. And honestly, there aren’t a lot, because really, it’s difficult to write about. Or at least, difficult for me to write about as well as I’d like.

      But anyway, yes, I’m glad that he was honest. That’s the person that he IS, so I want to know what’s going on in his brain. He was kind of a mess when he was sorting that out (for about a year before he told me), so even though it was really hard to hear, I still appreciate that he was honest.

      It probably will be painful. You’ll probably both do/say things that aren’t awesome. I will say for you, have some kind of support in place. My husband took a while to find an atheist group to connect with, and I think that made it hard on him. I had my church family to lean on – he was doing it on his own.

      I wish you well.

  21. Meg October 2, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Thank you thank you thank you for this. It’s probably been about two years since my husband abandoned his faith. It’s so hard. I feel so alone, like nobody understands. I feel like most of my Christian friends judge me for it. I’m terrified of so many things. We don’t have kids yet but I’m scared…so scared. It’s comforting to hear of others going through this and talking about it. My heart aches for you. A tear rolls down my cheek as you speak of worshiping alone and not having your prayer partner anymore. I’m so there. But you’re right. We promised God and each other forever. And that’s enough to get me through each day.

    • Alise October 3, 2012 at 5:49 am #

      I’m sorry for your loss, Meg. I know it’s our spouse’s loss as well, but I think we need to acknowledge our loss in this. I’ve found that I want to be strong and not hurt him by grieving, but it’s essential to helping keep my marriage strong.

      Much love to you & your husband.

  22. Victoria Brown October 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    Thank you for being so transparent. Your writing provides comfort for others (myself included) to be “ok” with not having all the answers to what life throws us. And Iam encouraged to have more open conversations with my loved ones. Thank you.

    • Alise October 5, 2012 at 6:37 am #

      I’ve tried having answers. And I still LIKE to have answers. But I’m learning to live more comfortably in the questions.

  23. Kristin T. (@kt_writes) October 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Alise, if nothing else, you’ve perfectly described the tension of being in a place where everything you feel or say is sure to upset *someone.* And that’s something! It’s a place I often find myself in, even though my story is different from yours. Just trying to tell the story and express how stuck you sometimes feel is important in terms of helping others feel less alone. I pray that it will also move your audience to offer you more grace, so you can more freely tell the stories you need to tell.

    • Alise October 5, 2012 at 6:40 am #

      I know that you know all about always upsetting SOMEONE. When your experience doesn’t line up with the narrative (except for when it does), it can be hard to know how to write about it. I don’t like to give credence to the script, because that’s not entirely true, but there’s truth contained in it, and that needs to be shared too. It’s a tough line to walk. I’m thankful for the way that you share your story, because it helps me know how to share my own.

  24. Tanya Marlow October 5, 2012 at 2:01 am #

    Alise – this was brilliant. I love your insight here. Like Kristin says above, though I’m not in your situation, I can so relate to the ‘I know you want me to tell X story about my life but that’s not the story – there is no story, there’s just living it’. You expressed it so well, and I feel like I’ve gained an fresh insight into your life, your love for your husband and I’m struck again by the cost of promising ‘for better for worse’ and how beautiful it is to see that lived out.

    Lots of thoughts from this, which are all tumbling out – I hope this makes sense. Thank you.

    • Alise October 5, 2012 at 6:44 am #

      Thanks, Tanya! I’m sure there’s plenty that’s not all that beautiful here, but I’m grateful for all of it. Can’t imagine anyone else that I’d rather take this journey with!

  25. Ashley October 5, 2012 at 12:01 pm #

    Deconversion – I haven’t heard that term before, but it’s fitting.

    I’m the spouse who left the faith. Not sure I’m a full-on Atheist but I’m not a Christian. I was always the devout one, though. I’m not anti-religion or church, and maybe that’s another reason why my husband hasn’t really balked. I’m ok with our kids believing, I’m still drawn to theology…I just don’t believe anymore.

    The struggle that seems most evident in our marriage is based on more cultural things, I think. In my background, even though it’s a very religious one, it’s more common to see agnostics & atheists. They’re considered misguided or wrong, but that’s it. In my husband’s background, non-believers are almost seen as evil, as people to fear and not to be trusted in almost any context. He doesn’t believe those things but I know he isn’t trumpeting the fact that his wife is no longer a believer to anyone.

    I wrote about part of this (leaving the faith) in a series of posts on my blog – they’re on the front page if you’re interested. Since writing it out I’ve been contacted by a number of others who’ve left the faith, but I know very few people who were devout and/or in ministry who then left over lack of belief. Some had a traumatic experience which caused them so much hurt that they lost faith, but it’s been a struggle for me to find stories of those who once believed whole-heartedly and then things changed & they just couldn’t believe any longer. Like you said – where are the stories? But I do understand why. It took me months to get the courage to tell my close circle of friends, another couple years to write the public blog posts, and I spent a week or two after posting them emotionally exhausted. Plus, when you tell people, many consider it an invitation to begin trying to persuade you back into the faith. NOT FUN.

    My Christian friends don’t really understand how it could have happened, though they know my story. When I was a Christian, I didn’t understand how others could leave the faith. I figured they must have never truly believed. Now I know that’s not true.

    And strangely now I lurk on Christian blogs like this. :)

    • Alise October 7, 2012 at 5:36 am #

      Thanks for de-lurking for a minute! I have read a little on your site (and will be going back for more when I have a bit more time), but your journey sounds very similar to my husband’s. His searching was definitely triggered by a couple of life events, but it wasn’t one huge trauma that made him hate the church or anything like that. And he’s not particularly hostile toward the church either, which does make things a bit easier for both of us (that I’m not willing to give the church a pass for everything also helps, I’m sure!).

      I look forward to reading more about your journey. I think it’s good to see people being honest about that no matter what side they’re on, even when it’s difficult to articulate. Have a lovely day!

  26. Lynette October 9, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    It’s been about three years for us too. All those things that spin around in my heart about this, you have put into words so beautifully. It feels a little less lonely today – thank you for sharing.

  27. Katie October 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    Its been one year for us. I agree that while no story is the same, its comforting to see someone else who is also going down this path and hear how its been for them, to not feel so alone. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Pam M. December 4, 2012 at 11:00 am #


    After reading your most recent post, Unfulfilled Expectancy, I just HAD to come over here to read this one. Again, words escape me. But I will thank you, ever so gratefully, for your honesty, your transparency. Life is certainly NOT a sitcom, is it? In real life, painful difficulties and conundrums do not get fixed and aren’t wrapped up with a pretty red bow in less than thirty minutes. You are not alone in this situation, but knowing that doesn’t often help. I know that well.

    Thank you so much for being fearless in sharing your story.

  29. Peggy January 9, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    if we try to live up to other’s expectations, we lose that which The Lord meant us to be. thank you for sharing how you are dealing with this… I find your sharing to be a testament to living one’s faith… the Strength you lean on… how He gets you through, moment by moment… God Bless- Peggy


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