I recently came out (for the 2nd time) to my Catholic husband. It did not go well at all. He wants me to file for divorce if I choose to keep being atheist (as if I can just - poof! - start believing in God again). And if I try to make this marriage work by pretending to be Christian, he wants me to erase the atheism out of our oldest son (really? like our kid's a mindless programmable toy?) and teach the younger two all about the "wholesomeness and truth" of Christianity. Teaching about other beliefs is not an option, either. Living a lie is one thing, but having to teach my kids to believe this religious dogma is heart-wrenching.

Something that's bothering me greatly is that he says God is keeping him from going crazy. I care deeply about my husband even if it's not reciprocated back to me and don't want to cause him mental suffering. He's a good man, just a product of childhood religious indoctrination.

I am leaning toward staying in the marriage to keep our family intact, even if it means pretending to be Christian and promoting it to our kids (the bare minimum, though - just enough to please the husband). Has anyone made this choice? Any words of wisdom, pro or con?

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Your story is heart-wrenching.  There are many things I could say but I want to put this one thing out there, because you are very hung up on divorce as being bad for the kids.  My parents divorced when I was 7, and I think it is one of the best things they ever did.  They were not good together, and there was so much tension and unhappiness in the house that even a first grader could feel it.  Eventually they both remarried, and my step-parents never fit that "evil step" stereotype - they were both great people that I learned a lot from and who I feel lucky to have had in my life as I was growing up.

Divorce can be difficult on the kids - certainly, we struggled financially when my mom was a single mom, and there were sacrifices.  But  I think it is much, much worse to be raised in a house of secrets and lies and distrust.  Consider the model you are presenting for your kids (obviously, unlike your husband, you know they can't be easily fooled!) 

Just thought I would say this, as I don't want you thinking staying=good for kids and leaving=bad for kids, because that's not necessarily a true thing.  It may help to think of divorce as being a process, after which new possibilities and options await.  And I really do think you might benefit from counseling - it can't hurt to have someone to talk to in this difficult time, especially if you are struggling with depression.

My reasoning for staying in the marriage is my concern for the kids. If I couldn't be with them as much, what would dh be telling them about religion? At least now I can be a witness to such conversations and inject a little rationality to get the kids thinking more.

IMHO, if you go back to pretending, one of two things will happen. You will either end up back in this situation eventually, or live the rest of your life in a constant state of quiet unhappiness.

Put the burden on him since he's made the ultimatum. It sounds like either he is bluffing, or wants you to file because he has no legal grounds to file himself (depending on the laws of your state). If he thinks its a big enough issue to break up your family over, let it be by his hands, not yours. All you've done is be honest with yourself and him.

Spending this past month pretending to be something I am not has been more devastating than I thought it would be. Emotionally, I feel vacant. And it's not like before when I was just being quiet about my atheism. Now my husband is watching me carefully. There is a change in how he interacts with me. More cold, more silence. I feel like I lost my best friend and he's been replaced by an alien.

Our state has no-fault divorce, so it doesn't really matter who files for it. But he wants to do the deed. I refuse because I never want him to throw it in our kids' faces that I initiated things.

Your husband suggested divorce, it's on the table. I'd recommend against it if possible, but you should talk to legal counsel (one hour only!) for advice in that area, even if it is a no-fault state.

re: a prior response - If he's on the outs on catechism classes, he's probably of the right mind to eventually see the error of his ways.

Now for the kicker - If you aren't happy, the kids can tell. If you can defend your position the kids will pick up that mom is not gonna let this roll her over. Likely they already feel your opinion, even if they can't verbalize it. You gotta act for you!

I feel terrible about your situation, and am sorry I can't be of more help. As an atheist, you understand that this is the only life we have. My father told us, as early adults: "Life is to short to spend any of it in misery".

"...he is being highly controlling in an unhealthy manner."


this comment rigns true, to me.  many of the things you are saying sound similar to the defense of their husband by battered women.  while emotional vs. physical abuse are not equal, the effects can be just as devestating.  this is a highly personal issue, and a decision that can only be made by you.  childred certainly complicate things, but you also need to consider your own personal needs.  i wish you luck in this difficult time. 

I dated a Catholic girl.She was so brainwashed with the religious dogma.It has always got me how religious people believe you can just start believing in a god.I don't believe anyone can live a lie and that is what he is asking of you.

Sorry I'm so late to the party.

I'm wondering if anyone is addressing the actual problem. Human relationships are sometimes complicated, but also they sometimes have problems that are common.

There's this thing called hormones. We're all familiar with how they make us happy or caring or protective. But there seems to be, as I've gleaned over the years, a set of hormones designed to aid procreation. There are these itches - the three-year-itch, the five-year-itch, the seven-year-itch and the eleven-year-itch. The way it works, in my understanding, is that if you have not had a child in a given amount of time, those hormones that brought you together in the first place change and you find yourself uncomfortable around your mate/spouse. It's nature telling you that since you aren't procreating for some reason, you should find a new mate.

The upshot is that you begin to find fault with your spouse. It may be over finances or maybe you just can't stand to be in the same room with them anymore. You bicker, complain, and generally feel miserable. It's important to know about this because, in some cases, a marriage could be saved if you were aware of what is actually going on. Because it isn't about the finances or the habits or whatever else, it's about those persnickety hormones.

I can only imagine that throwing religion into the mix makes it even more volatile.

I was raised Catholic and my family was never staunch, but individuals would change their beliefs when they didn't match their needs or desires. For example, I had aunts who divorced at a time when that meant excommunication. There are varying degrees of Catholicism, and Catholics can be very tolerant. There's that old saying that all Jesuits are actually atheists . . .

So I have to ask, rhetorically, whether the real problem is about religion, or if that's a convenient wedge to attempt to regain control over an otherwise endangered relationship? And since this thread is months old, how is it going now?

Herk, you came to the party late but you brought with you an insight that I'm willing to bet will in a few years be supported by research: the itches you describe result from hormonal change.

In work I once did, I enjoyed the humor in the idea that when puberty begins Ma and Pa Nature replace a kid's blood with hormones. Those hormones are indeed powerful, and the hormonal change you suggest would have evolutionary advantage. Were I doing hormone research I would consider designing a study that would test for the existence of such change.

BTW, I spent two years in a Jesuit-taught high school and I enjoyed your point about their being atheists. It reminded me of a similar view among Buddhists: He who carves the Buddha does not worship the Buddha.

There actually has been research done on this. It's been a couple of years since I've read anything new about it so I don't have a link to hand, but I didn't make it up. It may not have been expressed exactly the way I worded it, but being an old coot, I remember going through something very similar myself. My daughter was about 10 when the itch hit.

Here's an article that at least touches on these problems.

And here's another article. I'm not finding one that specifically speaks to the opposing revulsion that drives people apart when they are no longer reproducing, but I have read about a study that specifically addresses that.

Herk, thanks for the leads to the articles. I might rework a few of their points into a short talk on brain chemistry and use it to springboard to a talk on free will and determinism, which I usually describe as a subject that keeps philosophy professors employed.




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