One of the most significant and common struggles that people who are drawn to the Catholic Church encounter is knowing how to navigate their faith journey when their spouse doesn’t share their same interest in becoming Catholic.
The sense of loneliness, confusion, and dismay that you and your spouse can feel is a difficult, painful cross, especially when beforehand you had both been joyfully united in your faith journeys. While each marriage is different and, unfortunately, there is no perfect answer or solution, in our work with many couples over the years, we’ve found that there are some strategies and practical steps that can help make the path a bit more smooth for couples when it seems like God is calling one spouse towards the Catholic Church but not the other.
One of the most important overall aspects to keep in mind and work hard on is your general attitude towards your spouse. God might be doing amazing things in your faith journey, and you might be discovering beautiful things about the Catholic Faith, but remember that your spouse might find the entire experience to be bewildering and anxiety-provoking, and they might be very concerned for your soul if they have lots of misunderstandings about the Catholic Church. So your attitude towards whatever resistance or hesitancy they have needs to be one of love. First of all, genuinely listen to their concerns or at least let them know that you want to try and understand their perspective and are available to listen when they are ready. Always try to be respectful of their concerns, and don’t rush to hasty rebuttals or defenses. This isn’t an argument to be won; it’s a dialog with a person you are called to love deeply and with whom you have become one flesh. Reaffirm that this interest in the Catholic Church isn’t making you love them any less and that you are still committed to living a harmonious life together.
Try also to find out what exactly your spouse is concerned about. Is it the belief that Catholics aren’t really Christian? Are they concerned that you won’t be going to church together? Is it that you won’t be on the same page spiritually? Is it just general anxiety about what this change might involve? Is it concern over what friends and family will think? When you know what exactly is bothering your spouse, it can be easier to work together towards a resolution and a common understanding.
Be sure in all of this to set a good example to your husband or wife. Show concretely through your everyday witness that this desire to become Catholic is making you a better spouse, a better parent, a better Christian. Honestly admit when you have failed, and resolve to do better. If your spouse sees a change for the better in your life, it can be a powerful way to help break down barriers and calm fears. Read about the Catholic theology of marriage and how the sacrament of marriage is a beautiful means of grace. The Theology of the Body as articulated by Pope Saint John Paul II can be a tremendous way to better appreciate how we are called to make of ourselves a gift to our spouse.
Be cognizant that a faith journey is just that, a journey and not a race. It can often be beneficial to a marriage for one spouse to wait and not move forward as quickly as he or she would like when the other spouse is particularly resistant to the Catholic Church or is having a hard time. God can use all things for the good, and a period of waiting can yield abundant fruit in your marriage and also faith life. (The Chosen People spent 40 years in the desert after all.) Remember, God knows the unique challenges you face and loves your spouse even more than you do. Try to avoid being too hasty and hurting them more. A period of waiting for the other to be more accepting of your faith journey can also be an opportunity to grow in your own faith. Perhaps it is waiting a few weeks, a few months, or even a year or more. Discern what is best for your specific situation. If you feel that waiting to move forward with your desire to become Catholic is needed, be sure to unite this cross with Jesus’ in prayer for unity and harmony in your marriage.
Also, through this journey be sure to seek out good spiritual counsel. It can be difficult to be able to make good decisions when there are so many conflicting emotions and issues to sort though. Being able to dialog with a spiritual mentor such as a priest or spiritual director can bring clarity and peace to your situation.
Sometimes, too, meeting with a marriage counselor can help you identify and work through struggles you are having. Don’t be afraid to consider counseling for the good of your marriage. If your spouse won’t go to counseling, you can always go on your own to learn strategies to help your marriage heal and flourish.
Through it all, and above all, keep prayer at the center of your life. Pray for your spouse. When possible, pray with your spouse. Find ways to continue to keep God at the center of your marriage. Sacrifice for him or her. (Give up coffee, sweets, or a favorite indulgence for the needs of your spouse.) Go to Mass and Eucharistic Adoration and lay your marriage before the altar. Ask for the intercession of the Holy Family and the saints in helping you and your spouse to come to a greater unity. You can also ask God to bring someone else into your spouse’s life to help him or her understand your faith journey better. They may respond better to another source.
Overall, give yourself and your spouse time to discern how best to proceed and work through your struggles. Know that it might take a lot of patience and trial and error in knowing how you and your spouse can best work together when your faith journey is drawing towards the Catholic Church, and your spouse doesn’t share that same draw. Pray, discuss, and discern God’s leading in your faith journey and in your marriage. Trust in His love for you and your spouse. God’s timing is not always ours, but believe that He truly desires the best for you and your marriage. May your love for Him and your spouse deepen and flourish. If the Coming Home Network International can be of help to you in your faith journey, please reach out to us!
When Only One Converts by Lynn Nordhagen