Idol Marriage

January 31 2020 | by

DEAR DR. POPCAK: My husband and I were married in the Catholic Church. He attends a Christian church and takes the Bible as the literal word of God. I attend Mass faithfully; he attends his church occasionally. Someone wisely said before we got married that this division could cause a rift in our marriage. Unfortunately, I ignored this advice. We have many other problems between us, but religion seems to be the biggest. In a spirit of trying to repair our not-yet-one-year-old marriage, I compromised. I told my husband I still want to keep my weekly adoration hours (in the middle of the night which doesn’t impact him) and I will still pray a daily Rosary on my morning run. However, I agreed to attend his church instead of going to Mass on Sundays. My question is, how do I maintain my Catholic faith if I can no longer (by choice for the good of the marriage) attend Sunday Mass?


I appreciate the struggle that you are facing and your desire to find a way to both care for your marriage and live your faith. 

I need to start by saying that faith differences are usually challenging, but they are not always problematic. They certainly do not automatically lead to the level of conflict that you are experiencing in your marriage. In fact, some couples manage their religious differences quite well. That’s important to realize, because where religion is the source of division in a marriage, it is almost never really about religion. It is almost always about a failure of respect.

Respect is the quality that enables one person to see the truth, goodness, and beauty in the things the other finds true, good, and beautiful. Marriage researcher John Gottman describes it as the willingness to “accept influence.” Happy, healthy couples are willing to learn from each other, to be challenged by each other, and to love each other more than they love their own comfort zones. Happy, healthy spouses may not always be naturally inclined to appreciate all the things their mate finds worthwhile, but because they love their spouse, they want to do their best to love the things their spouse loves too.

In short, you don’t have a religion problem. You have a respect problem. Specifically, your husband doesn’t respect you – not just about religion, but I suspect, in general.

Want proof? Let’s take it off the religion question. You mention that you and your husband have “many other” problems. Ask yourself how you resolve any other issue where you both have strong opinions, but don’t see eye-to-eye. My guess is that you give into him in those situations as well out of a desire to get along. Which brings us to another problem: your idea of a compromise.

You appear to be confusing compromising with capitulation. Your idea of a compromise is to effectively live your faith in secret or, where it might inconvenience him in the slightest, give it up entirely. The only world on which that would be considered a “compromise” is Planet Codependence.

A real compromise would have you make the mutual commitment to both go to each other’s churches every week and talk about what you found interesting, challenging, and/or uplifting.  The conversations about your differences would then lead you both to pray more, study more, and, ultimately have more conversations about what you’ve learned because of each other’s influence. If you couldn’t bring yourselves to be this mature about your differences, then at the very least, an alternate compromise would be making time in your schedule to make sure that both of you could go to your own churches individually every week.

While your desire to repair your marriage is admirable, the way you are going about it is effectively making an idol out of it. Your husband has declared himself a part-time pagan deity and is insisting that you grind up your Catholic faith and burn it as incense at the altar of his ego. Marriage is only sacred to the degree that it facilitates your relationship with God and his Church. Your husband does not have the right to ask you to choose between your marriage and your faith. In fact, by marrying in the Church, your husband made a promise, before God, to help you live your Catholic faith to the fullest. You have a right to hold him accountable to that promise. And if he didn’t really mean it, then you have a different sort of problem altogether – one that potentially goes to the validity of your marriage.

If you really want to repair your marriage I encourage you to seek competent, marriage-friendly counseling to address the overall failure of respect in the relationship. Until then, you will continue to feel spiritually and emotionally suffocated even if give up your faith entirely.

Updated on January 31 2020