I live on a sea of sand and alkali patches, in a barren desert, at the far end of a small sprawling community in Northern Nevada. Desolate, wind swept country. This is my hard won slice of paradise. Against all odds, I cultivate trees, flowers, vegetables, peace and contentment. This is my garden in the sun.
Hi Me -
Deconverting with a believing spouse/family is extremely difficult. Of course we want to share our thoughts and questions with our life partner and have them support and encourage our personal development, but at the same time we do not want to create or cause a rift in the relationship that costs us our marriage.
Everyone's situation is different, but I think the underlying fear of the believing spouse/family member is that they will lose the 'you' that they know and love deeply. They will fight fiercely to keep 'you' if they believe this is what is happening. But they are not losing 'you'. You will remain very much the same person, but probably slightly better because you will be more 'human' instead of being a reflection of someone else's expectations.
The believing spouse may also passionately believe they are required to give their full love and allegiance to god. The trick here is to prevent the relationship from polarizing into a type of 'power struggle' where the believing spouse comes to believe they must choose between their spouse and god. There are some things we can try to keep it from 'going there'.
Some of the competing needs that come in to play during deconversion are the deconverting person's need for support, authenticity and intimacy and the spouse's need for stability, connection, and unity.
1. Support - As we are deconverting (and after) we want and need the support of our christian friends/family, but the truth is that they (in most cases) lack the ability to support us. They truly cannot support us because it is too threatening and painful for them. We need to find others that we can talk to about our belief issues. Often, we only need one friend who can listen and understand. Fortunately on this site, there are many, many people who are able to do this.
It feels sort of weird to find support for something that is so important to us outside of our primary relationships, but there are other things we don't talk to our spouses about because it's too hard on them -- things like issues regarding past lovers or issues surrounding death.
2. Authenticity - The need for authenticity is very strong. We want the people we love to know the 'real' us. This need is particularly strong during deconversion. But deconversion is a tumultuous time when we often do not even know what we think. We feel confused, anxious, unsettled. A case could be made that it's wise to give oneself time (1-2 years) to let the tumult subside before speaking definitively about what's going on to the people we love. I spent several years dodging questions, because I did not know what the heck was going on and I knew they would only be alarmed by my unrest.
It can be helpful to believing spouses/family/friends to describe your experience in terms they understand. Saying you are experiencing a 'dark night of the soul' or 'experiencing a time in the wilderness' is something that is familiar to believers -- christian mystics often wrote about very lengthy dark nights of the souls and Moses, the Children of Israel, John the Baptist and Jesus all spent time in the wilderness. This is something they might be able to have some patience and concern for in ways that they will not be able to have patience and concern for a time of 'serious disbelief' or 'doubting god's existence'.
3. Intimacy - When we fell in love with our spouses, sharing the same belief system was important, but it was only one of many important things that made us want to share a life together. Sometimes our religious beliefs are an underlying 'given' (unspoken assumptions) in relationships and don't really come out in every day life beyond grace at mealtime and comments about 'that was a great sermon', even in very committed Christian families.
If we can manage it during the turmoil of deconversion, we can focus on deepening and strengthening all the other areas of the relationship that are attractive and important to us. We can also support and invest in our spouse's efforts at personal growth and listen carefully for non-religious areas in their life where they are trying to grow.
Meanwhile, our spouses/family need our reassurance of stability, connection, and unity.
4. Stability - Deconversion is hardly a 'strong suit' in relationships, but we can find ways to tell our spouse/family how important they are to us, how glad we are to have them in our lives, the things we love about them, and how we appreaciate the ways that our uniquenesses (not differences) help us develop into better people.
5. Connection - We can look for, strengthen, and enhance (or develop) the ways we connect outside of sitting next to each other in a church building. Church attendance provides a weekly structure where everyone is together. But other things can also serve this purpose, like walks or games or movies or crafts or projects or going to a park or whatever. These are all ways that our spouse and family can feel that important connection to us instead of the horrible feeling that we are slipping away from them.
6. Unity - When we deconvert, our views may diverge on some things but we will still share many views in common. Notice these areas of unity and build them up by verbally saying, 'I agree with you' or "I'm so glad you agree with me." or "I'm so glad I have your help in this." or "We make a great team with these kids we are trying to transform from barbarians into civilized humans." or whatever.
No one likes to feel that they disagree on important issues with people they care about, but the truth is we didn't agree about everything before and never expected that we would.
We already have experience navigating differences in our marriages and there are many inter-generational differences that we somehow manage to navigate in our families (tattoos and piercings, anyone?) as well as doctrinal differences that families find a way to let 'slide' (our extended family happily co-exists with various siblings attending reformed churches, 4 square churches, calvary chapels, methodist churches, baptist churches, and church plants). Unity can still be strengthened even when we don't agree.
I don't mean to make all this sound easy. It's not. It's painful and terrifying and difficult and sometimes it doesn't work. It sounds like you, your husband, and your family are having a tough time. You might be able to plead the 'wilderness/dark night of the soul', tell them you need a break, ask them to pray for you (to make them feel better), and then try some new ways to meet your needs and their needs.
Let us know how it goes. There are a lot of people here who care about you.
Today's NQ is by Thinktank who gives fantastic advice about getting through deconverting from Christianity and still maintaining your marriage and family relationships. Thanks Thinktank for this well thought out information.