In the winter of 2016, I told my wife I wanted to become Catholic. She didn’t understand my motivation, and she was somewhat uneasy about it for a small period of time. As like most people in similar situations, feelings of betrayal developed within her.
We were both Baptist and that’s pretty much all we’d known since being a Christian. My wife had seen small interests and the questions I asked over time about my dissatisfaction with Protestantism, but it never really registered to her why I did those things.
So hearing the news about Catholicism was a gap in our understanding that we eventually had to overcome. It was causing us to tiptoe around spiritual discussions while we were going about our regular marital life.
Then there was a breaking point!
We had to have those hard band-aid peeling off conversations. By a series of honest vulnerable conversations and laying all our opinions and hang-ups totally open to each other, we were able to establish a better mutual understanding of why I wanted to become Catholic and what it meant for our marriage as we were officially to become a mixed denominational marriage.
Fast forward a year and things have been much better! From attending Mass together, to subtly asking more questions, my wife has taken a more investigative view of the Church. Is she at the point of conversion? At least what I can tell, no. But that’s not a cause for disappointment at all. So does this mean there’s no more uneasiness? Our marriage isn’t perfect by no means, so occasionally old honest conversations are revisited. The thing that has changed is our response to them. We’ve matured. I like to think that we’re no longer those people who came to the table with such strong views but have managed to be more reconciling and understanding.
This post will outline the 4 top things you can do if you’re embracing a mixed denomination marriage or in a similar situation as I was.
1. Continue to worship together in the faith tradition the non-converting spouse is committed to
Although you may not be a part of the tradition, take time to attend with your spouse the faith community they belong to. This shows that you’re still committed to maintaining your sense of “we” in the marriage even though the non-converting spouse may not be fully committed to embracing your new-found faith tradition. That’s totally fine. Remember you placed upon them something totally foreign and they need time to adjust.
I started attending Mass in mid-April of 2017, and my wife didn’t attend officially attend until sometime in May. Nowadays, depending on the time, I will attend the 9 a.m. mass and make it in time to catch my wife getting dressed for the 11:30 a.m. service at her preferred faith community. Other times, I will attend a 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. service and my wife will always accompany.
Overall, just be willing to put in the effort to show that your spouse’s spiritual needs that they feel are best met at their preferred faith community are still a priority for you.
The last thing you want to do is create a denominational wedge in marriage over my church vs. your church. Or even worse, stop finding moments of spiritual closeness at all.
2. Be ready to address any questions they may have about the “why’s ” of your faith tradition
Pur yourself from their perspective. You walk into a place where you’ve never been and literally everything seems so strange to them. From the music, prayers, the order of service, it seems like a totally different environment from the perspective of the non-converting spouse.
Your spouse may have tons of questions about why certain traditions and practices are starkly different. Therefore, you need to be somewhat knowledgeable about those things if the questions ever arise.
I can remember one time my wife accompanied me to Adoration. I had to explain to her briefly on the way home the doctrine of Transubstantiation so she could better understand why I visited often.
On another occasion, my wife asked me “why do Catholics worship Mary?” Which lead to an explanation of her title and why Catholics properly venerate her.
If you don’t have an answer, it’s ok to follow-up when you do. Just remember to be attentive to their mindfulness.
3. Don’t force your spouse to convert, but instead live your life by being an example of this newfound faith you have
If you’re converting for your spouse, make the faith your own not what your spouse wants it to be for you. Love of Jesus Christ can’t be robotic, but it’s from the heart.
As I mentioned earlier about my marriage, my wife isn’t at the point for conversion to Catholicism and that’s fine with me. God has His own timing and work. What am I to do? Let my actions speak for me. Let my actions speak for the newfound love and appreciation of God I have in the Church.
Actions speak louder than words. You’re supposed to be a light and example of your faith in the world anyway, so why not be the best example to your spouse. They may not understand every belief or dogma, but the way you live your life demonstrates the effectiveness of the changed life you claim to embrace.
I try to live out my new found conversion in such a way that shows my wife why I think Catholicism is truthful and thereby deserves my faith. From my reading to the books I buy, or podcast I listen to I try to show why it’s so important that Catholicism gets my attention.
Some weeks ago, my wife purchased a book called Waking Up Catholic: A Guide to Catholic Beliefs for Converts, Reverts, and Anyone Becoming Catholic. Since I had so many books on Catholicism, she thought it would be a wasteful Christmas gift so she gave it to me earlier. I am very happy to receive the book. I think its actions like this that demonstrate something in my example I’m doing ok that prompted her to buy it. She thought of my faith formation when buying this book.
I sometimes joke and tell her, “The book is really for you not for me that’s why you bought it. ”
4. Have difficult conversations to understand each other
To the converting spouse
-You just can’t go in marriage doing things on your own. You have someone else’s well-being, and thoughts to take into consideration. Therefore, if you are to make any sudden faith tradition changes, address the concerns or doubts you’re having earlier rather than later. Your spouse can have a better understanding of where you’re coming from to better support you.
To the non-converting spouse
Be open-minded to truly hearing everything your spouse has to say. Initially, it will sound like an atomic bomb dropped on your lap, but with empathy comes a greater understanding of the questions in your spouse’s head.
Take time to hear everything that is said. This doesn’t mean the end of the world for your marriage.
Overall, in the Sacrament of Marriage, a couple should strive to maintain marital unity and fidelity at all costs. Therefore, if you are to embrace a mixed denominational marriage, do everything in as much charity and clarity as possible. For the good of each other and for the oneness that needs to be maintained.