She’s Everything I Want in a Woman—Except She’s Religious

I am an atheist and, in my early adult years, came to strongly detest the forces of religious influence on society and the world. I could never see myself going to church, and it's hard for me not to think about people who do as anything other than brainwashed. Have I met some nice, smart, religious people? Of course I have. In fact, that's the root of my question. About four months ago I met a woman who is everything I want in a partner—funny, kind, generous, good with kids, smart, sexy, accomplished, and fun. The problem, as I see it, is that she is deeply religious, to the point that she not only goes to church every week and volunteers at every opportunity, but also constantly talks about God and how her relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in her life. As strange or insensitive as this might sound, I don't want to come second to Jesus (or any other invisible man) in my partner's life. She knows I'm not religious, but I've spared her my harsher assessments of religion, as I don't want to offend her. But it's all too much for me. Everything is great with this woman until she starts talking about her faith. She has asked me to go to church with her, just to experience it with her, and I've made up an excuse not to go each time. I really have strong feelings for this woman, but I don't know if I can handle this. I'm sure the obvious answer here is "Well then move on," but matters of the heart aren't always that simple. I really care about her. I want this to work. I just don't know if it can. —Me of Little Faith
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Dear Me of Little Faith,

Can relationships between people who share very different faiths work? Absolutely—but only if they also share a profound respect for one another and their respective beliefs. Does your girlfriend expect her partner (and perhaps future husband) to have an active shared religious life with her? If so, and if you are certain that this path is not for you, that is a conversation better to be had sooner rather than later.

If you are open to sharing her experiences, that’s another story. It is also possible to share experiences without necessarily sharing the same beliefs. There are many people who accompany their partners to services that may not reflect their own personal spirituality or beliefs. As long as the expectations you have of one another are clear and accepted by both of you, faith differences do not have to be a deal-breaker.

As long as the expectations you have of one another are clear and accepted by both of you, faith differences do not have to be a deal-breaker.

What is most important is that the two of you have some open and honest conversations about your personal beliefs and the vision you each have for your future. Right now it’s just the two of you negotiating your relationship, but what might happen if you were to eventually start a family together? I imagine she might want her children to share in her faith and her experiences. Is that something you can see yourself accepting and supporting?

There are many families that make it work despite mixing very different religious views. Only the two of you can decide if that path will work for you. These are important conversations to have now and not months or years down the line. If you need help having these conversations, you may want to consult a couples counselor who has experience in issues related to faith-based differences.

Best of luck!
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Connie

    Connie

    May 22nd, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    I’m kind of surprised that she isn’t the one who has a problem with your beliefs.

  • courtney

    courtney

    May 22nd, 2015 at 2:02 PM

    This could be a point in your life where you have started to question your own position on things and what better way to get a different perspective than to let someone with completely opposing views in to show you a different way.

  • James w

    James w

    May 23rd, 2015 at 5:54 AM

    I have many questions and thoughts because I don’t know Your age, relationship experiences, how you came to decide you were an atheist etc.

    If you like and respect this woman, you need to respect her beliefs which sound like important parts of her being. She is not just talking about her religious life, she’s living it. Partially she seems and feels to you to be a beautiful and special person because of her beliefs. Given you have not expressed any curiosity to reexamine your beliefs, this seems like a waste for her. You have met her for a reason, but I’m pretty certain it’s not to make a lasting commitment together.

  • john

    john

    May 22nd, 2015 at 7:21 PM

    Why would you fall in love with someone whose fundamental values and beliefs you despise? I am sure that if you look hard enough, you can find a fellow atheist with similar desirable qualities. If she is a strong Christian, she will give you your walking papers following the words of St Paul, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.” (2 Corinthians 6:14) No offense intended, but many Christians would not date you for that reason.

  • Shilrey

    Shilrey

    May 23rd, 2015 at 8:19 AM

    Erika your advise was right on! John I agree with you totally.

  • Ann

    Ann

    May 23rd, 2015 at 10:56 AM

    I agree with Connie. I am surprised she doesn’t question the relationship. Some Christians may date a non-believer in hopes of converting him/her, especially if they are fundamentalist or evangelical. Make sure you are upfront with her about the seriousness of your differences. Unless she is questioning her own faith, you could be in for a big challenge. Another issue generally involved is pre-marital sex. If she is willing to have sex with you now, maybe she is not so hardcore. Good luck! Communication is key!

  • Juanita

    Juanita

    May 23rd, 2015 at 1:05 PM

    I would suggest that you keep an open mind and open heart with her in the way that you would with any other relationship. You will see over time if this is enough of a big thing to you to drive the two of you apart. You might actually see that the two of you can handle these differences and can find enough common ground together to work through it.

  • Dean

    Dean

    February 8th, 2017 at 9:01 PM

    I would just like to leave a word of support for the original poster. Most of the comments on this thread certainly seem to be of a particular bias. I would just like to add, since approaching with an open mind, why can’t he ask her to equally approach his belief system with an open mind? I believe any reasonable person would. I too face a similar challenge, being a scientist trained to question and be skeptical, is not simple for me to purely accept. I do however accompany my partner to church and I respect her to an extent that is unexplainable with words. I personally see Sundays as lessons in moral tact and yes, as someone else mentioned, I also fell in love with the character that such a true and good path leads one, however I do not believe that a higher power, if it exists, needs to take on the exact form as dictated by random books.

    It’s been some time since you posted this question, I hope you found peace with the situation– just know you’re not the only one.

  • Selma

    Selma

    May 25th, 2015 at 8:55 AM

    I am having a hard time understanding how you would even be attracted to her when your values are so different.

  • kate

    kate

    May 27th, 2015 at 7:51 AM

    I am sorry but how can you respect someone and not their beliefs?

  • Brannon

    Brannon

    May 28th, 2015 at 10:53 AM

    You say that she is religious like, eew this leaves a bad taste in your mouth. That’s fine, I can live with the fact that we have opposing opinions on the subject. What I don’t understand is how the two of you will ever be able to reconcile those kinds of differences because it is one thing if your are Baptist and she is Methodist. I truly think that those are differences that could be overcome. But they way that you believe, or don’t I guess that I should say, and what she believes are so opposite of one another that there seems to be a huge gulf that will never merge.

  • Darell

    Darell

    September 2nd, 2015 at 5:06 PM

    You would not be doing a Christian lady any favors by emotionally entangling her to you because your worldviews are on an inevitable collision course. One of the reasons is that you want the characteristics her worldview/belief system has created in her personality, but you don’t want the source of that character. Such was the case of my atheist niece who said, “grandmother (my mother) was the rock of the family”; but I reminded her that my mother’s stability was that she built her life on the solid Rock of Jesus Christ not on shifting sand (Matthew 7:24-27). In actuality, the atheistic belief system has been in a hostile conflict with Christianity since the Enlightenment and the resulting French Revolution’s Cult of Reason, which is in essence the modern atheistic belief system. That belief system has a form of “evangelism” in that it sees the world as a kind of “Titanic” in which humans must organize a repair crew and take control of the ship, essentially taking evolution by the throat. The Biblical Christian worldview is diametrically opposite; the present world system is damaged by sin (i.e. rebelliousness toward the God) and is doomed to sink and the main purpose for Christians is to direct and load as many human beings into the “Lifeboat” of Jesus Christ as are willing to accept the offer. If your belief system (i.e., the humanist religion) doesn’t change and you become legally obligated to her, you will either become a resentful “passenger” who “refuses to believe the ship is sinkable and calls for more dancing and drinks” or a hostile member of the repair/ship take-over crew who wishes to not allow people to escape in the lifeboat; either way you both will be extremely miserable. Do both of you a favor; either seriously investigate her belief system with a truly open mind with the intent of becoming a spiritual leader or walk away so that you don’t violate the requirement that she not be unequally yoked (as two mixed-matched cannot plow peacefully and productively together).

  • Garry

    Garry

    January 2nd, 2019 at 5:44 AM

    Wow, that is a very non-open-minded response of “My way or the highway”. Obviously you do not have an open mind as to the ability of two people intertwining their lives even though they may be spiritually different. An Atheist, or Humanist, or Buddhist, can just as easily be a loving caring devoted partner as a truly religious person can be. I think if people can look to see that there is good in all beliefs (other than cultism or those that wish for power over others) then differing backgrounds and spiritual beliefs can be compatible within the soul.

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