Unequally Yoked Marriage? Here’s What to Do When Your Spouse isn’t a Believer

In an unequally yoked marriage? Whether your husband is totally opposed to Christianity or just not that interested, here’s how to cope.


Unequally Yoked Marriage - If you're a Christian married to a non-believer, this is a great read!

Should Christians marry non-Christians? Unfortunately for many starry eyed single Christians out there, the Bible clearly states the answer is no.

We find this in 2 Corinthians 6:14a, which reads, “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.”

(Please note: This isn’t because non-Christians are somehow “less than” or “not good enough.” And it does not in any way imply that someone who isn’t a Christian can’t be kind, loving and a wonderful person or that they can’t help you grow in faith. Most are lovely people, and I’m sure plenty would even encourage you to grow.

BUT if you truly want to make God your #1 priority in life and spend your days growing in Him, it only makes sense that you’d want your other half to share the same goals and dreams for your life. In an unequally yoked marriage — you’re headed in different directions spiritually.)

But what about if you’re a Christian already married to a non-Christian in an unequally yoked marriage? What should you do then?

After all, life can be messy sometimes and things don’t always work out as planned.

Perhaps your faith wasn’t that strong when you married, and you’ve grown since. Or perhaps you were once both strong Christians, but he fell away.

Either way — now you find yourself in a situation where you’re wanting to grow in faith while he could care less. Maybe he’s even hostile towards Christianity. That’s a very tricky situation to be in. And that’s when we turn to the Bible.

* Married to someone who is a Christian, but just a different denomination? Learn what to do when you and your spouse have differing beliefs here

The Bible on Unequally Yoked Marriage

For information on how to live peacefully as a believer in an unequally yoked marriage, we turn to 1 Corinthians 7, which has a section devoted to the topic:

And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

–1 Corinthians 7:13-16

It’s a short passage, but combined with the rest of the chapter, cross-referenced with other portions of Scripture and combined with practical advice from other spouses who have been on both sides of the debate (ie: I did a LOT of research on this one, folks!), I do believe it is possible to grow in faith while still married to an unbeliever, and here’s how:

1. Respect His Right to Decide

Whether you agree with your husband’s beliefs or not, the truth is that he is still an adult and he is still entitled make his own decisions. You cannot force, nag, manipulate or pester him into caring about Jesus and Christianity, nor should you try to. It’s his choice.

As I wrote in my previous article, You are Not Your Husband’s Holy Spirit: “There is a Holy Spirit — and you’re not him!”

It is not your job to change your husband, make him grow or get him to convert. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job, not yours.

You can invite your husband to church if you think he might come. You can share some of your testimony if you think he might be interested. You can tell him about the cool Bible story you just read if you think he’d care.

But you can’t force him to believe or care. You have to let him choose for himself.

2. Take Responsibility for You

Just as your husband has the right and responsibility to choose what he will believe and how he will behave, you also have the right and responsibility to choose for yourself how YOU will behave.

This means that if you choose to be a Christian, you also choose to act like one. 

This means practicing the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23)

It means living out all of the characteristics of love listed in 1 Corinthians 13: patience, kindness, no envy, no boasting and no pride. It means no dishonoring others, putting yourself first, angering easily, or keeping record of wrongs. It means rejoicing in the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping and always persevering.

Can you say you do all of these things consistently?

(Seriously — take a good long look at those lists. How well do they describe the way you treat your husband when you disagree?)

Because the Bible does not say “Respect your husband IF he does things your way” or “Submit to your husband IF he is kind to you.” It says you are to submit to your husband even if he doesn’t.

Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. — 1 Peter 3:1-2

Now, of course, this is where it gets very tricky. Because we know that while we are to submit to our husbands (using the Biblical definition of submission), we also know that we are supposed to submit to God first of all. And it can be REALLY tricky to know where that line is!

You want to be polite and respectful, but you don’t want to go so far as to let your husband be a complete jerk to you while you’re just a helpless doormat. That’s not okay, and that’s not what Biblical submission is about at all.

But on your wedding day, you made vows before God and man – vows to love and honor and cherish – and God still expects you to keep them. 

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. — 1 Corinthians 7:39

**Please note: There ARE some very real exceptions to this, including – but not limited to – divorce and adultery. You can find more on this topic here: Is Divorce Ever Okay?

3. Seek to Understand

Okay, so once you understand your husband’s rights and responsibilities within your marriage and your rights and responsibilities within your marriage (because you both have both — though I can’t adequately cover them all in this article), what happens next?

Seek to understand.

Talk to him. Don’t just assume where he’s at or how he feels; find out how he actually feels and what he actually believes and why.

I will warn you, this may be painful. You may not like (you probably won’t like) everything he has to say. But remember step #1 — that’s his choice. Your choice is simply to get to know him and understand his thought process as much as you can.

For example:

  • Does he believe in God? Or is he convinced there is no God, open to the idea of an alternate god, or unsure?
  • What does he believe about the Bible? Does he believe any of it is true ? Does he think it’s ridiculous brainwashing?
  • How does he feel about you being a Christian? Is he supportive, indifferent or opposed?
  • How does he feel about church? Does he just think it’s boring and a waste of time, or is he totally opposed? Are there certain aspects that he feels strongly about?
  • Is there a particular reason or experience that turned him off from Christianity, or is he just not interested?
  • How did his family handle religion growing up? 

As you are having this conversation, be very careful not to show judgment or argue. Yes, you are absolutely allowed to have feelings too, and yes, there are some misconceptions that you may want to clear up. BUT now is not the time and place for that.

Because if he feels like you are judging him, trying to change him, or not really listening, it may cause him to shut down and close up. This is not what you want. You’re just trying to gather more information and put yourself in his shoes so you can understand the situation and get some insights in how to best approach it.

4. Discuss Expectations and Non-Negotiables

Of course, even once you’ve laid a foundation of respect and understanding, you’re still going to have to figure out how to navigate all of the small decisions that you will need to make as a family on a day-to-day basis.

Decisions such as:

  • How will you spend Christmas?
  • Will your kids go to private Christian school, public school or homeschool?
  • What kind of movies, music and reading material will you bring into your home?
  • Will any of your family members attend church and how often?
  • Will you tithe or give to those in need? To whom will you give and how much?

If you wait until these issues come up to talk about them, life is going to feel like a never-ending tug-of-war between who gets their way the majority of the time.

Instead, you’ll want to talk about as many of them as you can in advance, preferably when you have time to sit down together and have an actual conversation – not just in passing comments here and there. Of course, there will likely be issues that come up seemingly out of nowhere (you can’t anticipate everything), but the more things you can discuss, the better.

And how do you decide who gets to do which thing “their way?”

Start by finding out which topics are MOST important to each of you. Perhaps Christmas has always been a huge deal in your family, but it wasn’t really in his. If it’s a huge deal to one of you and the other doesn’t really care that much, there you go.

Next, find out which parts or aspects of the issue each of you care about the most. For example, maybe you BOTH care about Christmas, but you really want to go to church and he really wants to sleep in and open presents with the kids. Why not take the kids to church the night before or later in the day and do both?

If there are any issues you absolutely refuse to budge on, don’t give him false hope by saying “maybe.” Just be honest with each other with the what and why — but do it in a polite way.

But honestly, there really should NOT be many issues like this AT ALL. Almost everything can be figured out by working together and finding a solution that works for both of you (even if it isn’t what you prefer).

In our family, we go to a Catholic Church I’m honestly not a huge fan of. But I’d MUCH rather our family all go to a church that isn’t my favorite, than have that be a source of stress and contention in our marriage. I can supplement with Christian radio and Bible studies and sermons online all I like, if I feel the need. Going to a church that isn’t my favorite isn’t the end of the world and there’s no need to make a fuss about it.

My husband respects my right to not convert to Catholicism at this time (see #1 above!), and I’m more than happy to send our kids to Catholic church and school.

Yes, they’ll learn the “Hail Mary” (which I’m not a fan of), but it isn’t going to kill them.

5. Choose to Focus on the Positives

Would it be nice if you and your husband had the exact same beliefs? Sure. But that’s not your reality, unfortunately.

So instead of complaining about it, why not choose to focus on the positives and make the most of it?

  • Is your husband a good person? That’s great!
  • Does he love you and your family and treat you well? Praise the Lord! (If not, go here)
  • Does he let YOU go to church even though he’s not interested? Fantastic!

And one of the biggest positives? Your differing beliefs will absolutely challenge and grow your faith – in a GOOD way – if you let them. 

When you and your husband believe the exact same thing, your beliefs go unchecked. You can rest on faulty assumptions and habits that are just your way of doing things.

But when you don’t agree and you try to come together, it absolutely forces you to examine your beliefs, know why you believe them and make sure they are actually true and solid.

For me, I found out a lot of the things I had been taught growing up weren’t actually true!

Learn what you believe and why enough to defend it, and your faith can grow in amazing ways as a result. And that’s a very, very good thing.

6. PRAY!

And last but certainly not least — PRAY!

Just because your husband isn’t receptive to faith now doesn’t necessarily mean he never will be. We serve a God of miracles — a God who can do ANYTHING. Nothing is impossible for Him. Even an unequally yoked marriage.

Will your husband one day be on fire for Christ? I have no way of knowing. But I do know that as you are faithful to what God has called YOU to, He will be with you every step of the way. 

Alright, now I’d love to hear from some of you with more personal experience in this area!

Are you in an unequally yoked marriage? What is it like and how do you get through it?

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A devoted Christian, wife and mother, Brittany loves helping other women grow in these roles as well. When she isn’t busy taking care of her growing family, you can find her at Equipping Godly Women, where she regularly shares tips, tricks and encouragement to help you be the amazing woman God created you to be. Brittany also has a thriving online community on Facebook as well.

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10 Comments

I am unequally yoked with my husband. I grew up in a Christian home and become a Christian at a very young age. When my husband and I were dating, he became a Christian and went to Bible studies and church. Something happened a few years into our marriage that turned him completely off of the Christian life. There are times when he says he’s praying or that he and God are in a good place, but I have been praying for him to return to God for 17 years, and yet I haven’t seen him change.

It’s not easy, and there have been some very difficult times, especially when raising my boys. Thankfully, my husband has never discouraged us from going to church and living to honor God, but it still is very difficult. Prayer is most powerful not only for the spouse who doesn’t live for God but for the wife as well. Never stop praying.

Your article is researched very well. Thank you for taking the time to write to women who struggle with being unequally yoked.

I am also struggling in this area with my husband. Even though I was a Christian when we were married, I didn’t attend church on a regular basis. We have been married for 27 years but I have grown heavily in my faith and he hasn’t grown up at all. Because I am a christian and attend church, he expects me to be perfect. If I get angry about something, he says church isn’t helping me and tells me I am wasting my time. Sometimes its a struggle for me just to go to church because I know when I get home, he may be upset. But I go anyway and pray that the Lord will come into his heart and help him to live a more christian life.

I cope with this by praying ALOT about our situation and I have faith that I will see a change one day. Sometimes a see a glimpse of a change but it doesn’t last long so I know God is working on him. But I feel he is fighting it. Unfortunately, I’m afraid its going to take a life changing event to get him to think about his eternal life and how he wants to spend it. Luckily, I have friends who are going through the same thing so I have support when I need it. I will continue to pray for my husband and my marriage. Giving up is not an option for me. I know God has a plan.

Aww, I’m sorry to hear that.

Question for you — do you have a hard time admitting when you mess up too? Do you feel at all like you have to be perfect or holy to set a good example for him? Or to show him how good Christianity is by seeing your life?

Absolutely! Unfortunately, he has never been subjected to any form of religion except what he gets from me. He has only been in my family church three times: our wedding, when he had a frightening health scare and my moms funeral in March. So I am his only example and I don’t want to mess that up. He doesn’t mind if I go to church or church functions for the most part but I do have to hide my tithing. I call myself a “closet Christian” because most of my praising and worshipping is done in away from him. He doesn’t like it when I help other people in need either because we are struggling as well.

I can understand him not being a fan of tithing. It’s hard to believe in how God can work when you’re not sure God exists in the first place! (Shoot, it’s hard to believe in it even when you ARE sure!)

Krista,
Your faith that God will change your husband one day is encouraging. You’re right. Giving up is not an option, so thankfully we have prayer to get us through and the friends who support us.

Keep fighting the good fight!

Thank you, Michelle. Fortunately, I have christian coworkers that I can talk to and when things get bad, we close my office door and pray together. It’s wonderful!

I really love and appreciate this article.
My husband is dedicated to the native american faith, and as many involved in the native church call out to one god as the creator, I have no conflict with my faith in his., However growing more i my faith and bible studies has made me seeking for prayers in my life as a christian wife with whom to support him as a leader in his faith and my continuance in sharing both with our lovely children. Your second passage verse is very helpful Thank you