Bible Answer

How to live with an unbelieving spouse

My spouse is an unbeliever, and I often struggle over our differences. I remain committed to our marriage hoping the Lord will bring my spouse to faith one day. In the meantime, what does the Bible say about how I should approach my marriage? How do I live out my faith while honoring my marriage?

Living with an unbelieving spouse is a challenge. Often it means a marriage with different goals, driven by your faith and your spouse's ignorance of biblical truth. These challenges can be very difficult and cause significant stress in a marriage (in addition to the "normal" stresses every marriage encounters). Nevertheless, the believer is called to live in union with their spouse despite these differences, and the Bible offers copious advice to the believer for how to approach the situation. 

First, Paul addresses this very topic in 1Corinthians. The church in Corinth asked him how to handle marriages between believers and unbelievers, and in his response, Paul emphasizes the importance of remaining committed to an unbelieving spouse and the necessity of living in peace:

1 Corinthians 7: 12 -16 - To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

By no means is this a simple task. Rather, living with an unbelieving spouse requires complete dependence on the Lord and His wisdom. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you face the daily challenge of living with a mate who doesn’t share your deepest spiritual commitments: 

1. Commit yourself to praying for God’s word to penetrate your spouse's heart and that God will use you as an instrument in your spouse's understanding of God.

Philippians 4:6-7- Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

2. Be patient and show grace to your spouse.

Colossians 4:5-6 - Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

3. Be the hands and feet of Christ in your marriage. Commit yourself to serving your spouse out of love and respect.

Eph. 2:10 - For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Galatians 5:13 - You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Philippians 4:8-9 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
1 Peter 3: 1-6 - 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, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. 4 Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

4. Check your heart and motives toward your spouse.

Second to God, are you putting your spouse and marriage first? Is your relationship with Christ making you a more enjoyable person to live with – or just a more religious one? These are important questions because our eagerness to study the Bible, serve the Lord and minister to others can come at the expense of someone else. This does not mean we are to stop seeking God’s truth. But, we are called be aware and sensitive to the needs of others, especially our spouse.

Phil. 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Are you showing gentleness and respect to your spouse?

1 Peter 3:15-17 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.

5. Remember that God is the one who is at work in you and in your spouse.

Phil. 2:13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

6. Refrain from being judgmental of your spouse's reasons for questioning the Bible or your relationship with God.

Matthew 7:1 says we are not to judge others. Matthew is not talking about judging which actions are righteous and unrighteous, but rather the heart of people’s actions. Instead of judging, try to understand what it is that holds your spouse back and then pray for God to remove those barriers.

Pray for God to take your spouse on a spiritual journey that you are very much a part of. As we just read in 1Corinthians 7, how are we to know if we will save our spouse? God tells us to find a way to live in peace for His glory.