Group Therapy is a relationship advice column that asks readers to contribute their wisdom. Each week, we offer up a problem for you to weigh in on, then publish the most lively responses, with a final word on the matter delivered by our columnist.
A reader writes: When I was 21, I converted to evangelical Christianity. A year ago I told my wife I was no longer a Christian; I am now an agnostic. She was upset, but we eventually agreed to respect one another's views. But our values are different now; she takes a strong stand against premarital sex, abortion and homosexuality.
About a month ago, I was shocked to hear her say something racist. A long and extremely uncomfortable argument ensued. Looking at my in-laws, I can see this is how she was raised.
I realize I'm the one who changed, so I bear the responsibility here. This is a smart, beautiful, funny and brave woman. I do love her. I just don't know if we're compatible any more. Thoughts?
IF YOU STILL LOVE HER, STAY
No, you aren't compatible. But incompatibility is no reason to divorce. I bet 99 per cent of married couples grow in ways that make them incompatible.
If you still love, honour and cherish your racist and she loves, honours and cherishes her agnostic, then stay together.
If not, and you do not have children, then get out!
- Carlo Iaboni, Vaughan, Ont.
RE-WOO HER TENDERLY
From your comments it appears that not only your views have changed, but your wife's also. After years of marriage she suddenly says something racist. Is she provoking you because you are putting on airs of intellectual superiority? Could you be interpreting her too harshly out of impatience or boredom with her?
Use the tenderness with which you won her heart years ago to find the common ground of compassion toward others that any Christian should espouse.
- Anya Hageman, Kingston
AGREE TO DISAGREE
You do not say how long you were a Christian and what caused the change in your belief system. However, you are not alone. These changes occur quite frequently, and if there is a true respect for the other person the conflict does not harm the relationship.
My wife was a devout Christian when she married this atheist; she became an agnostic a few years later and has since reverted to being a Christian. We discuss our beliefs calmly and agree to disagree as we did in our courting days. We tolerate each other's prejudices and never criticize, certainly not in public, the views of the other.
Live and let live works great. Differences in beliefs, whether religious or everyday matters, are not eliminated, they are lived with. Mutual respect, not just for views but also for the person, makes it possible.
- Ravi Sharma, Calgary
THE FINAL WORD
The most telling tidbit in your letter is your claim to have been "shocked" to hear your wife say something racist. The way you just sort of flung this information into a discussion ostensibly to do with religious differences tells me there's a bigger problem here, and on some level you know it.
Racism has nothing to do with religion per se. There are plenty of racially tolerant Christians out there, scads of agnostic bigots. So I'm thinking your issue with your wife goes deeper than how you each choose to spend your Sunday mornings.
Admit it: You fear you've married a pious, intolerant thug with whom you can find no moral middle ground. In pointing out that your wife is against abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex, you imply that this, like the racism, is a problem for you.
You and your wife can agree to disagree all you want, but you can't pretend that these are simply private religious matters along the lines of keeping kosher or receiving communion - they are highly polarizing social and political issues.
It's a tricky proposition to "respect one another's views" when people who come down on opposite sides of such issues tend to find one another's views morally repugnant. The terms "moral repugnance" and "respect" do not exactly go together like a horse and carriage.
I'm not advising you to give up on one another, but I feel I must inject a bit of hard-nosedness into the rose-coloured outlook above.
Trying to re-woo your wife, as Anya suggests, does nothing to address the issue at hand - you've reached an ethical impasse, not an opportunity to score.
Love doesn't always conquer all, as Carlo implies, and Ravi's "live and let live" approach is easier said than done. If people were capable of that, these hot-button issues would never have metastasized into such holy hand grenades in the first place.
I will say this: If you and your wife can stake out some common ground on this particular battlefield, you'll provide a great example to us all. Good luck with the peace negotiations.
Lynn Coady is the award-winning author of the novels Strange Heaven and Mean Boy, with another one currently in the oven.
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