The hardest part of a marriage in which the husband is not a Christian is balancing spiritual leadership roles, say relationship experts and authors Lynn Donovan and Dineen Miller.
Donovan and Miller, who co-authored the book Winning Him Without Words, spoke today about cultivating a healthy marriage in part two of a Focus on the Family radio broadcast titled: "Thriving in an Unequal Marriage."
Both women made it clear on the broadcast that they do not condone Christians marrying non-Christians, but their book and website seek to help spouses who have found themselves in the unforeseen circumstance of an unequal union after marriage.
Donovan and Miller grew up regularly attending church but walked away from it in their early 20s. During those years, they both met their husbands and were married. Christianity didn't play a central role in their lives until after they were married and rededicated themselves to their faith.
The authors explained that after becoming Christians again, they had to learn the delicate balance of leadership and submission in a marriage where the husband is not a believer.
Donovan shared that at first she struggled with questions such as: "How do I let him make decision when I have different moral values? How do you walk that out? You want to respect your husband, and want him to be leader."
But both authors ultimately agreed that in a spiritually mismatched relationship like theirs, the husband has abdicated his role as a spiritual leader, and sometimes the wife has to step in and fill it.
These spiritual duties include things like taking the children to church and tithing. The two authors emphasized that there always has to be utmost respect shown for their unbelieving spouse in navigating these roles.
Donovan said you have to pick your battles because the husband is still the leader of the home, even if he isn't a spiritual leader. She explained practical ways to show respect while also fulfilling a wife's spiritual duties.
For example, if a husband says his wife can't tithe money to the church, the wife can tithe in other ways, through her time or volunteering.
Or in regards to raising the children, Donovan said she ultimately had to give up sending her kids to a Christian school because her husband didn't want it. She said in this case she chose to "lay the desire for her child to go to a Christian school aside," but she still prayed with her children and spoke to them about her faith.
Miller said that at the end of the day being in this type of marriage "comes down to trust, God is constantly bringing us to trust him more and more in every area of our lives. God wants their (husband's) salvation even more than we do."
She also emphasized that it is important to stand by unbelieving husbands, affirm them and work out ways to approach the marriage where both parties are satisfied.
"There are times we [she and her husband] run into conflict as far as different viewpoints, but his complete support and understanding show he's proud of me. I know it's God," she said.
Through her marriage, Miller said she has realized that it's "so evident when God calls us to difficult places, like a spiritually mismatched marriage. [But] he doesn't leave us ill-equipped. He's going to give us everything we need to do it. He is so faithful."