What Do You Do if You’re Married to An Unbeliever?

After deciding to follow Christ, the person you choose to marry is your second most important decision. So what happens if you marry an unbeliever?

Contributing Writer
Updated Sep 05, 2023
What Do You Do if You’re Married to An Unbeliever?

After you decide to follow Christ, the person you choose to marry is the second most important decision you will ever make in this life. Ideally, as a believer, you want to marry another believer. Yet, this may not be your story. How do you handle this situation if you are married to an unbeliever?

What Should Everyone Remember Before They Marry?

First, this discussion is not meant as judgment but as a call to wisdom and encouragement. I understand that being married to an unbeliever can be difficult.

I also recognize that sometimes churches give more warnings about marriage than guidance we all need to remember about marriages. So, before we dive in, here are some important things to remember.

First, choosing a marriage partner affects every aspect of your life. So, take time. Be wise. Pray before making that choice. I know you get those emotional lovey-dovey feelings when you are with your special someone. While those feelings are wonderful, they will come and go and cannot be the foundation for your marriage.

Second, If you are married to an unbelieving spouse, that does not automatically mean you have a terrible marriage. Some “unequally yoked marriages” may be healthier than marriages between two believers, depending on the believers’ struggles and how much they are each committed to growing closer to God.

With these points out of the way, let’s consider some questions and issues if you are married to an unbeliever or currently dating an unbeliever.

Does the Bible Say it’s Okay to Marry an Unbeliever?

I want to speak first to single readers. Who you choose to marry matters because marriage is joining two people into one. God intended for marriage to be two people becoming one from the moment he established marriage.

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

If you will join your life with someone, it makes sense to join yourself with someone walking in the same direction. Amos 3:3 asks, “How can two walk together unless they agree?”

If you are set on following Christ and the person you are dating is not, this will cause friction in your relationship. You can agree to disagree on many things, but faith should not be one of them.

Another reality of marriage is that your spouse will have more influence than any other person. Hence, God commanded the Israelites not to intermarry with the surrounding nations. He knew their influence would turn the Israelites’ hearts away from him towards other gods. If you marry an unbeliever, you may face the same problem.

In the New Testament, Paul gives this instruction.

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)

It is important to note Paul was not specifically talking about marriage—he was talking more generally about making partnerships of any kind with nonbelievers.

Still, the principle can apply to marriage. If you are a believer and choose to marry an unbeliever, you could create a hardship you can avoid.

Last thought for those who are dating. While you should choose someone who is a believer, make sure that is not the only point of compatibility. Just because you both believe in Jesus doesn’t mean you should spend the rest of your lives together.

Are You Allowed to Divorce an Unbelieving Spouse?

What happens if you are already married to an unbelieving spouse? Should you divorce them?

The short answer is no. Here is what Paul says about this very topic.

“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. 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.” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13)

The instructions here could not be clearer. If you are married to an unbelieving spouse, and they want to stay married, then you stay together. It is important to note that everyone in this situation did not choose to marry an unbeliever. Some got married and then got saved after they were married, which created this scenario. If this is you and they want to stay, then you stay.

Divorce is never God’s plan, but there may be instances where divorce may be a necessary option. I say “may” because divorce should not be the first option if the relationship can be repaired and restored to a healthy state. However, there are some scenarios where divorce may be the right option. These scenarios apply whether you are married to an unbelieving or believing spouse.

1. If there is adultery and the marriage vows have been violated, you have grounds for divorce.

2. If there is physical or sexual abuse towards you or your children or you are in a situation where your spouse threatens you or your children, that is also grounds for divorce.

3. If your spouse abandons the marriage and wants nothing to do with fulfilling their marital vows, you have grounds for divorce.

Again, if reconciliation can happen and the relationship is returned to a healthy state, you should consider doing that. Regardless, I recommend you seek godly counsel if you are in one of these situations to help figure out the right decision.

Should You Try to Convert an Unbelieving Spouse?

If you are married to an unbeliever, is it your responsibility to try to convert them?

Yes and no. You should be open to sharing the gospel with your spouse. Just recognize you can’t convert an unbelieving spouse (or anyone else for that matter) by your own will.

While it is important to share Christ with them, please don’t make that the only thing you talk about. How you live will speak volumes to your spouse, even more than your words. You are the representation of Christ in your home, so they should see the character of Christ shining in you and through you. This does not mean it will convert them, but they will know your walk with the Lord is genuine. Your genuine love for Jesus they see lived out every day may stir up a desire to want to know more about Jesus.

How Can We Help Someone with an Unbelieving Spouse?

You may know someone who is married to an unbeliever, so how can you come alongside and help them? Here are three things you can do:

1. Pray for and with them.

If the spouse does not know the Lord, then we know the eternal consequence of that. It is also quite possible the believing spouse desires more than anything that their spouse would come to know the Lord. For this reason, you should pray for them and with them. This can be a significant source of encouragement for that person.

2. Include rather than isolate the unbelieving spouse.

If you are friends with someone with an unbelieving spouse, ensure you include them in your activities. Don’t just invite them to the revival at church. If you are friends, then do things together. While we want them to get saved, that journey to salvation does not always happen in a church pew. It could happen around a dinner table, at a ballgame, or even on vacation. Remember, if they are married, they are one, so don’t focus on one and forget the other.

3. Encourage the spouse to keep building the marital relationship.

Keep encouraging them to build their relationship with their spouse. Remember, they got married because they love each other, and they made a lifetime commitment to that marriage. Don’t despise that. So often, church and “real ministry” become competition to marriage when it should complement the marriage. This may mean you don’t do as much in church, but that is okay because your most important ministry work happens in the home, not outside.

Last Thought about Living with a Nonbelieving Spouse

I pray you have found some words of wisdom and encouragement in this article, and, as always, if you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me. If you are married to an unbelieving spouse, keep praying for and loving them. In doing this, you are planting and watering seeds that prayerfully, one day, God will cause to bloom in their hearts.

Photo Credit: © Getty Images/LittleBee80

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. His most recent book is The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. Clarence is also committed to helping 10,000 people learn how to study the Bible and has just released his first Bible study course called Bible Study Basics. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com


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