'I'm an atheist. My husband is a Baptist Christian. Here's how we make it work.'

Elly Klein always assumed she’d end up building a relationship with someone who shared her religious beliefs - or lack thereof. 

"I realised I was an atheist in high school," says Klein.

"And, despite having talked to lots of religious people over the years and been genuinely open to having my mind changed, it never has."

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Although she was raised Jewish, and has strong ties to Judaism culturally, religion itself is not a priority. 

"I always assumed I’d end up with someone atheist, agnostic or not particularly religious. I didn’t grow up around a lot of Jewish people, so I didn’t expect to end up with someone Jewish."

Instead, she married David – a Baptist Christian, and as far as levels of devoutness go, Baptists are pretty high up there. 

The pair met online in 2016, drawn to each other despite their religious beliefs being front and centre of their dating profiles. 

"Despite not being a Christian, my dating profile really stood out to my husband, and he decided to contact me."


Their attraction was strong, and as they got to know each other, that attraction grew into love, but during that first year, Klein admits religion dominated their conversations. 

"It was a concern for both of us – but for different reasons," she says. 

"He liked that I was Jewish, but didn’t like that I didn’t believe in God. He had to decide if he wanted to spend his life with someone who didn’t believe in God.

"I didn’t mind that he believed in God. But I did mind when he thought he could change my mind. He needed to accept me as I was – otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to share my life with him."

Klein says their biggest challenge was also the most straightforward. At the end of the day, it came down to truly accepting – and respecting – each other’s beliefs, and deciding what each was prepared to do for the other. 

"He’s not a church-goer, so I only need to decide if I want to go to church with him once or twice a year on Christmas and Easter, which I often do. He’s happy to go to the synagogue with me – not that I ever go. He finds places of worship interesting."

While their mutual respect has kept their relationship together, their different beliefs do crop up from time to time. 

"We’ll get into a discussion about politics or something that’s happening in the world and his perspective will be coloured by his religious beliefs and my perspective will be coloured by mine (or lack thereof). Luckily, we’re usually able to find some common ground."


Klein says it's because of that mutual respect that the couple’s differing religious views actually makes their relationship richer. 

"Even though my religious beliefs haven’t changed, I’ve learned a lot from him," she says. 

"I knew practically nothing about Christianity before we met and I now know a lot. I’ve also learned about other religions from him (including Judaism) because he studied theology at university."

The Kleins don’t have children, but if they did, Klein says they’d be raised with both Christian and Jewish traditions. 

"My husband would teach them about God and I’d be honest with them (probably when they’re a little older) and tell them I don’t believe in God. Then they’d be free to make up their own minds."

For Alicia Young, the shoe is on the other foot. Raised a devout Catholic, and still maintaining strong spiritual beliefs tied to the religion, Alicia found herself married to an atheist. 

"I was introduced to the belief of angels, right along with solid foods. At age three, I met my guardian angel," she shares. 

"My beliefs began with traditional Catholic dogma, then loosened, and shifted to spirituality. My spirituality is core to who I am; it provides a framework to my values and gives meaningful purpose to my life.

"Jon has never wavered in his atheism. He considers it logical, with no need to revisit it."


While he has attended church with her, Young says her husband limits attendance to weddings and funerals these days. Despite her husband’s disbelief, Young has faith the pair will be reunited in an afterlife, once they both pass away. And although she’s comfortable with their opposing views, she does sometimes wish he believed in something. 

"There have been times, in moments of deep loss or other heartache, I’ve wished that he believed in something, anything bigger than us... to infuse comfort or to consider bigger purpose at play."

While the couple make it work, Young admits things might be different if they hadn’t decided against having children. 

"I think we’ve sidestepped a lot of the challenges by choosing to be child-free. I don’t want to kid myself that it would have been plain sailing with taking the children to church or getting them confirmed etc, the conflicting messages."

According to relationship counsellor, Susan De Campo, Young is right. 

"The biggest challenges arise when the teachings of one faith clash with those of the other faith," says De Campo. 

"For example, one person wants to celebrate Christmas in a very Christian way, and the other person does not believe Jesus was the son of God. In my experience, these issues emerge when the couple have children.

"Practicing your faith as an individual – where there is little, if any, direct impact on your partner – is achievable. When children come along, it’s a whole different ball game."


But it can work, she says. The key is thorough and honest conversation, before the wedding. 

"What aspects of the religion are compatible, what aspects are incompatible, what aspects are non-negotiable and what will they do if an issue seems intractable. 

"What religion will children be raised in? What religious teachings will the child receive – for example, they can’t be simultaneously told that going to the respective house of worship on a Friday and a Sunday is 'correct', or keeping the Sabbath (Saturday) holy is correct, and that working or going to the footy on that day is ok. 

"Children cannot be told it’s okay to eat pork - because you’re a practicing Catholic, but forbidden - if you’re a practicing Muslim, Jew or Seventh Day Adventist."

School is another big issue. 

"Does a practicing Muslim send their children to a school where they will learn that Mary is the mother of Jesus? What will the parents do when their children’s friends are celebrating Christmas and Santa but one of the parents believes the origins of such celebrations are based on paganism. What if the child is gay – what does a particular faith say about this?

"It is also good to identify who they agree to speak to about any conflict."

Similar issues can arise in relation to extended family, especially parents who may have strong beliefs about marrying someone of the same religion. 


"Marrying someone of a different faith can mean the relationship with your family of origin is strained at best, or completely lost, at worst. 

"This means that the children of the marriage also lose the opportunity of having a relationship with their extended family."

Despite any feelings of euphoria in those early stages of a new relationship, De Campo warns against a 'love conquers all' mentality. 

"It doesn’t," she says. 

"Discuss all aspects of the faith—no area should be off limits. Discuss intimacy, unwanted pregnancy, finances, division of labour, pornography, religious holidays, diet and lifestyle, use of alcohol. Seeking expert guidance is a wise thing to do."

But Klein urges singles to be open-minded – it can work. In fact, Klein is so passionate about dating outside of 'type', she's launched her own dating consultancy focusing on that very thing –

"Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised by someone who’s not 100 per cent  your 'type' on paper," she suggests. 

"Try not to immediately rule out a romantic prospect because their religious beliefs don’t perfectly align with yours. Get to know them. Dig a little deeper. You might learn something. And you might discover different religious beliefs is not the deal breaker you think it is."

Feature image: Supplied. 

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