Protestant engagement to a (lapsed/disaffected/angry) Catholic


#1

I was going to post this as a reply, based on some overlapping circumstances, to Jet’s Southern Baptist / Catholic marriage thread. But after I finished typing the post, it occurred to me that it wouldn’t really do anybody any favors to do so because this really is pretty different and almost more of a general pre-marriage question than a question to do with Catholic/Protestant marriages per se.

In hindsight, this would have been a better thread to start a year or more ago, without any relation to marriage itself, for other reasons that will likely be apparent.

Somewhat similar to Jet, I was raised in a Presbyterian church and, notwithstanding some periods of doubt and failings both personally and in terms of participation in active church life along the way, remain an active an faithful believer as I approach my thirties. Likewise, without quibbling over certain nuances, his description of his belief and faith pretty fairly captures my own. Also like him, I am not opposed to attending or participating in Catholic Mass and church activities as appropriate, and have done so (or offered to do so) with my fiancee and her family on various occasions. I understand and appreciate many (though hardly all) of the features of the Catholic Church and faith, and I recognize that some of those distinctions with respect to Protestant doctrine are non-trivial. While I find many of these doctrinal questions interesting and worthy of real attention, I don’t think it’s necessary to have that discussion in this context because in many ways this topic turns on the fiancée’s Catholic faith and practice (or lack thereof).

We were engaged several months ago, after roughly 2.5 years of exclusive dating. As commenters in the linked thread noted, and I agree, it is important that the two of us understand one another’s beliefs and the role that we expect church and faith to play in our marriage. What needs to give, what doesn’t, what can be worked through over time? It is not necessary to me that we be precise agreement on everything now – whether with respect to religion or otherwise, I don’t want or expect us to be cookie-cutter automatons – I do think that we need to clearly understand where the differences are and at least have some agreement that we’re both willingly and earnestly open to seeking God’s will and wisdom in our own lives and for each other.

Where my circumstance varies from Jet’s is in the fact that while my fiancée’s views on church and faith are very much shaped by her Catholic upbringing, she is neither devout nor active in either regard, and has not been so for at least four years. So the role that this plays in our relationship now and in the issues described above is largely what brings me here. But there are undoubtedly some other significant issues at play, which makes this a bit messier and a bit more difficult to sort out than the Protestant/Catholic issue alone.

She was brought up in a family that was and is both rigidly Catholic (my impression is that most of Vatican II was never really an accepted part of her parents’ views, at least if her own understanding of Catholic doctrine is any indication) and also profoundly dysfunctional. My perception is that on some levels she has difficulty separating the two. Without getting into the details of the latter, she has been resistant to even considering dealing with that (perhaps because she feels that there’s nothing to deal with, but it’s hard to say) through any sort of counseling (facilitated through a church or otherwise). She attributes a significant part of what describes as manipulative, controlling, and abusive behavior by her parents as based on or couched in terms of religion. Some couple years before we met, motivated in part by the foregoing, she more or less left the Catholic Church and concluded that both it and “organized religion” at large were intellectually and morally bankrupt institutions which, at core, serve only to manipulate, control, and divide people into “us” and “them.”

This probably sounds like a familiar, perhaps even understandable, screed. By the time we met, she seemed to have softened this view somewhat, as least so far as finding some distinction between “the church” and her reasons for being angry (as she continues to be) about her parents, and to the extent that while she remained deeply skeptical of “organized” religion, perhaps belief in God and/or spirituality at some individual level wasn’t entirely irrational. In light of that I invited but never pushed hard for her to join me in attending a local church that I enjoyed, made regular efforts to attend, and felt was doctrinally sound on the matters that matter. She would come occasionally, though rarely enthusiastically, and the same seemed true for participating in a short term small group, facilitated by same said church, that we were invited to join.


#2

(cont.)

I took an optimistic view of that and some occasional enthusiasm on her part, despite her frequent apathy or disinterest. That said, we rarely had substantive or productive discussions about matters of faith or religion. She eventually expressed her dislike of this particular church, pointing to her unfamiliarity and discomfort regarding liturgy, a preference for more traditional music, and the fact of her taking exception to this church’s position against ordaining female ministers. That was all fine with me, and she suggested that maybe an Episcopalian church would be a suitable option. Several times I indicated my willingness to do this, but wanted her to have some role in selecting where to go so that it wasn’t just me pushing something on her that she wouldn’t like. Regrettably, that never happened, and in the absence of any proposed alternative she begrudgingly continued as we had before, albeit less frequently.

So what does any of this have to do with Catholicism? Well, pointing to a Catholic baptism, she still describes herself as “Catholic” or “Christian,” and to the extent that matters relating to Christianity come up, her understanding, comments, and criticisms are understandably shaped by her perceptions of Catholic doctrine (as conveyed through the lens of her upbringing). Fast-forward 6-12 months to now and, particularly in recent months, I have become increasingly concerned that the gap in our views and beliefs, both generally and in terms of their role in a marriage, has not only not been closing, but in fact may be wider and more fundamental than I had thought or hoped. So on the advice of several elders and betters, I initiated a recent conversation (which, frankly, should have taken place at least a year ago) on the premise that we should make sure we have some common understanding of what we each believe and the role of faith and church in our lives.

She has a lot of herself wrapped up in our relationship. Questions, or concerns, or issues that she perceives as possibly critical of the current status quo, or that might suggest anything is wrong with the relationship, do not usually result in productive conversations. The results were… less than encouraging. I ended up not saying much. With some real emotion, and mostly unprompted, she returned to general criticisms of organized religion, expressed the view that she wouldn’t want anyone raising he children as her father had, would send any children to secular humanist camp before church so that they could learn to be good people absent other malign influences, and found unacceptable (in terms of being open and appropriately pluralistic) my equivocation and uncertainty as to the ultimate spiritual fate of some hypothetical person who was born, lived, and died a Hindu in India. As for my own beliefs, she indicated that she’s totally fine with that, but didn’t want me thinking that she necessarily had anything to do with them or that there was any need for that to be any integral part of our relationship, much as we might have separate hobbies or interests. Much (not all) of this came as a surprise even to me. So… that wasn’t so good.

In a short follow up the other night, which took much the same tone, she walked back and clarified some of her comments. She maintained that she wasn’t saying that being a person of faith was intellectually dishonest or foolish, but that to extent that someone was Christian, it’s intellectually dishonest, internally inconsistent, and foolish to be anything other than Catholic. Having also made clear that any sort of beliefs must be tolerant or accepting of a pluralistic society, she also seemed to suggest that this should extend exactly the same to a given marriage or a family (she was taken aback when I responded that there might be “a problem” if she “decided to convert to Judaism”). She reiterated that she feels no need for our individual beliefs to have any part or play any direct role in our relationship to each other. When I pointed out that in my view it makes no sense to separate me from these things, she stated that if I were forcing her to adopt any religion then it would be Catholic, or nothing. She went on to explain that I would have to convert because, she maintains, she was raised to hate Protestants because they are heretics destined for Hell, in fact does hate Protestants (or at least, Protestantism), and to believe that Catholics cannot marry Protestants as a result. I inquired about her early participation in church activities with me, and her occasional interest or seeming enthusiasm at times, to which she said that she was “just pretending” to make me happy. I also inquired why it was, in light of so many other things that she’s said, that she would now be willing to attend a Catholic church, or what she expected from that. But she simply said that “my reasons are my own.” So that also wasn’t good.

In an untimely coincidence, she’s being sent overseas for work for three months. The foregoing conversation ended with what I leave with all of you: she indicated that this was why she had asked to go to something more like a Catholic church before, but she didn’t have much response or explanation for why she had never really suggested or asked about us going to a nearby Catholic church itself. In the meantime she suggested that maybe I should start going there while she’s away. I said I’d think about it.

Really, there are kind of two questions here: does it even make sense under the circumstances to move forward on the view that maybe this works (or becomes workable) IF I start attending Catholic services while she’s away? If so, what else, if anything, does it make sense for me to do, say, or ask of her?


#3

[quote="kompliziert, post:2, topic:235213"]
She reiterated that she feels no need for our individual beliefs to have any part or play any direct role in our relationship to each other.

[/quote]

This is, frankly, delusional.

[quote="kompliziert, post:2, topic:235213"]

When I pointed out that in my view it makes no sense to separate me from these things, she stated that if I were forcing her to adopt any religion then it would be Catholic, or nothing. She went on to explain that I would have to convert because, she maintains, she was raised to hate Protestants because they are heretics destined for Hell, in fact does hate Protestants (or at least, Protestantism), and to believe that Catholics cannot marry Protestants as a result. I inquired about her early participation in church activities with me, and her occasional interest or seeming enthusiasm at times, to which she said that she was “just pretending” to make me happy. I also inquired why it was, in light of so many other things that she's said, that she would now be willing to attend a Catholic church, or what she expected from that. But she simply said that "my reasons are my own." So that also wasn’t good.

[/quote]

She has some major emotional problems, and they don't have anything to do with the Catholic Church-- the Catholic Church doesn't teach anyone to hate protestants, doesn't teach protestants are going to hell, and doesn't teach that Catholics cannot marry protestants. Certainly the Church teaches mixed marriage is difficult at best, and so does not encourage it, but you've discovered that already and aren't married yet.

[quote="kompliziert, post:2, topic:235213"]

Really, there are kind of two questions here: does it even make sense under the circumstances to move forward on the view that maybe this works (or becomes workable) IF I start attending Catholic services while she's away? If so, what else, if anything, does it make sense for me to do, say, or ask of her?

[/quote]

I think it makes sense for you to sit down and think long and hard about what kind of marriage you want.

You sound like a faith-filled person who wants a faith-filled marriage with an equally yoked partner who loves God and wants to raise a devout family.

I think that you should convert to the Catholic Church if you believe it to be true and want to practice the faith fully and without reservation. You should not convert to please this woman. Frankly it doesn't sound like she really intends to practice the Catholic faith even if you do convert.

She sounds like an emotionally stunted, disturbed person who has been "faking it" to please you because she's afraid of losing you. The mask will come off when the ring goes on. And, you will have yoked yourself to, basically, a non-believer who has some pretty far out there ideas.

In all honesty, if I were you, I'd break off the engagement. I wouldn't marry someone who held values and beliefs so diametrically opposed to my own. If you think it's bad now, add kids. My faith is the central part of who I am. It was an absolute deal breaker for my future spouse to not share that faith in like kind and intensity.

It sounds to me like you've basically uncovered a dealbreaker, and would have uncovered it sooner if she hadn't been faking it for a year.


#4

Lets say you start attending mass while she is away, and eventually though learning about it you come to appreciate and love Catholic tradition. You have all your questions and doubts answered through speaking with other, attending RCIA, and/or visiting this forum and asking about various issues. In essence you become a full-fledged Catholic who loves the Church. Then what? Do you think things are going to get better? Are her problems going to be solved? Do you honestly believe that if you become a full-fledged Catholic that she will suddenly want to be a part of the Church as well? Can you trust as a Christian man that she won't lead your mutual children down a path that you don't agree with?

The Catholic church calls marriage a vocation for a reason, it isn't just for enjoyment, but a project. Do you really want to work in an intimate proximity with someone who you already have such huge issues with? My advice is to worry about solving the problems first, then you can worry about marriage again. If your problems can't be solved you will be extremely glad you waited, if they are solved you will be going into a stronger healthier marriage.


#5

...she indicated that this was why she had asked to go to something more like a Catholic church before, but she didn’t have much response or explanation for why she had never really suggested or asked about us going to a nearby Catholic church itself. In the meantime she suggested that maybe I should start going there while she’s away. I said I'd think about it.

Prodigal Catholic daughters, we are the worst.

Is it possible that years back, she "deep sixed" the Catholic Church so that she could explore her sexuality?

I did that.

If so, she's needing to get back to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that may or may not be tied into current relationships and then that's tied into being honest about the truths of the Catholic Church - which she somewhat still rejects - yet seems to be reconverting back toward. :D

Like I told you, we are the worst.


#6

I think the previous poster might have been a bit harsh. To me your fiancee comes across as a young woman who is conflicted.

It sounds like she’s trying to think things through figure out what she wants and is having a hard time explaining that to you. Maybe I can shed some light on that because some of what you described could have been me 5 years ago.

First, she probably is a bit defensive when you bring this discussion up with an implied threat to your engagement. It always happens, every relationship has one of those issues. But it is a bit unfair because normally these are issues that have been left alone for a while dating out of the view it doesn’t really matter. Suddenly with marriage looming things that never matter while dating must be discussed. For her- she probably assumed religion would stay much as it did during dating- so of course she’s defensive that now you are saying what was good for 2 years is no longer good enough for you. I know you know this, because you stated that you should’ve had this conversation sooner but you need to give her a real chance to response to you and to try to make this work. Give her time. Something made you ask this woman to marry you…keep that in your mind when you talk to her about this. (Try to keep it in her mind too.)

She sounds like a woman who is Catholic but has some conflicts with her faith. I think that is common, I also think it isn’t talked about a lot. When going through marriage counseling I had to explain to my husband that I hated talking about religion. (In my experience it was a great way to tick off my parents.) When you start asking and questioning Dogma of the Church most Catholic get very very nervous. It makes having an open dialogue very hard. Along with that, interpretation of religious truths by an individual has far less role in the life of a Catholic than it does in most protestant religions. (This forum being an exception.) So your fiancee has probably not had a lot of experience or practice articulating the thoughts in her head. On top of the lack of conversation, the understanding that you cannot be a [good] Catholic and believe something in conflict with the Church…there is always a chance your fiancee didn’t even try to work through her own thoughts alone. (No one wants to think their way into hell.) It isn’t because she’s not smart, put-together or any other things- it is because she didn’t get what she need in her spiritual education.

She probably has a lot of core Catholic beliefs (thats where the Catholic or nothing comes from) but it sounds to me like she’s learned religion can be toxic to relationships. This is why she wants to keep it separate from you. You need to help her see there is another side to religion where it can help make relationships even stronger. But you need to be aware she’s probably terrified she’s going to say the wrong thing and you’ll walk right out the door.

I don’t know how much my post really helps you but I hope it gives you a chance to see her it a bit better light. She’s not nuts or crazy- she’s a conflicted Catholic who needs a gentle hand when it comes to religion.

Hope this helps.


#7

She may *have religion*but does she have a heart filled with the Lord? Big Difference. Grew up a Catholic school gal, and went through all the motions....but it wasn't until God created that "new heart"....you know what I mean....that it really made a difference. Careful with the quarrelsome lady. You know what the good book say, would be better to live on the roof...or something like that!
What do you want? Then proceed....before the marriage!


#8

Just some thoughts I had while reading your post.

Love God First and Foremost.
Marriage is a vocation.
You will become one with each other and are supposed to represent/reflect the Trinity.
Your task and responsibility will be to help each other get to heaven.
The blessing of children will most likely come from a full union.
Children need a rock to stand on as life on this earth is a battlefield of quick sand.

A Cradle Catholic may not be aware of it but somewhere deep down they know that Jesus
is really present in the Eucharist which will make all other chuches and temples feel as
though something is really missing.
Confusion from this world, family dysfunction, and seperation from God due to poor
choices will cause a person to be angry, insecure, radical, and even destructive.
All these issues and decisions should be discussed and resolved before a marriage takes
place.
Catholics do not hate protestants, hatred is evil, you are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Seperate from the question of whether to marry or not, I would invite you to attend Mass
for yourself to investigate the possibilities of an even closer relationship with Jesus as
the Catholic Church offers a depth and fullness that cannot be briefly described.
I will pray for you both. Do what you do for the Lord.


#9

I agree with the other posters. This girl has Issues with a capital I. I think you are going to be ultimately very unhappy if these issues aren't dealt with. You sound like a person who thinks more with their head than their heart- which is actually a good thing when it comes to pondering marriage with somebody. Marriage is a holy vocation. It is a Sacrament. The whole goal of a marriage is to help sanctify and lead the other partner to God. Do you think this woman is going to help lead you closer to God? Your future children to Christ?

I don't think it is a coincidence that she is leaving for three months now. It seems like a big, red warning flag from God. But by all means, bring the matter before Him and relinquish it. Let Him gently tell you what His will is for you. Take yourself and your emotions, ponderings and self-will out of it and lay it all in His Hands. Surrender it to Him and see what He has to say. Good luck to you. You're in my prayers.:)


#10

Maturity is the recognition that your parents are not and were not God. She is equating the misery she grew up with (I'm taking her at her word, not knowing what, if any, misery she herself visited upon her parents) with the Catholic Church. A not uncommon response, but also very immature of her.

The person you describe is pretty muddled up, as regards religion in general, her relationship with her parents, and her way of approaching relationship (lying to you about her intentions, for example).

And as another poster brought up, where is her love for God in all this talk of religion?? There is religion, and there is faith, and ideally the two should overlap completely, but it sounds as if she has the form, sometimes, but not the faith. Does she pray? Does she listen for God's guidance?

Seriously, I would set some conditions for any further relationship. I know you are engaged but engagements can be broken, and I am concerned that she is not at all ready for marriage. The back and forth in her attitudes toward religion in general and both of your religions specifically is very troubling. Half of what she says does not make sense at all.

If it were me, I'd say counseling. First, for her by herself, and then perhaps the two of you Period. Or give me back the ring.

:shrug:


#11

I’m really surprised at how many people are telling the OP to cut his loses and run. He has a 2.5 year relationship with this woman, cares enough about her to write a very long post, she’s had multiple conversations with him trying to clarify her beliefs. They were planning to be married. She’s not disposable.

That’s the problem with some Catholics. You hit a hiccup when you are dating, they tell you to run like the wind. You hit a monster of an issue when you are married, they tell you “you said til death do you part.” Ugh!

OP only you can really know if your girl is a lost cause or not. But your post really stuck with me during my commute home- especially the part about her not giving you a straight answer or fully explaining her reasons.

I think she has reasons- I think she just doesn’t know how you’ll react to them. Not because you have ever done anything but because she’s had people react negatively in the past. Be that person she can talk to and bounce ideas off and she doesn’t have to fear being judged or yelled at for it. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything she says but just be gentle. If you can, treat this like a big adventure for the two of you. Tell her you’d like to learn more about the Catholic faith (as it sounds from your post you do) pick a introduction book or something (I’m sure the forum has a lot of suggestions) and read it together why she is away and discuss it together. Just a few ideas.

As the other posters are quick to point out: your girl does have a lot of things to find out about her religious beliefs and her faith. But everyone is immature about something. Married life is about working together- even when it seems like your other half has lost their mind.

Good Luck!


#12

OP, sounds like you're in limbo!

I suggest postponing the actual wedding to give you both some breathing room and space in which to work these things out.

My take on what you've written is that she really doesn't get how important God is to you. You and He cannot be separated - religion is not like bowling with the guys. I think she was expecting that you'd lighten up about it, so she perhaps ...projected... enthusiasm which was not there. In other words, go along with it and get past it.

While I think you can only take her at her word, you do have a lot of thinking and talking to do. This will all take time.

BTW - please don't think that all Catholic Prodigal Daughters went off the reservation to explore their sexuality. I was gone for 25 years and it had NOTHING to do with sex.

Now that I'm back, there's no way I could be involved with a non-believer. I thank God for sending me a man that is Catholic - I would find it hard to be serious with someone who wasn't Catholic since my religion is that important to me.

When she says she'd send her kids to a secular humanist camp, believe her. When people lie, they do that to look better, get through situations more easily, etc. The faking enthusiasm was a lie to make you happy. Telling you about how she'd want to handle religious ed for the potential kids is not something to make things better!

She's coming from a place of deep anger towards the Church, right or wrong. That anger can take a long time to work through, and only if someone wants to work through it. I transferred my anger from the Church to God, which turned me to atheism. Hopefully it will not ever be that bad for her, but my point is that strong negative emotions take on a life of their own.


#13

It is so good that you are exploring all this now. It is painful but it would be so much worse if it all came up after you were married.

You sound like you have a wonderful relationship with the Lord and you should be with someone who shares those views with you.

I don’t think you need to throw in the towel but you are right to be taking the time now to work through this.

It is worrisome how she talks about teaching your future children about faith, religion and God etc.

There are reasons you asked her to marry you so there is love there. Proceed carefully.
Marriage is a vocation for a reason. There are bumpy roads, hard times and good etc. Getting through all of that will be so much easier if you are on common ground with faith.
At this point even if she could just establish a relationship with the Lord and neither of you convert you would at least share that love and trust in the Lord.

I think you have both been given these 3 months to have time to pray and reflect on this.

I’ll keep you both in prayer.

God Bless.


#14

Please postpone the wedding. It sounds like right now she needs a friend more than a relationship.


#15

I would seek spiritual counsel from a priest/minister and insist on joint counseling. If she won't do that, then the chances of working out these faith issues are probably low. I don't support blaming her. However it does seem very important to honestly discuss issues of spiritual belief, practice, which church to attend, and how to raise the children. If she won't commit to that, knowing your faith is very important to you, that is something to think about. If she agrees to do it you are in a better position assuming you can find a good counselor. good luck.


#16

Thanks everyone for the many thoughtful comments and perspectives, as well as offers of support and prayer. As my OP probably makes clear, brevity is not my forte. My response in (at least) three parts.

As preface, I’d like to highlight one quick, Catholic-specific question that may be of some help in clarifying for her what I believe must be present in a marriage and therefore doesn’t afford a great deal of room for uncertainty or disagreement. As I indicated above, I wanted to try to start with trying to set the stage for more productive conversation by just having a simple, baseline talk about nothing more what each of us actually believed, and perhaps why, not merely because being able to do that is important in its own right now and in the future but because it also intersects to varying degrees with a number of other areas that we need to be more proactive about. What may not have been clear is that I also wanted to use that as a way to getting some common language and understanding about certain aspects of faith and religion because I think that many of our prior conversations (which have usually revolved around more peripheral details or specific issues) have been hindered or unproductive because we’re not operating from the same set of assumptions and perhaps don’t necessarily use or understand certain terms or concepts quite the same way. Like many professions, otherwise common words in everyday speech are used as “terms of art” in religious contexts, and they carry certain nuance or meaning that may not be the same or even apparent from context. So let me ask whether there is a particular term of art or turn of phrase common to Catholic life that resonates or clearly conveys the following concept:

I do know what you mean by “heart filled with the Lord” and creating a “new heart;” the latter has commonplace usage and understanding in my experience and among most Christians I know. My question is whether this idea is conveyed by any expressions, specific to Catholicism, which convey some import or doctrinal necessity? addendum: I’d rather avoid the phrase “born again” because I don’t think it’s quite right in this context and because it carries a lot of other freight generally and with her in particular.

To add context, my answer (with the caveat that I’m a bit uncomfortable about presuming too much) to the first quoted question is “no.” But I don’t think it’s quite accurate to say that she has religion either. That’s actually where she kind of misunderstands and takes issue with me: she seems to think that I’m saying she needs to get religion because I have indicated that I want and expect active life and participation in our relationship and any family. And that’s true, to a point, but it’s incomplete. What I think she’s not picking up is that I regard the latter (i.e. “faith” or a “new heart”) as the crux of the matter and (unusual circumstances aside) inextricably intertwined with the former, i.e. participating in a church community (or “the Church” if your Catholic, but I digress ;) and “religion.” Given a new heart, I think that one will want, and find necessary, church, coming to terms and working through over time how one shapes the other. Alternatively, in the absence of a new heart, I think that church can or (ideally) should be a part of the process by which someone is opened to that.

In her case, it seems that her framework for religion doesn’t necessarily require or expect that additional piece in terms of something that gets lived out in everyday life (and that’s without my being able to speculate one way or the other about her experience with that at any point in the past), because the principal reason for faith and/or religion has to do with salvation, and this idea is not a necessary condition for ultimate salvation. As she explained in some brief follow up conversation last night (which I’ll address piecemeal below where relevant), “God takes attendance.” This, I’m sure, is a familiar perspective so I won’t elaborate in great detail. In short, it’s necessary to go to Catholic Church each week, but aside from that (presuming no mortal sins) and some extra time in Purgatory, there’s no need, strictly speaking, for any more. Asked what role or place God has in any of this, “he’s taking attendance” but that’s really it. So:

No, I don’t think so, though not for lack of encouragement on my part.

This isn’t uncommon where someone grows up learning about and following certain key practices, whether based on expressed or implied threat regarding salvation or for other reasons, and later concludes that they’re empty of anything else and disconnected from anything else in day to day life. I should caveat that her explanation of this may or may not be a precise reflection of how she believes Catholic doctrine to operate because that presentation may have been a result of some defensiveness or rhetorical simplification on her part (more on that below). But I think my ultimate characterization in terms of where she’s at in terms of personal faith (or not) and religion are accurate enough. Suffice it to say, I think she’s tepid about “religion” in part because that alone is empty and, when viewed that way, it also fairly seems coercive and manipulative.


#17

With that as additional prologue to bear in mind, let me see if I can respond to some of the other replies. To begin with the ultimate issue:

Obviously, the purely pragmatic question of what to do is neither obvious nor easy. First, it’s probably worth mentioning that no wedding date has been set, nor have any financial commitments or detailed planning taken place (her interest in the latter notwithstanding).

No, I don’t think this person is disposable by any means. But nor is it reasonable to flatly rule out that this will not work as a marriage – I think that must be admitted as a possibility and, properly considered, such a conclusion does not necessarily equate to treating anyone as disposable. Nor is it reasonable or fair to either of us to indefinitely hold our relationship in some sort of engagement or quasi-engagement state. So I really do need to arrive at some sort of clear idea about where we need to be at before going beyond that, have some way to determine whether that’s the case or whether progress is being made, and have some idea about a reasonable span of time to after which some finality one way or the other needs to have been established. I think she vaguely recognizes this, and is worried for obvious reasons and because I’m not entirely able to articulate those things clearly in a way that makes sense to her. But I also get the sense that she doesn’t quite realize just how serious or urgent this really is, perhaps because I have brought up concern or dissatisfaction from time to time and to varying degrees yet here we are today, and largely with what she’s wanted.

I’m not quite at the point (or I’m not sure I’m at the point) where tomorrow I’d say there’s no way. But I do need to establish a course of action and means of evaluating it that I’m comfortable with, and then communicate that to her clearly and in a way that balances her needs and where I need to give, and being gentle and encouraging (“doing no harm” as doctors say), with what can only be seen as expectations and demands.

Things are easy (if painful) if after doing that she simply says no, not doing that and not interested in getting to that point you think so important. Beyond that, everything is fuzzier and trickier to discern.

I will say that the threshold requirement for considering wedding, a genuine and full faith, or at least a genuine enthusiasm and pursuit of that, is one of those things that can be difficult to discern from inside a relationship and is not something that I can or should attempt to control or impose. I get very leery about creating or communicating what can seem like deadlines or checkboxes around that, which creates obvious tension with the need for some concreteness regarding a decision about moving from engagement to wedding (or not).

All that to say, I don’t think that joint counseling is an option, and that’s been discussed – albeit with some difficulties in getting movement. Likewise, I think (and have suggested before, to much protest) individual counseling – even if not facilitated or referred through a church – to start working through some of her family issues, probably shouldn’t be an option. When and how to communicate and expect some responsiveness to that is a bit of an open question though, made (possibly) more difficult given that she doesn’t really have a current church that she attends (some more on that below).


#18

It's an immature Catholic who thinks that "God takes attendance" and that is all. All I can say for myself is that once I loved God as much as I can, trying to love Him even a tiny bit of how much He loves me, it's a whole heck of a lot more than seeing Him as the Vice Principal.

Someone with this little true understanding and, to put it in a Protestant vernacular, who has no personal relationship with Jesus, is not someone I would recommend a faithful Christian to marry. I can only begin to imagine the struggles you might have, even just to communicate about spiritual matters. The way you describe it now sounds like you are speaking to her in one language, and she is responding in Martian or something.

I keep using the word "immature" for a reason. She sounds like someone who got stuck at some very basic level in her faith formation, and with an overlay of anger at her parents in addition to that. So you will be seeing the anger and the background of dysfunction first and most often, but expressed through the concept of religion. She really needs to deal with these issues in therapy. So that she can grow up and let go of her past, and recognize that God is more than a tally-marker in the sky.

If she has no interest in working out her problems in therapy now, what would happen if you had problems in the marriage and needed counseling help? Look at the way she solves problems or runs away from them as another category of what sort of person she is.

Take her at face value, as she is right now, not as a project. If she never changed, would you still want to marry her?


#19

Agreed. Perhaps my post above sheds some further light on that. Either way, I think that’s a close enough representation of the status quo. From my point of view, that’s something that must change, as I elaborated above.

No, on both counts, largely for the reasons in the preceding post.

Who can say, really? Either way I don’t think it makes any sense, ex ante, for me to convert to Catholicism – in name only or otherwise – on account of her askance. The obvious reason is that my doing so won’t do anything directly for her in that same regard. All else being equal, that merely leaves me in more or less the same position as I am now.

During our further discussion she also suggested that my going to Catholic church would be “easier” for her on account of her parents (privately) giving her less grief about me and because it would help me be more a part of their family’s culture, which would make her more comfortable. But that’s an even more dubious suggestion because that’s an issue between her and her parents and her and God, is (comparatively) little to do with me, and merely makes it easier to accommodate a wedding on their account while not actually requiring or creating any expectation of change on her part.

The question might be considered somewhat different were she a devout Catholic. But under the circumstances, the most I would consider is attending Catholic services with her, if that’s what she genuinely wants to do of her own volition and for herself.

Separately, during the same discussion she indicated a willingness and interest in attending and seeing whether she would be comfortable with regularly attending an Episcopalian church that that I would be comfortable with and that we have discussed in the past but not yet been to. Some more on that below re: pretending. But, if that’s not doing it for her, then the next stop for any further church attendance would need to be a Catholic church.

That’s well and good, but as I tried to explain in response (and this is where she started to get defensive and frustrated), the question of which place is the right place to be or what might or should happen, or when, were we to settle on going to a Catholic church, sort of puts the cart before the horse. In any case, if returning to regular participation in the Catholic Church is what she wants to do, that’s fine, we can work from there. But that’s far from clear at this point. Much of this boils down to the issues discussed in my first reply. Suffice it to say, my only concern about starting (together) to attend Catholic services is not to do with the Catholic church itself, but rather with the prospect that because of her current views and perceptions of Catholic doctrine, it leaves her thinking that there’s no issue because we’re in agreement on where to attend church. That’s a possibility anywhere, really, but I want don’t want to create the perception that a decision on my part to attend Catholic services is tantamount to acceptance or of her current position with respect to faith and church.


#20

That, I’m reasonably certain of, and more than once I’ve wonder if by unfortunate happenstance the timing of our relationship was used to fill in for some of the personal searching and development that was underway in fits and starts when we met. The result may be that it was all left unfinished, in stasis, which prompts the obvious question as to whether it’s possible, reasonable, to say nothing of best, to try to restart or promote that from within the context of what is now a long-term relationship. If not, then I’m doing neither of us a favor by perpetuating that.

Also, briefly in response to TheRealJuliane's last post as a whole: I largely agree. I'm also one of those people who preaches the "your spouse isn't your personal project" view, and the notion is not lost on me.

Over the past few weeks that I've given this considerable thought, discussion with friends, and others, I've maybe already resigned myself to the conclusion that this isn't going to work. On a few occasions I've felt a bit like I'm grieving that it's over, just as anyone might when a relationship ends, even though that's happened almost completely independent of any discussion with her. So in some ways much of what I'm trying to square myself to how I can treat her as best and fairly as I can, and maybe because I want to be able to put things clearly enough in front of her in a way that she is able to either see that there is something really at issue here that she needs to be involved in working through, or reaches a conclusion that she's not willing to accept certain things about me or what I want, resulting in some mutual agreement that this won't work. Neither of those responses seems especially likely though.


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