This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Today's column is a test. It's a short one, though. There's only one question. Ready?

Question: All things being equal, would you divorce your spouse if he or she suddenly stopped (or started) believing in God?

Assume he or she still loved you, kept a job, didn't beat the kids and were considerate of your beliefs. Also assume that it didn't require anything crazy such as extra wives, animal sacrifice, living in a compound or blowing nonbelievers to bits.

Nothing has changed other than the fact/belief that they can no longer take you to the celestial kingdom, be with you in Christ or stand with you in godless reason.

Suppose you're an atheist and married to the woman of your dreams. One day she comes home with the bad news that she's found Jesus. She starts going to church. She prays.

In every other respect, she's still the woman of your dreams. Only now you don't believe the same things. You suspect she's lost her mind. She's worried that you're going to hell.

Divorce? A life of acrimonious sniping? Or do you find a workaround?

Lots of marriages fail over a change in shared beliefs. It could happen to yours. If you don't think so, then maybe you're not paying attention. It could be happening right now without you knowing about it.

Everybody changes. Sometimes these changes are big. Sometimes they're small. And sometimes they're so subtle the person who's changing doesn't even realize it until it's done.

The truth is that nobody ends up married to the same person they faced at the altar so many years before. Thank goodness. I got married when I was 22. Dumb as I am now, it used to be worse.

But we're not talking a change in musical tastes, or hobbies or even political parties. A shared religious belief — a lot, none, indifference — is one of the foundations of relationship compatibility. You don't think it will matter until it changes.

Suppose you're the one who changed. One day you're sitting in priesthood meeting and all of your suspicions gel into solid disbelief. You announce it to your spouse. She tearfully mourns your spiritual death but promises to visit you later in the Terrestrial Kingdom.

Here's the thing: She doesn't leave you or her church. What now? Do you focus on the difference or on the things you still love about her? Do you still try to be worthy of her love in every other respect?

Lots of people in this situation don't. She nags you about the church. You sneer at her beliefs. Eventually religion isn't the problem anymore. It's just the battlefield where you fight over everything else.

Eventually your spouse is not the person you thought you married. But if you're willing to abandon the person you swore to love forever over a shift in belief, then neither are you.

You don't end up getting divorced because of religion. More than likely you divorce because one or both of you couldn't tell the difference between control and love.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or