FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Spiritually Mismatched: Seeing Heart to Heart

with Various Guests | January 17, 2011
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What happens when a believer marries an unbeliever? Dennis Rainey talks with various guests about the reality of being unequally yoked.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What happens when a believer marries an unbeliever? Dennis Rainey talks with various guests about the reality of being unequally yoked.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What happens when a believer marries an unbeliever?

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Spiritually Mismatched: Seeing Heart to Heart

With Various Guests
January 17, 2011
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Bob: All across the country in tens of thousands of homes, individuals are expressing a common frustration of being spiritually mismatched.

Woman 1:  One time I asked him, I said you know, “Do you pray to God?”

Woman 2:  He doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way.

Woman 3:  I don’t see him seeking answers between himself and God and the Bible.

Man: I would love to sit in a pew next to her on Sunday morning.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, January 17th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’re going to talk today to some folks who are in spiritually mismatched marriages and try to provide some help and some hope. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  Dennis, I was driving into work not long ago listening to one of these call-in talk shows.  This was not on a Christian station, and –

Dennis:  You weren’t listening to our broadcast, Bob? 

Bob:  Our broadcast was over, so I’d tuned to a different station.


Dennis:  Oh, that’s real good, Bob.  I’m glad you . . .  Anyway, go ahead.

Bob:  Yeah.  Our broadcast was over.  I was listening to a different station.               

Dennis:  Okay.  You’re safe.  You’re safe.

Bob:  I heard a caller calling in, and she was talking about these Christians who try to convert everybody else and tell them that the way they’re living is wrong.  She was going on and on about those Christians, and she said, “I mean, I’m a Christian, but I’m not that kind of Christian.”  I thought, “That’s exactly what we’re going to be dealing with on the broadcast today, folks who find themselves married to somebody who says, ‘I’m a Christian.’” 

Dennis:  But not one of those.

Bob:  “Not that kind of Christian.”

Dennis:  Yes, and you may be married to somebody that you’re going, “I think I’m married to a liberal Christian.”  You know, somebody who professes Christ but who doesn’t believe the Scripture is God’s Word.  So what do you do with that?  How do you maintain unity in your marriage, in raising a family, if you can’t agree around the basic tenets of the faith?

Bob:  A while back we took some phone calls from folks who were in spiritually mismatched marriages.  Today we’re going to hear from a couple of folks who call in with that very situation.  They’re married to someone who says, “I’m a Christian, but I’m just not as fanatical about it as you are,” or “I don’t hold the same exact convictions.” 

That can be a source of tension in a marriage relationship.  Let’s listen together.  We’ve got a couple of phone calls here that we took recently from listeners who are in that kind of a situation.

Dennis:  Hi, Holly.

Holly: Hi, Dennis?

Dennis:  This is Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.

Holly:  Hi, Dennis.  Hi, Bob.

Bob:  Hey, thanks for calling.

Dennis:  What’s going on in your marriage?

Holly:  Well, when we were first married we both grew up in a liberal mainline denomination and didn’t really have that personal relationship with the Lord.  Since that time I have become born again and just totally transformed.

Dennis:  How long ago, Holly?

Holly:  Fifteen years ago.

Dennis:  Okay.

Holly:  And my husband is kind of still the same way, and even though we go to a Bible-believing church.  The Word is preached faithfully, he’s there every Sunday.  He’s involved in church.  I don’t see the fruit and the desire is not there in him to really read the Word and to be the spiritual leader of our home.

Dennis:  He would say he’s a Christian.

Holly:  Yeah, because when he was twelve he made the commitment in this liberal church that he accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior.  He believes that Jesus is his Savior – but there are some very essential things that he doesn’t believe, such as he doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way.  And he doesn’t believe in the infallibility of the Scripture, he’s not sure about heaven, you know, just some real basic things like that.

Dennis:  Right.

Holly:  Every time I try to talk about anything he gets real defensive and he doesn’t want to talk about it.

Bob:  Would people at your church – would they know about these areas of doctrine with him?

Holly:  No.  No, I don’t think so.

Bob:  Everybody there figures he’s just . . .

Holly:  Right

Bob:  . . . he’s just one of the guys and right along with the crowd

Holly:  Right.

Dennis:  And Bob, this is a huge problem . . .

Bob:  It is.

Dennis:  … in most churches.  We go to church with one another weekend after weekend after weekend, we say, “Hi,” we say, “How you doing?”  “Nice sermon.  Very good job, Pastor.”  And yet no one peels the onion . . .

Holly:  Yes.

Dennis:  . . . beneath the surface to find out what’s going on in a man’s life or in a woman’s life to say, “How are you doing spiritually?”

Holly:  Yes.

Dennis:  And yet that needs to be happening.  It needs to be happening for the sake of Holly and their two children, and for the sake of that man.  He needs someone to step into his life, to ask him how he’s doing in his relationship with Jesus Christ.

Bob:  I think you’re very wise to look at the fruit of your husband’s life and ask yourself, “Is it consistent with what is true about a Christian?  Does he hunger and thirst for the Word of God?  Is he motivated toward righteous living?  Is he a person who seeks to walk with Christ on a daily basis?”

Holly:  Right.

Bob:  “Is his life characterized by his Christian faith?”  And if that’s not at the center of his life, then the Bible tells him in 2 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 5 that he needs to examine himself to see if he’s in the faith.  That was Paul’s word to the Corinthians.  He said, “You guys need to reconsider whether you’re really a believer if the way you’re living doesn’t bear witness to what you profess to be true.”

I would encourage you guys to get involved with other couples from church in social settings, maybe in some Bible study settings, where it could naturally kind of leak out.

Holly:  Well, we’re in a small group and we’ve been with them for almost two years, and we’re having a couples retreat with our Bible study this weekend, and I’m really praying that maybe some of this might be able to be addressed.

Dennis:  What I might encourage you to do – and I’m not asking you to be deceitful about this – but maybe go to the strongest man that your husband knows who’s going to be at this retreat, and go to him and just say to him privately – along with his wife being there, of course – but say to him, “You know, I have reason to question whether my husband is really a believer or not.  Would you mind seeking him out over the next couple of days to take a walk and just kind of feel him out and where he is in his own personal relationship with God?” 

I think it’s being wise to realize that more than likely God’s going to use your life to lead him to Christ, but he may want to use another man to truly pierce his soul and to truly introduce him to the Savior.

Bob:  Let me tell you a story, okay?

Holly:  Okay.

Bob:  I had been involved in outreach ministry for three years in college.  I had been working on high school campuses sharing Christ with other kids, and I had a friend of mine at a Bible study who asked me, “Could I meet with you sometime next week?”  And I thought, “Sure, we can get together.”  Candidly I thought, “I wonder what question he wants me to answer for him.”  That’s just how arrogant I was.

We got together and he said, “You know what? I don’t think you get it.” 

Holly:  Wow.

Bob:  I said, “What do you mean?”  And he said, “I don’t think you understand the nature of the Gospel or your own salvation.”  And for the next 15 or 20 minutes he hit me between the eyes and frankly, I wasn’t very happy with him.  I thought he was kind of arrogant, you know, for bringing all of this up.

Holly:  Right.

Bob:  But the Lord used that in my life to bring me to himself, because he was 100 percent right.  I was still resting in my own pride, I was still trusting in my own abilities.  I was not yet converted.

Holly:  Wow.

Bob:  The Lord used that situation to bring me to himself.  So I would say, let’s look for opportunities for someone to get one-on-one with your husband and say, “You know, let’s just review this.”

Holly:  Yes.

Bob:  “Are you sure that what you’re expressing as your religious convictions, are you sure that’s right?”

Dennis:  And let God take care of the rest.

Holly:  Okay.

Bob:  Holly, thanks for calling.

Holly:  Thank you so much.  You’ve really . . .

Bob:  Great to talk to you.

Holly:  . . . really helped me a lot.  I appreciate you guys.  God bless you.

Bob:  Thanks.

Holly:  Okay.  Thank you.

Dennis and Bob:  Bye bye.

Holly:  Bye bye.

Bob:  You know, Dennis, you can understand where it’s difficult in a situation like Holly’s where a husband has made a profession of faith, he’s going to church, he’s involved, and yet you don’t see spiritual hunger, you don’t see someone who is motivated by the things of Christ, and you scratch your head and you go, “Am I married to a Christian or not?” 

Dennis:  Right.  And then you become preoccupied with it and if you’re not careful it becomes an obsession.  If I’m speaking to a wife right now where she’s had an obsession with this, you’re much better off backing off and taking the route that Holly has, apparently, which is prayer, gaining some others to pray for him, not making this the topic of discussion between you and your spouse unless he or she raises the issue and wants to talk about it.  

I think it’s very easy in these situations, Bob, for a husband especially to feel like his wife is nagging him.  He’ll feel like she’s pressuring him, and that will make it even that much more difficult for him to come to a point of placing his faith in Christ.

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  And so silence really is the best tactic.  Prayer is the key, and asking God to raise up others who can intersect that person’s life and speak to him directly about his spiritual condition.  Unfortunately today, the church – we’re all too satisfied with the shallowness of our interactions on Sunday or in Bible studies, and we need to be stopping one another and saying, “How are you really doing?” putting our arms around one another.  “Are you guys doing okay?”

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  “How are you doing spiritually?  Are you growing?”  And maybe then – don’t accept their first answer.  Probe a little deeper.  All of us are deeply in need of the Spirit of God, the Word of God, and the person of God to be guiding us as we hammer out life in a marriage and a family today.

Bob: Would you counsel Holly, would you recommend to her that she suggest the two of them coming to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, or is that too aggressive for her to try to do that?

Dennis:  I might.  It really depends on what’s going on.  If she hasn’t been quiet for some time and if she’s really been kind of nagging at him, then maybe the best thing is to wait.  But if she hasn’t said anything in a long time, maybe just make the recommendation.  “Why don’t we have a romantic getaway?  I promise you it will be a weekend to remember.”  And just smile at him and make the arrangements, and say, “Let’s go.”

Here’s the deal, Bob.  The Weekend to Remember is designed for this guy, or, for that matter, a wife who may be lukewarm or may be even mildly hostile toward Christianity.  We don’t shove it down anybody’s throat.  It is unapologetically based on the Bible; we speak clearly.  But I’m going to tell you – the speakers and how we go about it – all of us come out of the authenticity of our own lives, how we’ve failed, and we use our failures to do the majority of our teaching.

Bob:  Well I ask the question because right now, this week and next week we’re making a special offer to FamilyLife Today listeners.  If you want to attend one of our upcoming spring Weekend to Remember Marriage Getaways, when you register this week or next week and identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, you register at the regular rate and your spouse comes free.  So it’s a buy one, get one free offer.  All you have to do is go online at 

You can get the information there about locations and dates and when the conference is going to be in what location, and then as you fill out the registration form, there’s a key code box.  If you type my name, you type “BOB” in the key code box, we’ll know you’re a listener, you will get the buy one, get one free offer for FamilyLife Today listeners.  You have to register either this week or next week to take advantage of this special offer. 

Or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and register over the phone, and just mention that you listen to FamilyLife Today; we can answer any questions you have about the getaway, and we can get you registered by phone.  But again, this week and next week, if you want to take advantage of this special offer, we need to hear from you.

Now, we’re talking today about marriages where couples are spiritually mismatched, and we’ve been taking phone calls in recent days.  We’ve got Dawn joining us from New Jersey.  Dennis.

Dennis:  I sure hope we can be of some help to you this afternoon.

Dawn:  Well, I hope so, too.  I live with the consequences that I married an unsaved man eight years ago.  I was convinced before we were married and even the first few years after our marriage that he would become a Christian, and it didn’t happen.  I learned I have to trust it to be in God’s time, not in mine. 

We have a three-year-old son, and my husband is like a boarder in our house.  He brings home a paycheck and that’s about it.  He’s not much of a husband and not much of a father, and he’s not really involved in either one of our lives at all.  Spiritually I’m committed to the marriage, but it’s really hard.

Bob:  What does he do when he gets home in the evening, Dawn?

Dawn:  Well, my husband actually works nights, so he sleeps during the day.

Dennis:  Are you gone during the day?

Dawn:  No, I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I stay home with my son.

Dennis:  So you do have some time when he’s awake and there at home.

Dawn:  Well, when he’s awake.  He sleeps most of the day.  He usually sleeps until about an hour before he has to go to work. 

Bob:  When you have any kind of interaction time with him, what happens?

Dawn:  Honestly – sometimes he works weekends too, and we really don’t have any time.  I mean, he sleeps like almost all the time.  We really don’t do anything.  I mean, not only with each other but as a family.  When he’s awake he might watch a video with my son, but there’s no interaction.  I mean he has no desire to be involved in anything.

Dennis:  What about going to church with you?

Dawn:  No.  No, he has periodically gone in the past, but it’s been probably at least – probably almost two years since he’s gone.

Dennis:  Were you a Christian when you married him?

Dawn:  Yes, I was.

Dennis:  Did you know what you were doing when you married him, or did you think you were marrying a Christian?

Dawn:  No, I knew what I was doing, but I thought for sure that he was going to become a Christian, and I know that that’s wrong.  I mean, now especially, I know that.

Dennis:  What would you say to someone who is listening right now, a single person who is dating someone who is not a believer?

Dawn:  I would say to get out while you can, before you get any more emotionally attached.  I never would have imagined that it would be as painful as it is, and that’s kind of one of my prayers, is that if even one person can hear me say not only not to date a nonbeliever, but – or not to marry, but not to date or become involved with a non-believer because it really brings you down, and you need double spiritual energy to keep plugging along.

Bob:  Dawn, if I were to call your husband at work and say, “Tell me about your marriage.  On a scale of one to ten, give me a ranking for your marriage,” what do you think he would say?

Dawn:  [laughing] He’d probably tell you about an eight.

Bob:  So you think in his mind, everything’s going pretty well?

Dawn:  Yes.  I’ve heard him say that.

Dennis:  I can’t help but wonder that as this thing continues to rock along, if you don’t need to get a little bit of a game plan, a clear strategy with your pastor or with an elder or a mature Christian at church, and kind of lay out a game plan for how you’re going to have a wake-up call for your husband, because these are the kind of marriages that – I think some men can literally rock along for almost a lifetime, be in denial about what they’re missing, sleep, eat, and have their little hobby off to the side, but never have anyone pierce their spiritual darkness to say, “There’s more here.”

Dawn:  Right.

Dennis:   “There’s a relationship with a person here.  There’s a relationship with a little boy here.”  He needs help, and he doesn’t know he needs help.

Dawn:  Right.

Dennis:  And it may take you stepping into his life with some pretty severe pain to get his attention and to ultimately help him become the man, the husband, and the father that God created him to be.

Bob:  And really the only way for that cycle to be broken is for there to be intervention in his life.  It’s going to have to come through the Spirit of God, probably by someone other than you.

Dawn:  Yes.

Bob:  Because the wife is not typically the one who can carry that message to her husband.  You’re going to need a support group of your own that you can be praying with on a regular basis, and that you can draw strength from in the midst of all of this.  He’s going to need to have his life intersect with some spiritual men, some godly men, who can say, “Listen, this is what a husband is supposed to look like and be like and act like.”

Dawn:  I keep praying for that.

Bob:  We’re glad you called, and

Dawn:  Thank you very much.

Bob:  . . . keep in touch with us and let us know what the Lord does in your relationship.

Dawn:  I will.  Thank you again for your time and the ministry.  I really appreciate it.

Bob:  Thanks, Dawn.  Bye bye.

Dawn:  Bye bye.

Bob:  You know, Dennis, a situation like that can feel hopeless for a wife when her husband is not initiating, he’s not responding, he’s just not engaging at all in the relationship.

Dennis:  That’s right.  And you know, in these situations God implores us to be of sound judgment, of sober spirit.  We need godly counselors around us in situations when we’re hopeless.   That’s what the church is all about.  It wasn’t intended to be just a place where we went on Sunday, and it’s not always that we go to the pastor.  It’s a part of why there are mature believers in that church to be able to step into the lives of people who are hurting and to offer perspective, offer encouragement, offer direction, and be vehicles of grace and a conduit of God’s love to people who would otherwise, like Dawn’s husband.

You know, without somebody stepping into his life, his life’s probably going to end early.  He needs somebody to love him enough, to step into his life, to put their arm around him and say, “Young man, you’ve got a problem.  You can’t live like this.  You can’t keep pushing the envelope by punching the time clock, working evenings, sleeping days, no relationship with your son, no relationship with your wife.  Something’s got to change here.  This is not life, Christian marriage as God intended it.” 

There is hope in those situations, but I’ll tell you, Bob.  People need tools today to be able to step into the lives of folks like this.  And you know, this is where I’m encouraged by what’s happening in our nation.  There are all kinds of people who are hitting the wall like Dawn is hitting and like her husband is hitting, and it’s  around marriage and family.  The gospel has never been more relevant in a marriage and family situation.  Why?  Because God created marriage.  He created the institution of family, and he made it to be a spiritual institution whereby people relate to him and they relate to one another out of a spiritual basis.

You know, over in Matthew chapter seven, Jesus said there were two types of home built, one on the sand, one on a rock.  When the storms came, when the winds blew, when the floods hit that home, one fell. 

Bob:  Right.

Dennis:  The other stood.  Why?  Because the house built on the rock was the one that was built upon Jesus Christ and his Word, and heard the Word and acted upon it.  They were obedient to it.  Ladies like Dawn can be a redemptive force, a powerful force in their marriage and in their family to see a man like this, whose life is built on sand, ultimately find the rock and begin building upon Jesus Christ.

Bob:  Well, and we’re going to be hosting one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Getawaysup in the New Jersey area this spring.  In fact we kick off the season on Valentine’s weekend.  I think we’re in six cities that weekend and then each weekend in different locations.  We’ve got a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Getawaygoing on there. 

That’s a great opportunity for a husband and wife to get away and in that context, your spouse will hear speakers who are engaging, who are authentic, transparent, and who know how to connect with couples to help them build a stronger marriage relationship, and how to present Christianity in that context.  So it is an environment where people who aren’t going to church hear clearly the claims of the gospel and get an opportunity to respond to that. 

I mention that because this week and next week we’re giving FamilyLife Today listeners an opportunity to register for one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Getaways.  When you go online to register at or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to register and you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener, when you register yourself at the regular price, your spouse comes free.  It’s a buy one, get one free kind of offer that we’re making this week and next week. 

If you’re registering online, you need to make sure that you type my name. Type “BOB” in the online key code box that is there on the registration form.  Or if you call, just say “I heard them talking about this on the radio and I want to take advantage of the special offer.”  When you register at the regular rate, your spouse comes for free.

I also want to encourage you, if you can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we are listener-supported.  We depend on your donations to continue this broadcast on this station and on our network of stations all across the country.  So if you can either go online or call us to make a donation, we would appreciate it.  In fact, we’d love to send you a thank you gift.  Dennis and Barbara Rainey have written a devotional book for couples called Moments with You.  It’s a full year devotional guide, a page a day.  There’s a passage of Scripture on each page and then a devotional with some questions and an opportunity to pray together. 

We’d love to send the complete devotional guide, a hardback book, to you as our way of saying thank you for your support of this ministry when you make a donation this month to FamilyLife Today.  If you’re donating online at, make sure you write the word “YOU” in the key code box on the online donation form.  If you call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation, just mention that you’d like a copy of the devotional, and we’ll be happy to send it to you.  We want to say thanks in advance for your support of the ministry.  We really do appreciate your partnership with us.

And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow.  Dr. Tim Muehlhoff is going to join us.  We’re going to talk about communication in marriage and what we can do to more effectively hear one another and to share what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling with one another.  I hope you can join us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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