November 2, 2019

Coming Out Atheist: Is Losing Your Relationship Worth It?

couple holding hands

You are in an intimate relationship, and you'd just as soon remain that way. The problem is, s/he is religious while you have come to doubt your faith. After some deep reflection, you have come to the conclusion that you just don't believe all this god stuff anymore. But you are worried that telling your partner about this may irreparably damage your relationship.

What do you do? If you keep your thoughts to yourself, will that make you feel like you are living a lie or that your partner might love who they think you are rather than who you are? What would it be like to stay in a relationship where you can't be yourself? I can't decide what is right for you in such a case, but I will offer some thoughts on the matter for you to consider.

I'll start by saying that I think the situation I have described, difficult as it is, tends to be easier than a similar scenario involving one's family. After all, most people will have more intimate partners during the course of their lives than they will have families. I realize this is not a pleasant notion because you'd prefer to maintain this relationship.

I think that the main question I would want to ask myself in such a predicament would be as follows:

How important is it that my partner loves me for being me rather than for being something he or she wants me to be that I am not?
If I do not believe in gods, I would not want to pretend that I did. I would have a hard time remaining in a relationship with someone if I did not feel like I could be myself around them. I would want to give my partner an opportunity to know the real me. This might include my thoughts on the subject of gods and the manner in which belief in them affects the culture in which I reside.

It is fairly common for people in a relationship to be as attracted to the potential of someone rather than to the actual person. And yet, it has been my experience that such relationships are often doomed if they do not progress beyond this point. If I am in love with what I want someone to be rather than what they really are, I'm resigning myself to being perpetually disappointed and unhappy. One could reasonably argue that this wouldn't be a relationship at all but merely a form of narcissism. In any case, it is difficult to imagine such a relationship being satisfying in the long run.

Of course, one might decide that maintaining such a relationship is worthwhile even if it means concealing one's true thoughts about religion. This wouldn't be my choice, but it is not my place to fault you if it is yours. I have little difficulty understanding why some would make such a choice. Being an atheist can be a lonely experience, and I would not fault anyone for not wanting to go down that path if they could avoid it.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2009. It was revised and expanded in 2019.