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"He's Turned His Back on God"

Meghan has always considered her faith central to her life, and important to introduce to her two young girls -- but her husband, haunted by the loss of a sibling, wants nothing to do with any church. Can a counselor help this couple resolve their differences?

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Her Turn

“My faith has always been central to my life,” says Meghan, 36, the director of a teen recreation center and the mother of two daughters, Gillian, 8, and Molly, 4.

“It hurts me deeply that James refuses to go to Sunday Mass and does little to help me get the girls there. Christmas last year was an ordeal that I’m worried will be repeated this year. After a lot of coaxing, James agreed to go to Midnight Mass as a family. But when we got there, the church was jammed and there was no room for us to sit together. Instead of making the best of it, my husband got angry and left, leaving me with two exhausted little girls. He has zero tolerance for anything church related.

“It’s not that I’m oblivious to problems in the Catholic Church. I’m as appalled as James is by the horrific stories that have come to light in recent years. The priest of our own parish was actually forced to resign for allegedly abusing children! And our church rubbed salt in the wound by lying and telling parishioners he was on medical leave. I have attended many meetings about the future direction of our parish, but my husband categorically refuses to get involved. His position is that he’s finished with the church. My wanting to stay involved has triggered some terrible arguments.

“For me it’s about more than just attending a church service. This is about my personal relationship with God. Why can’t he see that? Before we had kids, his not going to Mass didn’t bother me that much. But when you become a parent, you realize how important it is to raise children in a spiritual home — at least that’s what I realized. I’m not going to shove my beliefs down their throats, but if kids have no religious upbringing, how will they be able to choose a spiritual path for themselves? That’s one of the most important jobs a parent has, and the fact that James and I can’t agree about it has infected our whole relationship.”

“I Feel So Overwhelmed”

“Of course, we bicker about lots of other stuff, too. I know I’m on edge and get snappish. I hate to complain — every woman I know has too much on her plate and no time to do it all. But sometimes I feel so overwhelmed. Forget about time for myself. I can’t remember the last time I had a chance to exercise or even sit with a book for an hour. By the time the kids are in bed, I’m too exhausted to even hold a book. James always tells me I’m ‘too nice’ and have to learn to say no — when my sister-in-law drops her kids off at our house when she can’t find a babysitter, for example.

“James works hard, too — he’s a hospital administrator — but does that mean he shouldn’t run errands or help with the kids? After we got married, 10 years ago, I swear James turned into his father — the traditional guy who expects his wife to do everything. I don’t want to make a big deal of this, but managing the kids, the house, and my job is getting to be too much. On my way to or from work I do errands: run to the bank, drop off clothes at the dry cleaner, return overdue library books. After cooking dinner I clean up the kitchen, help with homework, and put the girls to bed.

“And where is my husband during all this, you ask? He comes home, goes straight to the den to unwind and check e-mail. Yes, he occasionally pitches in — but only if I ask, which makes me feel like a nag. I wish he’d just do what he says. He promised to clean out the garage, so why doesn’t he do it?

“I know I get upset about minor things, and I’m not sure why. For example, I think the girls are old enough to make their beds in the morning. James doesn’t see the point of bed making, since you’re just going to get back in it at night. I know, I know — it sounds like a joke on a late-night show. But his attitude really annoys me. Same with dirty dishes: Is it really that hard to put them in the dishwasher instead of the sink? Apparently it is, for him. What bugs me most is when James tells me it’s fine if I go to the gym at night and promises to get the girls to bed — only to have them still playing when I get home, way past their bedtime. Has he forgotten how to tell time?”

“We’re So Far Apart in Our Spiritual Beliefs”

“My own childhood was wonderful. I’m the middle child of seven; Mom was a homemaker and Dad a fireman. Our large extended family lived nearby and the church played a huge role in our lives. All of us cousins and siblings attended Catholic schools, took Communion at every Mass, sang in the Christmas pageant. Sundays were special — brunch after church with family and friends usually led into a leisurely afternoon of socializing.

“James and I met when we were both 21. He was working on his MBA, and I was studying for a master’s in social work. The attraction was immediate. We felt as if we’d known each other for years, maybe because we’d grown up only a few miles from each other and had mutual friends. We waited six years to get married, though, because we wanted to get established in our careers first.

“For a long time James’s refusal to go to Mass wasn’t an issue. He had a personal reason for questioning his faith: When he was 10, his mother and older sister were in a terrible car accident, and his sister was killed. He couldn’t understand how a just and loving God could allow that to happen. From then on, despite the fact that the church had been a big part of his upbringing, he stopped believing.

“I was fine with going to Sunday Mass by myself until we had kids. Then it became much more difficult. Even if I managed to get us there, I spent most of the time running after them and making sure they weren’t disturbing other people — not exactly conducive to a spiritual connection. I needed my partner, but James wouldn’t get out of bed! I love and respect him, but the fact that we’re so far apart in our spiritual beliefs has upset me more than I ever dreamed possible.”

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