Chakra Discussions

Interfaith Marriage

by Satyavati dd

Posted April 2, 2006

I have been a devotee since 2000 and was initiated in 2003. On the other hand, I have been with my husband for sixteen years. He is not a devotee. People frequently ask me how we manage to have a successful marriage in this situation, and that is why I am writing to you.

I don't know your specific situation and how it may be similar or different than ours, but over the last six years I've had a lot of time to consider and ponder this subject, and to discuss it with other devotees I know. So I humbly offer my thoughts for your consideration.

You mentioned that you recently came to Krishna Consciousness. Can I ask how recently that is? The reason I mention it is because when we first hear about Krishna and become attracted to him, we are so enthusiastic and full of drive that we go in headfirst. Last week we were eating Big Macs, smoking cigarettes, and having a beer; this week we're making curd subji, chanting japa for three hours a day, and putting up pictures of Prabhupada all over the house. Suddenly we're dressing differently, wearing tilak, using all kinds of devotee terminology and language that other people don't generally understand, and hanging out with a whole new bunch of people. We jump into a whole new life, socially, culturally, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Generally in our exuberance we want to share what we've discovered with everyone around us, and it's easy to be dismayed when they don't get hit with the same bolt of lightening that we do. From there it's only a few steps to make the decision to end the relationship.

But let's look at this from the opposite perspective. Imagine yourself to be just happily married. You and your husband have shared a lifetime of similar interests and goals, indulging in all the material things and sense gratification you can afford. You've made a home and raised children together.

Then one day he announces that he's making some changes in his life. That roast you've been cooking all day? Forget it. He's not eating meat, fish, poultry or eggs anymore, and nothing that contains any of those things, so half the contents of the kitchen are going to have to go. He's quit smoking as of this afternoon and you are too... or at least smoking outdoors, because there will be henceforth no smoking in the house. The barbecue the two of you were invited to on Saturday? Call and cancel. A barbecue is just a slaughterhouse and associating with all the "karmis" (who were last week friends) isn't good anyway. They'll be drinking beer too, and alcohol is out from now on. Oh, and by the way, he just cancelled the romantic trip to the islands that was planned for your anniversary. It's nothing but sense gratification and material sex pleasure, and those are the things that need to be conquered, not encouraged. And get rid of the toilet paper, will you?

He's brought home tapes, books, videos, and pictures. He's got beads in a funny little bag that he chants on all day long and if he happens to drop it, he touches it to his head in a weird way. And when you wake up in the morning (he gets up at four instead of seven these days), you find he's shaved his head except for some kind of tail in the back, painting stripes with mud on his forehead, and wearing a sheet all folded up the middle like a huge diaper! The neighbours are talking. Your mother calls and tells you she heard it's some kind of crazy cult he's associating with. He certainly seems fanatic enough, and keeps pushing books and things in your face to read. The whole thing is worrisome and upsetting. What happened to the guy you used to know?

So there's the opposite perspective. Please consider it. Krishna consciousness can be totally intimidating to people who don't know about it or understand it. It also consumes our time, and takes away from activities and things we used to do as a couple. We truly become new people, look different, speak different, eat different and have a whole group of new friends with long complicated names that take us out to sing on the street. A nondevotee spouse can find a lot to threaten them in these things.

I am always upset and disappointed when I hear about relationships breaking up over husband or wife becoming a devotee. There are reasons relationships should end, but just because someone has found Krishna should not, in my opinion, be one. That brings me to the most pressing question of all: what to do?

Patience is the most important virtue in this case. Be patient. Don't push. Instead of viewing him as an obstacle to your spiritual progress, view yourself as a help to his spiritual progress. Krishna plans everything: isn't it possible that you're the tool He is going to use to bring your husband to Him? Just by having your association, your husband will be purified. Oh, it can take a very long time. You're going to learn whole new meanings to the word patience. But it is happening. So there's no need to beat him on the head with Prabhupada's books (it's not nice to the books to do that anyway). Be crafty for Krishna. Let him do his thing, and don't ask him to change. Feed him prasadam. Make a list of everything he likes to eat. Then figure out what of those things are offerable (it will be more than you expected). Then go ahead and make those things. Make cookies and cupcakes and pies and cakes. Make homemade ice cream, or buy ice cream that has no eggs. Give him some prasadam every single day, even if it's just part of his meal. Don't worry about the other things he's eating; Krishna will take care of that. Just give him prasadam.

You don't have to deny your faith. Just don't make it a sledgehammer. Always keep his perspective of things in view. You've spent most of your life with this guy. How bad can he really be? Krishna put the two of you together. He's got your heart now, and by your association, in this life or the next, He'll have your husband's too. In the meantime, just do whatever little things you can. Prasadam is number one. Depending on how hostile he is, you may be able to play bhajans or kirtans in the house. (I'd recommend a low volume and a minimum of dancing.) If not, that's okay. Don't worry about it.

If your husband is threatening to leave you because you won't pay attention to him in "material physical ways", I would go ahead and indulge him. For several reasons. Even Prabhupada's sister cooked meat for her husband. Is it better to wreck your relationship and possibly through that turn someone away from Krishna (I can hear someone saying 'that crazy cult ruined my marriage') or to gently and slowly expose someone little by little to prasadam, kirtan, chanting.. with the eventual result that they become favourable and ultimately (in this life or the next) devotees? With your association, the stranglehold maya has on him is going to loosen up whether he likes it or even realises it.

My husband, who is the most independent minded, authority-resisting, self-willed person on this earth, announced three months ago that he was going to give up meat, poultry and fish. (He said "I'm keeping the eggs.") I almost fell over. He decided on his own last June that he wouldn't smoke in the house anymore, and when we bought a new car, he decided he wouldn't smoke in it either. Although he continues to smoke, it's much less, and he's actually very happy with how the curtains, walls, and windshields stay cleaner without all the nicotine in the air. He's built an altar for the Deities, although he swears it was "just another cabinet I built". When he empties out the change from his pockets, he keeps the quarters for his change jar and gives me the rest to go in the donation jar on the altar. Last year there was $132 in the jar, almost all of it donated by him in the name of "cleaning out my pockets for the laundry". He even allowed me to have my name legally changed, with the condition that I kept his last name. (He quit drinking long before we met, so that was never an issue.)

Despite having never chanted the mahamantra even once, or been inside the temple for more than 10 seconds (and that was just his head), or reading a single page in any of Prabhupada's books, the day before yesterday he spent one hour speaking alone with HH Indradyumna Swami (my spiritual master). If you had told me six years ago that my husband would be sitting on the porch having a conversation like that, I would have laughed in your face. My husband would have too. In fact, the first couple of times Srila Gurudeva asked to meet him, he either flat out refused or came up with crazy reasons why he absolutely couldn't. And we were all totally amazed at all the mercy, because there they were, having a conversation and laughing. And at the end they shook hands and Srila Gurudeva said 'You married a good man.'

Now, my husband didn't come home and shave his head or start chanting. In fact, he lit a cigarette right afterwards (because he was outdoors). But those things are totally unimportant. He will become a devotee, either in this life or the next. There's no doubt about that. It's like planting that seed... some seeds take a little more time to germinate than others. Even in the desert you can get things to grow.. you just have to be patient, be creative, and work a little harder at it.

I'm not saying it's easy. I'm saying it can be done. Sometimes I have to roll my eyes at things he says, or make adjustments to get what I need to do done. But the way I've approached this situation is that I'm not out to change him.. I am going to leave that to Krishna. It's always seemed to me that it would be an absolute tragedy if I let this be the reason my marriage failed; then he'd be saying 'Krishna ruined my family'. This way takes longer but it's so much better; whether he knows it or admits it or not, he's coming to Krishna too.

I can't say that what's worked for me will work for everyone. And there's lots of details and strategies I didn't mention. And every situation is a little different and requires different things. But please consider this viewpoint before you make any major decisions or before major damage happens in your relationship.

And let me know if there's anything else I can do or tell you.