When Couples Collide: Navigating Relationship Conflict Around Science

Rocky love life over science? @LM77 helps talk through a couple common conversations and gives some helpful tactics in navigating conversations with those you love (or like!).

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Yes! Ask and you shall receive, huh? Nice article, Liam. @LM77

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Nice article, Liam. I could relate to

It was too late, I’d lost my temper with her. A volley of angry words flew from my mouth like arrows. I got to my feet and stormed out of the room—slamming the door for good measure. Once upstairs, reason reasserted control as I sat on the bed. What had I done?

Been there, done that. For me it would have been the contempt “horseman” acting up and throwing me off course. But I have found that trying to see it from her point of view is helpful. Some people have their antenna out to see how the people around them are doing most of the time and other people only put those antenna out when needed. When a compulsive empathizer (me) gets together with a normal person (my wife) focused on ideas and tasks unless the need for the antenna arises, the compulsive empathizer can feel resentful. Contempt won’t be far behind.

I feel fortunate that my wife has been able to weather my over-reactions and given me the opportunity to realize that there is nothing about the way I am that entitles me to more consideration or which makes her wrong.

Oh, and nice Valentine’s day topic, @HRankin.

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I can only wistfully imagine what a relationship with intellectual discussions might be like. Well, except there is the experience of my family growing up, from which I can only expect unending conflict. But my marriage is more like the meeting of two completely separate and different worlds. Where we meet (like home and family) there is considerable harmony, but it doesn’t include the intellectual – since she has practically no interest there at all.

But I guess that doesn’t tell the whole story. We met and were married in the same religion but then I converted to Christianity. There was never any hostility on my part and members of her church are still friends and I talk with them during various events. …and I supposed this is helped a bit by the fact that her religion isn’t at all hostile to science or other religions either. And as for me… I tend to be rather amicable with all different religious points of view including atheism… only drawing the line at intolerance itself, at which my tolerance comes to an end.

Ah, now we’re really getting into the nitty-gritty problems of this whole science & faith thing! :wink:

What do you want to happen? Do you want them to see that you are right and they are wrong? Or do you simply want to be able to talk about the issue in a way that leaves you feeling respected and heard? In the short term, it is unlikely you’ll be able to have both.

This is a great point. When something like the age of the earth is held up as a nonnegotiable, foundational aspect of faith, it is very easy to approach the entire thing as an “I’m right, you’re wrong” issue, especially in something as emotionally charged as a romantic relationship.

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Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone. Particular shout out to @HRankin for her deft wielding of the editor’s pen. :slight_smile:

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FWIW @mitchellmckain I think that relationship struggles like these (especially the second one) can just as easily emerge when there is an intelligence imbalance in the relationship. One could imagine for example that a person might be passionate about climate change (for example) because they have an intimate understanding of its scientific underpinning. Whereas the person making fun of climate change might be doing so out of ignorance or suspicion about the science.

Again even in the first example, the prospective partner might not be pro-evolution simply because that is what their church/family has always taught them and they’ve never had cause or interest to look into the other side.

Thanks for sharing a bit more background on your relationship. Out of pure interest, what religion were you before you became a Christian?

@LM77, I wonder if you have any specific examples of how to manage differences of opinion where the spouse (already married) was of a different point of view (EC, YEC, etc). What if the wife, for example, teaches Sunday School from a YEC perspective, and the husband is EC? Have you seen how children respond to that? I imagine it could be a good exercise in demonstrating what is truly important. Thanks.

Hi Randy, thanks for taking the time to ask your question. Apologies of the late reply; things have been a bit busy at work this last week.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any specific experience with a situation like that. But, I can offer some general principles and thoughts if that helps. In no particular order:

  1. Communication: Within a marriage where there is an issue like this one of the key factors is going to be communication. Can the couple discuss the matter in a civilised way? If they can then couple will likely be able to find a way forward together. It is also likely that they’ll be able to find a way to discuss this with their children (more on that later). And the same for any implications from the wife teaching Sunday School.

  2. Maturity: Another key factor is going to be the personal and Christian maturity of the couple. It takes a great deal of maturity to agree to disagree with anyone, even more so the ones we love. Even more so when our children get involved. If both parties have enough maturity about them then a way forward should be possible. Personal maturity will allow them to recognise which theological hills are the ones that are worth dying on and which are not. In other words, they should be able to see that one’s view on creation is not a top tier or ‘gospel’ issue. Hopefully, this will allow them to put views on creation in the same category as other differences of interpretation (eg. end times, baptism, church governance). If so they have the opportunity to show their children a powerful picture of love and grace. Even in the midst of diversity and difference. If that maturity is lacking then their children are likely to pick up on the tension in the end. In such cases, they would do well to reflect on Paul’s advice in Romans 14. The wife might also need to take a break from Sunday School teaching to work things through with her spouse.

  3. Children: Fact of life: children complicate all marital differences one-hundred fold. A couple may have discussed an issue to death whilst they were dating and found a win-win solution. Then the children start school or visit a science museum and bang! The dormant issue explodes in fresh conflict. Also, Children are relational beings before they are fully cognitive ones. That means that are likely to adopt the view of the parent they gravitate towards the most. In this situation, both parents need to be ‘ok’ that children might not share their views on Creation. But also not take it personally if the child doesn’t take up their view. If mum does most of the parenting or homeschools, the children are likely to adopt mum’s theology. The same may be true if they are in her Sunday School class.

  4. First things first: I’m assuming here that the children are still young. That is my natural thought process for two reasons: 1) my boys are three and six; 2) I work with parents of children under 11. However, as the children get older this difference presents a great opportunity. An opportunity to help the children see that Christianity is greater than our opinions. Of course, they need to know that Christian is not a pick and mix spirituality. To follow Jesus, there are core things one has to believe like it or not. But there is also freedom for us to search, learn, and make up our own minds about other issues. I believe that God even allows secondary and tertiary issues to persist within the church. He does this to provide us with opportunities to grow in grace, humility, and gospel-centredness. A couple with a difference over creation issues has a golden opportunity to model these virtues to their children.

Thanks for reading to the end, I hope you (and others) find it helpful.

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I hope to gently push back on those assertions - or maybe even not so much disagree as to suggest that God has a habit and history of “going there” even while people are declaring that “God won’t go there.” I’m not suggesting that anything goes with God, but that there is no set of people - with whatever mix of eclectic beliefs or disbelief they cling to that God hasn’t reached out to draw them in. Some are busy running away, to be sure, but that doesn’t mean the invitation hasn’t gone out.

I agree with you, of course, that as we eventually respond to that call and are drawn closer, there will be some things we must necessarily grow towards, because those things are of Christ.

How do you know, O husband, whether or not you might save your unbelieving wife? Or how do you know, O wife, that you might not save your husband? Families may be split over many deep things, but there is always hope if Christ is the focus for at least one member there. And what a terrific opportunity to model for kids how people can love each other despite political and theological differences! What a rare thing. But if kids see mom and dad snapping at each other all the time, and growing apart; they may grow embittered toward the whole “creation/evolution” thing - “Oh yeah - that’s what mum and dad fought about all the time!” And their curiosity to engage the issue may grow cold.

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Sure, to quote David Powlison, “we are all people in process”. God invites all and welcomes all who accept that invitation. But accepting that invitation requires accepting some basic, foundational truths? Things which make Christianity, Christianity. I don’t want to go too much into what those things are because it will take us off-topic. However, one basic example of a foundation Christian belief is that God actually exists. As Hebrews 11:6 says:

without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

So I would teach my children that you can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe that God exists. That’s all I was trying to say really by the statement you quoted. Thanks for the pushback.

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Any time. It’s my specialty.

One should end up there (and with a pile more besides we should hope!), but even here, I think we need not insist that such cognitive assent must always precede the activity of the Hound of Heaven that goes where it will. I agree that it is good, wonderful, and true to teach this of course; as long as it doesn’t cause us to foreclose on somebody that hasn’t met our “belief set” requirements - even down to such a basic one as that. In the context of a marriage relationship, hopefully foreclosure is off the table (though scripture does leave room there too for such things to progress or not as they must).

It would be interesting to see statistics about how many marriages exist between people on widely disparate sides of this origins debate (or widely disparate politically). I suspect that most of the ones who exist were not so far apart (or hadn’t explored it at all) when they were getting married, but that later one of them experiences some drift and change of heart, and the other hasn’t followed. Perhaps we should reflect on the importance of constant communication between a couple so that they can process things together as a couple. “You know, honey, I’ve been giving some thought to …‘x’… and I’m no longer quite so sure about that - what do you think?” is less likely to cause (as much) relationship distress than secretly drifting somewhere for year(s) and then springing this on your mate: “I no longer believe … ‘xyzabc’ … or even ‘d’ either for that matter!”.

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This is one of my random tangent factoids that I know everyone loves me for. Did you know that millennials are more likely to date someone of another race or religion than someone who does not share their phone operating system preference? Android or i-phone - that is what truly divides society these days. And I can’t find the link, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.

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I can’t wait to hear future wedding vows … “in sickness and in health, for better or worse, but only for as long as Android unites us …”

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Haha! That’s pretty funny. :grin:

Well, this is the best piece of news I’ve heard all day. Green text bubbles are the True Enemy. #teamiphone

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But what about the bi-phonal and trans-phonal?

If we’re going to go all phoniphobic in this discussion, some moderator action might be required.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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