Prayer Journey: I Love You But I Just Can't Pray With You

For the first year or two of my marriage, I dutifully knelt down with Mike and did couple prayer with him. Eventually it became unendurable for me.

I had grown up in a family in which family prayer never occurred. So for the first 20 years of my life, all my most sincere and personal reaching out to God had occurred silently, in my own mind. Sure, I could give a rote prayer in Young Women’s if I had to, but praying – really praying – only happened when I was alone.

For some reason, couple prayer just never clicked. When it was my turn, I’d rush through the prayer, speaking quickly and using trite phrases, just to get it over with as soon as possible. I despised the banal prayers I was offering up, but I couldn’t become comfortable enough in a couple prayer situation to ever offer up anything sincere or deeply felt. I was far happier when it was Mike’s turn.

After a year or two, I began dreading my turn to couple pray so much that I would fall asleep on the sofa and then trudge into bed at 2 AM, thus avoiding Mike’s request to pray with him. This probably happened for about a year until I finally told him that I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I know this hurt his feelings and disappointed him.

It’s been about four years now since we’ve stopped praying regularly together. Very occasionally, Mike will still ask me to pray with him. I always say yes, but he knows that he has to be the one to say it. And that leaves a bad taste in his mouth, so it doesn’t happen very often. A year or so ago, I actually attempted to resurrect our praying by finding a creative solution. I went online and found some of the most beautiful world prayers I could find. My plan was that I could read one of these when it was my turn, but Mike wasn’t too hot on this idea of using other people’s prayers.

I still feel bad that praying together was and still is so uncomfortable for me. Intellectually, I understand how couple prayer should bind a couple together. But my lived experience has proved different than my intellectual understanding.

Ultimately, I’m hoping my prayers are on their own journey. Right now this journey is one that is not comfortably compatible with couple prayer. But I hope that eventually the road will bend and someday Mike and I will both find solace, understanding, and comfort in reaching out to God together.


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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15 Responses

  1. madhousewife says:

    I don’t like couple prayer either. In fact, my feelings are almost identical to yours. But if I ever told my husband I just didn’t want to do it anymore, he’d say, “Yeah, as if you have a choice.” Even if he falls asleep before I do, he will wake up in the middle of the night–2 a.m. or 4 a.m.–and insist that we pray together. He can be a real letter of the law kind of dude. 😀 It’s okay–we complement each other, he keeps me honest (so to speak)–but occasionally annoying. I keep hoping, like you, that it will eventually get more comfortable. I guess it has, somewhat, but we’ve been married almost 10 years.

  2. Beijing says:

    If the problem is that the written prayers are “other people’s prayers,” and if you’re more comfortable with something written out in advance, maybe you could try taking some time to write a prayer of your own that you could read (or say from memory) during couple prayer.

  3. Anonymous says:

    How are you going to teach your children to pray if you cant pray as a family?

  4. older singer says:

    I find prayers with my husband are an opportunity to sum up my concerns about our children and to find the right questions to ask. Not, “Please bless Julie to get those damn dishes done,” but “help us be wise and generous with her, because we sure don’t know what we’re doing and we’re kind of scared. Please bring friends into her life who can fill the gaps we can’t seem to fill, and help us be aware of things we aren’t seeing yet.” Because I am in the season of dealing with teenagers, I feel a great need to ask the right questions, and I like to do it beside my husband. Of course, we talk about our kids without being in prayer mode, but it’s good to frame the questions within the names of God as well. At least for me it is.

  5. cchrissyy says:

    I too have much less connected/emotional/useful prayers when other people are involved. But we do it anyway. Well, usually.

  6. Caroline says:

    Wow, madhousewife, your husband sure is dedicated to couple prayer. Luckily for me, Mike wouldn’t bring it up if I came to bed in the middle of the night.

    That’s a good idea. I’ll think more about it. Though I’m afraid writing it out beforehand may not address one of my real issues, which is pure self-consciousness about verbalizing my thoughts to God in front of other people.

    When I was little, my mom used to sit by my bed and have me say a prayer as I lay in bed. I wouldn’t mind doing the same for my kids.

    Margaret, those sound like very meaningful couple prayers. When E. is older and we have mutual major concerns about him, maybe couple prayer will work better for me.

    Glad I’m not the only one who doesn’t have momentous prayers when others are involved.

  7. AmyB says:

    I’m often uncomfortable praying out loud, especially when someone else can hear.

    Here’s a poem I like about praying:

    Why must people kneel down to pray?
    If I really wanted to pray
    I’ll tell you what I’d do.
    I’d go out into a great big field
    all alone
    or into
    the deep, deep woods,
    and I’d look up into the sky
    up – up – up –
    into that lovely blue sky
    that looks as if there was no end to its blueness.
    And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

    Lucy Maud Montgomery

  8. Caroline says:

    How neat. I’ve heard those words before (I’m a huge fan of the Anne of Green Gables movies) but I had never known that it was originally a poem.

    Like Anne, I too am more comfortable with this way of praying. Alone, surrounded by God’s glorious nature, feeling God all around you, looking up into the heavens… that’s a great way to pray.

  9. Deborah says:

    I am neither quiet nor shy — and I love talking in front of a crowd — but I have such a hard time praying aloud in public or private. I pray most hours of the day, but the moment I try to put voice to these thoughts, my pleadings and observations and gratitude feel tin-y and hollow. Awkward on the tongue.

    I once took a graduate seminar run by the English poet Geoffery Hill and a Catholic Priest. The course was a dialogue between these men on the “ineffable: the experience of pain and the experience of God.” I love words, but most days praying doesn’t seem to belong in the world of words. I identify more with Romans 8:25:

    Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.

  10. mary b says:

    Interesting thread. I realize that for my husband, prayer as a couple is almost always a real bonding experience. For me it is only rarely so. The thoughts you’ve all expressed have made me try to analyze why this is.

    I think part of the reason is due to the way we create bonds. My husband creates bonds with his friends by DOING stuff with them; basketball or Elders’ Quorum service work or putting together projects at work. So, just the doing, just my simply kneeling with him and being with him while one of us prays makes him feel closer to me.

    I create bonds with my friends by DISCUSSING stuff with them; getting to a point where we understand each other’s perspectives and hopes and concerns. Talking things through is important to me. My husband is a good discusser but it’s extra work for him. (I think he looks forward to a time in the next life where he hopes that we can just read each other’s minds and go from there.)

    Like Older Singer, the times when couple prayer has been more satisfying to me have been those times when we have approached the Lord with a challenge we are facing that we have thoroughly discussed beforehand. If I know what he thinks about the challenge and he knows what I think and we have talked about and planned what each of us will do to tackle it and THEN go to the Lord together about it asking for his grace upon the work ahead of us and further understanding and insight, it becomes more of a uniting experience for me. But, of course, such levels of communication are not daily experiences by any means in the midst of a busy family life.

    I grew up in a family with a mother who found strength in family prayer so group prayer was a daily experience for me. In that family the person who was asked to be the voice would almost always ask the rest of the group what things she should specifically pray for and then include all of those things in the prayer. That helped me, as a listener, to feel more connected to the prayer as well as to the others who had said what they wanted prayed over. So when my husband and I do pray together in the evening (and we don’t do it regularly) I do the same, asking for what he’d like included so that I feel like I’m representing his thoughts when I’m speaking for the both of us. That seems to help.

    Ideally I think I would like for couple prayer to more closely approximate the form of communication that happens at specially arranged, good parent-teacher conferences; both parents coming to that discussion having discussed the issues at hand, knowing what they think is needful, petitioning articulately for it, interjecting comments as needed, three-way communication tackled by two people united in purpose and understanding.

    The next time my husband and I have some talking time together perhaps I’ll bring up the idea of how to work ‘interjections’ into couple prayer. Could be an interesting discussion.

  11. Matt Thurston says:

    Very interesting post. I think it is great that you are willing to share this.

    Your inability to “couple pray” is not about your reluctance to be close to your husband, nor any real reluctance to be close to God. (At least it strikes me this way.) And yet it would be easy for your husband and others to interpret your reluctance to “couple pray” this way.

    This is simply about you and your preferences. “Couple Prayer” just isn’t “you,” and you appear to have given it more than just the old college try. Instead of beating your head against the wall and forcing yourself to do it, or feeling guilty because you can’t do it, you should both accept “you” and look for alternative methods to be close as a couple, both to each other and together with God.

    To me, this is no more fundamentally different than couples who feel differently about anything else (i.e. sex, parenting, financial savings, whatever…). You try to find a balance or compromise, or you find something else that works.

    I’m curious if anyone has any alternative suggestions for Caroline and her husband?

  12. Matt Thurston says:

    As for me, I have difficulty saying the words “I love you” to my wife. If feels foreign, or “out of body,” like I’m in a movie or something. It doesn’t feel sincere, despite the sincere feelings of love in my heart. Feels forced. I’m more comfortable saying something else or showing or demonstrating my love in some fashion.

    Ironically, I do not have any difficulty telling my kids I love them. But such is communication — we relate to people in different ways, especially the way we relate to children vs adults. I find it equally difficult to tell my parents, siblings, and friends that I love them.

    It is interesting to me that Caroline would not feel as uncomfortable praying with her children. I wonder if there are any parallels?

  13. Beijing says:

    I had to learn how to pray out loud with individuals when I was a missionary. If I tried to have the kind of prayer in that context that I have on my own between me and God, it would flop every time because I just couldn’t “feel a prayer” with another human being right there obviously ready for us to finish the visit or obviously ready to go to bed already, etc.

    I decided to give up my expectation that I would be communing with God during prayers with companions or investigators; it simply wasn’t going to happen like that. Instead of communing with God, I just tried to commune with the human being there with me. I treated it like talking to the companion or the investigator, but instead of 2nd-person “you are wonderful and you deserve blessings,” I used 3rd-person “She is wonderful. Please bless her.”

    Companions liked it, but investigators *loved* it. They had never had anyone pray for them before. Some of them were surprisingly deeply moved to hear me tell God the positive impressions I had of them individually and then ask God for the blessings I wanted for them.

    I was not moved at all by hearing myself pray. I am like those of you who feel that words sound small compared to feelings. But I accepted that those prayers were not about me nor for my benefit; they were about the other person who really loved hearing those words.

  14. Caroline says:

    Deborah, that’s an awesome verse. I’ll remember it in future.

    I think I and my husband have similar dynamics. I love discussing things – that’s definitely how I create and maintain emotional bonds with people, whereas Mike doesn’t care as much about that. I like your idea of asking the other person what they would like to hear before you pray. It seems like such a considerate way to go about it.

    I think you’re right that couple prayer just isn’t my thing. I would like to find other ways to be close to Mike and God at the same time, but I haven’t figured what those things might be yet. (Reading scriptures together is an obvious suggestion, but I don’t enjoy that – though I do enjoy discussing religions topics. Maybet that can be my way to reach out to God together.)

    Matt, that is an interesting parallel, about being comfortable with saying I love you to kids, but not your spouse. I wonder if it’s because kids are too young to sense the discomfort, or too young to know about how hackneyed the “I love you” phrase can seem sometimes.

    I think that’s a great way to approach public prayer. Thinking that it’s not so much about connecting with God but instead connecting with people. I like that.

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