Yoke: A wooden bar that joins two oxen to each other and to the burden they pull
Try to envision the arrangement described above. The two animals are connected to each other and need to move forward together, pulling a load behind them. Now, what would happen if the two oxen who are connected to each other in this way are significantly different in terms of size or strength? The weaker or shorter ox would walk more slowly than the stronger or taller one, causing the load to go around in circles. When oxen are “unequally yoked” they cannot perform the task set before them. Instead of working together, they are at odds with one another.
The phrase “unequally yoked” is mentioned in the Apostle Paul’s writings as he gives counsel to church members regarding their choice of a partner: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14)
This advice can be applied to any relationship in which there is some type of connection between you and another person. For example, suppose you are business partners with someone who is not a believer in Christ, and your partner feels that everyone should work on Sunday. Do you go along with this and forget about church, or do you allow yourself to be seen as the lesser partner in the business? Decisions made in this type of relationship will be made from different perspectives, so there is a high likelihood of conflict or severe compromise (most likely on your part).
Although the scripture quoted above can be applied to any type of relationship, it is typically applied to the husband-wife relationship.
God prefers that believers join with believers when it comes to marriage. Alma 3 speaks about how God didn’t want believing Nephites to intermarry with unbelieving Lamanites. In order to accomplish this, He changed the appearance of the Lamanites so they would be unattractive to the Nephites:
“They were cursed: and the Lord God set a mark upon them…this was done that their seed might be distinguished from the seed of their brethren, that thereby the Lord God might preserve his people, that they might not mix and believe in incorrect traditions which would prove their destruction. And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.” (Alma 3:7-9)
When you agree to be wed, you are agreeing to be “yoked” together with your spouse, taking on the challenges of life together. You will make decisions jointly on issues such as raising children, where to live, how to spend money, etc. If you are the only one approaching these decisions prayerfully, listening for the prompting of the Holy Ghost, then you may well come to different conclusions than your unbelieving spouse who is not approaching the decisions in the same manner.
Even attending church can be a challenge because your unbelieving spouse may resent the time you spend at church. You may be expected to forego church with some frequency in order to do other things together as a couple or as a family.
Sadly, the large majority of marriages between a believer and an unbeliever either end in divorce or with the believing spouse stepping back from active service to God. Even if you manage to keep your marriage together while serving God alone, how frustrating is it to not be able to share the most important part of your life with your spouse?
Contrast to the above a marriage in which you pray together with your spouse, attend church together, share the blessings and testimonies of God’s goodness with each other, seek God’s direction for the important decisions in life together, and seek opportunities to do things together for the kingdom of God. This is the type of “equally yoked” partnership that God intends for married couples.
If you’re not currently married and desire to be, then seek out a spouse with whom you can be equally yoked. If you are married and unequally yoked at this time, then don’t give up — do your best to share the love of Christ with your spouse and hang onto the hope of one day being equally yoked.
This article has undergone ministry review and approval.