Ask a Mormon Woman: My Spouse Has Chosen To Leave The Church. Now What?
I am not exactly sure how this all works, but I’ve been on a search for the last couple of days for some answers. I am hoping I may find some here. My husband and I have been married for almost three years and we have a little girl. We both were brought up by lovely, goodly parents. We both served missions and met at BYU. We married in the SLC temple. A few months ago, my husband gradually told me, as he was gradually coming to this conclusion, that he no longer believed in the church and finally no longer believed in God. I am having a really hard time figuring out how I feel. I am upset that I am no longer a part of the cookie cutter plan, meaning, eternal marriage is no longer possible. I fear about how we will raise our children. Anyway, we love each other and we don’t want to divorce. Is there anyone out there who is/has gone through this similar situation and could shine a little light as far as what we can do to make our marriage work and how we can raise our child(ren possibly in the future) without too much disagreement? Any other tips or advice would be grately appreciated. Thanks!
Answer: by Janelle (and friends)
Dear Chris, I have been very anxious to answer your question but wanted to give you multiple women’s perspectives so I asked several of my friends to help respond.
I’m sure this must be so devastating. What a shock. In your shock I’m sure there are going to be feelings that won’t endure…the hopelessness, the mourning of the marriage you thought you had, the feeling that you can never have an eternal marriage.
I’m thrilled to hear you still loves your husband and he loves you.
I’m a big believer that you learn eternal love by loving someone eternally. The persistence and patience and kindness that endure despite whatever challenge. …that is the most important thing to learn from marriage.
I would emphasize his good points…how he honors his role as a father, how he leads and guides your children in virtues-even when he doesn’t base them on the gospel.
The details will take a lot of communication and creativity and inspiration. I have faith that God can guide you here…
Huge hugs while you recover from the first shock of it all and mourn a bit.
I think this is more common than we even realize, even with members who are still “attending”. I remember crying to my Dad about how hard it was to be “the strong one” always taking the kids to church alone and sitting alone, leading family prayer, scripture study and FHE. He looked at me and said “Buck Up Elisa. Thousands of women are in the same situation you are. You make the best of what it is and you do what you have to do. YOU keep your temple covenants and the Lord will bless you and your marriage.” And the Lord has. This is never an ideal situation, but a spouse choosing to not participate or further believe is no reason to break your temple covenants. My Father taught me to keep fighting for my covenants and do my part to keep them in tact and I am grateful for that lesson.
Trials like these are as much about how we, the “believing spouse” chooses to respond (and receive and love) as it is a trial for the non believing spouse. Marriage is one of the purest ways to help us become like our Savior– learning how to love unconditionally, even in times of trial, heartbreak and sorrow. There is absolutely nothing that cannot be fixed through the Atonement.
I personally believe that any marriage can be a successful marriage if two partners are willing to be open, honest and vulnerable with one another. Full Disclosure about everything –nothing can be left off the table — so you understand what you are working with. There are thousands of women in this situation who are the faithful ones — and the marriages still work. It’s just being able to communicate with each other what the boundaries are and finding a support in other women who are in the same situations.
I’ll let others chime in with better personal experience, but I have to dispute the claim that “eternal marriage is no longer possible.” Some of Satan’s favorite tools are shame and despair. If those feelings can make us retreat from something we know is true, then he is victorious. I say the best thing you can do is hold on to three things: hope, your own covenants, and confidence/trust in the Lord.
My parents were married in the temple, my Dad served a mission, but for a majority of my life he has been inactive in the church. There were times I hated the way the half-faith in my family tore us apart emotionally and spiritually, and there were times I was happy to go to Lagoon (a theme park) instead of church. It has been very hard on my mom, whose faith has wavered severely at times, who considered divorce at several points. Because my Dad lived without the gospel he was subjected to the buffetings of Satan in very real ways. As he now attempts to leave behind addictions and bad behaviors after 40 years of indulgence it is taking all he has to access the atonement. Without my Mom he would not have continued trying, he would have given up on himself.
I’m very grateful that my parents stayed together through some very difficult experiences. Sometimes I think it was a near martyr effort on my Mom’s part. The majority of my siblings are inactive, but good people who I hope one day return to the faith of their childhoods. Because of my parent’s covenants I have faith that somehow we’ll be together, especially as my Dad continues down the path of repentance.This is the reality of just one example.
Now in my own marriage I see that there are shadows of this experience in all marriages, even active temple marriages. People tell my husband and I that they see we have a close relationship, and we do, but it isn’t fluffy clouds and rainbows. We still disagree about our faith, about how to live it, and teach it to our children. Just last night I tried to seek his counsel about a problem and his response was so negative that I gave up. This is just the reality of living with another imperfect child of God.
I think my situation would be different, as I married a non-LDS man who is still very much non-LDS. He has struggled with being as supportive as he historically has been, but he seems to be turning a corner recently, which is LOVELY.
Had I married a man who professed one set of beliefs, and then changed radically, that would be harder. But in our “mixed marriage”, setting boundaries and keeping communication open is really helpful. He knows better than to plan distracting things for church time; I don’t pressure him to attend with us (he does come for Christmas, Easter, special performances, and the Primary program, because he thinks that’s a riot.)
Because he is a believing Christian, though, we’re not hitting that struggle of “I believe”/”Well, I don’t!”. I feel like our communication and cooperation is better when we have gospel-centered discussions. Even though he does not subscribe to every element of the LDS dogma, we can at least center on God, Christ, the Atonement, etc… the big stuff. If the blog-questioner’s husband is truly taking a time-out from ALL belief, that’s going to be sticky.
I’d say the best boundary one can draw would be, “Honey, I understand that you’re in a different place now, spiritually. I love you, and that is not going to change. Because I know you love me, too, I need for you to keep criticism of faith/God/etc out of family discussions so it won’t be chaotic or confusing for the kids. But I think we can definitely have some time, just the two of us, to share our thoughts and feelings together, because I want to know what you’re thinking about, and how I can be supportive of you, because I anticipate you continuing to be supportive of my practices of faith that are important to me.”
I think that it’s important for a believing spouse to work through his/her own feelings. If you feel betrayed or hurt, if you feel like your dream has died, that’s totally legitimate and you need to grieve for losing what you wanted.
I think, too, that the best thing you can do for someone who doesn’t believe is to listen. DH is working through stuff, he gets really frustrated when he tries to explain his struggles and the other person starts defending the Church and telling him why he’s wrong. There’s a place for standing up for your beliefs, but I think that part of unconditional love is accepting the other person without an agenda. Which is hard when you’re scared and when the other person doesn’t appreciate what’s sacred to you. The old cliché holds true here: People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.
My own experience started out differently. My husband was not a member of the church when I met him. He took the missionary discussions and was baptized about 4 months before we were married. Of course, we could not go to the temple at that point because he’d been a member only 4 months. He said we would go as soon as he’d been a member for a year. During the year, he changed his mind and we did not get to the temple for 13 years. He finally decided to get active so we could go to the temple – long story, doesn’t matter as far as the answer to the question goes. We were sealed in the temple, our four children were sealed to us. After the sealing he would not speak to me. That lasted a couple of weeks – finally he told me he would never step foot in the temple again, he has kept his promise – we have been married 42 years. He attends church once or twice a year, just sacrament meeting if I am singing or when I was sustained as Relief Society President, or something else special is happening. I do not know why he has always been so resistant to the gospel, he will not talk about it – NOT ONE WORD.
If you choose to stay married, and stay active – and especially if you hope to rear your children in the gospel, I believe you will need a strong testimony and the ability to withstand persecution. It is one thing when persecution comes from some outside source. When it comes from inside the most intimate relationship any of us ever has, it’s incredibly difficult to hold on to your sanity, much less your testimony and your marriage.
The reason I am still married is that my husband and I are both very stubborn, and don’t give up easily. I have talked about leaving more often than he has. I think the pain of our separate views about the church and God has been more severe on my side, I don’t really know as he WILL NOT talk about it. I have prayed thousands of times for direction and several times very pointedly asking God whether it was ok for me to leave. The prayers for direction have invariably been answered along the lines of, have patience, be loving, forgive, ask his (my husband’s) forgiveness, respond with kindness, etc etc etc. Then I usually have to say a second prayer that goes something like, “I can’t do it, Father, you will have to give me the strength to be a better person than I am, because I can’t have patience, be loving, I can’t forgive, I certainly can’t ask for his forgiveness with any sincerity, and I DO NOT WANT to be kind to him.” The strength has been given just as requested. When I have asked for permission to leave, I have repeatedly been told no. Once I heard the words in my mind, “I know him better than you do, I love him more than you do, hang on – stay married.”
The last time I asked, which was a long time ago now, the answer was very pointed and the tone of “voice” I heard in my head felt final. The words I heard in my mind were “I have never given you permission to leave him.” That last time, I had really been collecting slights and reasons to be angry for a couple of years, piling them up so I could justify, finally, that I just couldn’t take it any more. So when I heard “I have never given you permission to leave.” I said, “Then what do I do with the pain, it’s crushing me; I cannot do this any more.” I heard in my mind, “Give it to me.” I sat and cried, and then said, “Here” and I got up and went on with my life. The pain left – not completely immediately, but it did leave. And for hurts that have come since then, I have prayed and given them to Him right then, instead of stockpiling them. I still constantly ask for help to be a better person than I am, because on my own, I could never do it.
I like to pray when I’m driving by myself or walking alone out in the hills. Recently I was telling Heavenly Father how grateful I was that I had stayed married, and thanking Him for strengthening and softening me so I could stay active in the gospel that I love with all of my heart, and also stay married. I love my husband, he loves me, but we are not together in the gospel and it is a tough road. We have had four children. Two are active, two are not. I don’t know if it would have been different if we had taught them the gospel together.
I believe my husband will some day embrace the gospel and his temple covenants. If I am wrong, I still know that God told me to stay. I have kept my covenants and God has taken away the pain – there is still longing sometimes to share the gospel I love so much with the man I love, but the pain is gone. (It only took decades.)
The only advice I know is: Pray. Pray constantly. Ask for direction. Keep your covenants. Get further into the gospel than you have ever been. Hang on and when hanging on gets impossible pray for His strength to make it possible. Teach your children by word and example. Pray your heart out for them, because it will be hard for them too. After you ask God what He would have you do, do it. Your answer might be different than mine. But if the answer comes from God, it will be the right answer for you, and for your husband, and your daughter.I will pray for you.
Dear Chris, and the thousands of women around the world who are like you, what I hope you got out of these little messages is we care. You are not alone. Nearly all of the women who responded to your question have experienced a type of spiritual widowhood. What I liked best about anonymous’ message was her admonition for you to seek God’s guidance for you and your family, and that no two situations are the same. I know of no life that follows the cookie cutter plan you spoke of in your question, but I do know that God cares about you and your husband.
This morning as I led my family in scripture study and prayer we read the parable of the lost coin as found in Luke 15.
Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it? And when she hath found it, she calleth her neighbors together saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I have lost.
I believe that through the atonement of Jesus Christ all that has been lost will eventually be found. I hope that when you find your coin – the coin of hope, of strength or testimony I hope you will write us back and let us rejoice with you.
Much love to you and yours,