Ask a Mormon Woman: My Spouse Has Chosen To Leave The Church. Now What?

Oct 15, 2012 by

Chris asks:

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 Brenda (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.

Britt writes:

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.

Elisa writes:

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.

Stephanie writes:

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.

Emily writes:

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.

Liz writes:

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.”

Kaylie writes: 

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.

Anonymous writes:

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,

Brenda

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. Chris

    Thank you to everyone who responded to my blog post.I felt peace and comfort in my heart to know that I am not alone and regardless to my spiritual widowhood and hardship I may face in the future, I still can find happiness. I will definitely follow your advice and counsel. Again, thank you so much!

  2. anonymous

    Oh how I wish my comment could contain the answer to this piece of the LDS puzzle. In my years as a Latter-day Saint, and many they have been as old as I am and born into the church, I have experienced as many of the non-normal scenarios as any woman can. With this piece, too many pieces ring true. After I turned down several good LDS/RM proposals, I finally set out to serve a mission myself in hopes of figuring out life. After my mission I met a man that was not of my faith. This meeting changed my life and altered all the dreams that any little primary child or Beehive every had.

    It was a long hard road to my husbands conversion and a short stay in activity. Then several years ago it was transgression that took him from activity. Anger and pride can break down a once faithful member but it also takes a toll on the marriage and family as a whole. I have lived the majority of the scenarios in the previous comments. Through it all my feelings have gone from hurt and anger to despair and depression. Its a vicious cycle, where I vacillate back and forth not knowing what to do or what I really feel. Throughout these 25 years I have been instructed by the Spirit in these consistent areas: First, I kept my covenants and if I continue to do so I can expect the Lord to fulfill his promises, “all that the Father hath.” Secondly, no matter what my husband does, it can not negate the love of my Heavenly Father and Savior have for me. That love is something I must hold tightly too. Third, the adversary will twist and manipulate everything he can to confuse me and throw me off course. Finally, this life is about opposition. Some of us will have beautiful marriages, some of us will struggle. Some spouses will be eternally faithful, others not. Whatever part of the vineyard you are planted in, serve well.

    I will be the first to admit I often forget these tender lessons. Nonetheless, Father is patient with me. He knows my earthly test is a difficult one. He knows that I might not always bear it well, but in that, He also knows that I am striving daily to love and serve my husband, to keep my covenants. If I seek for His peace during the hard times, and know that they come in the lonely pews during Sacrament meeting, in the change of morals or values of the man I married, in the struggles with the children and the evaluate both sides, His peace will help me get through.

    With this being a new trial, know that many different emotions will come to you. Pray about them, journal about them, seek out a support system that listens, but does not feed any ill will. I learned the hard way that when I became bitter, my attitude affected my behavior and neither of those helped the marriage at all. Bottom line, believe in the promises. As difficult as that is. Seat your testimony in the knowledge you have that the Lord is aware of you hurts and pains, He will make good on every tear.

    I pray that you can find peace. It is there.

  3. Anonymous too

    I have recieved great peace through these words of wisdom. I am like the original blogger in some ways. Only I committed a terrible sin and in the process of working through forgiveness my husband felt ultimate betrayal. Not only from me, but from the church. He still cannot forgive me and there are time I feel I am not worthy of forgiveness. I attend church by myself now and try to tell myself I am doing what I can to do the right things. I have a strong testimony of the atonement and our Saviors love. I will just continue to persevere and hope that one day Heavenly Father will bless my husband to come back to the gospel. Bless your hearts for sharing words of support. It has been much needed.

  4. M

    Thank you so much for what has been written here. I have found myself reading this and nodding again and again. If nothing else, it soothes the soul to know there are others in the same predicament.
    There are a couple conclusions that I have come to in the years of dealing with this type of situation that may be of use to someone else.
    First, as LDS women we are very good at fixing things, situations and people. When we see that someone needs something, we jump to it wholeheartedly. In this situation, though, you have to really realize the importance of the right for each of us to choose. That means the he is allowed the choice (and consequences) of leaving. Trying to fix it can often make it worse. You have to come to the acceptance that is his right to make that choice and it is not your responsibility, or often even ability, to “fix” him. Often, the more you try, the more a wedge can be pushed between you both. Accept his choice as his right, but make sure he knows that you too have the right to choose your path as well.
    Secondly, it is not your fault. Pray for a softening of his heart and for continued love, but if you put the weight of blame on yourself and try to change yourself to change him, you’ll only be crushed under the weight of a guilt that shouldn’t be yours to carry.
    Third, reconsider expectations. I think, growing up in the church, we all have this vision of being married to a man who turns out to be the youngest Stake Pres. ever so when he leaves the church you are left floundering. The longer you keep those expectations the more time you have for resentment to build up. Don’t let past expectations blind you to the qualities that still make him a good man. He may never be the next Bishop, but perhaps he’s an amazing romantic, excellent with money or simply a kind soul. Forget the expectations of what might have been and find and focus on the beauty of the reality. Just because he’s “not a good Mormon” doesn’t mean he’s not a good man.
    Forth, find the silver lining. I was born and raised in the church so I spent a lot of my life resting my beliefs on my parent’s testimony. Once I was married in the temple, I was able to rest on my husband’s. When he left, I was devastated and found that my foundations were pretty feeble. I had to draw a line in the sand at some point and decide then and there that I was going to be the head of the household when it came to all things spiritual. That meant I was going to have to get a real testimony for myself. I believe myself to be a strong woman with a strong knowledge of many different points of the church today. None of that would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to do it on my own.
    Fifth, don’t think that you will lose out on anything because of your husband’s choice. God doesn’t need our prayers to act. He has commanded us to pray and so we should, but He can bless us whenever He wants to. Never underestimate the power of your own prayers. Certainly, whenever you are able and in need, you can and should bring in a Priesthood holder to bless your family. But if, for any reason, that can’t happen, don’t think your prayers have no power. He knows your needs and the righteous desires of your heart and when done in faith, will bless you as much as any “perfect” family out there is blessed.
    Finally, it’s okay to cry. It is not an easy road to walk alone. There is a serious sense of betrayal, loss and lack of hope that happens the first time your husband tells you he’s leaving the church and I’m here to say hints of that will keep coming back from time to time. You’ll have your up days and your down days. Rejoice in the good days and in the harder times, find a quiet moment and just cry for a bit. Allowing yourself to mourn from time to time frees you up walk strong all those other days.
    Just remember you aren’t alone and as the church grows, so does the numbers of women who are single or have inactive husbands. Find them and befriend them. There is always strength in numbers and you’ll find a strength by being able to share with someone else the experiences you are both facing.

  5. Di

    Is there anyway you can locate me several support group of believers with nonbeliever spouse? I would like to have some support as well.

    Thanks.

  6. Di,
    I know some women who are in this situation, but I’m not personally aware of a support group. Have you checked on Facebook? Email me at mormonwomen a/gmail.com if you want to know more about how to connect with the women I know.
    Michelle
    Editor

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