Awhile ago I was reading in a sub-reddit forum about a woman who had left the LDS Church and was looking for advice. She asked if mixed religion relationships can work out. She got some positive feedback, encouraging she and her husband to get counseling, but then she also was told by a couple people that she should just give up and get a divorce because Mormons are crazy and unreasonable.
Those weren’t their exact words, that’s the G-rated version. I wanted to reach out to her, but I wasn’t sure what to say. I can’t say that everything is perfect here for us, but I have absolutely no intention of giving up and (without knowing all the details), I don’t think that she should either. So here’s another one of those posts where I share my personal experience in hope that somewhere out in Internetland can benefit from it.
Background About Us
My husband and I were both born and raised in the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (The Mormons). We both regularly attended Primary, Youth activities and Seminary. Both of my grandmothers come from ‘pioneer stock’, both of my grandfathers were converts. My parents were born and raised in the Church. My husband’s mother was a convert and his father was raised in a semi-active family. His father is now reasonably well-known in the LDS community for projects that he has been involved in.We both lived most of our childhoods in Utah County, aka ‘Happy Valley’. My husband and I went to jr. high & high school together and started dating the week before we graduated. We dated throughout the summer until he left to serve an LDS mission. While he was gone I went to the local community college for a couple semesters before deciding to transfer to BYU. I had previously said that I would never attend BYU, but made the switch because the way their nursing courses were set up made my college path shorter (if significantly more intense), and I could continue to live with my parents, rent-free. And at the time BYU’s tuition was less than most other options. I faithfully wrote to him every week of his two-year mission, seven months after he came home we were engaged and three months later we were married in the Provo Utah Temple. When he returned from his mission he also started attending school at BYU, and after trying several majors, settled on teaching. After I finished school I got a job and worked full-time until he finished. And we had a couple kids. He graduated about the time that the economy fell apart and jobs were scarce. The only thing we could find was a job here, in St George, UT.
After a year he quit, went back to school and he got a job that paid a decent wage and didn’t demand 70-80 hours each week.
One night in December 2011, I came down with an awful case of a stomach virus. I was recovering from surgery, had a breast-feeding newborn and after throwing up for several hours straight, wished for death. It was then that I decided I should probably go to the hospital.
(Nurses generally only go to the Emergency Room when death is the only other option.) I found a friend to watch my three kids and my husband took me to the ER for some IV fluids and Zofran. On the way home from the hospital, he said “I have something to tell you, that I don’t think that you’re going to be happy about.” “You don’t believe in the Church anymore.” “Yes.” For the next two days I laid on the couch, he took time off work to help with the kids and we discussed his concerns and doubts. By the third day, he (and the kids) had come down with whatever I had and he was the one laying on the couch and we talked some more. It seemed to me that most of his concerns were with stupid people. A previous bishop had been an enormous jerk. He had a crazy boss that tried to use his religion to justify his dishonest behavior. His mission seemed to be full of elders who bore testimony of things that were not based on doctrine, elders who didn’t live most of the commandments that the preached, elders who despised the people in the mission. Living in Utah Valley gives exposure to all kinds of Mormon nuts. People who feel like looking perfect on Sundays is priority and then don’t treat their neighbors in any kind of Christ-like fashion. People who are just nutty and just make up ‘doctrine’. Ken Jennings said it well “Mormons in mountain west states like Utah really ARE the nuttiest nuts on the nut tree.” And the very nuttiest of those nuts can be found in Happy Valley. (Not that this applies to everyone, but anyone who has lived any amount of time there knows exactly what I’m talking about.) He was also unhappy with the Church’s attitude toward homosexuals and wacky things that previous General Authorities have said. I too, have had my frustrations with people saying and doing stupid things in the Church; I can understand that. Of course, you find stupid people everywhere. What made me sad was that he had lost the assurance that Jesus Christ loved him, or that He existed. I wish that I could place that burning conviction in his soul, but I can’t.
Reaction from Family & Friends:
I was adamant that we tell our families the truth and avoid any awkward moments where they try to plan family activities around Church events and we scramble to think of reasons not to attend. His family was hurt and some members were somewhat angry (but they didn’t tell him that). Over time I think that they have just settled on being sad about the situation. But to them he is still their oldest son/brother who they love, and we are as involved in family life as the distance permits. My family has always been dysfunctional, and the past year has brought out a new exponential level of dysfunctional behavior.
I could write many ridiculous stories on that thread, but that’s not really the purpose of this blog. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so frustrating and sad. Neither family has sat down with him and talked to him about why he left, which is greatly his fault, but it bothers him that they just treat it like an elephant that they try to ignore. I think most people in the Church just don’t know how to cope with this.
For a long time I had very few friends that I talked to about this. Growing up in the LDS community, ‘less-active’, ‘apostate’ and ‘non-member’ don’t have pleasant connotations, and we didn’t want our kids to be ostracized because of this. I don’t personally know anyone who has been in my situation. I have one friend whose husband left the Church after being a member for only a year because he missed alcohol, but he came back after another year. I have had friends and extended family members who went through a rebellious period in their youth or who have left the Church because they found the standards too restricting.
The LDS Church tends to frown on sleeping with people other than your legally married spouse, drinking alcohol and/or dealing drugs. That’s not really like this. My husband was raised in the Church and now he doesn’t believe the doctrine, but he doesn’t have a problem with living the standards. After awhile I decided I didn’t really care who knew. We haven’t posted any neon signs, but if it comes up, we state the facts. Most of my friends and neighbors who know have been awesome. They don’t seem to really care what my husband believes, and if anything they have made more of an effort to be nice to him, without making him feel like a project. (My husband is very much an introvert and tends to not say much in public.) Our friends seem to have a harder time with the idea of us being vegetarians than any of our religious beliefs.
How it Affects Marriage and Parenting:
One of the first things on that drive home from the hospital that my husband said was “Well, we can get a divorce if you want.” My first thought was ‘WAT.’ I don’t want to divorce him. My husband is awesome. He’s brilliant, he’s hilarious, he’s sensitive, he’s sexy, he’s a good cook, he’s totally devoted to our three kids and I LOVE HIM. I didn’t see why this one thing would make me want a divorce. “If you want to leave, I can’t make you stay; but I’m not going anywhere.”
Unless he left, then I would have to move somewhere where they pay nurses much better than they do here or at least somewhere with a better daycare situation. “I don’t want a divorce.” “Oh, good. Let’s not get divorced. I do want to continue to raise our children in the Church, if that’s all right.” “That’s fine.” He offered to continue coming to Sacrament meeting to help me with the kids, because trying to keep three small children reverent for an hour and ten minutes by myself is a joke. He’s been diligent about helping me and often will hang out in the foyer with the baby while I manage the other two. We also have Family Home Evening every week, mostly because Thing 1 always reminds us that “Monday is my favorite day of the week, because that is when we have Family Home Evening.” Most of the time he participates and when it’s his turn to give the lesson, teaches ‘gospel neutral topics’ like kindness, honesty, service, etc.
That day back in December, he also said that someday he would probably come back to the Church, but just couldn’t bring himself to believe it right then. I clung to this, thinking that if I just loved him and prayed and was supportive that he would come back. As time when on I realized that this was more than just a phase and the likelihood of him coming back was slim. He became more antagonistic towards the Church and started to resent my ‘brain-washing’ the kids. He said he wished that I wasn’t a believer. For the most part I am a ‘typical LDS girl’
if such a thing exists. I love staying home with my kids. I taught Primary for years and loved it. I read my scriptures. I read the Ensign. My hobbies include food storage, cooking and genealogy for crying out loud. I am very ‘churchy’ and always have been. I actually enjoy these things. This is who I am. I have never pretended to be anything else. And I began to think about all the promises that he had made and realized that these were not going to happen. Our temple covenants mean nothing to him and the thought of us serving a mission together was laughable. He said several things to me that really hurt. (Several of these things stemmed from his depression.) Mostly I would take them in silence and then bring them up later after his words had time to fester. His responses would not satisfy. He began to ignore me frequently. Instead of hanging out in evenings together after the kids were in bed, he seemed to avoid me more and more. I began thinking perhaps that maybe he would be happier with someone else. I became depressed. What happened to us? I suggested counseling, but he was reluctant.
Sometimes I would talk to a couple of my friends or I would talk to my mother-in-law. Those who I talked to, were quick to take my side and tell me that I was right, or that I was a saint. Who cares about being right? I wanted to be happily married. I was frustrated because I wanted someone to look at his point of view too. He’s not the bad guy, he’s the man I love. But I could not for the life of me understand why he had left the Church. And he was reluctant to talk about it because he knew that the Church was very important to me. I didn’t know who to talk to about this, anyone within the Church seemed to assume that he was misguided. Those outside of the Church seemed very hostile towards anyone within the Church. I wasn’t sure where to find help.
Last week he asked me if ‘he knew that the Church wasn’t true, would I want to hear about it?’ I told him that I wasn’t interested in hearing his anti-Mormon propaganda. Since leaving the Church, he was frequently depressed and he hasn’t been nearly as considerate of me as he used to be. I didn’t feel like it was making him happier and it seemed silly to me to entertain it. I gave him a few examples of how I felt the distance was growing between us, while trying not to make him feel like he was under attack. He apologized and hadn’t realized how I had felt about things or how much he had been ignoring me. But he wanted to communicate more with me. I read a couple of links that he had sent me from FAIR (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research), a pro-Mormon site that addresses tough questions directed toward the LDS Church. I’ll admit that some of the stuff sounded pretty weird and was backed up by documentation. Joseph Smith was married to women who currently had other husbands. Strange, but by itself dismissible. I started looking for help online for he and I. I found this article from the point of view of an ex-Mormon. Obviously I don’t agree with everything he says, but it helped me come to an important realization. My husband was well aware that he had made several promises to me that he could no longer keep, because he no longer believed and to pretend that he believed would be false. Because he had made these promises he felt a lot of guilt and his guilt led to him ignoring and avoiding me. He needs me to support him in his doubts, as much as I need him to support me in my faith, if not more so. I apologized because I was reminded that if there is any way I know to be unhappy in your relationship, it is to hold on to your partner’s mistakes. Since then we have been spent a lot of time talking and researching together. I feel like our marriage is in a good place again. Words can not express the joy and relief that his brings. He still doesn’t believe and I still do, and that’s ok, even if it never changes.
How This Has Affected My Testimony
There have been many times when I thought that it would just be easier to give up on the Church. Being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is demanding. It was causing contention in my marriage. I hate nine o’clock church. But I could not walk away just because it would be easier. As I have begun researching I have discovered things that have been disconcerting, things with well-supported documentation. I felt like I had been lied to by so many people throughout my life. And if I were someone else I would probably leave. However, I have had personal experiences that can not be explained away and I can not deny that they happened. The Church is full of humans and humans make mistakes, and I am definitely more skeptical of things that I hear from Church leaders. However, I still believe in my Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement, His love for me and His love for everyone else. To me, that is what the Gospel is all about.
TL:DR: My husband left the LDS Church. I am still an active member and we are working out our differences.
Advice for Those With a Loved One Who Has Left/Is Leaving the Church
Here are some things that I would suggest.
- Just love them. I don’t think that I can say this enough. Their beliefs don’t change that fact that you are still family and they need to be loved.
- Communicate. On your part this mostly means listening and being receptive. Just because you have ‘the Truth’, does not mean you are always right or that other opinions are not worth listening to.
- Understand that this is not an easy thing for them. Especially if you live in Utah, religion effects all aspects of life.
- Remember this isn’t about you. Bringing the focus of this issue back to yourself is not helpful.
- Don’t try to guilt-trip or manipulate. Also not helpful.
*Note- If you are like me and looking to understand this issue, I highly recommend this: Why people leave the LDS Church, and what we can do about it from Mormon Stories Podcast. It’s long, but very enlightening. I really wish that I had found this site a long time ago.