This post is part three of a 4-part series Supporting Your Marriage When Your Spouse Changes or Loses Their Faith
My dear friend wants to write this post anonymously, so I won’t say much about her other than I love her and she is one of the smartest people I have ever met, so you should most definitely take her advice. Also, she’s a fantastic writer. And friend 🙂
Oh also, she so wisely included advice in this piece about what you can say and do when one of your friend’s spouses has gone through a faith transition- VERY helpful! – Celeste
So what magical words of wisdom do I have to contribute after Kayla’s awesome post the other day?
Look, the reality is that there aren’t a lot of easy answers. I don’t always know how my husband and I are going to handle it tomorrow or next year or ten years from now, so I don’t want to pretend that I have everything figured out, but what I can offer is a list of what seems to be working for us right here, right now. Because why stress out about ten years down the road if you can enjoy the person you love right this minute?
1. Make a decision about whether you still want to be married.
Your situation has changed. Regardless of how many cheesy letters you wrote to yourself in Young Women’s about how your future husband was going to love the Church, he doesn’t. And that leaves you with a decision to make. Yes, maybe part of your love was built on a sense of shared faith. Yes, maybe you feel hurt or even betrayed that things changed, but guess what? You’re not married to that original person anymore. You’re married to the person you have here, now, in front of you.
How does that make you feel?
Back in the day when I was trying to decide if I should marry my husband, I went to my dad for advice. He asked me one very simple question: When I imagined myself married to him in 50 years, how did it make me feel? At the time, the thought of being with my now-husband filled me with all kinds of rainbow-and-unicorn feelings that are far too cheesy to put into print.
When my spouse made the formal decision to resign from the Mormon church, my initial response was to ask God what I should do. Did I have to leave? Did I have to stay? Just tell me the answer, okay? Well, instead of getting an answer, I got another question: “Do you still want to be with him?”
The man I’m married to today is very different from the man I married years ago, but at the end of the day, when I imagine myself in 50 years, I want him there. He’s the guy who does ridiculous, uncoordinated dances with me while we’re cooking. When I’m tired, he makes me laugh until I’m completely delirious and ready to pee my pants. When I’m sad, there’s that little spot right in the crook of his armpit that has always been my safe place. And so I made a decision, and once I actually made that decision, it made things a lot easier.
If you want your marriage to survive a faith transition, you have to decide if you want to be married. You both have to decide if you want to be married. That’s the first, most important, step, and it makes everything else a little bit easier.
2. Recognize that it’s going to be hard, and that’s okay.
This isn’t easy for you, and it isn’t easy for your spouse, either. Even if you’re committed to your marriage, you’re both going to have days when things feel overwhelming and terrible, but try to remember that you’re both going through a process of grief. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your marriage is doomed. Tomorrow, you might feel better.
3. Find new things to have in common.
Being Mormon takes up a lot of time as a married couple. Not only do you spend three hours in church together, but then you also have the family home evenings and the ward parties and dinners with people in your ward, etc. etc. etc. Now that your spouse isn’t spending time doing churchy stuff with you, you might need to find other ways to bond as a couple. For example, back before winter ruined everything in the entire universe, my husband and I started going on Sunday nature walks/hikes/drives up in the mountains. Setting aside some time to do new activities together outside of church can also help you remember that you still genuinely like being around each other.
4. Own your story.
This one’s a little bit difficult. It can be almost embarrassing to admit that your spouse left church. You aren’t sure how people will respond, and you don’t want people to judge you or your spouse unfairly. I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but I can tell you that when I decided to just rip off the band-aid and tell my close family and friends what was going on, it lifted an immense burden off of me. You can’t control how people will respond, but sometimes being open and honest and unashamed feels much better than hiding and wallowing.
Celeste didn’t ask me this question, but I thought it might be helpful in this series. “What if you and your spouse are doing great, but you have a friend whose spouse has left their shared faith? What’s the best way to respond?”
Friends and family can be the greatest sources of either relief or pain in this kind of situation. With the recognition that other people may have totally different needs, these are some dos and don’ts based on my own personal experience:
1. DO act as a sounding-board
I have one close friend who has been incredibly helpful for me because she’s so pragmatic. When I was terrified to tell my family about my husband’s choice to leave the church, she let me practice the conversation with her and gave me tips on how to approach the topic. Let your friend talk it out.
2. DON’T turn your friend into a tragedy
It’s one thing to ask your friend how they’re doing. It’s another to only ever ask “How are you doing?” in a condescending voice. Be available to talk, but don’t assume that this faith crisis is the only thing your friend ever wants to talk about. Just because this happened doesn’t mean that they don’t have other wonderful things going on in their lives that they would rather discuss.
3. DO be supportive of the spouse
My husband didn’t leave the church because he was lazy or just wanted to sin or something. His reasons for leaving were complex and based in church experiences that were very different from my own. Based on his experiences, I understand his choice to leave. The process of leaving was something he agonized over for a long time, and ultimately, I respect him for the decision he made, even if I didn’t make the same decision. I know it may feel supportive to take your friend’s “side” by saying things like “Well, you didn’t sign up for this,” but to me, that is the most hurtful thing I can hear. I love and respect my husband, and when you say something that hurts him, it hurts me. If you want to help me, love him just like you did before. Be both of our friends. Don’t become weird.
So there you have it. I guess that turned into a bit of a manifesto after all. Moral of the story: Decide to be in love. Make that decision every day, and you’ll at least make it to tomorrow.
31 thoughts on “Deciding to Love: Making It Through Your Spouse’s Faith Transition”
Thank you so much for this post! My husband and I stopped going to church a little over a year ago. We both still have faith in the religion itself but have different reasons for not going. For me it’s really hard being an independent, feminist women in the church amongst other reasons. I’m glad you mention deciding wether or not you still want to be with your spouse after a faith transition. I’ve known several people who still wanted to be with their spouse but felt that wasn’t okay if they didn’t share the same faith. I also like the section on supporting a friend through the faith change process. It really helps to have a friend who loves you and your spouse through your struggles despite what’s going on in your spiritual life.
Lissa, thanks for your kind words on the post. There is so much negativity on this topic out there, we really appreciate your support 🙂
Thanks for this. There are many working through this. My husband walked away a few years ago and it has brought many challenges and experiences. Looking for support and answers is to hard questions leads to many dead ends. Thanks for sharing some ideas that have helped you.
Thanks Leshel. It helps to read the experiences of others going through similar things even if we don’t come to the same conclusions- helps to know we’re not alone!
Look, life isn’t cut and dried like we wish it were. I am happily married to a wonderful beautiful woman, now who both of us share “widowhood”, as we both lost our spouses. Nothing either of us ever thought about when life was story book and ideal when we both were first married. Eternity, and this mortal piece of it is not a footrace, its a marathon. We all have to keep going. If God is as merciful and loving as we deem Him to be as our eternal Father, then wherever “any of us are” in our thoughts, personal beliefs and in our figuring things out, all will be well and ok. We all ebb and flow, don’t we? When I read how even our prophets have had doubts and felt alone, at times, that all gives me courage to keep going. I think you have hit all the points you need to think about and consider. Good for you for not being closed minded. Yet, I also know that those who live in the simple terms of “wait, you can’t change your path on us now…” that is ok too. So long as both spouses feel that way, but… things do change. Right? God bless you in this path. Hey! God bless us ALL in our respective paths, right?
Thanks for your thoughts Dan. We certainly do change- we change, our paths change, and I think you hit the nail on the head- we all have to keep going and God will help 🙂 Thanks!
It’s much, MUCH harder than that. You need to develop a SOLID testimony, often you go through every step of the grieving process multiple times (it’s a huge life change… With far reaching, sometimes daily consequences), turning to God for comfort, leaning on the Savior for emotional stability and to learn of Him and follow His example, you need to redouble your efforts at living as you should so the Holy Ghost can help you in the painful compromises ahead and continue to comfort you, you need a SOLID understanding of free agency so all their choices contrary to the gospel do not feel like personal attacks, you must separate the past spouse from the present and focus on all that you love about the now spouse, you need a SOLID support system who loves both you and your spouse no matter what and can help you refocus and get back on track to loving them when things get really hard, you need to trust your children in the Lord’s hands and never bad mouth the spouse to them- they love both their parents equally, and you need to get to a point where you feel whole living the gospel on your own. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through so far.
E, thank you for your thoughts. You are absolutely right- a solid testimony and solid support system are crucial for this transition. It is so hard. God bless you.
But everything you said is also true 🙂 thank you for putting it out there!
My wife is a wonderful person, still after nearly four decades of membership then marriage decided to resign her membership and our marriage. It happens. People do change and in my wife’s case all of these things seem to be part of a journey she is on. I decided long ago to let go of all those feelings that destroy a person and turn to Christ instead. It still hurts but His healing balm frees me from burdens I don’t need to carry.
G, wow I’m really impressed to not detect any bitterness in your comment from such a hard circumstance. You seem to have a great attitude. Thank you for your healing words.
I did a Google searched and found your posts.i wanted to see if there was anyone out there going through what I am going through. This is so difficult for me. I feel so alone. My husband and I were so active in the church. Yet, when my husband decided to leave the church, people became distant, cold and judgemental. I am desperately trying to work through this. I need time to process it all. Sometimes this feels more difficult than what I endure with chemotherapy. I have faith that things will get better. I just wish i knew how to help it along and help myself.
Cynthia, on top of everything else, chemo too. You’re the reason there are prayer rolls in the temples. For what it’s worth, my wife definitely has decided to leave the marriage as part of leaving the Church. The feelings I’ve had through all of this compelled me to either become very negative and lost or to turn to the Savior to let Him guide me to a better way. I had hoped for a long time (years/decades) that she would “come around” but matters never improved. Certainly one thing I’ve learned is how much the Lord safeguards our agency, even when you have little or no influence on your spouse, hoping the Lord will intervene, but He doesn’t. I sit in the back of the chapel where others don’t see me and I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m there alone. They know. I won’t wear my feelings on my sleeve and look for the pity of others. There’s always someone else worse off, like someone going through chemo on top of everything else.
I can’t give anyone advice except to say stay close to the Lord, have faith in Him and follow the living Prophet. The Comforter will come as we leave our burdens at the Savior’s feet.
Thank you G. I am sorry that you or anyone is having to go through this. I was happy, I felt close to God, I felt unified in our goals, I felt I had good friends in the church. I don’t feel any of that now. I am a convert to the church. I converted in my 3rd year of college. I am from a strong catholic family. It was difficult but I felt good about my decision to join the church. I met a returned missionary, we married in the temple, we had children, we served in many callings and leadership rolls, we attended the temple, we lived faithfully. It just does not make sense. I will make it through this. My next step will be to work on getting my relationship with God back. This trial feels so much like the steps of grieving. I know it will get better with time. At least I hope it will.
Cynthia, I just want to give you my support. My spouse struggles with belief in God and I have had to reframe my marriage as my opportunity to learn to love without judgment or reservation. It is lonely and hard at times. I get blessings from my bishop several times a year and use fasting and prayer. My husband is so good to me and is my best friend. Sometimes I make compromises. You will too, but ask for priesthood blessings from someone you can trust or seek someone you can trust. Fast if you can and expect the miracle of feeling God’s love and guidance. It will happen and it will all be ok, because the Savior has already paid the price for what we are going through. You and everyone else going through this have my live and support.
There is a Facebook group for LDS people in this situation. It’s called Another Testament of Marriage
How do you find that support group on Facebook, I searched and it never came up. I am looking for support for a friend of a friend whose husband left the LDS Faith, and she could really use support.
Sorry this took me so long to find! It’s a secret Facebook group, so you can’t find it just by searching, but you can request to join. Here is the link: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Another-Testament-of-Marriage/476427312415241/ Hope that helps! Much love! -Celeste
Cynthia, this is a crucial time in your life, and yes you have done everything right. Commuting home one day on our ligh rail system, I was looking out the window when I had a very strong impression that came over me that simply said that she, my wife, deserves her free agency. I too have served in various callings, in a bishopric, stake High Council and continue to serve today. My current calling is as a temple worker. My wife has served as a Relief Society president, young women’s president, primary, and other callings since she joined the church when she was 19 years old. I would encourage anyone in this type of situation to draw near to the Lord and let Him draw near to you and He will be there for you and you will find the strength that you need to go through day by day. Work closely with your Bishop and everything will work out in ways that you will see the wisdom of your Heavenly Father’s love.
I am looking for a support group, if one exists, for a friend of a friend who is faithful in the LDS faith, but her husband has left the faith. She really needs support, and to be able to interact with others who are in a similar situation. I searched for the one a commenter put above called “Another Testament of Marriage” on Facebook.
Yes is there a support group? I really need one. I’m going through such a hard time.
My husband stopped going to Church and it broke my heart. I kept going with the children while he stayed home and watched the Sports on T.V. After years his parents died and he realized that they would be in a place that he could not be. He saw how much more peaceful the children and I seemed after Church and came back because he wants to be with his family here and in the world to come. What a blessing it has been, we have now just finished a three year mission on Temple Square and love the Gospel and all the blessings it provides. I love my Heavenly Father and will be thanking him Eternally!
I was married to a non-member. The closer I got to the church after my inactivity, the more we drifted apart. I wanted a member husband. I wanted to share a faith. So we got divorced. Not because he wasn’t Mormon but because the marriage was bad. I have been reconnecting with someone from my past who I can never imagine becoming a member. Yet, he is the one I can imagine being with years from now. I guess having been alone for the last seven years and having the luxury to strengthen my testimony and faith helped me be secure in the Church. I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we choose and sometimes the choice is made for us. The common denominator is that we might have a marriage but a Single church life. Now I’m fine with it but when my baby was smaller I wanted the idyllic family in church. I can’t imagine what others go through whose spouse leaves the faith. You gave great advice. Thank you for sharing.
I’m not sure if this is ok to post but I need to share as a Mother whose Son in law left and pulled her daughter away by destroying her beliefs. He didn’t quietly leave, he and his brother tried and is still trying to bring others with them including their family members. This has been very hurtful and has destroyed the relationship I have had with him. He has been inactive most of his life but never had dug into the anti part. The first time I saw this side of him was when I came upon a post on FB where he was going to this Mormon Stories leader’s get together at a bar. I was curious so I found the Bar online and the activities going on there and came across a video where this guy was mocking and laughing along with my son in law and his brother etc The Book of Mormon and Primary songs that I sang to my daughter and other children. This experience changed how I viewed him as my daughter could be seen setting next to him trying to hide herself as much as she could. My heart was so broken . I can’t explain how that just changed my family. We get together as a family and we are kind to each other and still love but it is so different now, the love is different. My daughter and I were very close at one time but even her countenance has changed. I still reach out to her because a Mother’s love never dies. Going on and trying to love them, It can be a struggle after they tried to discredit and tear down my precious beliefs that have been very dear to our family. Yes, things do change and they change. Trying to keep a family together in these circumstances is very difficult and trying . Looking for the things I love about them comes easy some days and difficult on other days. I have had learning experiences in the Temple where I have been taught by the Spirit and wonderful talks by General Authorities on this subject that have helped but it is still a day by day struggle .
Sarah, that breaks my heart. I have a dear friend whose children all left the Church as adults, after serving missions & being married in the temple, too! She has a rough time with them. It’s terribly hard when a family member doesn’t just leave, but they become terribly dismissive of those who stay. All we can do is love them and ask for the same respect they expect.
Here’s a great article to ponder: https://www.fairmormon.org/blog/2017/06/11/enlightenment-neo-mormons
I dont Think Its hard to take the decision about staying married or NOT… But what about the kids? What should we teach Them? And how should we handle it? When a spouse Leaves the Church a child Will soon and easialy be scared. Bescause what dad or mom is doing is wrong… Or?
My husband, a non-member, and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. When we met I was less active and had been through a rough relationship with an older man. At the time my Pentecostal hubby was a better Mormon than I!
The faith journey of our 25 years has been this: stepping outside of our denominations to find something “middle of the road” (3 years); me deciding I needed to go back to my church (adult epiphany/conversion !), him going back to his denomination, us going every other Sunday to the others’ church (16 years, both kids made the decision to become LDS; I was always way more active in my church activities than he was in his, too; got my endowment 2 years after we started this arrangement); I determined both girls (now 12 and 9) were failing to make connections in either church because if the every-other- Sunday thing; the girls and I go LDS every week; hubby chose to continue to alternate weeks (6+ years); girls make great strides; I’m finally able to hold callings that require more time, effort. Whew!
We’ve been through a lot, but we’ve also grown a lot. And I love that my kids know first hand about other denominations, and are comfortable with non -members, yet comfortable with who they are in the midst of other faiths.
I write all of that to say ‘No! It’s not easy to go it alone in your own faith journey, but it is only your journey over which you have any control.’
You can do it & you can be stronger for it. Definitely “own it! ” The hardest thing is having a spouse who doesn’t love and respect you, not one that doesn’t share your faith. With love and respect, much can be overcome. Without it, nothing can. The next hardest thing is people falling all over themselves to pity you. 😉
In addition to lots of prayer and scriptures, I highly recommend a huge dose of apologetics readings to bolster your own faith and deepen your testimony. Start with Laura Hales’ new book “A Reason for Faith, ” then go for Patrick Mason’s “Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt.” The Givens are my next favorite authors in this realm.
Wow thank you so much for your comment and sharing your story! I TOTALLY agree with what you said about love and respect- those really are the most important keys in a marriage!
And thanks for the book recommendations, I LOVE anything by the Givens- I’ll have to give Laura Hales book a try.
It is important that as a wife, our husbands get the support from us and vice versa. Marriage is a team work. We need to help one another in any case to win the situation.
My wife after seven years of marriage decided to leave the church and with a bang. It seems like an obsession now to learn as much anti Mormon doctrine as she can and spread it around. It really hurts. I’m not so much embarrassed by it and I really wouldn’t have such a hard time with it if it wasn’t such an obsession and constantly around me. I hear the way she talks about true believing Mormons and she calls them brainwashed and naive and we are a cult and I can’t help but take offense. I want to raise my son in the church but with my wife being so anti I’m really lost. I have read and loved everything on this blog about this subject, but I really can’t find anything about a faithful member married to a devote anti Mormon.
I love my wife even though she is not at all the person I fell in love with. But with anti doctrine and anti Mormon groups she has become part of I feel like satan is really pulling her away from me and she seems okay with that.
My wife after seven years of marriage decided to leave the church. It has been extremely hard on me. I can’t say anything about the church in my home or it will cause a fight. When I talk about raising my son in the church she says I can but she will also teach him about the truth of the church (her truth). I don’t know why so many people obsessed more about the church once they leave than when they were in it.