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.