Freckles in April: Marriage After a Mormon Faith Transition

Monday, July 10, 2017

Marriage After a Mormon Faith Transition

Twelve years ago today a tall, skinny, smart guy (totally my type) asked me for my email address after sacrament meeting at church. You can read more about that here but in honor of the anniversary of the day I met my husband I thought I'd share this post.

My college friend Celeste has an excellent blog devoted to marriage and several years ago she asked me to write a guest post for her about how my marriage survived my change of faith. I had been out of the church for about a year at that point and finally felt like we had reached a happy place. I stand by the post I wrote back then but I've updated it a bit to reflect a couple more years worth of experience and the "new normal" we've settled into. 





When I went through my faith transition I think the thing that scared me the most was that I might lose my husband. We went into our marriage being on the same page and then, over the course of a year or two, it's like I jumped into a completely different book. When we were talking about getting engaged I clearly remember him asking me if I could commit to a life of service to God in our church. At the time I though, "Well of course! I mean, what else would I be doing?" I was raised in our church and couldn't fathom that my faith would ever change.

But my faith DID change. I went from a fully believing Mormon to a questioning Mormon to an agnostic ex-Mormon over the course of about 4 years. It wasn't until the last 6 months of my struggle prior to leaving our church that I even talked to my husband about it. I wasn't sure where to even START and I had heard too many stories of couples in similar situations who ended up divorcing. I was terrified. 

Fortunately I married a good man who loves me even though I couldn't hold to that promise I made so many years before. He told me that it would be silly of him to expect me to never grow and change from the person I was at age 20.

One of the most important things we've done to maintain our marriage during my faith transition is TALK. I try to explain why I find certain things painful or uncomfortable, or I explain the ways in which my understanding has changed, and he listens and asks good questions. He tells me about the good and positive things he sees in the church while I listen and acknowledge that good. We've always been decent at communicating with each other but we've gotten really good at it in the past couple years. 

Aaron's nonjudgmental listening and question-asking are the best things he could have done for me as I struggled. I was feeling so tender and raw and he was earnestly trying to understand where I was coming from rather than convince me of his point of view or change my mind. I knew he was hurting from my changes in belief but he never put that on me or pointed fingers. He has defended me and bolstered me all along the way.



Conversely, I try to be supportive of his continued belief. He finds peace and joy in the church and I have no desire to rob him of those feelings by pushing my own agenda. I attend sacrament meeting with him and our kids every other week. I haven't pushed my beliefs on him and he hasn't pushed his on me. We've let each other be and focused on love. We're far from perfect at it, but we are really trying.

To other couples in a similar situation, this is my advice:

1. Practice GOOD communication. This means no accusing or blaming. Try to understand your spouse before you try to make them understand you. Make your peace with the fact that you probably won't change each other's minds. Talk with the goal of understanding, not converting. Find common ground wherever possible. 

2. Remember that life goes on...and it will look pretty much the same. It may feel like a monumental shift has happened in your home but then you'll realize that you're still going about your day-to-day life and watching Parks & Recreation together while eating Oreos and it's all fairly normal. If you're worried about how much things are going to change you may find comfort in the fact that things probably won't change that much. 

^I got a lot of pushback on this point when my post first went up over 2 years ago and I'd like to edit and say that individual mileage may vary. I heard a lot of stories about spouses who lost their faith and became alcoholics and adulterers. In those cases I'd like to refer to point number 3 below. 

Also, commenters made the point that the husband leaving the Mormon church affects the family a lot more than the wife leaving due to no longer having the priesthood in the home. Side-eye at institutional gender inequality but yes, I understand that point as well and how that adds an extra layer of complications. But, unless your husband was the type to give daily priesthood blessings or something, I'll still argue that your day-to-day won't change much and I think there's a lot of comfort in that. The big days (baptisms, wedding, etc.) will be hard but they're not easy at our house either (maybe someday I'll write about the weirdness of my son's baptism day). Please check out point 4.

3. It's ok to seek professional help. Aaron and I managed to wade through and figure things out on our own but I kept the number of a marriage therapist handy just in case. Going by what I've seen in my interactions with other people who have left the church but have believing spouses, therapy is pretty common and extremely helpful. [edit: I ended up going on my own]

4. Find your balance. Compromise. Bend. Find middle ground together. We have Family Home Evening as often as we ever did (which is to say, not often) but we have it on secular topics like "how to identify and handle your emotions" and "conflict resolution." Scripture and prayer still happen most nights but it's usually just Aaron and our 7-year-old who participate. My family attends church regularly and I go to sacrament meeting with them every other week. Aaron goes to the temple once a month, usually in the early morning hours so he's not leaving me alone with crazy kids at the witching hour after work, which would definitely make me resentful. Set boundaries for what's ok and what's not and make sure that you're being reasonable. No one ever wants to give ground but if you want your marriage to work then you're going to have to. This might mean attending church sometimes with your believing spouse or not freaking out if your ex-mo spouse goes out for a drink with friends occasionally. 

I'd like to point out that this takes time. Possibly a LOT of time. I left the church over 3 1/2 years ago and our balance took a long time to settle. It still shifts occasionally when someone's needs change or there's something we think we can do better.

5. You CAN make it work. I think one of the most helpful things for me was seeing that other people had come through the same thing and were happily making it work. It was proof that we could do it. You're going to have to discuss and compromise and reevaluate and then discuss some more but you'll get there. Finally, at some point you'll look at your spouse and realize, "Hey...we're doing this. And we're ok!" It will always require that you work together, but isn't that the very heart of marriage?

Edit: Sadly, both couples that I was referring to in my last point have since divorced. However, I'm past the point of needing to see other couples making it work in order to have faith in my own marriage. WE are making it work. Honestly, we're about as happy as we ever were before when I was a believing Mormon. We have rough patches but they're the same issues we dealt with before that are mostly due to the fact that I'm prickly and he's a bit clueless. Normal marriage stuff unrelated to religious conflict. We've gotten to a point where church doesn't come up much anymore. He quietly lives his faith in the same way he always has and I barely think about church at all except for when I wake up every other Sunday morning and realize I should probably wash my hair. I'm respectful of his faith and we've been able to find compromise and common ground when it comes to issues that pop up. 

My point is: it's doable. If you're still at the beginning wondering how on earth you're going to make it work, I want to reassure you that you can. It gets easier. Feelings become less raw. Expectations adjust. Everyone sort of settles in and makes some sort of peace with the situation. It takes time but if you're both willing to work at it then you can get there.





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5 comments:

  1. This is such a beautiful story. I left the mormon faith with my husband, and it was still one of the hardest things we experienced. And I have dear friends who have experienced the split-marriage faith crisis, and it is not easy to keep your relationship strong, much less together. You and Aaron both deserve heaps and heaps of credit for being able to approach this in a way that allows you to honor your beliefs AND your marriage. Those are some master-level marriage skills right there!

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  2. Such a great post, and so inspiring to the MANY couples in this situation!

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  3. Really appreciate your honesty and openness here. ❤️

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  4. Beautiful update, Kayla. I am so glad that you guys have made it work! And hey, that Candalyn who commented is my cousin :)

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  5. Your posts around this topic never cease to floor me. You are both KILLING IT in the marriage department and props to you both. Leaving any faith is difficult, especially Mormonism (I would imagine) because it's such a "lifestyle". And by that I mean, I grew up Presbyterian and went to church on Sunday morning, Wednesday night, and outside of that I didn't think about church at all. I knew I had to be a good and kind person, but that mostly came from my parents expecting me to be a decent human, not necessarily a person who reflected our specific faith outward. I've had Mormon friends over the years that I adore, but their lifestyle always reflected their faith (disclaimer: no judgement EVER because I admired them!). All of this to say, I once again give you a standing ovation. Thanks, as always, for sharing!

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