coupleQuestion:

I am an active LDS woman, married to a non-LDS man, and I have 2 adult non-LDS stepchildren. We are a happy family, though I do attend church and the temple by myself. Sometimes I feel torn between two worlds: it seems I’m “super religious” to my non-LDS friends and family, and I’m considered “less active” or on the “worry list” in my ward, because of my non-LDS family (though I attend church every week). It’s not my imagination about the ward’s perception of me–a close LDS ward member let it slip one day. I long to have social connections in my ward (going out for dinner or the movies as a couple, etc), yet my LDS friends seem uncomfortable socializing with us outside of church, perhaps because my husband has a glass of wine with dinner, or they find little in common to talk about with my non-LDS husband. It seems that LDS folks only want to socialize with other LDS folks. If they do socialize with us, they patronizingly approach my husband as if he’s a baptism prospect, rather than treating him as a friend. How can I find balance and friendships in the church, given my situation? I’m a nice, fun person, but I feel very lonely in church because of all of this.

Answer:

I want to tell you how impressed I am that you’ve been able to maintain a strong marriage and family while having differences in an area as personal and sensitive as religion. You’ve built a nice foundation to help support you while you figure out what to do with these strange social situations.

A blessing and curse of being a member of a church like ours is that because it requires such a deep level of commitment, it often unintentionally creates an exclusive subculture that causes outsiders to really feel like outsiders. Since you are intimately familiar with life inside and outside the Church, you have a rare perspective not shared by many people in either group. I’m sure you spend much of your time defending both groups, as you have deep commitments to family in one group and deep spiritual convictions in the other.

Please know that your unique perspective can be a tremendous blessing to both groups. There is nothing you have to defend or be ashamed of. You have an opportunity to build bridges of understanding and compassion with virtually everyone in your social network. The LDS folks need your influence to see past the non-member status of your husband and stepchildren and get to know them as real people with real stories. And, the non-LDS folks can benefit from understanding more about the values and convictions of the LDS people.

I recommend you embrace your unique position as someone with dual-citizenship in these different subcultures and accept that you’ll have something important to contribute in every interaction. Trying to adhere to every unspoken cultural rule of each group will most likely feel unsettling to you. You don’t need to give up the things you love about each of these two cultures. There are many commonalities you share between both worlds. As you stay true to your commitments to family and faith, people will be drawn to your strength and conviction of who you are and what you love.

For example, I encourage you to regularly invite ward members into your home so they can get to know both you and your husband. If your husband is comfortable with candid discussions about your unusual situation, you might consider putting everyone at ease by bridging the two cultures as you talk freely about the two worlds you live in. There is no need to be muzzled by either side.

Notice if your energy of not feeling fully included in the LDS culture keeps you from confidently reaching out to connect to others in the ward. The insecurity of not fitting in with ward members might cause you to keep your distance, hoping someone will reach out to include you.

Owning your situation without apology allows people to relate to you and feel more comfortable with both worlds. You’ll likely have to patiently take the high road when people become narrow in their view of you and your family. Feeling misunderstood by both groups is painful and puts you in a strange dilemma where you might lose your sense of what you have to offer to others.

You have so much to offer, both with your fun personality and your unique compassion you bring for all of God’s children, member and non-member. Take the lead and pull people close to you who you find interesting, warm, and personable. Learn about them and let them learn about you. You have nothing to hide. You’re a woman of deep commitments and convictions.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children. You can connect with him at:

 

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