Question

My husband and I have been married for about 7 years. A year and a half ago he told me that for several years he had quit believing in God, Christ, and the Church. He told me there was no way to know the truth of anything. It shocked me. I felt like an earthquake had torn down everything that was stable. It felt like most of what I’d believed about my husband was fake. We had enjoyed a very loving and faith-focused life, mutual trust and respect and kindness. We both served missions, volunteered at the MTC, went often to the temple, read religious talks together, studied the scriptures, among other non-faith hobbies. We’ve always loved being together and talking.

Things gradually started to change after a few years of marriage after we moved to a prestigious university across the country. I couldn’t figure it out at the time, though I asked him at one point if he was leaving the Church and he said he wasn’t and that everything was fine. I now feel lied to and betrayed, though he doesn’t see it like this. He’s asked that I not tell anybody about it. I talked to his parents and a few very close friends because I felt like I could not deal with this alone. My parents still do not know.

This has been a period of intense pain. I’m a pretty mellow person but I can’t handle it anymore. It’s breaking me. We used to have such a sweet and happy marriage. But it seems like all of that disappears now when we talk about religion or politics. I suggested we not talk about those hot topics anymore, but he thinks we can keep discussing and be fine. Last night we had another talk and I was so upset and angry, I wanted to scream and throw something (I didn’t, I just cried and was snarky). This is not me. I want to run away. We have 3 beautiful children and I don’t want to divorce, but I now wonder why we married when he’s changed so much and I feel like I hardly know him. I know I need to stay and figure this out. I think we can be happy again but we need some help. In my head I know I need more love and acceptance of who he is, but I have a hard time showing it. He really is an exceptional husband and father, except for this one thing.

Answer

I can see how confusing and difficult this must be not only for you, but also for your husband. My guess is that your husband suspected that his private beliefs would be difficult for you to hear. As his beliefs began to drift from your shared beliefs, I’m sure he didn’t know how to tell you that things were changing for him. Even though you’re in the middle of a difficult discovery, I’m glad that he’s speaking honestly so you can both know how to move forward in your relationship.

I agree that you can both be happy again. I don’t believe these kinds of situations need to break up families. There are some difficult conversations and decisions to make as you decide how to teach your children, how to spend your time, and how to rework the way you converse one with another around personal topics such as religion and politics.

I also agree with you that getting some professional help is a good idea. A good marriage counselor can help you both slow down the reactive conversations so you can hear one another. You feel betrayed and he wants to be understood. You both have legitimate hurts and needs that need time and support to properly heal. Regardless of where his beliefs take him, you both need to learn to converse without losing your connection.

This isn’t a time for either of you to work to convince the other that your side is correct. That will only create more acrimony and will lead to more distance between the two of you. Instead, I encourage you to spend more time working to create more understanding. He is revealing a new belief system that is foreign to you and will take time for you to understand. He also needs to hear what this is like for you and give you a chance to share your beliefs. Do not let his drifting from the faith carry you on that same stream.

Remember that acceptance is not the same as agreement. You don’t have to agree with him, as he doesn’t have to agree with you. You can still find areas where you have common ground. Take time to find these common areas of agreement and build on those. You already noted that he is an exceptional husband and father. I think this is a great place to start as you begin looking for ways to relate to him.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland counseled that when we are faced with doubts we should, “hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes.”[i] You already know and trust some things about him as an individual. Even though some new beliefs have been revealed, hold on to what you know about him that hasn’t been affected by these discoveries. You have fears, questions, and worries about the future. Start from a place of security and see if you can stay connected to each other as you share.

You can find ways to respect one another’s beliefs and still have a thriving marriage. Couples don’t fall apart because they believe different things. Couples fall apart because they aren’t able to care about how the other feels. When your partner has a deep sense that they are seen, heard, and understood, your relationship will feel more peaceful and connected.

Even though you may not have chosen to marry him had you known that his beliefs would be different than yours, dwelling on that scenario only leaves you feeling powerless in your current situation. You didn’t marry him only because his religious/political beliefs matched yours. Your decision to marry him was much more complex than that. Please recognize that even though beliefs about God and religion influence many areas of family life, there are plenty of ways you can both build a loving and supportive home for each other and your children.

Marriage is full of surprises and successful couples know how to navigate these unexpected discoveries with grace and respect. I have no doubt you and your husband can continue to find ways to hear each other’s beliefs, pain, fears, hopes, and desires as you work to build a loving marriage and family.

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 as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/04/lord-i-believe?lang=eng