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Almost a year ago on Valentine’s Day, my husband gifted me with an eight-page letter detailing all the issues that he has in regards to the Church and that he was done with all of it. We have been married 16 years. We were sealed in the temple, and while our marriage hasn’t been perfect, I have always felt like we were “OK” because we had each other, our belief, and our family.
At first I was devastated. Completely blindsided. Hurt. I had questions. He had gotten caught up in the “anti Mormon” stuff online. He felt he had found the truth and that he was happy. But what about me? What about our kids? We have three boys that I all of the sudden felt like I was going to have to raise them spiritually alone.
Not long after the letter, his garments came off. He started to drink coffee and alcoholic beverages when he would travel out of town on business. Stories emerged of flirtations with other women, etc. I have felt my life crumbling out from under me.
How do I move forward in my marriage when I feel like he has taken away everything I wanted and fell in love with? I’m in the angry stage of things now and because I wouldn’t marry the man I am married to now if he was to ask me again, how do I find love, forgiveness and compassion for someone who has hurt me so much?
While it’s common for many marriage partners to go through changes in preferences, beliefs, and habits as the years roll on, significant changes that redefine the actual marriage covenant are much harder to tolerate. Your shock and devastation are understandable. You both made promises to each other, God, and your community based on your common beliefs and goals. Your husband’s surprise change in direction leaves you with more questions than answers about your future.
It’s important to draw a distinction between the different types of betrayals you’ve experienced. Yes, they’re all betrayals to the original promises you both made to one another, but some are handled differently than others.
Religious differences aside, it’s impossible to have a stable and secure marriage when your husband is flirting with and potentially pursuing relationships with other women. He might not believe in the LDS religion any longer, but does he believe in marriage? Does he believe that fidelity to you transcends every other commitment in life? If your husband won’t make a commitment to marital fidelity, then you’ll have to make some difficult decisions about what you can tolerate in this marriage. Most marriages can work through significant differences in beliefs, but only if there is a basic foundation of romantic and sexual fidelity.
Not only is his commitment to fidelity something you need to clarify, but also his commitment to principled living. Your husband isn’t a bad person for leaving the LDS Church and shouldn’t be made to feel that way. Living a principled life has nothing to do with any specific religion, but rather what is best for stable marriages, families, and communities. In his reaction to leaving the Church, your husband may snub his nose at any religious restraints he believes are holding him back. If he wants to have a healthy marriage and family, he’s going to need to stay responsible, mature, and centered in the time-tested principles that have built and strengthened relationships throughout history. You can expect this of him even if he doesn’t share your faith.
I get the impression that despite all of the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing, you are still open to figuring out how to stay married to him. If he’s willing to forsake his flirting and womanizing and commit to you as his one and only, then you can both begin the work of integrating his new beliefs into your marriage and family culture.
It goes without saying that you will need Heaven’s help in this new and strange land. When Adam and Eve entered into the desolate, telestial world that was completely unfamiliar to them, they sought help from God to know what to do.[i] Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that we can receive revelation and direction despite the conditions in which we find ourselves. He said, “You can have sacred, revelatory, profoundly instructive experience with the Lord in the most miserable experiences of your life—in the worst settings, while enduring the most painful injustices, when facing the most insurmountable odds and opposition you have ever faced.”[ii]
Your husband is seeking direction for his life and you get to do the same. Even though you have to accept things you don’t agree with, it’s critical to get clarity, strength, and support so you can know what’s essential at every stage of this long process.
As you seek personal direction for your life, remember to keep your heart soft. This is difficult to do when you’ve been wounded so deeply, but it is essential for receiving ongoing revelation. Elder Holland adds further counsel:
Remaining true to our Christian principles is the only way divine influence can help us. The Spirit has a near-impossible task to get through to a heart that is filled with hate or anger or vengeance or self-pity. Those are all antithetical to the Spirit of the Lord. On the other hand, the Spirit finds instant access to a heart striving to be charitable and forgiving, long-suffering and kind—principles of true discipleship. What a testimony that gospel principles are to apply at all times and in all situations and that if we strive to remain faithful, the triumph of a Christian life can never be vanquished, no matter how grim the circumstance might be.[iii]
Your husband’s struggles are real for him, otherwise he wouldn’t be putting everything at risk by acting on them. It’s critical that you keep your heart soft and open so you can hear why he’s moving this direction. In these discussions, you will find areas of agreement. Listen for what he believes instead of only hearing what he doesn’t believe. Build on these shared beliefs and strengthen your family practices around these discoveries. For example, he may not care to read the Book of Mormon with the family, but he may still be willing to read the New Testament. You can continue to teach your sons the Gospel, read the Book of Mormon with them, and help nurture their testimonies.
Even though your sons will be confused about these changes, you can still let them know what will and won’t change for them. Your sons don’t need to be thrown into the details of his faith crisis, but they deserve to know why dad isn’t attending the same church or participating in certain practices familiar to them. Obviously, you’ll need to determine how much is appropriate to share, but you don’t need to hide the fact that dad now believes different things than mom. If your husband is willing to commit to certain Christian practices, these can be the moral guideposts for your family while you both work out the particulars of how you’ll handle the specific religious commitments.
You have a strong conviction of the restored gospel and have every right to continue teaching and nurturing your boys to become worthy young men. Your husband may have left the LDS faith, but you don’t have to stop living and teaching your beliefs. He can learn to make room for it in the same way you’re working to make room for his beliefs. It’s likely he’ll have specific concerns about what you teach your sons. There is no easy answer for how to navigate this, as he may genuinely believe they’ll be harmed by certain teachings. Do everything you can to listen to his concerns while expecting him to hear and respect your concerns.
As difficult as it may be, it is still possible to love your husband even though he’s choosing a different path with his spiritual beliefs. I understand that beliefs eventually turn into behaviors, so you’ll need to establish what you can tolerate in your home and family.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins taught some important truths about agency in marriage and how your willingness to love one another, despite your significant differences, depends on each of you.[iv] Your husband also has to use his agency to decide if he wants to have a strong marriage despite these differences. Once you both know that you’re committed to giving each other mutual respect, difficult concerns will be easier to navigate.
You have many difficult conversations ahead of you. Looking for ways to spend time together as a couple and family will help send signals to each other that this relationship matters and you want to find a way to feel closer and connected. Most couples in these mixed-faith situations hold tight to the common areas, even if it’s only a shared commitment to doing things as a family. He has changed his commitment to your eternal family, which understandably creates tremendous anxiety for you. Live your beliefs and radiate the truths in the way you treat him and your children. Your home can still be a sanctuary of peace and purpose. Hopefully your husband is willing to stay respectful of the family faith culture he helped create with you and your sons, even though he’s not interested in participating.
Thanks to Amy Cluff, LCSW for her helpful suggestions
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Moses 5:4