Most couples get married in their twenties. In Utah, the statistics show marriages occur in their early twenties, or even late teens for some women. Research suggests our beliefs change over our lifespan, including our religious and spiritual convictions. No matter the reason, it is extremely common for one partner (or both) to change their religious views over time. Because religious beliefs in Utah (primarily members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) require strict adherence, stress from a spouse questioning or leaving the faith can create tension and pressure on the relationship.
The irony is, LDS theology promotes the importance of the family, yet, when such stressors encumber the relationship, it’s the marriage that suffers at the hand of obedience or compliance. Many couples experience a form of betrayal, fear, or disruption of intimacy and connectedness. Some of my clients report the grief of losing the assurance of their eternal marriage, feeling the risk of an affair, substance use changes or experimentation, or other unwanted behaviors.
A faith transition, however, isn’t a predictor of the failure of the relationship. With time, support, and tools, couples often unify and strengthen their relationship. Couples find shared values and bond by moving into a space of curiosity, openness, and acceptance while also validating and “holding space” for their partner.
Wasatch Family Therapy is hosting a group for five couples currently struggling with a mixed-faith marriage. Group meetings occur each Wednesday starting March 3rd at our new address in Sandy. Couples will need to be interviewed (to make sure it’s a good fit) and will need to pay half upfront; the remainder billed after the eight sessions. Sessions are $75 per couple per session. This group will be a “process group”, where couples participate interactively learning about each other. The group will be facility lead by Jeff Lundgren, ACMHC, who works with many couples and mixed-faith marriages and families.
If you want to participate, please contact us at 801-944-4555.
Really, right now take a few seconds to focus on your breath. Notice what it feels like as it goes in through your nose and out through your mouth. A faith transition can be frightening and incredibly disorienting. Maybe you have that feeling of waking up in a strange place in the middle of the night, wondering where you are, only to remember you’re visiting a new town. Give yourself a moment to breathe, think, and become acquainted with this foreign land. Be kind to yourself. Sometimes you might feel excited or like you are on a new adventure. Sometimes you might feel hurt or betrayed. Sometimes you may feel lonely and out of place, but remind yourself that these emotions, like waves will go in and then go back out. Notice how you’re feeling without judgement.
Start with What You Know
When your world feels turned upside down, it can feel like you don’t know what to think, believe, or know anymore. That’s ok. Start with what you do believe or what you do know. Maybe you believe in service or the power of good people to make a difference. Maybe you know how important your best friend is to you or that mint chocolate chip is still your favorite ice cream. What do you value? What is important to you? Make a list.
When you lose a community or separate from important people in your life, you may up feeling isolated or like no one understands. Despite that very real feeling, there are people who have gone through, or who are going through, a change in their Mormon lens too. Try looking for groups on Meetup, or Facebook groups. Network through people you already know or friends of a friend.
Connect with Resources
“When Mormons Doubt” by Jon
Odgen or “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis” by Thomas Wirthlin McConkie are both
two excellent books that are specific to Latter-Day Saints. Looking to people
of other faiths, like Tova Mirvis in “The Book of Separation” can also be
Take your time exploring
the world through your new perspective. Be patient with yourself and give
yourself the permission to say no and to take breaks. Find a therapist who can
meet you where you are and support you wherever you decide your journey will
take you. You’ve got this.
Have you noticed a trend of people questioning their long-time religious beliefs? Perhaps looking for answers in areas that you may even question the veracity of their approach in doing so?
When someone we know, perhaps even our wife (or husband), begins to question their religious faith it can be distressing. When this same person tells us that they’re going to leave their faith (or spiritual belief) it can seem outright gut-wrenching.
What can we do to help our spouse or significant other in their faith journey? It can be much more about hearing the person than it is about changing their mind.
5 Items to truly consider
Lend a Listening ear
Your tendency will be to want to ask questions. Seek answers. Perhaps even to try to change your wife’s mind regarding her decision. It has been my experience that this will not be helpful. In fact, it will likely only push your spouse away. Listening in an understanding way that shows you truly care will likely be a much better approach to take.
Understand that it’s really not about you
While every part of you may feel that it’s absolutely about you, recognize your focus needs to be on supporting your family member in their decision and journey.
You don’t have to agree
Learning to support your husband in his decision doesn’t mean you have to agree with his decision. This can be comforting as the initial shock begins to recede. Many people want to continue to attend their life long church even with the changes her husband is experiencing.
You didn’t cause the crisis
While it is important that you continue to attend your church of choice if you desire, recognize that you didn’t cause your spouse’s faith crisis. In fact, the faith crisis may have been brewing for some time and is just now being acknowledged.
Recognize that your Marriage core is still there
While change is difficult, please recognize that the love and closeness that you have cherished for so long is still there. That your marriage core is still very viable. That the journey may seem long and difficult but that what you’ve known as “us” doesn’t need to vanish. This is difficult to manage early on in the faith journey but will become clearer as your husband’s faith crisis clarifies.
Where do we go from here?
As your wife’s faith crisis clarifies, so will the equilibrium in your marriage and other key relationships. While it may take some time to have things feel comfortable, continue to do what you’ve always done. That is, go on consistent dates. Go the movies. Go out to dinner. Spend time at the gym. Try skiing at your favorite resort in the Cottonwoods or tubing with the family. In other words, do what you’ve always done.
Please don’t be surprised when some of these events feel wonderfully connective and others a bit forced or uncomfortable. The key is being fiercely loyal to your spouse and family…not hindered by which church you’re attending on Sunday.
A parting thought
Sometimes seeking advice from your church pastor or bishop can feel wonderful for the spouse not leaving their faith. And, not so wonderful for the spouse leaving that particular faith, be it Catholic, Protestant, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Learn to balance and support your husband as he moves forward on his journey. You may also want to consider seeking professional advice from a therapist that has experience helping couples wind their way through this challenging journey of (re)discovering one’s faith.
Relationship, couple and family therapist Michael Boman, LCSW has nearly 20 years experience assisting couples and families work their way through challenges in their relationships.