The reality is that there aren’t a lot of easy answers. I don’t always know how my husband and I are going to handle it tomorrow or next year or ten years from now, so I don’t want to pretend that I have everything figured out, but what I can offer is a list of what seems to be working for us right here, right now. Because why stress out about ten years down the road if you can enjoy the person you love right this minute?
Here are my not-so-magical suggestions for helping your marriage survive a faith transition:
1. Make a decision about whether you still want to be married.
Your situation has changed. Regardless of how many cheesy letters you wrote to yourself in Young Women’s about how your future husband was going to love the Church, he doesn’t. And that leaves you with a decision to make. Yes, maybe part of your love was built on a sense of shared faith. Yes, maybe you feel hurt or even betrayed that things changed, but guess what? You’re not married to that original person anymore. You’re married to the person you have here, now, in front of you.
How does that make you feel?
Back in the day when I was trying to decide if I should marry my husband, I went to my dad for advice. He asked me one very simple question: When I imagined myself married to him in 50 years, how did it make me feel? At the time, the thought of being with my now-husband filled me with all kinds of rainbow-and-unicorn feelings that are far too cheesy to put into print.
When my spouse made the formal decision to resign from the church, my initial response was to ask God what I should do. Did I have to leave? Did I have to stay? Just tell me the answer, okay? Well, instead of getting an answer, I got another question: “Do you still want to be with him?”
The man I’m married to today is very different from the man I married years ago, but at the end of the day, when I imagine myself in 50 years, I want him there. He’s the guy who does ridiculous, uncoordinated dances with me while we’re cooking. When I’m tired, he makes me laugh until I’m completely delirious and ready to pee my pants. When I’m sad, there’s that little spot right in the crook of his armpit that has always been my safe place. And so I made a decision, and once I actually made that decision, it made things a lot easier.
If you want your marriage to survive a faith transition, you have to decide if you want to be married. You both have to decide if you want to be married. That’s the first, most important, step, and it makes everything else a little bit easier.
2. Recognize that it’s going to be hard, and that’s okay.
This isn’t easy for you, and it isn’t easy for your spouse, either. Even if you’re committed to your marriage, you’re both going to have days when things feel overwhelming and terrible, but try to remember that you’re both going through a process of grief. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your marriage is doomed. Tomorrow, you might feel better.
3. Find new things to have in common.
Being Mormon takes up a lot of time as a married couple. Not only do you spend three hours in church together, but then you also have the family home evenings and the ward parties and dinners with people in your ward, etc. etc. etc. Now that your spouse isn’t spending time doing churchy stuff with you, you might need to find other ways to bond as a couple. For example, back before winter ruined everything in the entire universe, my husband and I started going on Sunday nature walks/hikes/drives up in the mountains. Setting aside some time to do new activities together outside of church can also help you remember that you still genuinely like being around each other.
4. Own your story.
This one’s a little bit difficult. It can be almost embarrassing to admit that your spouse left church.You aren’t sure how people will respond, and you don’t want people to judge you or your spouse unfairly. I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but I can tell you that when I decided to just rip off the band-aid and tell my close family and friends what was going on, it lifted an immense burden off of me. You can’t control how people will respond, but sometimes being open and honest and unashamed feels much better than hiding and wallowing.
So there you have it. Moral of the story: Decide to be in love. Make that decision every day, and you’ll at least make it to tomorrow.