Thursday, September 06, 2007

Do couples face one partner's disbelief similarly to how they face other problems that arise?

A thread on Nom on "Best Practices for Achieving and Maintaining a Happy Marriage " prompted me to write the following and I wanted to get your answers to my question at the bottom of this post:

We are focusing a lot on what disbelief by one partner does to the relationship. Clearly, it can have different outcomes on the relationship for we know of some couples that end up disbelieving together, some that divorce, some that feel prolonged tension but work out some way to continue, some who never talk about it, some who respect each other's right to believe as they wish, etc.

I think one of the major factors that affect which route a couple will take when one becomes a disbeliever is the quality of the relationship before the paradigm shift. (Disclaimer: I am not saying it is the only factor, there are many, but I feel this is a very important one). Did each partner admire qualities in the other spouse, or did they think their partner was inferior to them? Was there equality in the power structure of the relationship or was there a dominant spouse? How well did each partner understand each other before the disbelief; were there secret inner conflicts that the partners did not feel comfortable or safe sharing with their partner? Did the couple view themselves as a team facing the challenges that arose together or as opponents wherein the problems resided in the other person? Was there a history of mistrust? How was the sex life; did one partner feel like they had to perform for the other or never got their own needs listened to and addressed?

There are probably many more questions I could ask, but the point I am getting at is I wonder if disbelief is treated the same as other difficulties in the relationship. Is it used as more ammo or evidence of inferiority? Is it used as one more thing that we just can't understand each other about? Etc.

My wife and I left the church together. Looking back, I think we handled the crises of my disbelief the same way that we handle other crises. We have an exceptional relationship and admire each other and do not quelch each other's individuality. We feel free to talk with each other about anything, even our own fears and weaknesses that we are embarrassed about and would rather not even think about ourselves. But, we know the other person will not use that information against us and we don't have to struggle with it alone. We have each other's back, even as we face our own personal struggles. We love each other so much and are truly grateful for what we do and provide for each other. We listen to each other's needs and try to meet them as best we can. These are the things that make our marriage great. I was very picky when choosing a spouse. I knew what I wanted and it took me until I was 27-years-old to find it, but I am very grateful that I did not marry the people I could have earlier, but waited until I found Lilly of the Field.

I did not know what her reaction to my disbelief might be and was a little scared to tell her. But, I knew that she would rather know than not and that we always shared everything so I told her. I invited her to read and study on her own about the BoA and the rest and she did and came to the same conclusion I did. She felt a desire to still attend for a little while, but I did not. So, we respected each other's choices in regards to attendance. Eventually, she could just not take LDS services anymore, so we started looking for a new community together and found the UU's.

This is kind of a personal question, but for those of you who are having difficulty with your spouses over your disbelief how was your relationship before, and for those of you who did not have as much marital trouble over your disbelief, how was your relationship before?

4 comments:

ungewiss said...

Hueff you may be somewhat familiar from my previous postings, but my marriage certainly supports you theory.

Marriage came extremely easily for my wife and me. We have always had a strong, fun, and trusting relationship. (Parenting, on the other hand... Well, we all have to have challenges, right?)

I shared the level of my disbelief over the course of three separate late night conversations with my wife. The first was the worst conversation we have ever had--I mean it went terribly. The next night we put aside the superficial tangents focused on the underlying fears, and went to sleep feeling progress had been made. The next afternoon we had the most amazing discussion ever, and since then we have both felt understood and accepted in our respective beliefs. In fact we agree that we are closer now than before, perhaps because I no longer allow God to sit between us or perhaps because I work harder to remind her that my priesthood is not the reason she married me.

So, relevant to your post, I can easily see how a couple that was already strained would stall somewhere between the effects of our first and third conversations. I'm just stinking lucky my wife is patient and determined!

This Girl said...

Though not Mormon, my husband and I had a similar path divergence. We also had an excellent relationship in that we have gone into it knowing that nothing will stop us from being with each other. My husband was the one that "left the faith" and I was the one that would not be convinced initially. I would argue for what I had been taught, but in the end, when we went back to my source material, I found that what was written and what I was taught were two different things.

You know I was not religious in school. This all happened in the time span since we graduated. But there was A LOT of changes for me, to go from believing nothing to believing something, to questioning the very thing that held my life together for the past 10+ years. It's comforting to see someone go through the same thing. Now, we are exploring options together. He is not as dead set on me believing exactly what he believes, and he is now listening to the things I do have to say about my own beliefs... While we are not quite at the atheistic point, we are definitely out of church. Well, out of the fundamentalism that makes the church what it is.

Jaime said...

I just found your blog and it is a wealth of information. Thank you for that.

My husband is still very much a believer in the Mormon faith and I am not. We were married 8 years ago and sealed 7 ago. About a year ago I found out much of what you have been talking about and was crushed. I talked to my husband immediately about how I was feeling and it went very badly. It continues to go badly. I feel like he feels I am inferior and has told me that I "need to repent." Our relationship has been rocky over the years but now it is really bad at times. It is better if we don't discuss religion at all but when we do it ends in argument. I feel the need to defend myself like I am under fire and am doing something horrible even though I feel like something horrible has happened to me. I am often told that he did not sign up for this and I have changed and I don't really know how to address that, I can't help how I feel or change it. I would love some advice or resources on how to deal with these issues. I don't want to get divorced, I love him and we have children together.

Hüffenhardt said...

Jaime,
I am sorry to hear of your struggles. I think in situations like yours it is important to find a solution that is tolerable to all involved. When I first found out the truth about the Church, there were some things I knew that I could no longer do; my personal integrity demanded it. I could not deceive others which meant I would no longer exercise my priesthood which I now knew I did not have. I also would not hold callings in which I would be expected to teach or bear testimony of things I knew were not true.

But, I was willing to compromise on anything that did not compromise my personal integrity. I could attend church, perform Elder's Quorum service projects, help with the Scouts, etc, if my wife asked that of me. Thankfully, she did not, but I was willing to for her because she meant more to me than ever before.

You might try reading "Reconcilable Differences" by Jacobson and Christiansen for some strategies on how couples can work through their differences. I hope this helps.

Also, come join postmormon.org. There are many there that can offer good advice.