TIPS FOR NAVIGATING A MIXED-FAITH MARRIAGE

If you are here reading this, you either really love me or you are touched by this topic in some way. If it is the latter… know you are in very good company. I have been reluctant to write a post like this for fear of being incapable of including all of the unique aspects and variables that accompany a mixed-faith marriage. I am speaking primarily to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints navigating a marriage with differing belief systems, as this is the realm that we’ve actively been working in for the last four years. But of course, this may apply to any religious affiliation.

At the end of this post, I just want you to know:

  • I see you and hear you and support you however you choose to handle this delicate situation.
  • You are not alone.
  • If anything in this post triggers you or makes you feel uncomfortable… I am sorry. My attempt is to share what is working for us and so if my frankness is off-putting, please dismiss. I feel so strongly for this growing community and I am hoping that something I share may be helpful to you and your marriage.
  • I am not an expert. I don’t claim to have all of the answers. These are tips. An opinion piece at best.

First and Foremost:

When we found ourselves on two different trains going in two very different directions…we had to make the decision if this, our marriage and relationship, is worth it. Worth the pain? Worth the compromising? Worth leaving what is comfortable and familiar? Was it worth the potential changes…and possibly very life-altering ones at that!?! Nick actually placed divorce on the table as an option before anyone else did as he knew he had thrown a pretty large curveball to our new marriage, and said he wouldn’t blame me if that was the route I wanted to take — we’d barely been married 6 months at this time. Though that was not his preference, he recognized the severity of what was happening. Our decision was and is that it is worth it to us to make it work. Whatever your answers are to the above questions, I respect you. If your answer is “Yes, it is worth it”, then please scroll on. These tips are an accumulation of working through hardship, making lots of mistakes and recommitting (sometimes daily) to not only make it work, but be in a happy, fulfilling marriage.

We were married in the Bountiful Temple on July 18, 2014

There were never bigger cheezers.

This was in the heat of our faith transition. (Picture may be deceiving.)

So, in no particular order, a few ground rules at the Homer household:

(1) SET THE RIGHT TONE

After Nick’s beliefs in the Church started unraveling, it became very clear that we were no longer on the same page. He no longer believed in God or in an after life, let alone any of the unique truth claims of the Church. There was a huge disconnect. We were angry. We were grieving. We were upset and confused as to how to make this work. This was all new territory for us. Nick, in a matter of months, went from being an orthodox member of the Church to a name on the ward project list. But, early on in our deep conversations Nick said something to me that changed the way we communicated. In the middle of a heated dispute, he grabbed my hand and said, “Chels! We’re on the same team.” He made it VERY clear that he wanted me to be happy. If the Church made me happy, then he wanted to keep my relationship with the Church in tact. Boom. It clicked. I heard and saw (words are not enough in this situation) from Nick that he had my back. AND this is a big deal, as I understand many in my shoes (or the “believers shoes”) are not met with this same liberty… but this alone was KEY in providing an environment where we could attempt to communicate. (If you ask Nick, this is his #1 piece of advice.) I was relieved that he wasn’t intentionally out to try to change my beliefs. It automatically set the precedence that I didn’t need to fight him as much as I needed to figure out how to paddle alongside him… which is a completely different (much more doable) battle to fight in my opinion.

As the spouse who had this situation thrust at them as opposed to choosing this path, I personally attribute much of our ability to converse to Nick’s non-argumentative approach in our conversations. And, I have to preface, Nick was ANGRY. This easy-going, peacemaker of a man who I married was completely devastated, obsessive, frustrated, and angry much of the time as all of this new information was coming to light and this religion he held in the most upright esteem came crumbling down. But if Nick were to have approached me solely with the goal of discrediting my testimony and relationship with the Church, I can guarantee my fists would be up and we would not be having a constructive conversation.  Nick at least gave me the opportunity to match his tone… it is SO much easier to have a level-headed conversation when it’s presented that way.

So, for those who are initiating the faith transition, consider this a unique opportunity to set a tone to a very large and important conversation. You get to show your partner that above all, you want them to be happy. And in the end, help dictate how this conversation and the thousand more to come will go. Shutting down, dismissing or trying to convey every new detail recently learned isn’t helpful. Coming from the spouse who was devastated to hear the news of my husband’s changing beliefs, it was much easier to match the tone of the conversation when I knew it was coming from a place of empathy, respect for boundaries, and validation… NOT out of a place to sabotage or attempt to discredit. And hopefully your spouse will match your tone to the best of their ability. We have to remember, we each have our own personal, private, intimate faith journeys. Projecting our experiences onto others is never helpful. Make aware, sure, but be certain the conversations are consensual — as should everything else be in the relationship, right? Allowing room for each other to breathe and practice religion in the way each sees fit can go a long way. As was the case for us.

(2) TALK ABOUT IT

I cannot comprehend being in a marriage where topics as LARGE and ALL-CONSUMING as religion and lifestyle are off limits. If that works for you, great. But, it did NOT work for us. I had to talk about it. And as a result of Nick’s non-aggressive attitude, I felt like I could ask questions. Nick provided an environment that I felt was safe. I knew that if I wanted to “tap out” of a conversation at ANY time, I could… and it happened often. I would tell him I wanted to take a breather from the conversation or in much more heated times (very common for the first year), just the word “Stop”. He would respect my limits. His goal was not to convert me to his new beliefs or discredit my testimony. As we engaged in more conversations, I felt more inclined to ask, “Why?” Why don’t you believe in modern day prophets? Why do you think that way of Joseph Smith? What don’t you believe in a higher power? But it was on my time and readiness to talk. And, as a result, he felt validated. 

In time, I became genuinely interested in why Nick, who’s origins are as orthodox as any (more than mine when we married), would sacrifice EVERYTHING (including our relationship) in departing from the framework of Mormonism that he was brought up in, and that had resonated with him so profoundly for his entire life up till now. I could see the hurt and pain it caused him. He sacrificed A LOT. So there must be something to it. I couldn’t label him as being deceived and unintelligent. I knew that wasn’t true. So, I asked. I wanted to know.

And I recognized early on that if I didn’t make myself available or at least try, Nick would turn elsewhere and he would not include me in these life-altering conversations because he was actively vetting people trying to see who was “safe” to talk to and who was not. I could not accept being on the “not” list.

(3) IF YOU CAN’T TALK…TRY VALIDATION

Many spouses who are in my situation — on the receiving end of a spouse’s faith transition — have told me that they don’t want to talk about it. They aren’t interested in engaging in ANY conversation that contains information contradictory to that of the Church’s teachings. And that is 100% a valid response. It’s okay to not want to engage in conversations. It’s okay to not be interested in your spouse’s new beliefs. It’s okay to feel angry and upset. It’s okay that attending the Temple alone might bring mixed feelings and that reading your patriarchal blessing makes you feel resentful of the “life you could’ve had”. It’s okay to worry for your children. It’s okay to not want to talk publicly about your life or be interested in hearing about others’ stories. It’s okay. All of this is natural and healthy and normal. Give yourself permission to be upset and grieve. It’s a process. It’s okay to not be okay.

So if the thought of conversing about specifics of a faith transition sounds like too much to handle, one suggestion I have is to be able to validate your spouse in another way. I took myself (emotions, pre-conceived notions, and testimony) out of the situation and put myself in Nick’s shoes. How isolating it must be to experience what seemed to be a “Matrix scenario”… everything he thought he knew is no longer truth. How claustrophobic, disappointing, and upset would that make you?

Similar to the children’s movie Smallfoot, it is clearly painful for the yeti, Migo, to live in a community that does not validate his newly found truths (discovery of a smallfoot). It’s easy to feel for him because the rules of the community are so outlandish and unrelatable.  Like Migo’s dad needing to hurl himself across the mountain every morning to hit a giant gong in order to wake up the glowing snail in the sky. So, like, of course, Migo… we (the audience) believe you!! It’s easy to find yourself rooting for Migo and his quest for truth because we have no skin in the game. But these same principles of listening, validating, hearing Migo out, as simple as they may appear, apply here with us, just on a much more personal, complicated level.

This theme of “finding your own truth” is portrayed in SO many films. My favorite right now being Moana. I remember listening to the song, “How Far I’ll Go” with Ellie months ago and started sobbing as I saw so many parallels to our life. To me, everything seems to speak of mixed-faith these days. 🙂

But the lyrics:

“I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember, never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try
Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know, where I can not go, where I long to be

I know everybody on this island, seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?”

 

This is Nick. Nick is a tall, blonde Moana. He has expressed these same feelings to me, just not in the form of a song. Why is it when a leading character in any film or book seeks to find their own truth (often going against the rest of the community) we are inspired… but when it’s one of our own it’s merit for disownment? Obviously real life religion is much more complicated than a young Disney girl wanting to sail, but there are parallels that are hard to deny.

This song has been played 500x since. It has given me permission to feel gratitude for all of the horizons Nick has opened my eyes to see. It has helped me gain my sea legs (as uncomfortable as it may be) and provided us with some amazing views… ones I wouldn’t have seen if I’d refused to try to paddle alongside him. Though our beliefs don’t completely overlap, I’m learning to see value in others’ journeys…especially when they don’t look like mine. And this doesn’t mean I need to build him a boat, launch his sail, and pack a lunch for him… but the very least I could do is validate the voice inside of him. I mean, Joseph Smith is a pioneer of this concept and as a result founded OUR Church. Think how many people called Joseph deceived, lost, and a disgrace. And yet, we can’t support someone else who finds truth outside of the Church. Whether we agree or not, we have to see that forcing someone to accept our truth isn’t going to make anyone satisfied.

So statements like…

“I love you”

“I want you to be happy”

“What are your new beliefs? (Not to be confused with, “Why don’t you believe?”)

How are you finding purpose in life?”

“How can I help you feel more loved?”

…could go a long way to help your spouse.

(4) TAKE ONE DAY AT A TIME

I noticed our conversations felt much less hostile when we tackled the issues as they came up. When I harbored ill feelings and experiences and didn’t process them with Nick, the animosity would build over time and eventually make itself present in a conversation of little importance — which would obviously blindside Nick. It made conversing about religion more painful and much less effective. So, may I encourage talking about things as they arise. When Nick became a topic of conversation in ward council, I came home to talk to him about it. When I noticed he stopped wearing his garment top, I asked him about it… rather than justifying, making assumptions, or hoping something would change next week. When he made a controversial comment at a family function, we chatted about it afterwards. We talk about things as they come up. And the frequency of these conversations makes communication seem much less daunting and scary.

This brings me to the point of the future. I often get asked if Nick has started drinking, doing drugs, watching porn, etc. I have heard from many couples who battle over “word of wisdom” issues more than anything else as it’s not uncommon for spouses who transition away from the Church to want to engage in behaviors that were once considered “forbidden”. Nick has not engaged in these activities, yet. Though, for me, I have asked Nick when/if he does decide to drink alcohol that he tells me beforehand and we can at least talk it over first. I want to be included in these decisions. I won’t stop him, though he knows the complexity of this issue for me (alcohol has definitely negatively affected my extended family for generations), but I want to KNOW. I want to know if he decides he wants to go to a bar, or when he decides he wants to branch out and try something new. That will help me tremendously over having him come home drunk or sneaking around and lying about his behaviors. This is our current compromise and one I feel good about.

(5) GET SUPPORT. EMBRACE THE COMMUNITY

Nick recognized early on that I wasn’t able to completely bear the load for him while he was processing his new and old beliefs. He, fortunately, had a few good friends that acted as great sounding boards. I hesitate to mention this point because friends can really set the tone of the transition…so I was very aware of who Nick was talking to and what types of things they were discussing. Nick also found an incredibly insightful, uplifting FB support group called, “A Thoughtful Faith Support Group.” (ATF) This group tries very hard to steer clear of anti-mormon sentiment that’s so prevalent in other online ex-mormon groups or forums where tearing down members and complaining about all of the Church’s practices is much more prevalent. I have heard from many “believing” spouses who have discovered that their transitioning spouse complains about them and their family on these sites. How terrible and counter productive. I can confidently say that this ATF support group is heavily moderated to make sure the conversation stays constructive and helpful to bridge the gaps (I’m a member of this group too). This group was a saving grace for Nick in that it provided him with a community full of others experiencing similar feelings all the while navigating this loss of faith in many different, but helpful ways.

For the longest time I had held on to this heavy secret because it was, as I believed, Nick’s story to tell. After about a year of processing and keeping this to myself, I finally broke. I realized this is MY story as well. I deserve support just as much as Nick. The burden of carrying this load all alone was too much. The secrecy ate at me. I finally encouraged him to be authentic and tell his parents. He told his family and close friends. Months later, I decided to post on social media accompanying our daughter’s blessing day (a story worth it’s own blog post). I clicked “post” and put my phone down. I had no idea how people would respond… it’s always natural to assume the worst. But when I returned to my phone a few hours later, I was SHOCKED. I had tapped into this overwhelming wave of love and support. I get emotional every time I think about it, but I hope everyone is met with this type of love when they become transparent about their struggles. And that’s not to say we didn’t receive backlash…we definitely did and still do. But the pain of people distancing themselves, preaching to us, telling us that we are ruining our children’s lives PALES in comparison to the love and support we’ve received.

A few helpful FB support groups for spouses who are choosing to stay in the Church (if you have trouble finding these groups, let me know. I can add you):

Mormon Mixed Faith Marriages — my personal fav of the three (you hear both sides)

Believing LDS Members with Doubting Spouses

Support for LDS Women Whose Spouses or Family Have Left the Church

(6) CALL THE PROBLEMS FOR WHAT THEY ARE

One of the best things about being transparent about our journey is the new friends and connections I have made from others in similar situations. We have tapped into a whole new network and it’s unbelievable. Since the Church shared our story on their Instagram account, Facebook page and website… I have had the privilege of hearing hundreds of stories — stories of heartache, hope, loss, pain, and gratitude. Each story is so unique and beautiful in it’s own way.

However, through hearing many stories I’ve seen an underlining theme: disrespect. Often people will associate abusive traits to that of the spouse transitioning away from Mormonism (“being deceived”). When relationships become physically hostile, or children are being pitted against parents, or people are sabotaging spouses in front of family, or partners complaining about each other online… let’s call that for what it is: DISRESPECT. And in some cases, straight up abuse. That is not a faith transition. That is a lack of emotional skill-set to handle the situation.

I had one woman tell me that my story wasn’t a valid “mixed-faith household” because my husband didn’t berate me. He wasn’t hostile enough. Until he starts threatening me and begins distancing the children from me THEN I could complain. And though I wanted to discredit her definition of mixed-faith and call her situation for what it is: verbal abuse… I didn’t. I validated her story. I tried to empathize with her heartache. Her situation was terrible and I knew it was her pain talking and for that I felt sad for her. There have been many conversations that have left me feeling sick and it’s becoming more and more clear that in some cases it has become so much more than a faith transition. Grief is one thing. Feeling hurt, angry, devastated, betrayed, hopeless, disappointed, and confused is totally normal. But, notice how personality traits, coping skills, emotional maturity, and values also play into the equation. I personally (and very passionately) believe a faith transition does NOT warrant abuse and disrespect. 

And I don’t bring this up to alarm anyone. Every relationship dynamic is different. Everyone’s definition of what a healthy and fulfilling relationship looks like is different. I just know it’s so much harder to identify and treat each problem individually if everything is labeled as “lack of faith”. At the end of the day, it certainly couldn’t hurt to ask yourself, “What other aspects of my marriage (if any) may be contributing to the stress that is being thrown under the umbrella of mixed-faith?”  

Or see a therapist.

(7) FIND COMMONALITIES

I, without even knowing it, had assumed that because my husband no longer believed the Church to be true that he, as a result, had also distanced himself from good morals. It didn’t take long to figure out that, no, Nick was still very much the same man I married in regards to honesty, his work ethic, his love for me, his desire to be a responsible citizen, to be a good father, to do what’s best for the environment, to serve and be a good neighbor. Just because he has a hard time with the truth claims of the Church, does not mean he’s decided to throw every good thing out too.

If it helps, I’d even sit down and go through values and qualities that are important to both of you. Write them down. What are things you want to see in your spouse? Branch away from the tangible expectations of LDS members (temple recommend holder, priesthood holder, Church attendance, garments). A few ideas may be things like being honest, ambitious, an attentive parent, virtuous, trustworthy, brave, vulnerable, intellectually stimulating, funny, service-oriented, a good friend, etc. For example, just because your spouse isn’t serving in your local congregation, doesn’t meant they don’t care more about service… the means of service might just be changing (serving at a homeless shelter or with refugees, rather than in church organized projects). It may surprise you just how much you still have in common. And then, if there is still a rather large discrepancy between the two of you in what values you deem important, I would then re-evaluate the situation. And… once again, maybe consider therapy.

(If at the end of this whole blog, the only thing you get is motivation to see a therapist… that would be a job well done on my part. )

(8) TAP OUT OF THE FEAR-BASED MINDSET

The thing that distanced me the MOST from Nick during his spiritual quest was the fear of losing my own testimony. I did not want to see or hear ANYTHING that was contrary to the Church. Nothing. As I became more interested in him and our conversations became more candid, I started to notice, wow… maybe there are some legitimate problems. This is an entirely separate topic of conversation, but, my point is, when I tapped out of the binary mindset that either EVERYTHING had to be true or NONE of it was true— it was liberating. I found it was possible to see things more critically AND still have a positive relationship with the Church. It did not have to be a black-and-white situation. And for me, that was a relief. Fear definitely kept me from loving and understanding him. Let go of the fear and shame. Let go of the expectation to appear perfect. Let it go. It is not serving you. Replace that fear with gratitude or love. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated the simple saying, “Perfect love casteth out all fear”.  My life is far better off since I’ve relinquished the pressure to fit the LDS mold and have let go of the fear and shame that was apparently in the driver’s seat (without my permission I might add).

And, I will be honest. This process isn’t easy. For me, it has been rather painful. To look at something that I have always loved, cherished and never once questioned with a critical eye can elicit a number of difficult emotions and experiences. Nick, who recognized this pain of mine, asked me a few months ago if I could, would I take his faith transition back? And I honestly said no. I am beginning to view our situation as less of a disability and more of an opportunity for empathy, self-awareness, communication, and critically evaluating what verbiage and beliefs we want to use in our house. In a lot of ways this faith transition has been a positive boost to our relationship as we’ve had to throw out preconceived notions and expectations of each other, almost starting completely over, and work together to embrace each other for who we really are. It is definitely one of those “it gets worse before better” scenarios, but it gave us permission to stop meeting everyone else’s (and society’s) standards for our marriage and instead set our own realistic, personal goals that were better suited for us. 

This fear-based mindset similarly affects those who are distancing themselves from the Church. Nick has on occasion pointed out some cultish similarities here and there with the Church. He is not alone. Many who discover information that is more than startling about the Church immediately have the instinct to run, leave, and never look back. And that, again, is a fair and valid response. However, marriage doesn’t always give us the liberty to act impulsively and selfishly. It is definitely give-and-take. The same liberty Nick was so desperately wanting from me — an open mind, validation, willingness to sit with these painful ideas — I too needed that from him. Not everything about the Church is vile, evil and terrible. There is beauty in being able to internalize the complexity, sort through the broken pieces and acknowledge the good and the bad. For Nick, the good comes in the form of a community. He enjoys being able to meet neighbors at Church. The good could simply be that it provides your spouse with happiness. Whatever it may be, the pieces are worth sorting.

A few weeks after the Church had posted our story, I received the nastiest email I have EVER received. It was degrading, belittling and rude. I wish I could say it was passive aggressive… but it was 100% aggressive. This woman writing me had experienced being in a mixed-faith marriage years ago. She has since joined her husband in leaving the Church and her family has never looked back. I respect her and her journey. What I don’t respect is they way in which she was telling me that my journey wasn’t valid. She said I was a disservice to everyone in the community. I am ruining lives and families by setting the precedence that I can stay in the Church without my husband. Ellie will be ruined. The Church is evil. I’m not listening. If I REALLY listened to Nick, then I would be gone. I finished reading it and had to physically go outside to catch my breath. My blood was boiling. I was so angry. I started walking and I probably cursed for maybe a block… or four. After an hour of processing it over with Nick I returned to my computer and started typing.

The same accusation that she accused me and all other Mormons of falling victim to, black and white thinking, she herself was practicing as well. It doesn’t have to be an all “in” or an all “out” situation. There are more options here. Just because I am aware of issues regarding Church history, current policies and doctrine doesn’t mean I have to follow the same trajectory that she did. Is she valid? Yes. Am I valid? Yes. Nick does not believe ANY truth claims of the Church as pertaining to the “one true religion” but that does not mean he cannot look at the good pieces and acknowledge them for what they are. She responded to my email with a sincere apology, gratitude that I am not “that type” of LDS believer, a wish to continue to keep in touch along with a few more jabs. I never responded.

Don’t let fear be the guiding force—for either spouse.

(9) GET OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF

The easiest way for me, personally, to feel empathy is listening to others’ stories. I started attending a support group for those who find Church to be difficult yet still hope to maintain a positive relationship — for the sake of a loved one or themselves. Regardless of intent or reasoning, it is pain that brought everyone to that support group. I am in no way saying you should be attending a group like this. I think for many it would be too painful or trigger unwanted emotions. But sitting in a room and looking into the eyes of someone who is hurting for VALID reasons changes you. For me, this exposure had a way of melting away my pride and almost immediately dismissing all of the excuses I and other well-intentioned believers told me regarding why people leave the Church— lazy, sinful, deceived. In SO MANY cases, this is simply not true. I started to recognize, we have a problem. Though, the Church has always been a safe and welcoming place for me, it isn’t for everyone. And that was a hard reality to accept.

How often do you chat with those who may be on the fringes of the Church? Our Church culture has a way of focussing on faith-promotion, and if that isn’t working for someone, maybe they just need to try harder to follow the program. But, to truly mourn with those that mourn, we need to talk about the pain. The very least we can do is recognize that it exists.

I know one of the most difficult things for me was seeing how quickly Nick was dismissed. How quickly his thoughts and new beliefs were swept under the rug. Nick is incredibly bright, well thought-out, loving, and considerate. I knew this. I married him for these reasons. To hear someone quickly label, “he’s deceived” or “Satan’s got ahold of him” was incredibly dismissive. I knew that wasn’t true. I KNOW HIM! So… yeah, the proximity in which I was seeing this situation unfold (up close and personal) allowed me to dismiss the rumors and weird justifications others had for his situation. Don’t generalize. Let this be seen as the complex, sometimes confusing situation that it is.

(10) SET BOUNDARIES WITH FAMILY

Just as you take the time to set boundaries between each other, it is just as important to set boundaries with extended family. Raising children can often be a full-fledge family affair. As a result, the opinions from grandparents, aunts, and uncles may be very present in your journey. Set boundaries with what types of activities you’d like them to engage in with your children, and what might be overstepping. I’ve come to find the more open and vulnerable I am with my loved ones, the less heartache and frustration I feel leaving family parties and activities. Hopefully they will be respectful of your wishes.

**And this is under the assumption that you have told family. Telling family is a personal decision. Everyone has their own timetable for such events. Personally, I have to say, telling family was WAY more beneficial than keeping it secret. I wish I had done it sooner. Though, it brought it’s own set of unique hardships. I will never forget the family gathering where I pled, through tears, for everyone to love and support Nick (as he nor I felt supported or loved). It was incredibly awkward and not very validating, but being vulnerable about our struggles brought relief and authenticity back into focus again. And I craved authenticity.

(11) STOP COMPARING

Just stop it. Fortunately (and unfortunately), we attend a ward that consists mostly of retired individuals so there are very few families in our stage of life. There is much less to compare to on a Sunday which I know for some is a big challenge. Comparison truly is the thief of joy in this ball game. It’s great to acknowledge positive qualities you admire from other couples and families, as long as you acknowledge the good qualities of your own.

If you need help with some positive spins on the mixed-faith situation, here are a few that I have discovered:

  • Thoughtfulness. We have become VERY mindful in how we approach religion…much more so than when we were both orthodox. Religion is not a passive word at our house (or even something we can coast on)…it is active and deliberate. Nick and I talk about religion every. single. day. This has pushed me to learn, research, form opinions and do what I feel is best for my spirituality as well as the spirituality of our home. For this reason, it has been a great opportunity.
  • Children. I heard the analogy from a podcast comparing raising children in dual-language households with that of a mixed-faith household. It may seem like children would really struggle learning two different languages at such a young age, but they don’t. They do remarkably well. And the same can be said of mixed-faith households. I have received dozens of messages from adults who were raised in a mixed-faith household who have all shared how positive and liberating it was. According to them, it was much less confusing than I often project into my own future. There is hope…assuming both spouses can respect each other’s beliefs and engage positively with their children when talking about those beliefs.
  • Goodbye Church perfectionism. Hallelujah. For as long as I can remember, I have let the need to be perfect/fit the mold/do EXACTLY as I am told dictate my life. These expectations had a tight grip on me. After Nick became public about his disbelief, it strangely gave me permission to let go of the need to be the “role model family” and actually breathe, re-evaluate the trajectory of our life, and be authentic. I didn’t realize how frequently I let the fear and shame of not meeting those expectations affect me. FREEDOM! This has been one of the biggest blessings yet.
  • Empathy. This is reason enough that I find value in our complicated situation. I have been able to love, connect, and serve those who I never considered or could relate with before. And I, like you, can do so in such a unique and fulfilling way. I feel just as much of a disciple now as ever before.
  • The Church needs you! The Church needs me. The Church needs Nick. They need our unique perspectives. They need communication coming from our mixed-faith household to the Church programs. If everyone who has had a bad experience leaves (or does so quietly), there won’t be change. And we need change. We need to learn how to better to associate with those who have doubts, disbeliefs, or fully want no affiliation with the Church. We need to learn how to sit with someone who is experiencing the loss of a childhood religion. We need to humanize what is happening to so many friends and families in the Church. This camp that we find ourselves in is growing, rapidly. We need to be advocates for those who are on the fringes. For those who feel forgotten and some who want to be forgotten. They need us all! Your story has value.

Also, still accepting volunteers to move into our ward.

(12) RELINQUISH THE WORD “SHOULD”

My life “should” look like this. My husband “should” be acting like this. My kids “should” be learning xyz. For me personally, I have had to let go of any expectation that my husband will return back to full activity in the Church (though he still does attend Sacrament meeting most weeks). Many well-intentioned people tell me, “He’ll come back one day. I know it.” And I can’t believe that. It only leaves me with more resentment and ill-feelings as I am holding onto these expectations that may well never come to pass. I can’t live my life holding out for the day that Nick will resume his fully believing status. Deep down I feel that day will never come  and I can’t hang that over Nick’s head. It’s not productive and is hurtful for both of us. So I have had to work hard to let go of the “should” word and learn to embrace Nick as he is now.

If it is helpful for you to hold onto that belief, do it. Just don’t, for the sake of your sanity, put your happiness and peace fully into the hands of your spouse’s religious affiliation. That strips all power from you and puts total control on your spouse. And I don’t think setting goals solely based on another’s actions is healthy or responsible. 

(13) BE AWARE OF LABELS

One of the most awkward parts of becoming public about our mixed-faith journey, was trying to pinpoint this complex, multi-dimensional situation into one cut-n-dry label. The question I get all the time about Nick is, “So like is he “in” or is he “out”? It’s part of our human nature to want to categorize people quickly. They’re less active. They’re anti. They’re TBM (True Believing Mormon/True Blue Mormon). It’s inevitable. So I straight up asked Nick what type of verbiage he wanted me to associate with his journey. That way when people ask me (they often approached me first before talking it over with him) where he was at with the Church, I could tell them… along with, “Maybe you should ask him. He’d be happy to talk about it.”  

The reason I emphasize “caution” is because Nick (as I’m sure your spouse does) listens. He knows how I talk about him just as I know how he talks about me. Labeling him as “deceived”, “anti”, or “off the deep end” can be hurtful. Verbiage matters. It matters greatly here. I have also used this same practice in guiding how I speak about ward members and strangers. I am VERY selective on my vocabulary. There are too many horror stories of these dismissive labels getting back to the source and inflicting more unnecessary pain.

(14) REMEMBER: IT’S A JOURNEY NOT A DESTINATION

Each stage will present itself with new difficulties… especially with children. There are landmark years in the LDS Church, beginning with a baby blessing to baptism, to potentially priesthood ordinations, to missions, and marriage. Years ago, my mom told me of a conversation she had with a dear friend who was going through a messy divorce. This friend told her, every time my dishwasher breaks, or my car needs a new part, or when I’m needed in two places at once because of kids, I’m reminded of the divorce. It’s like picking the scab, over and over and over again. It never seems to fully heal. You think you’re over it and then a new experience slaps you in the face and the emotions resurface.

This idea really stuck out to me at a young age. And it has became much more relatable as we’ve been trying to navigate our family’s faith journey. Every time we attend a friend’s sealing, or I go to the temple, or when I read my patriarchal blessing, or when I am sitting in a very closed-minded lesson about “less actives” at Church, or on Ellie’s blessing day… they, too, are accompanied by pain and anger. And that’s okay. I give myself permission to feel these feelings. And then I give myself permission to dismiss them and let myself find joy in our new reality. 

(15) DON’T LET OTHERS WEIGH IN ON YOUR MARRIAGE

At the end of the day, no matter how much unsolicited advice you get from others (or this blog post), IT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP. Only you and your spouse know all of the details. Trust yourself. There is no right answer here. Considering all the pieces of your marriage, relationship dynamic, strengths/weaknesses… YOU get to decide (1) if it’s worth piecing back together (for a new, beautiful reality…. not the same as was before) and (2) how you go about doing that. No one else… not your parents, neighbors, bishop, RS president gets to tell you otherwise. Just you. 

I hope you know I love you. I’ve spent months writing and rewriting this list all with the attempt to help those couples who seem to be at a loss. I’m sure I will have poster’s remorse… but at the end of the day, if you find a tip here or there that will help you take a step in any direction, then it will be worth it for me. 

If you need a friend or some extra support, feel free to message or DM. I’m a good listener and a really great lunch buddy.

And here we are now…with a cute little backpack that drools.

Also, here are a few podcasts we’ve recorded if you’re interested in listening… though I bet you’ll need a break from us after this post. 🙂

Link 1: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/thriving-in-motherhood-podcast/e/54502917

Link 2: (Includes Nick’s perspective) https://www.mormonmarriages.com/blog/s01-e09-navigating-a-mixed-faith-marriage

 

10 Comments

  1. Maddie January 4, 2019

    Thabk you SO much for taking the time to write this Chelsea. You don’t even know me but following your journey has absolutely saved me this past year and given me so much hope. Keep writing. Xo

    Reply
  2. martha keyes January 4, 2019

    Awesome, chelsea! thanks for being a voice in this community! your post resonated so much with me, and I know it will with others.

    Reply
  3. R January 5, 2019

    Thank you so much for this incredible post. I love your vulnerability and the advice. I am in a somewhat similar situation and everything you wrote felt validating and encouraging. I’m glad to know I’m not alone, and I’m going to try to let go even more of comparison and “shoulds”. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Erin January 5, 2019

    I really appreciate you taking the time to write this. Though I am not in a mixed faith marriage, my brother recently confided in me his disbelief in the lds church. I was shocked and had no idea that he had been struggling with his faith the last three years. Im so thankful for your advice and tips- so much that will not only help a mixed faith marriage but also a mixed faith family. Thank you for sharing. I admire yours and Nick’s strength as well as your love and understanding for each other.

    Reply
  5. Danielle January 5, 2019

    beautiful.eloquent, and honest… love that your sharing from your heart. Love that you are finding ants sharing real solutions. You are amazing!!!

    Reply
  6. Lisa harding January 5, 2019

    I am just so grateful for you and your openness. It has been so healing and helpful for me. Love your courage.

    Reply
  7. Lisa harding January 5, 2019

    Thank you so much for your openness and courage. It has been a huge blessing for me this year.

    Reply
  8. Tanya January 5, 2019

    I can’t help but think your experiences are orchestrated for no other reason that you can provide relief and advice to others going through what you are going through. Your honesty and ability to assess the situation and ramifications are inspirational. I would love to take you up on that lunch offer.

    Reply
  9. Caitlin Walker January 7, 2019

    Thank you for your beautiful story. My husband shared It with me and I am beyond grateful he did. We have been navigating the waters of a mixed religion marriage for 5 years now and I see a lot of similarities between our stories. I love your perspective and I too wouldn’t change my dear husband or the choices he has made. It has made us both stronger. Thanks for the new ideas and Thoughts.

    Reply
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