You’re Not the Person I Married

Course Correction is a retired English teacher who reads, writes, and helps immigrant women learn English. Her favorite losing cause is fighting for clean air along Utah’s Wasatch Front.

Nadine Gordimer’s 2001 novel, The Pickup, features a mismatched couple: Julie, a white South African woman in rebellion against her affluent family and their shallow lifestyle, and Abdu, an Arab illegal immigrant. When Abdu is deported from South Africa, Julie insists on going with him and they marry. No way can Abdu take a foreign woman who is not his wife home to meet his devout Muslim family.

Abdu loves his family, but hates the dirt, poverty, and corruption of his native country. His university degree fails to help a man without connections get a good job. He fixes cars in his uncle’s shop and spends free time applying for entry to a developed country. Julie befriends the women in his family, teaches them and the neighbors English, begins learning Arabic, and studies the Koran. Abdu finally obtains a visa to enter the U.S. where he hopes to study computers and use her mother’s American connections to obtain a promising career. Julie refuses to go. She stays with his family rather than return to the lifestyle she hated.

Gordimer’s story reminded me of the difficulty George and I have had in resolving conflicts in our marriage. Major issues like conflicting lifestyle choices are not easily compromised. Julie and Abdu, like many young couples, marry before realizing the extent of their differences. In real life—certainly in my life—those differences may develop after years of marriage. People grow and change with their life experiences. Expecting one’s spouse not to change is pretty unrealistic.

Like many or even most women, I married with the expectation that George would change—that he would become an active Mormon. I’d read Pride and Prejudice. I knew men change for the love of a good woman. Unfortunately, George had not read P&P, and I overlooked the fact that in P&P, Mr. Darcy changes before he says, “I do.”

Still, after several years of my inspired nagging, George grasped the Iron Rod, and our family was sealed in the temple. George had spiritual experiences as a member of a ward bishopric and as a temple worker, although he found sanctimonious ward members annoying. Years later when my faith shrunk, George had no problem skipping meetings with me.

The rift occurred when I gave up garments. George had given up his bad habits and become an active Mormon at my urging. Now, I changed my mind. How fair is that? No romance novel heroine ever told her reformed bad boy, “Change back. I liked you better the way you were.” For George, my loss of faith meant our family will be apart in the next life. His sacrifices were for naught.

A younger couple might have divorced. George and I did not. Unlike Julie who stayed with Abdu’s family, and Abdu who went to Julie’s mother, it was too late for either George or me to return to Momma. Our parents were gone, and our kids sure as heck didn’t want either of us intruding on their lives. Dividing our meager estate would hardly finance the major renovation necessary for either of us to attract a new mate. We had to work it out.

Currently, neither of us attends Mormon services. I attend Buddhist meditation groups and the Unitarian Church occasionally. I admit the possibility that Mormon and Christian doctrine may be literally true—I just don’t find it highly probable. George discovered Joseph Campbell and now considers a metaphorical interpretation of scriptures. We no longer have our faith in common, but we have each other. It could be worse. One of us could insist on living in a third world country.

Course Correction

Course Correction is a retired English teacher who reads, writes, and helps immigrant women learn English. Her favorite lost cause is fighting for clean air along the Wasatch Front in Utah. She blogs at http://annmjohnson.wordpress.com

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17 Responses

  1. paula says:

    Beautifully expressed! Thanks for sharing this.

    • sara says:

      My marriage is nearly 3 years old, about a year ago my husband dropped the bombshell that he didn’t want to go to church anymore – he’d changed. At the time I was devastated, perhaps more so grieving for the life I’d envisioned for us. He’s a good man & its not something I’d leave him for – even if he’s not the man I married. I am grateful that we have a good marriage even if we too don’t agree on religion. Thank you for sharing your story, I think. We’re of a somewhat similar mindset. Much appreciated.

      • Sara,
        Thanks for sharing your experience–I love hearing from someone with the same mindset. A good marriage is too important to jeopardize just because a spouse changes religious views.

  2. DefyGravity says:

    Nice post! I’m kind of in a similar boat. I was married in the temple, and although my husband knew I was a feminist we started our marriage as a Mormon couple. So when I started expressing doubts and anger at the church, it upset my husband. I felt bad for pulling the rug out from under him, but I couldn’t lie to him or pretend things were okay. I was scared that it might end our relationship; we’d only been married for two years. But we both care enough about each other that it turned out okay. I kept telling him I married him, not a Mormon priesthood holder. So even if I no longer care about the church, I still care about him. And he married me, not a Mormon woman. So we’ve been able to make it without too much friction because there are other things that hold our relationship together. I know we’ve been lucky in that aspect of our relationship.

  3. Caroline says:

    ‘People grow and change with their life experiences. Expecting one’s spouse not to change is pretty unrealistic.”

    I think this is a wise post, Course Correction. I love hearing the perspective of someone who has been working at this marriage thing for decades.

    I think you are absolutely right to point out that we should expect our spouses to change over time. One question I have, though, is when too much change justifies the ending of a marriage. I know someone who married with expectations of a standard Mormon life. But in the first few years of marriage the spouse decided s/he was an atheist and that s/he didn’t want any kids ever. That’s tough. While I would stick it out with an atheist spouse, the kid thing for me is huge. Enormous. That might be where I draw the line. But what a hard decision to make.

    • Caroline,

      A spouse who changed his mind about not wanting children would be a deal breaker for me, too. While it’s possible to attend church without a husband or wife, having and raising children without a participating partner would be much trickier.

      • galdralag says:

        I was in a serious relationship that I ended for this reason. We got along fabulously and I could envision a very happy life together, but he never ever wanted kids. Ever. It was painful, but ultimately I knew that part of me would always want to change him, and that seemed like a pretty clear indication not to go through with it.

  4. Deborah says:

    I am so glad you are on board here at Exponent, CC. The line about Joseph Campbell made me smile. I am in an interfaith relationship — except his “faith” is rooted in Campbell and Myth and Hero’s Journeys and Trying to Live a Decent and Purposeful life. Not a bad collection of tenets. One advantage of our mixed-marriage is that he has had no expectation for the type of Mormon woman I should be.

    We’ve both changed a lot in 10 years and I wonder who we will be ten years down the line. Marriage is such a leap of faith because you are binding yourself to someone who almost certainly will not remain the person you married . . .

  5. jenna says:

    So ihave never read this book but from the synopsis it seems that this relationship was still a benefit to both the main characters. It allowed them to get to their next stage in life and make life decisions that they felt reflected their true selves.
    I also married young because i thought that was how i would get this lovely mormon life and please God. Well it turns out the lovely mormon life leads me to clinical depression and lets not get started about God… However I am full of gratitude that my marriage helped me on my journey. While I hope we stay together and handle our religious differences I still think our marriage is successful in that it has helped us be more authentic human beings.

  6. Tiffany says:

    Love. What a wise, thoughtful post. At almost 19 years into what has proven to be a very difficult marriage, I could so appreciate what you had to say. And I like what Jenna said as well. I realized awhile ago that no matter how my marriage pans out, it was part of my journey and it has helped me to progress and evovle as a human being.

  7. jks says:

    What is interesting to me is that our spouse is the only relationship we “choose” so you’d think that it would be easier to hold on to that the ones we got luck of the draw (parents, children). However, people are so often willing to end a marriage who would never consider severing relationships with parents or children (although sometimes that does become necessary).
    It comes down to what you think marriage is. While it is true that I love my marriage when we are in love and support and fulfill each other, I love my marriage more because I believe in the idea of marriage being a commitment. I love my kids because they are my kids, I try to be a good mother because they are my kids, not because they are more special than someone else’s kids. I choose to try to have a good relationship with each of my children because they are my children, not because I think they are a perfect match for me.

  8. jks
    Maybe the fact that we choose our marriage partner leads us to unrealistic expectations about marriage–not that I’d want to have an arranged marriage.

  9. Rachel says:

    A wise woman once told me that ALL relationships are mixed faith relationships. Even a relationship of two LDS believers, which my marriage is. I have found it to be personally true, as my husband and I approach the same faith quite differently. Sometimes it feels like a problem, but on our better days respect wins out, and we can peaceably allow the other person to think or act differently without feeling threatened.

    I do find it somewhat puzzling when marriages automatically dissolve after one partner faces a faith crisis. If a couple is sealed in the temple, their covenant is with God, but it is Also with their spouse. That covenant can still be maintained.

  10. Rita says:

    CC – that sounds like an interesting book and I am interested by your story too. I often think that a successful or enduring marriage has a lot to do with luck. We are typically so young when we make that leap of faith to marry. I often marvel at how some marriages disintegrate and others endure. When you think about it – and especially if you think that the choice you are making is for the eternities – that’s a huge step and responsibility. In my own marriage (40+years) there is glue, endurance and love – but looking back I see how much we have both changed and evolved. As for me – I now have far more questions than answers.

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