Crisis of Faith and Marriage: The Bait and Switch
I hesitated in writing this post because writing about marriage is personal and vulnerable. However, I think this topic is very important and I wish I could have read a post like this three years ago, so I hope there are people who want to read this now. Also, I’m writing this for my children, because someday it will be important for them to understand how their parents grew and changed in the face of their own spiritual journeys.
Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. Much to my chagrin, Mark and I are the typical Mormon story. We met at the beginning of our second year at BYU (his post-mission) in an astronomy class. After a slightly rocky and very kissy courtship, we were engaged then married in the Bountiful temple a mere 11 months after meeting. I was 20 and he was 22.
Phase I: Initial Expecations
Like most couples, our first year of marriage was difficult. We both blame my birth control pills, but I know it was also about negotiating our differing expectations and learning to live and love someone else in an new and intimate way. I remember one of my most difficult realizations was that Mark didn’t want to have gospel discussions in the same way I did. Ever since I had started seminary, I had imagined marriage would involve late night reading, pondering, and discussing of scriptures and doctrine. When I married Mark, I realized that he would continue his mission habit of studying alone. When I tried to engage these conversations they ended up as debates or arguments, with both of us in foul moods. Mark also mentioned occasionally that he had personal revelation that was too private to share with anyone, that was just between him and God. This was difficult for me, as I shared everything with Mark (TMI, I’m sure).
Phase II: The Fall
Three years ago I entered my crisis of faith. I think of it either as a sweater that slowly unraveled, or as Pandora’s box. Either way, my faith in the church went from unshaken, to hardly there. It started with feminist concerns (Why aren’t there more women in leadership positions? Why aren’t women be the closing speakers? Do we have a Heavenly Mother and where is she?) but it evolved into learning more about church history including Joseph Smith’s polygamy and other issues I couldn’t easily resolve. During this time I found the bloggernacle, starting with Feminist Mormon Housewives, then Zelophehad’s Daughters, and finally The Exponent. I was and am so grateful to the women on these blogs for helping me articulate my concerns and give my validation for my cognitive dissonance.
But in the meantime, my spiritual struggles were eating away at my marriage. At one point Mark referred to it as the bait and switch. He married me as one person, and I have changed quite a bit into an entirely different person.
I didn’t want to hurt Mark, but I know he was confused and scared when he heard me talking negatively about Joseph Smith or other church leaders. My struggles were our struggles because the LDS church is central to our marriage in so many ways.
However, Mark felt caught between a rock and hard place. His faith was and is unshaken. He currently holds a calling as the Elder’s Quorum President in our ward and works to help families in need, attends PEC (where yesterday he argued for more openness in our meetings to help people who question), and sings in the ward choir. Of course Mark isn’t some kind of Mormon Ned Flanders (he wanted me to make that clear), he has my respect for trying hard to magnify his calling in every sense of the word. And while he empathizes with my struggles, and will usually side with my issues of equality, he can always separate his faith from any concerns that I have.
Over the last three years, my issues and questions have just cycled again and again to the point where we didn’t really discuss them. I knew it just made him feel frustrated and helpless, and I didn’t have any hope for resolution from his comments. My prayers were never answered in a way that I could understand, so I stopped praying. I stopped reading my scriptures and I really started to dread church (which is hard with small children anyway).
I felt like I was in limbo in both my religious quest and my marriage, like both God and Mark were distancing themselves from me when I needed them both the most. It was a very painful and lonely time for me.
Phase III: Reunion
A few weeks ago Mark and I sought counseling. It wasn’t so much that our marriage was bad, but that it wasn’t good. We weren’t communicating, and I thought it was mostly because of my issues with the church. After we had one introductory session, I went on a trip with my single cousins to Kauai for 8 days.
Kauai was the best thing that has happened to my marriage in nine years. It was a really awesome vacation and while I was gone, Mark realized several things about the way he was dealing with my crisis of faith that were affecting our relationship.
First, he decided that his previous hands-off approach was not helping either of us. If our goal in marriage is to be one, then that includes spiritual oneness as well. As part of this, Mark decided that he wanted to share his personal revelations with me, which meant a lot to me.
Second, he realized that my trip to Kauai was an indication that I was taking steps towards a more socially independent lifestyle and he didn’t like how he could imagine that separating us in the future. So he told me about his concerns, which actually made me laugh (I had an opposite kind of revelation in Kauai). I had no intention of turning into a party girl, going to bars and clubs and leaving him at home. But as surprising as it was, it was also refreshing to know that Mark cared about where I was headed and that he wanted us to be closer in all areas of our marriage.
Lastly, he told me that he missed me, not just because I take care of the kids and the house, but just because he enjoys my company. In our discussion, we both recommitted to our marriage in a way that felt genuine not cheesy, and hopeful not fearful.
Essentially, Mark pulled me back in. He made me feel loved and wanted when I felt lonely and rejected. I am amazed at how much this change affected our marriage. It has been like rediscovering our love for each other. And while my concerns with the church haven’t disappeared, my desire to continue to work towards resolving those concerns has improved.
As I look back, I wish I could say that I was the one who made the change to better our marriage. Perhaps it could have been me, I don’t know. I also don’t know if this honeymoon phase will be short lived and we’ll slide back into our former roles. But, I do know that I feel a great deal of hope and peace when I think about our marriage, something that I haven’t felt since I’d seriously begun grappling with the church.
I know that Mark has been praying for me for a long time. I don’t know if God has answered my prayers, but I know he’s answered Mark’s. And I’m really glad he did.
If you’re married, what have been your experiences with changing faith and marriage?
If you’re not married how does your spiritual journey affect the people you choose to date?