Crisis of Faith and Marriage: The Bait and Switch

Mark and Jessby Jessawhy

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?

Me in Kauai

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Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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59 Responses

  1. Kaimi says:

    Wow, Jess.

    You’re brave to be this open here. I appreciate it, I think that this is the kind of discussion that doesn’t happen often enough. I hope you don’t get raked across the coals for it.

    I have to say, my first response was, yay, Jess and Markawhy. It’s really good to hear that your trip was a good event for both of you, that it helped you both work through issues and come closer. That’s really good news.

    As for your broader question — hmm. My own marriage has had its ups and downs. It started with the same clueless naivete (wow, I was clueless) you mention. I said and did a lot of stupid things early on which hurt Mardell. We developed some problematic communication patterns. After years of ignoring the problems, we eventually realized that it was a problem, and went to a counselor for a while. And we learned ways to communicate better, to get past problems.

    This has, slowly, led to greater openness and closeness on faith issues. We can discuss things better now, without feeling threatened or feeling like we always have to be on script. It’s a better place for us spiritually, and as a couple as well — ultimately, getting past the bad communication habits that were hurting us as a couple, also helped us talk more openly about God and faith.

  2. mraynes says:

    This made me cry, Jess. I have come to love and care so much for both you and Mark over the past couple of years and this makes me so happy to read. You both are really brave to be willing to negotiate the ups and downs and unexpected curves of marriage together.

    I think you’re right, the Mormon church is central to our marriages, in fact, it purposefully makes itself central. So when the church becomes an issue for one it is a big deal for both. mr. mraynes and I didn’t experience the bait and switch that you described as I was a confirmed feminist by the time we met, however, my issues with Mormonism and women have had a constant presence in our marriage. To his credit, mr. mraynes has been the one to really step outside of his comfort zone and patiently listen and empathize with my endless concerns. I sometimes wonder if he wouldn’t have preferred a normal Mormon wife but I think he realizes that the depths we have been able to reach in our spiritual journey together is worth the unconventional path we are taking. I hope that you and Mark continue to find mutual fulfillment down this path as well. I wish that we could be there with you to experience it together. Thank you for this beautiful post, you are an inspiration.

  3. D'Arcy says:

    Jessawhy, THANK YOU for this beautiful post! What an inspiration. I am not married, but one thing that I have learned in the last few years of dating (and dating during my crisis of faith) is that I don’t have concrete spiritual expectations of my future spouse. I want to be clear at the beginning that I am a spiritual person and I am attracted to other people who think about religion and life and God a lot. But that I won’t hold them to what they are now. I feel that if I find someone open to spirituality, but not needing to control how I express my spirituality and me not controling how they express it, then it seems a healthier place to be when deciding these things.

    Growing up with very strict religious views about who was “appropriate” for me to marry actually caused a lot of fear and anxiety that my future husband would lose his faith and then our marriage wouldn’t hold up in heaven. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone I didn’t even know yet. And honestly, it made me always see the men I dated for what roles they held in the church more for than who they are. It was almost like a prize when someone landed the EQ President, because he was somehow a better man that the guy without a calling.

    After I left the church, my first boyfriend was an atheist. I remember loving him, but knowing that I couldn’t marry him because he didn’t even believe in a God. I had a man in my life after that who, when we discussed marriage, decided then and there that I could never teach our future children about LDS doctrine. That made me so uncomfortable and our relationship didn’t really continue (plus, I just don’t like being told what to do).

    What I would be my ideal is someone who was raised LDS, even practicing if they choose, but who is open to understanding that we all have spiritual paths that rarely stay in straight perfect lines. Someone who is willing to give me the space I need to figure out my own spirituality and someone that I can give that same freedom to, while we agree with enough to make sure we can be similar enough not to have major disagreements in the raising of kids.

    In the end, it comes down to a big issue I think the LDS church has. Are you marrying that person because you love them, or because they are Mormon? If that person decided NOT to be mormon, would that change your love for them? Too many couples get married because they believe that two active LDS people can make a happy home and they fail to see all of the individual.

    That’s not all cases, but it has happened.

    Hopefully you are marrying the person because you love the person and not just for how they live their religion, because as you and I know, that can all change.

  4. FoxyJ says:

    That sounds a lot like us as well, although my husband has completely left the church. We also met at BYU after serving in the same mission, etc. Then after a few years he developed serious doubts about the church. We actually even separated for a while, intending to get divorced, and then we realized that our marriage and our relationship with each other was the most important. I think for us we realized that what we had was important enough to make it worth the extra work and effort to stay together. It’s still hard and it’s still totally not where I thought we’d be eight years ago–yes I’ve also thought “what happened to the person I married?” But we’ve changed in positive ways as well and both have much better communication skills as well. Everyone changes through the years and it can be a challenge to keep adjusting to each other.

  5. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments. I do feel a little naked after posting this (I’m sure Mark does too, he hasn’t read the final version), but I hope you’re right that this is the way to have more of an open dialogue about religious journey and marriage.
    As far as getting raked a across the coals, I saw what happened to D’Arcy, so I know readers here can be harsh and I hope I’m prepared for it.

    I’m glad that you and Mardell have reached a place where you can communicate better. That is one of my goals in therapy, to find new tools to help us get out of some of those bad communication habits. Thank you for your comment.

    I saw a woman with red hair today just like yours and I was so sad to realize that you’re far away now.
    But, at least we have this!

    Thanks for your comments. Even though you guys are newerlywed than us, we have really admired the way that you and B interact. I hope that you can continue to build on the strong marriage you have in the years ahead.
    Best wishes in your new town!

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for the kind words. I like your ideal. For Mark, he recently told me that his “bottom line” for our marriage was to be married to someone who wanted to serve God. The other stuff is not as important. I think that’s a good place to start from.

    I have a friend in much the same place as you are. In fact, when I talk to her about her husband I see a lot of myself. It’s actually helped me be more sympathetic to Mark because I see how much pain her husband’s lack of faith has caused her.
    I wonder if it’s easier for women to find a middle way between doubt/dissent and still attending and supporting the family. My guess is that it may be easier for women because of men’s leadership and priesthood responsibilities and it’s harder to do those things half-assed.
    I wish you the best in the future, but it sounds like you’re at a good place in your marriage. Thanks so much for the comment.

  7. I says:

    I’ve been a ward and stake RS president and my husband’s served as a bishop and branch president. My testimony has been very strong until recently when I’ve studied more about Church history and learning about Joseph Smith’s polyandry, which seems wrong to me on every spiritual and moral level. I remain faithful because I truly believe families can be together forever, even though one of my children has left the church. I believe that God loves us infinitely and that He manisfests His love for us in many ways. As I allow God’s love to comfort and heal me, I find I can experience peace amid the sorrows of life. Because of my search to know God better, I am less quick to judge, more quick to forgive, and more patient with myself and others. I am convinced us that God loves us more than we can begin to comprehend and trust that we will some day understand the meaning of all things. That hope gives me the strength to endure my questioning, doubts, and heartaches.

  8. Alisa says:

    Jess, what a moving, open piece. I love both you and Mark and appreciate the depth of your experiences.

    DH and I each have been moving on our unique spiritual journy where sometimes our paths are more alligned, and sometimes they’re further apart. It has taken years for DH to see a lot of the things that have bothered me (like when the bishop told him he should not “allow” me to work once we’re married, even though he was only a college freshman and I was in grad school and teaching at the university). Those were lonely times for me as DH gave more credence to a stranger because of his Priesthood authority than he did to me. But over time, he’s become more of an advocate for my cause and has definitely improved.

    DH needs the structure and routine of the church. He loves his callings. I get easily burned out by it all, but we seem to have a good balance between the two of us. What’s funny is that I like that DH is so faithful. In fact, last month he started reading Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and I just got really nervous that he might read about something in Church history (polyandry is a good example) that might make him question. And I really draw on his faith. I realize that’s not fair at all, to allow myself the freedom to explore different faith traditions and confront doubts head on, but to expect his path to be the predictable and safe one. But that’s how it’s worked so far, so it’s what I’m used to, so a hint that might change does cause some concern.

    I think there’s something valuable to having some tension in your crisis of faith, some bonds that keep you grounded and make you think hard about your choices. It would be much easier had I not married in the temple, but you know, I’m glad I did if for nothing else than I am married to this wonderful man. The ties I have keep me closer to the Church than I might have been. But I’m glad they’re there. It’s good to not just hear my own thoughts rattling around in my head, but to be able to get my compliment’s perspective as well.

  9. anonymous says:

    My husband and I just don’t talk much about church any more. Path of least resistance. I’ve been doing this for a very long time, it seems – at least seven years. I’m tired.

  10. miles says:

    We have both gone through struggles and doubts. We still do. We talk and try to help each other find peace when a Sunday goes bad.

    My dh has been great at telling me that he loves me no matter what and that he appreciates when I face things that make me uncomfortable like when I struggle to prepare a talk I feel OK giving about a topic I am cringing at.

    Communicating is so important and the trust and courage needed to be able to have these hard discussions is a challenge to attain and maintain.

  11. mr.mraynes says:


    What a wonderful thing to read! Like my DW said, we have come to love you both and we genuinely rejoice in your season of joy and renewal.

    I would like to add that life is always cyclical. Yes, this honeymoon too shall pass and give way to new and perplexing challenges. But the beauty of it all is that as you overcome each challenge, you’ll be greeted with yet another “honeymoon” phase. Wash, rinse, repeat, so to speak:).

    We really look forward to hearing about you both as you continue to grow and “individuate” (inside joke, sorry). Keep hanging in there!

  12. Laura says:

    Very open and interesting, thanks. BTW, I was the closing speaker in Sacrament last week and I rocked it. Actually all 3 female speakers did. My Bishop is quite progressive. But there aren’t any hard and fast rules. I think people just get comfortable and continue the way it has always been done.

  13. EmilyCC says:

    What an important post, Jess! Thank you for sharing your experience.

    When Nate and I started dating, we made an agreement that one of us wouldn’t leave the Church without the other, which in retrospect, was rather naive. But, it’s been helpful to keep in mind when one of us struggles. (And, we both struggle but for entirely different reasons.)

    And, yay for marriage therapy! It’s done us a world of good to get periodic check-ups 🙂

  14. elizabeth-w says:

    I have long used the term ‘bait and switch’ to describe what I did to my husband. When we married, I had been disaffected and/or struggling for some time. When we had our first child, about 4 years in, everything started to shift inside me. It’s been 9 years since then, and I certainly have my issues, but I’m devout–insomuch that I went to the temple a year ago (that was a HUGE leap).
    All along the way, my husband has been nothing but supportive/tolerant. I am grateful every day for that. It’s a huge deal. I can’t imagine what that would be like if he were the type who said the kids couldn’t get baptized or something.
    I think that regardless of the issue, no matter what type of bait and switch has been pulled, there are people who can tolerate it, and there are people who can’t. I don’t think it has to do with if people love each other, or whatever, enough to tolerate the shift. I just think some people are more malleable than others.
    If the shoe were on the other foot, I don’t know if I would be as tolerant as DH has been.

  15. Kli says:

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    Since marrying in the temple 4 years ago, my testimony and view of the church continually cycles between a resigned acceptance (that I can put up with the things I have issues with and enjoy the church community, have a positive attitude, etc), and a determined defeat (that it’s time to just release myself from guilt and all the effort, and admit that I maybe don’t believe). Needless to say this has caused issues in my marriage. My husband feels that I ‘tricked’ him into getting married by pretending to have a strong testimony. When my doubts resurfaced, he told me that I’d better decide if I was in or out of the church- because if I was out- then it was only fair for us to end the marriage…so he could be with someone that he had a chance at eternity with. Later, he said he had faith that everything would work out… (which means that I will recognize the gospel and stay in the church).

    So, at this point- I don’t know if my husband really loves ME and wants to be with me- because if he only wants to stay with me if I am LDS, then isn’t that conditional? But, to him- He says that if I really love him, I’d do everything I can to make him happy, and because I know how important church is for him- I would stay. Catch-22?

    So, for now- I do stay- and allow myself outlets like Exponent, and skipping meetings that get too much for me. But do you think this is unfair to my husband? Sometimes I think I should leave, so while he’s young he can still go and find that lady who can take him to the top tier in eternity.

  16. Clay says:

    Jess… amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this, and for both yours and Mark’s courage in allowing it to not be anonymous. We need more real stories with real names and faces. That is how we develop empathy and understanding.

    I have gone through some of this, too. I’ve been very fortunate to have a wife who has decided that our marriage is more important than the church, although I have not forced her to actually make that choice. A key thing from the doubter’s side is to move slowly and carefully.

    I heard a couple tell their story a while back (I’m being intentionally vague with the details here) in which the husband went as far as resigning his church membership before he even told his wife he had doubts. I couldn’t even imagine doing something like that. I’m pretty sure my marriage would have been totally destroyed if I had.

    Its still not easy. I struggle through church attendance. I feel my sense of integrity chipping away as I pretend to be a normal Mormon in my ward and our family, but I want to give her time to prepare for what comes when you are publicly married to a non-believer. That life isn’t easy.

    I am grateful that I have her acceptance now. She isn’t scared for my soul and doesn’t think I need to recover my lost faith in order to be a good person. She has defended me and other friends from judgment. It is amazing how much of a difference it makes to truly have a partner with you in the journey.

  17. Thanks for your willingness to be open and honest about your relationship.

    For us, I would think that my wife feels like she has been subject to a bait and switch. I have not gone through a crisis of faith. But my faith has become very radical and it has found some very public expressions which I think has made her feel like we are being watched, which I don’t think she likes very much. Also she does not have a good way to process or understand my faith. We are both very active in the church, but we don’t agree on many important issues, its a very different experience from the one she was expecting when we got married.

    Sometimes we can’t talk about the differences because they are pretty dramatic. Sometimes having to struggle with the differences brings us closer together. Transcending difference is both really exciting and essential, both in the intimate context of a marriage, and the broader context of society.

  18. James says:

    Not much to add, but wanted to echo many of the previous comments about this very moving piece. Finer people than the Awhys can’t be found.

  19. Margaret says:

    Thanks for sharing such a moving story.

    My own is similar to yours in many ways except that I was a confirmed feminist when I married and Patrick was very much looking for a good liberal feminist. I don’t think he expected, however, my crisis of faith and questioning of the church after I went through the temple for the first time. I had never seriously questioned the church before that but the temple brought it all crashing down around me. I was angry and felt like a betrayed friend. Looking back, I think that he was the main factor in keeping me in the church at that point.

    First was the issue that you brought up– I didn’t think it would be fair to him if I left the church two months after we married. I had to give it more of a chance than that so that it wasn’t a ‘bait and switch.’

    Second, he listened and agreed. He was willing to take a break from the temple for a while since it bothered me so much. And he talked about his own issues with church patriarchy. Knowing that he also struggled but found it worthwhile to stay in was helpful. He encouraged me to accept the tension and not let go of my identities as a Mormon and a feminist.

    Third, I was grateful to the church for producing a man like Patrick. It was his mission that turned him from a directionless teenager into a compassionate man.

    But we still have to negotiate things. He’s still the more religious of the two of us. I am particularly resentful of unnecessary meetings that take him away from home (i.e. stake priesthood meetings on Sunday night) and we have to compromise on his attendance of that stuff. He sometimes has to pull me back in when I get angry at a sexist comment or policy. And every time we go to the temple I think I see that concern (fear?) in his eyes that he unconsciously showed when I hit my crisis.

  20. Margaret says:

    P.S. You and your husband look very familiar to me but I can’t place you. When did you leave BYU?

  21. Joe says:

    D’Ardy said:
    “After I left the church, my first boyfriend was an atheist. I remember loving him, but knowing that I couldn’t marry him because he didn’t even believe in a God.”

    Isn’t that the same kind of inflexibility that threatens LDS marriages?

  22. Katya says:

    But, to him- He says that if I really love him, I’d do everything I can to make him happy, and because I know how important church is for him- I would stay. Catch-22?

    I don’t usually comment here, but I can’t let this one go. Kli, if your husband really loves *you,* why isn’t he doing everything he can to make *you* happy, including giving you some space and the option to make your own choices, right now?

  23. Jana says:

    I’ve been through some of the “bait and switch” and it’s so tough. I’ve learned so much along the way, though, which seems the point of life’s challenges, right? I fell in love with and married an RM active church member. Later, I realized that I was married to John and I fell in love with him, too 🙂

  24. “When my doubts resurfaced, he told me that I’d better decide if I was in or out of the church- because if I was out- then it was only fair for us to end the marriage…so he could be with someone that he had a chance at eternity with. Later, he said he had faith that everything would work out… (which means that I will recognize the gospel and stay in the church).

    So, at this point- I don’t know if my husband really loves ME and wants to be with me- because if he only wants to stay with me if I am LDS, then isn’t that conditional? But, to him- He says that if I really love him, I’d do everything I can to make him happy, and because I know how important church is for him- I would stay.”

    This is chilling. If he really said these things, in this way, you are married to a VERY manipulative person. There is nothing spiritual or productive about this way of thinking. It gives him all the power in the relationship, and insists that you conform to his wants, and needs. Perhaps he was speaking out of fear, which is understandable, but not appropriate.

  25. Kaimi says:

    I was thinking about your comment about changing. And I think I’ve said this before (maybe even here at Exponent), but it bears repeating — there are a couple of important points when thinking about changes in marriage.

    The first point is that change is normal. Of *course* you’re a different person at 29 than you were at 20. (If you weren’t a different person at 29, you would be a total loser!) We all change. We’re all going to go through major changes in our marriages and in our lives.

    To illustrate: When I married, I was 22, a college student, an accounting major (!), living in Arizona, childless, playing guitar in a band, fluent in Spanish, a Republican (!), no church leadership position, driving a beat-up pickup truck, reading sci-fi novels for fun, and wanting to eventually become a rock star.

    Life changes us. I’m 35 now, a law professor, in California, driving a sensible Saturn, with three children, no band (alas), a Democrat, with a history of church leadership callings. I’m no longer fluent in Spanish (though I’m conversational), and I’ve given up (more or less) on ever becoming a rock star. I do still read sci-fi novels for fun.

    Over the past thirteen years, my favorite foods have changed (I’ve discovered Gruyere cheese, for one thing); my favorite books have changed; my favorite songs have changed. My hobbies have changed. My clothes has changed. My education has changed. A very long list of things about me has changed. And will continue to change, too — I’ll be another different person in ten or fifteen years.

    Life is about change, and we all change, significantly, over time. You aren’t the same person you are when you got married, and neither is Mark.

    So of course there may be changes in your views on God, faith, religion, or the meaning of life. Saying out that you’ve changed into a different person is not helpful — of *course* you’re a different person.

    Which brings us to the second point: What the bait-and-switch comment is really saying is, there are limits to the changes that any of us are willing to accept. And this is perfectly normal in a relationship as well. Every person has their deal breakers. Just to use an obvious one — I love Mardell, and accept that she is changing a lot; but if she became a heroin junkie, I would have a hard time accepting that. We are willing to accept some changes. Others, we aren’t. And the list of acceptable changes varies from one person to the next.

    So Mark’s comment about bait and switch is saying, in effect, that this is a big change, one that he didn’t expect, and which matters to him. And at that point, it’s up to the two of you to discuss what that means. Is that an aspect of Jessica (the faithful-Mormon side) which he would view as a deal-breaker if you changed it? And if so, is it a change which you’re willing to forgo, or one which you feel you have to make? And are either of you willing to reconsider your positions?

    There’s no right or wrong answer to either of these questions. Each person has their own list of required attributes in a partner, depending on their personality and their priorities.

    So yes — change is normal, and it happens in every marriage. And the consequences of change will vary from couple to couple, depending on each person’s particular list of deal-breakers.

  26. D'Arcy says:


    I think that when it comes to choosing a life partner, you have to know what works for you. I need someone who believes in a higher power. If that makes me “inflexible” then so be it. I’m not going to be with someone just to prove a point. Sorry if that upsets you.

    Now, if I wouldn’t have been his friend because of that, well then, I would say you had some leverage in your comment, but we ARE talking marriage here. Not just any relationship, I think there has to be not even a little common ground, but ACTUALLY a lot.

    Don’t worry, I’m not out stoning or judging the atheists, if that’s what was bothering you.

  27. Deborah says:

    A great essay, Jess. This reminds me that many many marriages are, essentially, interfaith marriages — just not in such an obvious way as mine. Before this wonderful Presbyterian minister married my (kinda) Jewish husband and myself, he gave me the only piece of marriage advice that really stuck. More insight than advice: “Marriage is the biggest leap of faith we can undertake. We are committing to love, support, and nurture a person through changes and challenges we cannot possibly foresee. Because you *will* change. And you *will* face the unforeseen. Anyone — religious or not — who has ever truly joined their life to somebody else’s understands something about faith and hope.”

  28. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments. I’ve also found that going through periods of doubt gives us more compassion for inactive members or those who choose to leave. We can also be helpful to people who go through similar struggles.

    Excellent points. I’d never thought about it, but I’m sure I would be more frightened if Mark began to doubt as well. I really do rely on him for his religious strength. Thanks for expressing it that way and sharing your experiences.

    I’m sorry to hear that you don’t talk much. Although it hasn’t been seven years, we did to the path of least resistance for a while. It’s hard to have that kind of distance. I wish you luck in the future in your marriage and your relationship with the church.

    Communication is indeed important. I’ve seen several couples who have both decided to back away from the church together. It seems like a good way to do it, either both in or both out. It’s harder to have one of each. I’m glad you and your spouse are on the same page.

  29. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for your comments. We do miss you guys. Yes, I absolutely expect marriage to be cyclic, but honestly I didn’t expect for the upswing to be this great. I’m thrilled that we can find this much love and passion after 9 years, and perhaps it was the lull of the last few years that made our most recent reconnection seem even more powerful.

    So glad to hear that you were the closing speaker. I wish our bishop (very open-minded) would ask some women in the ward what kinds of changes they would like to see. This is an example of a very easy, but substantial change. Mark did notice on Sunday that there is a changing table in the Men’s room. In front of a few sisters I said, “One point for the feminists!”

    I admire your commitment to each other and the church. I imagine it’s a little easier to struggle side-by-side with your spouse even if it is for different reasons. Thanks for the plug for therapy. I highly recommend it, too.

    I totally agree. If our situations were reversed, I don’t know if I would be as loving and understanding as Mark has been. I even remember having a dream as a college freshman that I married a guy in my ward and on our wedding night he took off his garments and said, “I don’t want anything to do with the church ever again.” It was a really scary dream.

    I strongly identify with your comment. It was last year on our way back from Sunstone that I asked Mark if he would still love me if I left the church. He said yes and I was really surprised. My guess is that it takes a little getting used to for your husband to think of you as not being a member. For me, the relief of knowing that our marriage was more than the church was huge. It allowed me to participate on a level that I was comfortable with without feeling pressured by Mark’s expectation.
    I don’t know if you know of any good therapists around, but it sounds like you guys could use some counseling to help resolve some of these issues.

    Thanks for your comments. I’m glad you appreciated the post. I really appreciate the conversation it’s created.

    This comment struck me, “I feel my sense of integrity chipping away as I pretend to be a normal Mormon in my ward and our family”
    Sometimes I feel this way, too. However, I remind myself that we all have different parts of our personality and we express those around different people. As long as I have integrity about my beliefs when they come up, I can still be a part of my ward as a normal person and not feel like I am betraying myself. It’s a tricky line, but I also think the church is better for having members like us in it, serving the members and practicing openness and love.
    I’m glad to hear that you and your wife have come to a place of peace with your relationship with the church. I wish you the best.

    Douglas Hunter,
    Thanks for this, “Transcending difference is both really exciting and essential, both in the intimate context of a marriage, and the broader context of society.”
    This seems like a part of a mature relationship that we all need to work towards achieving. Very profound.

    Thanks for stopping in. Hope you and your family are well. Send us an email when you get a minute.

  30. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for sharing your story. In case you haven’t read it, Kiskilil at ZD posted a similar story (she wasn’t married when she went through)

    The temple is hard for a lot of women. I’ve been to enough LDS Feminist retreats to know that some women are disappointed and some are devastated. I’m glad that your husband was sensitive enough to take a break with you after your experience.

    It sounds like you two make a good pair. I also really agreed with you about meetings taking him away on Sunday. Mark is usually gone for 3 hours (beyond the 3 hr block) on Sunday and it makes for a long day for me and the boys. We are working on negotiating that.
    Also, Mark left BYU in 2003. He was there for 5 years. Perhaps you had a class or choir together.

    I’m excited to read that post.
    Thanks for this, “I fell in love with and married an RM active church member. Later, I realized that I was married to John and I fell in love with him, too”
    I feel that way, too. (although about Mark, not John, even though I think he’s great.)

    Douglas Hunter,
    In Kli’s husband’s defense, I think many of us are confused about the changes we see in our spouse and don’t know how to best respond. Perhaps he said this once but no longer thinks this way. Perhaps there was miscommunication. I’m not sure we can jump to the conclusion through a blog that her husband is manipulative. It does sound like she is struggling and I hope that we can support her in a way that will help them both transcend their differences as you so profoundly pointed out.

    Yes change is inevitable, but I think Mark and I expected it would be more gradual and in less noticeable ways (like our food or book preferences).
    Interesting that you gave the heroin addict example. Mark and I discussed that as a extreme example as well, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of love. If someone was in that situation and you loved them, you would find help for them, not dump them on the side of the road. Obviously there are marriages with MUCH more difficult struggles than ours right now, but I imagine that if we both love each other and both want to make things work than we can keep going.
    As far as deal-breakers, we do all have them. Mine is abuse. I think I could tolerate addiction much better than abuse, which is why I married a very gentle man. And perhaps even our deal-breakers change over the years. I don’t know.

    But, yes, I guess we all do a bait and switch to some extent. Although according to my therapist mine may be more dramatic than the next person 😉

    We all have inter-faith marriages, I love it! I actually hope this is true because it means that couples are actively examining their religious beliefs and practices in a way that contributes to their marriages. Thanks for adding the excellent advice of your minister.

  31. hawkgrrrl says:

    What a great story! Kudos to you both, and to you especially for posting this. All marriages have different levels of belief in them, but few realize it. Most marriage problems that seem to be ostensibly about faith differences only become a problem when either spouse wants to control the other one. It’s great to see how much love and respect you both have for each other. That’s the foundation of a good marriage. Being friends as well as lovers.

  32. Emily U says:

    Thanks for sharing your story, Jessawhy. Having a crisis of faith is something that doesn’t get acknowledged very much, but I’m beginning to think it’s the norm – that everyone has one of some kind or another at some point in their lives.

    I wish I had time to read all the comments, but since you asked, I’ll just give my experience with changing faith in my marriage.

    My husband and I essentially had crises of faith at the same time, but for different reasons. We’ve been married almost 10 years, and I think the crisis started after about 1 year, simmered for several more, and boiled over 3 or 4 years ago. My troubles also started with feminist questions, but gradually developed into more fundamental questions about whether or not God was even there. I felt that God didn’t answer my prayers and also quit praying for a while. I think you were lucky, Jessawhy, that your husband could be a resource for you in moving forward in your spiritual life. Since we were each in our separate dark places, my husband and I couldn’t do that for each other.

    Things are getting better, but I am still careful to avoid tender spots when talking with my husband about the church/gospel. For instance, I can’t talk about feminism and religion with him, not because he thinks my concerns are invalid, but because the fact that he doesn’t have answers for me frustrates him and makes him want to just throw up his hands and say “let’s just leave, then.”

    Finally, I’ll just say I think the thing that’s held us together is that we’re committed to each other, to our vows, and to our son. More so than to the Church (at least over the past few years). I know conventional wisdom is that if you put the gospel first, your marriage will naturally be strong. But religion can also be a wedge. When I gave my husband “permission” to leave the church if he wanted to, the tension between us decreased.

  33. kmillecam says:

    What an amazing and poignant story to tell. I have loved getting to know you and Mark both and was so glad to hear that the honeymoon phase has resurfaced. It may provide a lot of healing which will be appreciated by the both of you I’m sure. Thank you for being so brave so as to reveal yourself here in public. This story is so relatable and even if it is different for each of us in our own relationships, it is a wonderful reminder of to deal with expectation, fears, acceptance. Love you guys!

  34. ZD Eve says:

    Great post, Jessawhy.

    I don’t have much to add to what’s been said, but this post and Melyngoch’s about interfaith dating within Mormonism at ZDs have resonated with me. I especially liked Deborah’s observation that many marriages end up being interfaith, even when both people start or (ostensibly) continue in the same religious tradition.

    When we married my husband was the conservative, traditional, orthodox Mormon, and I was the liberal feminist with lots of questions. Within fairly short order he became much more unorthodox than I was, going agnostic and finally atheist (now I sometimes get to watch Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennet with him when he gets his atheist DVDs from Netflix. I really disagree with their assumptions, so it’s a struggle for me to be respectful.).

    We’d pretty much made our peace with each other’s choices, but I found that our daughter’s birth last year raised a whole new set of issues. For a long time, during our childless years, my husband was insistent that any children we had be raised in both traditions (he was trying out the Unitarians at the time). I wasn’t comfortable with that. He finally agreed to let our children be raised Mormon before we actually had one. I’m immensely grateful that we got on the same page on that issue before we had to face it.

    Now that I take my daughter to church alone and struggle with her the whole three hours by myself and wonder what she’ll be taught in Primary about her dad, there are new issues to work out. We’ve decided to alternate Family Home Evenings. My weeks I’ll do something fairly traditionally Mormon. His weeks he’ll teach good principles and values, like honesty and compassion.

    As with all such things, we’ll see how it goes.

    Kaimi, sounds like you and I got married the same year, and you’re just my husband’s age. (We married when he was 22 and I was 24; now he’s 35 and I’m 37). And my husband too went from being a Republican to a Democrat (and in his case from being an undergraduate chemistry major to a psychologist).

  35. Janna says:

    As to your question about dating decisions, speaking in generalities, I’m just looking for someone who loves me and I love them back. Whether or not they have a belief in God is irrelevant to me.

    But I know lots of other singes for whom either a) dating or marrying an active Mormon b) dating or marrying a Christian or c) dating or marrying someone who believes in God is crucial. I’d never begrudge anyone that requirement. But, it’s just not important to me.

    In fact, I’d probably have more of a problem if I married an atheist who became Born Again! 🙂

  36. Markie says:

    Your post resonated with me in a lot of ways. I often worry about the effects that my changing attitudes towards the church might have on my marriage and family. One night, a few years ago, I was tearfully “confessing” all of my fears, doubts, heretical thoughts, etc. and apologized for pulling the old (unintentional) bait-and-switch. I felt like I wasn’t even the same person he had married and couldn’t stand how unfair that was to him. My husband scored major points (OK, to be honest, he just scored) with his response, “Yes, you’re a different person. But every time you change, it just means I get to fall in love with the new you all over again.” Definitely a memory that makes it easy to be honest with him about how I’m feeling about the church, even when it’s sometimes hard to be honest with myself.

  37. Jessawhy says:

    Thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you at book club one of these months.
    I found this part of your comment particularly insightful: “Most marriage problems that seem to be ostensibly about faith differences only become a problem when either spouse wants to control the other one.” I think this is especially true in Mormonism because of the doctrine of celestial marriage. If I NEED my spouse to believe and practice the same as my in order to have the best after-life, then my incentive to try to control him is much greater.

    Emily U,
    Wow, thanks for your comment. I have other friends who have gone through their crises together. In some ways I envy them because they empathize with each other and if they both leave or stay, they’re on the same page.
    I really like what you said about giving your husband permission to leave and that easing the tension. I felt that as well.
    I wish you and your husband the best on your spiritual journey and as you navigate your relationship with the church.

    Thanks for your comments! I won’t say more b/c we are chatting in gmail right now 🙂

    ZD Eve,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’ve been able to work out how to raise your daughter in an inter-faith marriage. As she grows, I’m sure you’ll have to renegotiate the terms, especially when she starts to have her own opinions about where she wants to be on Sundays.
    It sounds like you and your husband have a great deal of respect and love for each other and your beliefs.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

    It sounds like you have very open expectations of your mate. I wish you the best in your spiritual journey. Thanks for your comments.

    Thanks for your comment. It is nice to have the new part of you be seen as attractive and desirable. As part of my most recent changes, I’ve seen myself become more adventurous and confident. Mark tells me I get sexier every year, and it’s nice to hear that when other parts of my life seem confusing and unstable. In fact, I know Mark is really torn about my wearing garments. I tell him I’ll wear them if he wants me to, but he thinks other kinds of underwear are much sexier, so he fights that inner battle (which amuses me, actually).

  38. Jessawhy says:

    Lastly, I just wanted to add that I’ve been thinking about this post and wanted to clarify something.

    When I got back from Kauai, both Mark and I had each reached separate conclusions about our marriage. While I was gone I came to appreciate him more and realized that over the years I had wasted time wishing I hadn’t married so young, had a career, or had put off having children. I felt like I had missed the exciting single life of my twenties because I was married with kids.

    Although I know and love many single people, I have NO desire to be single. It may be fun and exciting, but the kind of life I have suits me better. And being happy with what you have suits everyone better.

    Thus, both of us came up with different reasons to appreciate our marriage and work toward resolving our differences about the church.

  39. Caroline says:

    Jess, just wanted to tell you how much I love and appreciate this post. I can identify in so many ways.

  40. Debra says:

    Jessawhy, how brave you are to be so open about your questions of faith and your marriage. Your experiences are a wonderful example of what I call the crucible of marriage – the profound and sacred fundamental vessel for individual, and joint reciprocal soul growth that marriage is intended to be.

    Apart of the business of family living, meaning, raising children, and providing a home for all members, that both husbands and wives engage in, in their individual and joint ways, marriage is ultimately this crucible.

    It is this vessel of transformative growth and change that in my experience is what makes marriage sacred, because it is the means by which we grow into the fullness of who we have been created by our Heavenly Father and Mother to become – just as they have done.

    How wonderful that you and your DH have recommitted yourselves to your sacred journey.

  41. Seraphine says:

    Not being married, I can’t emotionally identify with what you’ve described, but I wanted to say that I appreciated your post and your honesty. I hope that when I do find someone to share my life with, we can respect one another’s separate spiritual journeys and figure out how to use our differences and difficulties to grow closer to one another.

  42. Ziff says:

    I love this post, Jessawhy. Like everyone else, I guess, I’m so impressed not only with you and your husband’s renewed commitment to each other even while you’re in different places with regard to the Church, but also with your courage to share it with all of us. I hope things continue to go well for you.

    I know I’m more questioning and doubting than I was when my wife and I married. My wife has been remarkably supportive, though, in all my wanderings. I should be more grateful for her.

    (Oh, and great picture of the two of you!)

  43. Nature Girl says:

    (Note to moderator: I think this may be a bit long for the comment section? If so, don’t post it and let me know and I can trim it down. Thanks!)

    I, too, appreciate your willingness to share your experiences publicly. Like many of the commenters, I think only change is guaranteed in marriage. My husband and I married after attending BYU. He was an RM and I was eventually talked out of going on a mission by him so that we could get married. (I just rolled my eyes now thinking about how dramatic I was at the time, but I think the eye rolling and the choice of words like “talked out of” are actually manifestations of my continued denial of my ability to make my own choices.) I did not go on a mission in part because I couldn’t seem to be “good” enough to face an interview with my stake president, but also because I’d heard over and over growing up that marriage is more important than a mission (for women). So we got married.

    His Bait-and-Switch
    Like Jessawhy I expected late-night discussions about doctrine and intense revelatory experiences. Instead I got a husband who made me feel like my gospel knowledge was at the Sunbeam level. It made “discussions” quite brief, because any question I could think to ask he had already answered for himself during his mission. Despite this (or because of it?), my devotion to church was stronger than his.
    By our third year of marriage I hated Sundays, not because I didn’t like church, but because in order to get my husband to go to church, I had to basically drag him out of bed. He would not tell me that he wouldn’t go, he just made it hell for me to take him.
    One Easter sunday he was watching football while I got ready for church and I decided that rather than try to convince him to come with me, I’d just start worrying about myself. I literally thought, “If he doesn’t give a s*** about me, why do I give a s*** about him?” and off I went. During the meeting I sort of birthed my feminist self. I realized that I didn’t like or believe the idea that without my husband I was less valuable at church or to God.

    My Bait-and-Switch
    Now, had my husband and I sat down to talk about my experience that day, I think things would have gone differently. Instead, I became emotionally separate from him and began to view myself as a completely solitary individual. I had given up on my husband, and shortly thereafter gave up on church. If I wasn’t headed for Celestial Glory, all that time at church seemed kind of excessive. I still prayed and felt close to God.
    The freedom I felt without church then led me to decide that I would feel even better without my husband. When I told him I wanted to leave, he was incredibly hurt. I moved into an apartment and for a few weeks we didn’t have much contact. Then I found myself really missing him.
    I was talking to a therapist, and with her help I realized that I had viewed my marriage and the Church as the same big thing, and that although they had the potential to be related, they were actually separate aspects of my life. I had to move out before I realized that I love him as he is, not because he could potentially be the God of our future Heavenly Children. Luckily, my husband is an incredibly forgiving and loving man (although he is still a gospel knowledge snob) and together we’ve been working to make our marriage a healthy one. I believe shared faith can make a marriage stronger, but shared faith alone cannot and should not make a marriage. I often wonder if it would make a difference to marital happiness if engaged couples considered if they would be marrying their spouse if s/he were not a member. I wish someone had asked me that, because I think the answer would have been yes, but I wouldn’t have had to spend four years figuring it out.

  44. Nature Girl says:

    Please forgive the weird formatting and parenthetical nonsense, I’m a first-time commentor and thought the comments went for review before showing up here.

  45. Deborah says:

    Nature Girl:

    Not too long at all — and we are thrilled to have new commenters that add to the depth of the conversation here. Thank you for sharing your story; I really appreciate getting a glimpse into other people’s marriages . . . because nobody *really* knows about the ins and outs of a relationship except for the people involved and I have found that it’s easy to measure our relationships against the glimpses (and even fronts) of other people’s seemingly “smoother sailing.” Kind of like when, as a kid, I used to pick out families in the ward who seemed to be “perfect”and imagine myself as one of their children — only to later discover that they were as typically dysfunctional as the rest of us 🙂

  46. Stephanie says:

    I think marriage cycles. My husband and I have had two “down times” – one right around our 5th anniversary, and one right around our 10th anniversary. It seems that both times it took a conscious effort by him to change his attitude or the way he was treating me to effect change. As soon as I felt loved again, I showed love to him and things got better.

    Dh and I pretty much only fight about church stuff. I don’t think my testimony or faith of the gospel is wavering, but I do think that the idea of having a bunch of little kids while giving the dad a busy, “important” calling in the church really sucks, and I am not sure why we ever thought we wanted to do that. He is fine (he’s never home!) but I absolutely hate it. So, we fight about that more than anything else. Of course I am supposed to be all “supportive” and bite my tongue and embrace my calling of motherhood. Bah. I’m just angry.

  47. LucySophia says:

    After reading the comments, I talked with my nomo DH about them and asked him if he thougth i had changed, from the normal-appearing LDS woman he married 6 years ago, to the questioning and re-evaluating woman I am now. He said of course I had chamged, for the better! He loves my domestic goddess self when I cook and do homey things. But he loves more the inquisitive mind and deep thoughts I have, the books I research and write and the classes i take. He tells me I am NEVER boring!!! Spouses are constantly changing – we are never the same person from year to year – that’s what progression is all about. Please excuse the typos – my eyes itch fromallergies and I can’t sleep so I’m catching up on my blog reading.

  48. Kelly Ann says:

    Jess, Thank you for sharing this. Congratulations on your anniversary.

    I think change is the only constant we can expect in life.

  49. John Remy says:

    Hi Jessawhy, I’m sorry for the belated comment, but I just came across this post and wanted to join the chorus of affirmation. This is a brave act of sharing and openness and it’s this kind of post that helps others who are struggling similarly to feel less isolated, and to have hope in their own marriages and committed relationships.

    I amazed at some of the parallels between our experiences (I wrote about ours in a guest post at fMh a couple of years ago). I felt guilty for performing the “bait and switch” (these words describe exactly how I felt about what I was doing to our marriage) on Jana, and I felt like she deserved a believing Priesthood holder. It took a long time to come to the same conclusions that Kaimi described above about the right and natural tendency to change as we go through life.

    Jana and I now realize that we’re constantly changing. We work hard to communicate with one another so that we can chart course corrections together and continue this wonderful and hopeful friendship, companionship and partnership into which we’ve poured so much of ourselves. I wish you the best with yours. 🙂

  50. Kathy says:

    I just came across this forum today and the relief I feel is unimaginable. When you question the church and worry about your marriage as a consequence, you feel very, very alone. The two discussions I have had with my devout husband about my doctrinal doubts did not go well and I wonder if I have the strength to pursue the spiritual redirection that I crave. Reading your experiences gives me hope. Thanks for sharing.

  51. Deborah says:

    Glad you found your way here, Kathy.

  52. annegb says:

    Marriage is really hard. Really hard.

  53. jenica says:

    i realize that this comment is months beyond the original post date, but i found it when I needed it most, so thank you.

    i feel like i’ve run full speed ahead for 27 years following a religion that i’ve truly, truly believed. but along the way i’ve found myself questioning where i was really headed. i’ve always been kept busy enough with church callings to ignore that little detail of not being clear with my destination.

    after wrestling with it for 7 years, two weeks ago i jumped off that freight train. while i realize i’m still in the infancy of my decisions, i am feeling a little lost as i tumble in the weeds before coming to a rest. not quite sure which direction to turn or where to look. and yet i feel peaceful and so very grateful to have a husband who is allowing me to take this leap while staying solidly in his space with the church.

    my biggest guilt though has been in leaving my husband behind. he’s the one dragging four kids to church by himself. he’s the one baring the brunt of well meaning member’s questions. and he’s patiently enduring my soul quest with love in his heart and sadness in his eyes.

    there is such a huge part of me that just wants to jump back on the train, because it’s what i know best and what will make him happy. but i’m tired of feeling like i have to cut myself into pieces and put tape over my mouth to fit into the happy-homemaker-mormon-mama box.

    still navigating this choice and realizing that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

  54. Dr. Shades says:

    Interesting stuff, Jessawhy.

    You really ought to join us at and hammer out some of these issues.

  55. Olive says:

    Jessawhy, I’m proud of you for writing this! I didn’t know this about you two, and it does help to read these things about other couples. My husband and I have experienced a similar journey in our relationship. I took a trip recently by myself that changed the way I thought about our marriage, too. As my faith fell apart, I started to question the other more orthodox institutions in my life, including marriage. If it wasn’t eternal, was it worth it? I decided even if I wasn’t sure if it would last “forever” I still wanted to believe in love that lasts a lifetime, that includes growing old together and having grandchildren over and holidays, etc. Its good to see that love can really conquer all…especially when so many seem to encourage split faith marriages to separate.

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