Exponent Classics: Married to a "NM"

Marlene Payne
McLean, Virginia
Vol. 11, No. 2 (Winter 1985)

Last Spring, before the birth of my third child, I went to a stake conference, and for the first time both my children could go to the Primary. I had been pleasantly anticipating a meeting in which I could quietly concentrate without simultaneously drawing a picture for my daughter to color and reading a book to keep my very active son quiet. I sat next to some friends of mine—a wife resting contently on her husband’s arm. As the opening song rose around me, I began to cry. Cursing those hormonal shifts of pregnancy was insufficient. What I felt was loneliness. I even wished my little ones were squirming beside me!

It is difficult to be married outside the Church when one’s heart and soul are committed to the gospel. I never expected to marry outside the Church. I was raised in an active, dedicated family. Of my parent’s five children, I am the only one who did not marry in the temple. I have always loved the Church and have had a strong testimony. I went to college and medical school in Chicago where there were few Mormons to date. I remember with shame a first date on which a returned missionary mentioned that he would most likely go back to Wyoming to take over his father’s sheep ranch, and I thought out loud how nice it would be to live on a sheep ranch in Wyoming. What was my pride compared to the longing for a temple marriage? But my common sense also warned me that I would be a poor wife to a man that I did not love.

Love I did, eventually. IT was not easy to find someone that I could love, and for a while I wondered if I ever would. The man love chose for me was irresistible, handsome, proud, capable, moody, so very bright, sensitive, and very much like my father. (This last attribute dawned on me gradually over many years’ time; the unconscious is a powerful force.) Because we met in medical school, he was supportive of my career. A Mormon that I had dated earlier had included in his proposal that I drop out of school.

Obviously there are many kinds of Mormon men; some would not be anxious about marrying a woman physician. I did not meet any. However, I have always felt that it was deeply consistent with the gospel for me to develop my intelligence and acquire the education to allow me to help others.

The decision to marry outside the Church was agonizing. I wanted to marry, I wanted to marry this man, but I knew full well what that meant in the eternal perspective. It was the most difficult decision of my life. I married hoping my husband would join the Church later, fearing I had lost all chance for exaltation in the highest sense. He married without any idea what sacrifices the marriage would require of him. It is hard for a nonmember to know how central the gospel is.

As our marriage has unfolded, we have both had to make many compromises. It has been very hard for my husband to know that many times I put the Church first. I base my decisions on the gospel, I raise the children as Mormons, and these things make him feel left out. For me the sacrifices come in giving up many activities that I would like to attend and in remaining silent about spiritual experiences, deep feelings and longings, and convictions. I feel guilty about leaving my husband to enjoy Church activities and guilty if I stay home and miss them. Because of our love for each other, we make these sacrifices and compromises with as much grace as we can muster. But we each long for greater oneness.

Marriage is a fascinating covenant. In a good marriage, each partner facilitates the development of the other, both in an individual sense of supporting each other’s personal interests and in a shared sense of learning greater patience and tolerance, acquiring attitudes and skills offered from the other’s store of wisdom and developing an increased ability to communicate in order to achieve intimacy. But beyond the self-development, there is the development of unity that transcends the pair. This unity brings great joy.

As a psychiatrist, I have worked with many couples who were having marital difficulty and I have noticed how often they have had problems with achieving oneness. They both have needed to maintain separateness—of bank accounts, bedrooms, social life, child-rearing approaches. I am not saying that a husband and a wife should merge into uniformity, but a spirit of unity is present in a good marriage. This unity is preparation for the sense of oneness that Christ introduced in the New Testament, an oneness that would expand to include all our spiritual brothers and sisters.

I used to imagine that couples achieved this oneness because they had temple marriages. But that is not always the case. Love soothes the pain of intimacy and increases oneness in any marriage, whether temple or not. I would have been a poor wife to a man whom I did not love.

I have heard other women who are married to nonmembers complain that they feel passed over for significant jobs or left out by the members. I have never felt this; in fact, I have received loving support from other members. But there are several helpful approaches for dealing with part-member families that I would like to suggest. I remember a home teacher who had a zealous missionary spirit. As he left one evening, he turned and pointed a finger at my husband, exclaiming, “We’ll get you yet!” Please don’t do that. At the opposite end of the spectrum was another home teacher who took time to know my husband’s interests and invited him (just the two of them) to several events of common interest. Another home teacher came to help cut wood with us and enthusiastically recruited his large family to help. Shared interests, action, friendship—these approaches work better than preachiness or threats. I, on the other hand, need spiritual nurturance and comfort from my home and visiting teachers and Church friends.

As I was thinking about this article, I mentioned to my brother that I had become resigned to the consequences of my decision to marry outside the Church. My brother answered quietly and kindly, “Eternity is a long time. Who knows what will happen?” Certainly I do not, but for now I have thanks for my husband, for all we have shared, and for the tolerance and support that he has given me in my Mormon efforts.

Are we, as a Church, including interfaith marriages and/or part-member families as well as we could?  Do those of you in part-member families have suggestions as to how we can do better?


EmilyCC lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She currently serves as a stake Just Serve specialists, and she recently returned to school to become a nurse. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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10 Responses

  1. jks says:

    LOL Your post came from the future (May 1), as it is still April 30 here.
    It sounds hard to be married to a non-member since my husband is a member and we manage to have very different opinions about things even though we are supposed to be the same religion.
    I recommend The Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch as a good book about intimacy in marriage (be warned that it covers sexual intimacy graphicly). You might find it interesting (or perhaps already read it?)
    One of the most helpful ideas I have had concerning my marriage is that God loves my husband as much as he loves me and cares about his salvations as much as mine. What kind of wife would God have chosen for your husband?
    I don’t have any helpful advice about part-member families, but I am interested in what others have to say.

  2. opinion says:

    Here’s a hopefully, comment in support of your brother’s comment. I grew up with a part member couple in my ward. They met as he was serving in WWII in the UK. She was from the UK. The lived in the US for years. She had the missionary discussions many times, but because of horrible sins committed by a member of the church that very personally affected her, did not join the church while on this earth. She passed away a few years ago, and some of her descendants (some who were not active in the church) worked to make sure that she and her husband (who had remained faithful in the church his whole life) were sealed in the temple. My parents were able to attend, and shared some of the miracle that took place there. My personal opinion is that I think she received whatever it was she needed, beyond this life. Anyway–he is right. Eternity is a long time. And, I have made the same decisions you have–but mine has been to stay single rather than marry a Mormon man whom I don’t love–and who doesn’t truly know or love me. I don’t know if I could do what you do–finding oneness within a marriage sharing 2 religions–but I find oneness with myself and the Lord knowing that He’s led me well thus far–so I just keep working to trust in His future guidance.

  3. Kirsten says:

    This may sound trivial but it is something that has bothered me for some time now. In our church-generated ward list, the non-member spouses are left off. It is as if they do not exist in that family! New members to the ward and others who may not know the family think that the person is not married or perhaps widowed. What is wrong with having their names on the ward list. They need to be included as an important part of that family and treated with respect.

    Also, I don’t like the “we’ll get you yet” mentality. There is no respect for that person’s individuality in such a statement. Our interfaith married couples need to be supported and loved, not for the fact that one of the pair isn’t Mormon, but rather for the fact that they are a committed couple.

  4. Deborah says:

    Kirsten: FWIW, the ward directory person asked me whether or not I wanted my husbands name included.

    Here’s a firm decision I made that raised eye-brows initially: no hometeachers. Visiting Teachers — sure. I am a Mormon woman and this is part of the RS program. Home teachers? Awkward. Here’s what my husband said one month into marraige when he took a message for me:

    “And just who are these man calling wanting to come visit you?” 🙂

    My faith is not my husbands, so I wouldn’t involve him in home teaching visits. And having two men come just to visit me to inquire about my family’s needs while my husband is out or hanging out in his study? Not happening. I saw the logic instantly, but it took me a little longer to convince the powers that be that this was, in fact, a good choice 🙂 (and I subscribe the best of motives to their perplexity!) Other women in my situation, though, might choose differently.

  5. BL says:

    Thank you for your article, it was honest and articulate and very appropriate for me right now. I’ve been dating someone for awhile who isn’t LDS and has wanted to get married for some time, and I’ve agonized over the decision much like you did. I’m in a somewhat similar situation – getting my Ph.D., having difficulty finding Mormon men who aren’t threatened or turned off by my education and ambition. The situation definitely highlights the question that sometimes love is not enough – though, as you say, of course it’s a requirement. The confusing question then is whether the person you love the most is also the best to marry.

    Like you said, it’s clearly about supporting your spouse in their own endeavors and both being willing to make sacrifices and compromises. My difficulty is determining what is appropriate to ask for – we come from such different worlds, it’s hard for him to know why certain things are so important to me, and hard for me to know how difficult it is for him to give them.

    It’s hard for me to swallow resigning anything in the eternities – I just have to believe that God loves us and will make things possible when we do our best. Of course, I’m in a state where I want to believe that marrying the man I’m in love with won’t come back to haunt me later, so I may not be the most objective judge on that one…

  6. G says:

    this was a beautiful and thoughtful post, so glad I stopped by today!

    I must admit, thought, that it hurts when members talk despairingly about the hereafter when married to a non-member (or applicable situation). I have a hard time believing in in a God who uses such criteria.
    I am not trying to dismiss or downplay anyone’s beliefs… I guess I am just trying to say I believe that you and your husband will be okay, and that God is more liberal than we think (I think I heard Elder Holland say that.) For what that’s worth, there you go.

  7. D. says:

    I appreciated this post. I too am married to a husband who is not a member of the church. He is a wonderful husband, father and man. Early in our marriage I would worry terribly about eternity. Now (20 years later), I have more peace and understanding about our eternity. One day, in the early years, I was pondering how I had come to a place where I was married to a non-member. That was not what was expected of me. I was from a very active family of generations of mormons. I was a good girl, had always tried to do what was right . . . why hadn’t I chosen to marry in the temple? Then the thought popped into my mind “This isn’t only your story”. This story includes my husband too – and the blessings that have come to him via our relationship and his involvement with my family are amazing. I don’t take credit at all but I know that if he weren’t in my life, he would not be the same person he is today. This story is about him too. A message from President Hinckley in the Friend magazine also made me feel peace. Paraphrasing, he said: For those of you who don’t have “forever families” right now, Heavenly Father loves you and knows about you and wants you to have an eternal family, keep doing what is right and things will be ok.
    I agree that normal kindness and friendship work best with non-member spouses. We don’t do missionaries at my house but home teachers have been great with him, we’ve been really lucky in that area. Also, I know that sometimes people feel sorry for me, particularly during lessons about eternal marriage etc. You don’t have to feel sorry for me! I’m happy and extremely blessed in my marriage, and at peace with my situation. As an amusing side note regarding non-member spouses on the ward list, he is the only one from our family listed on our list, I’m not even there and I’m the member!

  8. Deborah says:

    D — thank you. The comment “This isn’t only your story” really resonated with me . . .

  9. Kiri Close says:


    This is a great article. I’m married to a NM myself, and frankly, I couldn’t be happier. The LDS/non-LDS little boys I fraternized amongst before I married basically…sucked. I’ve had so many bad experiences with LDS/nonLDS guys before I tied the knot. And then there was Rob by some act of God.

    I’m not saying Rob poops ice cream. I’m saying I’m a better Kiri with him around. And I poop happier myself! He, too, will say he is happier with me as his life partner, eternal companion.

    True, it’s been difficult to explain to other LDS who are extremely judgemental and brainlessly quick-to-fix our duo-dom (yet they later shamefully admit their own LDS marriages suffer from unhealthy addictions; disloyalty; lack of love, communication, & mutual respect; sexual/verbal/battererd abuse; and even divorce—the whole gamut).

    But over the last 6 years we’ve been together as man&wife, I’ve learned that I don’t need other small-minded, unhappy LDS a**holes to ruin our marriage with their inherently condescending remarks. I usually nip an unsuspecting zealot in the bud by immediately correcting the “we’ll get you yet!” kind of comments right after they’ve been said. It’s comical to watch them fight from looking embarrassed (ahhh…sweet satisfaction).

    So that’s a little bit as to how I’m handling my NM husband who, yes, has made several concessions (as i have for him) toward my testimonial devoutness.

    But that’s who we are right now and though I won’t ever presume that I’ve got it all figured out, I no longer wonder if my baby&I are worthy of God’s eternal doors post-death. That honor is already ours even now. I can feel it.

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