Exponent Classics: Married to a "NM"
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?