love and marriage (and spouses who change)
Several years ago Elder David Bednar gave a devotional address at BYU where he recounted this story:
“Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.
The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe.”
This account has been on my mind recently.
Seven years ago the man who would become my husband found in me a woman who was quick to observe. I was a return missionary, had a fervent testimony of the gospel and the scriptures, held callings of responsibility, (and had only one earring in each ear). We fell in love and married in the temple.
About two years ago, I had my first alcoholic drink. I have written a little about it here and here if you are interested, but for the purposes of this post all that really matters is that drink. And the subsequent ones I had after that. I didn’t tell my husband when I had that first drink. (Or the second, etc…) That sounds horrifically deceptive, I know. It is one of those things that I think I will always regret. But I simply had no idea how to approach the subject- ask permission? Announce my intention? Neither of those options seemed at all helpful so I went the passive aggressive route and just DID it with the vague idea that I would eventually find a healthy way to bring it up and talk about it with my beloved husband. But always in the back of my mind was the fear… Would he become incensed? Hate me? Hit me? Be devastated, utterly crushed with grief? Would it be the deal-breaker for our marriage?
To make a long story short(er), we were eventually able to talk about it. He didn’t hit me or threaten divorce or fall into a deep depression. We were able to negotiate this change and keep the marriage intact. But going through this experience brought up all sorts of thoughts and issues for me. As exemplified by Elder Bednar’s young man looking for a wife, there is a lot of emphasis on finding “the right someone” to marry. There tends to be much less said about what to do when that special someone changes after marriage. We have the young man’s rejection of a disobedient woman as the model for other singles; but once married what model does the couple have when one of them loses faith? Acceptance of the ‘offending’ spouse’s actions may feel, to the faithful member, like a slight against god or the church. Yet non-acceptance creates incredible strain in the marriage.
Circumstances like this bring up questions of power, control, and respect. Is the marriage egalitarian or does someone “preside“? The patriarch of old declared “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” but in today’s world exactly whose house is it? The husband of a friend of mine insists that she refrain from herbal teas. Out of respect for him, for his house. For women who are non-wage-earners, there may be the pressure of “you can’t buy that stuff with MY money!” But this isn’t just a patriarchal thing. Power plays between the genders can go in both directions.
For many members, this just won’t be an issue in their marriage; neither spouse loses faith, or if one does they simply won’t feel the need to step over any questionable lines. But for some, negotiating these crossings is inevitable and must be dealt with; the challenging question of how much allowance for individual change a marriage can tolerate.
So, what are your thoughts and experiences on the subject? It doesn’t have to be Word of Wisdom specific, that is just the example I have the most experience with (For some couples, a spouse joining or reactivating in the church is the touchy issue). Likewise, it does not have to be marriage specific; similar tensions arise in family settings (siblings, parents, etc), between friends, or in roommate situations.
I know this is sensitive topic, feel free to comment anonymously if you’re more comfortable that way.
(It should go without saying that any comments questioning another person’s personal righteousness are not welcome, but I’m gonna say it anyways; we do have a comment policy. Please adhere to it. Thanks.)