Women Have a Greater Stake in Keeping their Marriages Together: Vulnerability Part II

by Caroline

After writing and reading all the comments on my last post on women’s vulnerability, I articulated something to myself for the first time. Perhaps I always knew this, but I had never put it into words – that Mormon women have a greater stake in keeping their marriages together than Mormon men.

I say this because of the replace-ability issue. My husband could rather easily replace me. If we divorced, there would be a long line of high quality, smart, good Mormon women who would jump at the chance of marriage to a nice, responsible Mormon guy like him. Even with his two children and alimony payments to me.

However, the situation would be markedly different for me. The chances that I would find a high quality Mormon man who would be willing to take on a woman with two children, a woman whose post-childbirth body is not what it once was, a woman whose earning potential (which was never all that great) is decreasing rapidly the longer she stays out of the work force to raise children, well… they aren’t great. They’re downright grim, I’d surmise.

I don’t bring nearly as much to the table as I once did, when I was slim, young, unencumbered, and getting my graduate degree. Mike, of course, isn’t as young as he once was (though he still looks almost identical to the 26 year old I married), he’s not unencumbered, but he sure would bring a lot to the table in the form of his paycheck, which has only increased as his career has progressed.  And of course, as a Mormon man, his pool of Mormon people from which to find a mate would be far greater than mine.

So all this cold clinical evaluating of our divergent opportunities should a divorce occur has made me think to myself, “Holy cow, I better keep this thing together.”  Not that I’m thinking of letting it fall apart – I adore Mike and love being married.* But I do wonder how many other women, women who are not married to such nice guys as Mike, likewise look at their options should a divorce occur and choose to put up with unkindness or irresponsibility, or who knows what else in their marriages.

All this also leads me to another point I’ve been thinking about – how glad I am that the Mormon church does emphasize the importance of having one partner. Of course, there are situations where divorce is absolutely the best thing, but overall, I really appreciate the focus on finding ways to try to make marriages work, despite difficulties. I think that might slightly mitigate my vulnerability, as a woman married to a great guy who could easily find someone else.

What are your thoughts about this issue of replace-ability? Do you agree that women have a greater stake in keeping marriages together, that women are more easily replaced?

And what are your thoughts about the positives and negatives of church teachings to work through problems in marriages?

Single women, how do you view the Mormon pool issue? Do you feel at a disadvantage compared to the men because of the greater number of single Mormon women?

*I don’t mean in any way to imply in this post that leading a single life is an awful possibility. I know several single people who find much meaning, joy, and fulfillment in their lives. I’m just speaking as a person that really likes being married and appreciates the benefit of having a partner around to help raise children.


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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21 Responses

  1. D'Arcy says:

    I think it was two years ago that I realized if I wanted someone as educated, dedicated, active, and intelligent as I am, I would probably have to start looking outside of the church for marriage. Mostly because the men who fit into these categories were “good” guys and had already found their spouse in a timely manner after their missions. Of course, there have been a few exceptions, but on the whole, this seems to be the norm.

    For those who crave a temple marriage (which I did at the time) this leaves them in a hopeless state because we just aren’t taught how to date or seek after non-members and if we do date a non-member (my last boyfriend was not religious at all) we have a lot of explaining to do about who we and the lack of relationship experiences we have had.

    I have witnessed, first hand, (as I am sure we all have) my single friends over the years

    1. Settle for someone much less cabable and intelligent and driven as they are because the man is “mormon” and they want to seal the deal of getting to the Celestial Kingdom.

    2. Divorce after only a few years of failed marriage. The husbands have gone on to remarry (one of them recently after only 7 months of divorce) and my the newly divorced women are looked upon as “damaged” goods. Rarely are they as date-able after a divorce. I’ve seen rare instances where this isn’t the case, but again, the norm is that they don’t date/remarry very easily.

    It’s a hard trend to look at in society and seems to be much more prevelant in really male-driven cultures.

  2. G says:

    great post caroline. I will need to organize my thoughts a bit before responding (have already typed then deleted twice now) but thank you for writing this.

  3. Ziff says:

    Great points, Caroline. To the degree that divorce is harder on women (economically, and typically taking the children most/all of the time) this would give men more leverage in marriage. This is a cold way to put it, but it’s like how among roommates, whoever cares most about cleaning ends up doing it. Whichever spouse values the marriage most will end up doing the work to keep it together.

    Of course, if men were really rational, we would perhaps be more leery of divorce for health reasons. After all, doesn’t marriage make men far healthier (while reducing women’s health somewhat–sorry!)?

    The problem of more women than men being in the Church, thus giving men more leverage in dating and in marriage, is one I’ve posted about, but I don’t have any good answer.

  4. Keri Brooks says:

    I can only comment from the perspective of being single, but your thoughts ring true to me. I’m only 27, which is still young and date-able in society at large, but which puts me at a huge disadvantage in the church. There just aren’t as many single LDS men as there are women, so I’m facing stiff competition. This undermines my ability to be friends with LDS women (both single and married). A lot of them seem to see me as a threat. The single women see me as competition for a shrinking pool of men, and the married women seem to think I’m out to steal their husbands.

    I’m considering the idea of dating outside the church, since I think it’s a more viable chance. (The LDS guys are rational. Why would they go for someone who is 27 with a lot of student loan debt when they could have someone who is 21 with little to no debt.) It pains me that I might not get a temple marriage that way, but I won’t have a temple marriage if I never marry, either. (Of course, one “helpful” lady in my ward told me that if I marry outside the church, I’ll go to hell and drag my children along with me. I fought the urge to tell her I would save her a seat.)

  5. Keri Brooks says:

    Oops..that’s what I get for not proofreading. The first paranthetical in the second paragraph should end with a question mark, not a period. It’s been one of those days.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    What a timely follow-up. I’ve been thinking about this a lot today.
    I have a friend whose husband recently left her and her kids and she doesn’t know what to do. She has no education, no career, and all her children are under age 6. When I think about her situation I’m angered and terrified. The worst part about it is that her husband is one of the kindest, best men I’ve ever known. If this man will choose to leave his family, then it can happen to anyone.

    Caroline, while I see your point about the church emphasizing working on the marriage, I think the culture of the church counteracts any good there. Friends my age are mostly uneducated, young mothers without careers. Even if we are counseled to stay married, as women we are much more likely to stay in abusive or damaging marriages because of our vulnerability.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    If I were a single Mormon woman, I think I’d look to dating outside of the Church. I understand the hesitancy to do that; when I was younger I never would have considered such a thing. But the odds are just too overwhelmingly negative, to the point of being almost impossible, if one insists on only dating LDS men.

    If I were in that position as a man, my first preference would be to date women who are LDS, if only because being Mormon comes with a lot of cultural baggage, and to me it would be a great advantage not to have to explain every silly little Mormon thing I do. But if I couldn’t find a Mormon woman who would be interested in me, I wouldn’t hesitate to date outside the Church. Such a prospect no longer strikes me as a bad thing.

  8. aReadersBuddy says:

    I’m sorry, but the whole:

    “I am an intelligent, active LDS woman in my late 20s or early 30s so there are no decent men for me.”

    Gets a bit old after a while.

    A bit of a bio for me.
    I am male. I got married later in life. I have advanced degrees in highly scientific fields. I have had a high paying job for a long time. I am in decent shape. I am very active in Church.

    Tons of the single LDS women I knew wouldn’t give me the time of day until they found out I was getting serious with someone. Then all of a sudden they realized I was in fact an extremely good catch.

    The women that had routinely blown me off in the past were suddenly asking me “when are you finally going to ask me out?”.

    LDS women that consider themselves “educated” need to be less self important and have realistic standards and expectations.

    Let me stress that I am not griping. I love my wife and baby girl. I loved my life when I was single and had a great time dating.

    I got married late because finding an LDS woman that was active, highly intelligent, and not overly judgemental was next to impossible.

    Most of the women I got to be good friends with initially judged me to be ‘unfit’ within the first 20 minutes after we had met. Two or three months later, when they finally got to know me, they changed their minds. By that point however, their overall mindset had pushed them off of my list.

    Like I said, I had a great time when I was single. Decent men constantly try to make themselves attractive to good women. For some reason single LDS women that feel they are ‘just right the way they are’ seem to have no notion of what flirting is, and don’t think they have to “play the game”.

    I will tell you this right now. Smart women that ‘play the game’ get married. Women that are ‘above such nonsense’ only give guys a 20 minute window to prove themselves, and stay single way too long.

    Give a guy a break before you judge him, and flirt a little. I will take you miles.

  9. Flygirl says:

    As a single woman, I think I stayed way too long in the Mormon pool. The logistics really are just that it is impossible for a majority of the single women to find a “good Mormon guy” to marry after a certain age. And finding one after I died was just never very comforting to me.
    As I did start to venture into dating non-Mormons, I was amazed. Amazed that there were good guys out there, but more amazed that many of them actually seemed interested in me. I’ve always felt like Mormon guys didn’t really like me or want to talk to me, and I’m a reasonably likeable person. 🙂 It’s actually been a huge boost in my self confidence.
    I felt like in Mormon dating (especially in the “older” wards) there was the attitude by some men that women were lucky to get any attention from them, and often girls were clamoring over the few men, literally forming a line to talk to them after church. There are good people inside and out of the church, but I do think that the ratios increase the vulnerability of women. I wish the rhetoric to date inside the church wasn’t so strong because I think it boxes a lot of people in, when they may have better opportunities elsewhere. And maybe if dating outside the church was more accepted, then women in the church would be more valued, both in and out of marriage.

  10. Ann says:

    I have no doubt that if he applied himself, my husband could easily replace me within a few weeks. However, he’s an introvert who hates dating and hates making phone calls. That’s how he happened to be single and 37 when I came along.

    On the other hand, at my age, and with my looks, I would be single until I die, even though I certainly would not restrict myself to dating Mormons.

  11. mb says:

    The phenomenon of “trophy wives” in non-LDS circles that I’m part of point out that this is a universal phenomenon in the U.S. I don’t think that Mormons have a corner on the situation of a greater number of eligible men than eligible women. And my African-American women friends have it even harder.

    I think that the ratio of male and female “eligibles” in all areas of our society does make it easier for men who consider leaving a marriage to feel less threatened by the prospect of singlehood. That, combined with the facts that men generally make more money and that our society propagates the myth that exiting a marriage is easy and painless, makes some men see it as the easier way out of difficulties.

    So, I think the church’s encouragement of men and women to hang in there through the tough times and work to make a marriage good, and the resources they try to muster to help people do that are a helpful counter-balance to the forces in society that make leaving look simpler.

    However, saying that women have a greater stake in keeping a marriage together is only true if you are just counting companionship and economic loss. If you are counting connection with children, men generally end up with the greater loss in that department.

  12. Caroline says:

    D’Arcy, I’m so glad you responded to my question about the imbalance between single males and females. It must be a huge paradigm shift to come to understand that one will have to look outside the church to find a spouse, and you’re right to point out the lack of advice or direction from church leaders about how to go about doing this.

    Thanks, G.

    Ziff, I had heard about that study about marriage keeping men healthier, but I hadn’t heard that the opposite is true women. Hmmmm. I wonder if that’s because childbirth is rough on the body. Thanks for that link. I’m going to check that out.

    Keri, your comment is so interesting. I absolutely see how single Mormon women would perceive you as a threat. But I find it remarkable that so many married women do the same. To me that is telling about the quality of these marriages, if the women are worried about their husbands straying. Or maybe it really does speak to the vulnerability these women feel because they know how easy it would be for their husbands to replace them. And finally, what a ridiculous statement by that old lady. I do hope that among most Mormons there’s greater sensitivity about interfaith marriages.

    Jess, your poor friend. She’s the type I’m really thinking of when I write these posts about women’s vulnerability. And I’m so glad you pointed out the downside about the Church’s emphasis on keeping marriages together. I was going to put in a sentence or two about how that could be damaging to people (particularly women) who really need to leave bad marriages, but I thought my post was getting too long. So I’m glad you pointed that out. 🙂

    I’m with you, Kevin. I too would choose to date outside the church if I were to become single, though like you I think I’d prefer a Mormon. There’s a lot of safety and security wrapped up in that for me.

    Flygirl, I love hearing that you are having such positive experiences dating outside the church. You said, “I wish the rhetoric to date inside the church wasn’t so strong because I think it boxes a lot of people in, when they may have better opportunities elsewhere.” Amen!! I’m a fan of marriage, so I like the idea of broadening people’s pools to find a spouse, if that’s what they would like.

    Ann, that’s exactly how I feel. 🙂 And I too have a husband that shudders at the idea of re-entering the dating pool. Thank goodness.

    mb, great point about the trophy wife phenomenon in the greater culture. Though I might argue that Mormon women are especially (economically) vulnerable because so many had babies young and didn’t have a chance to develop a career. Would you agree? I also love your point about the loss men experience in these divorces as they become weekend dads.

  13. Kelly Ann says:

    Thanks Caroline for another excellent post. I do think women have more to loose if a marriage fails. It makes me think a lot about what marriage is. I’m still collecting my thoughts on this matter but there does seem to be more of a stigma attached to a woman than a man that comes with divorce. As for the numbers issue, one bishop i had talked about how the numbers start the same but more Mormon men go inactive and that if we could bring them back, we wouldn’t have a problem … But since I don’t know how to do that, I made a decision a couple years ago to date a little outside the Mormon pool (in order to date much at all). It has been good and bad. One of these days I’ll write about my experience.

  14. mb says:

    I wouldn’t say that LDS women are “especially” vulnerable. If the LDS demographics in general are like what they are where I live I’d say they are “middle-of-the-road” vulnerable. A large percentage of the stay-at-home LDS mothers of young children in my stake have at least some college or technical training under their belts, often due to the church’s encouragement that they get as much education as possible. When they find themselves single again, their choice to stay home with children makes them less ready to step immediately up to the plate than their career-working counterparts. However, due to their decision to pursue education before staying home with children, they are generally better prepared to support a family than the women (currently stay at home or working outside the home) in our community who did not do any post-secondary education or dropped out of high school.

    Certainly, choosing to be at home full-time does make a move back into the workforce at a living wage more difficult whether you are LDS or not. However, it does not make it as difficult as failing to pursue post-secondary education or training does. So I appreciate the church’s encouragement that we get as much education as we can. It decreases the vulnerability factor.

  15. Dora says:

    My first comment in my new ward’s Sunday Schoo, was in response to the lesson on the proclamation to the family. My new ward seems overwhelmingly conservative and TBM. Anyway, the teacher queried the class, “Why do you think marriage and family are being attacked so strongly these days, that made the POTF necessary?”

    I might have viewed it in a slightly different manner. I responded that this is probably the first time in history that the majority of women (at least in the US), aren’t dependent on men (either father, husband or male relative) for survival. Meaning, that marriage is a choice. Women can choose to remain single instead of marry whatever Joe comes along. Women can choose to leave marriages that threaten their lives or sanity. Of course, this means that men can choose to leave as well, but hasn’t that always been one of their choices anyway? These days, people have to choose to marry, and choose to stay that way. I think that it weeds out a lot of weak marriages. I hope that it makes the surviving marriages stronger and more worthwhile.

  16. mb says:

    Perceptive, Dora. I think you’ve hit on another pertinent, hitherto overlooked, reason for the proclamation.

    Jessawhy, sound like the level of education of young LDS mothers where you are is different from where I am. What do you suppose makes that difference from location to location among young female members of the same faith?

  17. Tracy M says:

    Oh man. My head is swimming and I feel a little sick. No secret to regulars in the Mormon blogs, I’m in the middle of a divorce. It’ll be final here very shortly, and I’m pondering these exact questions.

    I’ve been out of the work-world for almost a decade. My college experience was in the arts- never highly employable, even less so now, with not only my ten years at home, but with a recession. I am 37, with three kids, and my body isn’t what it once was either. I am committed to my church membership…

    And I am terrified of what I may find when I jump back in the dating pool. I am all too aware of the odds against me. The dating pool for me, at my age, is other divorced men, or older widows. Again, my head swims and I feel lightheaded.

    But how does an LDS woman date outside the church, how does one explain her promises, her position, her unwillingness to jump in the sack? I mean, I’m clearly not a virgin anymore- three babies advertise that fact- a non-LDS man isn’t going to understand my stance easily. I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.

    I need to go breathe into a paper bag now.

  18. Caroline says:

    Kelly Ann,
    I would love to read someday about your experiences dating outside the church. I don’t expect to be single in the future, but if I am, I am quite sure I would be dating outside the Church. As Tracy M brought up, there are so many difficulties that that possibility presents, and yet… I know quite a number of women who have married outside the Church and made it work. I would love to hear some of their thoughts about how one navigates those waters.

    mb, good points about the fact that Mormon women often do have at least some college education under their belts. That certainly does give them a leg up over their non-college educated counterparts in the event that they have to find work.

    Dora, I’m so glad you said that in R.S. I am grateful that we are living in a time when women can survive and succeed without being married, and therefore can choose to maintain their good relationships and choose to leave those that are miserable. So grateful.

    Tracy M, I am sending out my best and warmest vibes to you. I hope that all goes smoothly as you transition to this new phase of your life. I don’t know what your plans are professionally, but I will tell you the story of one of my relatives, whose husband became addicted to drugs and then bankrupted their young family. She divorced him and with a B.A in religion got a good job with benefits at an insurance company as a customer service person. She’s been working there for the last 10 years or so, and life has worked out for her. She even remarried a Mormon man a couple of years ago. Anyway, I don’t know if that’s helpful, but I like to think of her when I see women being slapped in the face with miserable situations. I hope lots of new and exciting possibilities are in your future as well.

  19. Tracy M says:

    Caroline, I haven’t written about it publicly (yet) but that is exactly what my husband has done. I’m still waiting for all the dust to settle to see exactly how bad the damage is, but it’s bad. Thanks for the story and positive prayers.

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