"We wish we were Obi-Wan Kenobi, and for the most part we are, but there's a little Darth Vader in all of us." -Chris Stevens
Question #89505 posted on 05/02/2017 6:10 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

For those of you who have left the Church or no longer attend regularly: How much contact do you still have with the Church? How have you navigated your relationship with the Church in the context of your immediate family? I'm particularly interested in hearing from anyone who's living in a mixed-faith marriage.

I've been trying to navigate this world for several years now, but I can still use all the help I can get.

-uncertain future

A:

Hi friend,

I resigned from the Church so they would leave me alone and I avoid churchy stuff as much as I possibly can, because I find it unpleasant. My parents and in-laws are still Mormon, so I'm a normal, respectful person and don't make a fuss about it when I'm with them. I wouldn't go to church with them or a church-sponsored event or anything, but I don't care if they talk about their callings or want to bless the food. Their house, their traditions. I hope that they likewise respect my decisions. It seems that they do, because I've even gotten a tattoo since leaving and neither my parents nor parents-in-law batted an eye. Maybe they were in shock?

My spouse did not leave at the same time I left, so we had a mixed-faith marriage for a while. It felt difficult at times, however, what made it work for us was the assurance that we loved each other for who we were, not for our religious preferences. We were honest with each other regarding our feelings about God, the Church, historical and social issues within the Church, religion in general, and how we related to it all. What I wanted (and still want, and always want) was for my spouse to be happy. If being part of the Church made them happy and helped them be a good person, I was willing and ready to support them. If they wanted to convert to another religion, that would be fine. If they decided to be an atheist or agnostic, I would be okay with that too. My spouse felt (and feels) the same way about me. They eventually left the Church as well, because that's what felt most comfortable for them.

I do want to say that, even under the best of circumstances, navigating a mixed-faith relationship or family situation is awkward and hard. To save your emotional and mental health, you will need to set boundaries for yourself. However, to keep your relationships intact, you will need to maintain respect for your loved ones as you do so. If you still participate at all in the Church, but feel uncomfortable with certain things, it's okay and necessary to let your family know that you're not comfortable doing certain things; just remember to be tactful and kind. If you don't attend at all and feel quite uncomfortable with most Church-related things, that's also okay! You can make your preferences known while also letting your family and friends know that you love them and that you're not trying to change their religion. Show respect and kindness for others; you're likely to earn it in return.

I will also warn you that not everybody will be nice about this, even if you are the nicest person in the world. You've probably encountered this already. People will question your motives and possibly say quite unpleasant things about you. I want to tell you not to feel bad about them, and to ignore them, but it will still probably hurt anyway. Just know that that reflects poorly on them, not you. Do what's right for you and keep moving forward.

Marzipan, whose opinions and thoughts do not reflect the official policies of BYU or the LDS Church

so don't get friggin' mad

A:

Dear hang in there:

For the record, you will likely get more candid answers if you shoot us an email/stalk us on Twitter/go haunt non-BYU-sponsored forums where we hang out. The 100 Hour Board is a BYU family, and questions like these can put one in mind of trying to hide a coffee habit from a beloved aunt or to not swear when the first person you encounter coming back to campus is in a My Little Pony tie. 

I have the most intensely individualistic, private family I know. Because of this, if I don't bring up religion, they don't. 

That might be the best realization I've had since the election, so thanks. 

---Portia, working out her own salvation

A:

Dear hang in there,

I'm still active and attending (though, with nuanced and complicated feelings about the church coming out of my ears), BUT I wanted to write in because my wife is currently writing a book for marriages where one partner has left the church. There are a number of really good books about mixed faith marriages. But Mormonism, with a strong cultural/doctrinal focus on families and a concrete vision of eternal marriage, can be complicated in its own specific ways. Over most of the last year, she's interviewed a large number of couples where one person has left the church and a number of LDS marriage therapists. I asked her what she wanted to contribute and, frankly, we could talk for days about this stuff. Here's a few pointers though. I jotted down and expanded on her answers.

First, some good news. A very well-known marriage researcher Jon Gottman found, empirically, that contrary to what you might expect, couples with even dramatic personal differences (political, cultural, religious, ethnic) showed no correlation to the presence of differences and the level of satisfaction in that marriage. Successful marriages aren't about sameness - they're based on respect, connection, empathy, differentiation (kind of what I was driving at in my response in Board Question #89434). 

The major things that makes it hard when someone in the relationship leaves the church is if the couple can't respect each other's decisions. When the person who stays in the church can't respect the reasons why their spouse left, or if the person who left can't respect why, in the face of the concerns or feelings they have about the church, their spouse would want to stay a part of it. To be clear, this doesn't mean having respect for the beliefs or tenets of Mormonism or (and I know this isn't an accurate way to say this but go with me) the tenants of agnosticism or atheism. What I mean is respect for the beliefs, convictions or practices that provide something of value to your spouse and their reasons for wanting to be honest to themselves. 

Don't discount therapy, even if things feel "fine." There are a number of extremely qualified marriage therapists who are themselves LDS and whose clientele consist of mixed-faith couples just like you (and they almost all do Skype sessions. Contact me via the editors if you would like some recommendations). One of those therapists is a close friend of mine who said something along the lines of "People tell me things like, 'My marriage was ruined when my spouse left the church.' No, your marriage was ruined because you had a lack of mutual respect." Therapists are there to be impartial, supportive sounding boards who can help you work out your own issues so that you can work out your mutual issues. 

I have mountains of respect for these couples, a number of them friends of ours, who were super open with my wife during their interviews. They are so committed to making their relationships work and, because they really are invested in each other, they are making it work. There are so many jagged little issues to work through: tithing, Sunday activities, church activities, home teachers, taking kids to church, baptisms/ordinances, missions, coffee or alcohol. But, and this is just my own, maybe naive take on it, that long list of issues doesn't represent a minefield, any one of which could detonate and destroy the whole thing. It's just unexpected speed bumps, and you should take them slow, one at a time, but are definitely something you can overcome.

You should definitely check out this marriage blog series about couples where one of the spouses left the church. There are four different relationships, two written by spouses who left the church and two from those who stayed. Lots of really great advice, like this:

Aaron’s nonjudgmental listening and question-asking are the best things he could have done for me as I struggled. I was feeling so tender and raw and he was earnestly trying to understand where I was coming from rather than convince me of his point of view or change my mind. I knew he was hurting from my changes in belief but he never put that on me or pointed fingers. He has defended me and bolstered me all along the way.

Conversely, I try to be supportive of his continued belief. He finds peace and joy in the church and I have no desire to rob him of those feelings by pushing my own agenda. 

In classic Board fashion, I talked a lot about something I'm not an expert on, but have a lot of interest in. Take all of this with appropriate grains of salt. The last thing my wife wanted to share was some general life/marriage advice. "Here's the equation for happiness: control what you can control, tolerate the rest. The one for unhappiness: base your happiness on things that you cannot control. Things you have control over? Your behavior, how easy you are to live with, asking for what you want, and your own faith journey. Focus on that." Generally good advice.

- Rating Pending (who in real life doesn't pretend to be an expert in things he's not an expert in nearly as much)

A:

Dear the future is always uncertain,

For the most part, I've been really lucky in my experiences with my family since leaving the Church. To the point where I jokingly refer to myself as the heathen child, and if we happen to be out of milk on a Sunday, I will make a trip to the store in order to save their immortal souls (yes, yes, I know that's not how it works, but levity is important too). I'm very respectful of my parents' house rules like no alcohol, smoking, etc. in the house, and at the same time they have made a couple of concessions, like getting me a coffee machine and letting me keep it in the kitchen, and not getting angry at me for my stupid, stupid cigarette addition, but helping me with any/all attempts to quit (seriously kids, don't smoke. It is the WORST to quit. I am not kidding)

When I first moved back in with my parents (where I am still living because rent in Portland is ridiculous, I work for a t-shirt printing company, and I'm also in the middle of trying to get a second degree), there was some strain. Especially since I wasn't as open about my inactivity or lack of belief in the Church. This led to a few really hard and ultimately candid conversations with my mom who can be just so unbelievably blunt at times. I was attending Church sporadically at the time since I still had some independent study classes I had to wrap up and so needed an Ecclesiastical Endorsement in order to finish those/graduate.

Once my degree wasn't this thing hanging over my head, and I didn't need to worry about being kicked out of school or not finishing my degree, I could breathe a bit easier and was able to have a better clarity in making decisions than before. I realized that whatever decision I made needed to be made with honesty in mind. Honesty to myself, my parents, family, friends, etc. I couldn't keep hiding or lying to myself or others. Even if it changed things, even if it ruined things. 

In many ways, leaving the Church mirrored my experiences in coming out as gay. It was something I had to wrap my head around; a part of my identity that I had to take another look at and decide what to make of it all. And it was something where I planned for the worst case scenario before hand - just in case. In the end, I was lucky and loved and accepted. My parents are hardly perfect, but like to think that if God exits he would be proud of how supportive my parents have been. 

I very, very rarely attend Church any more. The reality is the odds of some topic that would irritate, upset, or anger me coming up is middle to high. I just don't want to deal with it. To that end, if/when I go to Church it is usually because I'm there to support someone else from my family then for any other reason. I think the blessing of my niece last year was the last time, but I could be wrong. Still there is something to be said for tradition, and I always start my school years and transition periods with a Father's Priesthood Blessing. I also still find comfort in a handful of scripture passages as well. 

Alas, not everything is sunshine and rainbows. For me personally, there has definitely been some tense moments with the extended family especially. I think it does help that I can talk philosophically about the Church, and I really do my best not to step on people's toes. Additionally, I don't bring up topics on my own. In short, I'm not confrontational, but also I will freely express my opinion when it is asked for. Also, while most know I'm not active in the Church, very few (to my knowledge) know outright that I've had my records removed. I know for certain that would cause some tension. To be honest though, my extended family had some way wilder things to say about me being gay then they have with my inactivity in the Church. 

Additionally, I know it's put a very heavy strain on my parents' marriage. My mom has always been a self-identified "liberal Mormon" with many of her siblings being semi-active or inactive members, while my dad comes from a more conservative family. My mom has had her own period(s) of inactivity and struggles in her youth and I definitely feel like she wishes she could leave but doesn't feel like she can at this point in her life. It's...difficult. I don't really know if I can adequately put it into words, but it feels like my decisions have negatively affected others, and I feel some amount of guilt about that. Rationally I know that my parents are adults and that struggles and fights in marriages rarely come about for one single reason, but I still blame myself for this conflict. 

It's caused a lot of struggle and turmoil with my younger sister, who loves the Church, but also loves her ex-Mormon, lesbian sister and has been struggling to reconcile those two things for the last handful of years. 

The reality is that for better or for worse the Church is a culture in and of itself, and leaving or removing one's self from any culture is no easy task. For the person leaving or the people left behind. 

-Watts

A:

Dear certain you'll be well,

Just around Christmas I decided to visit Hometown to go to a friend's Harry Potter Holiday Party. First of all, it was fantastic. Second of all, I stayed the night with my parents and went to church with them the next day. I only had pants and a punny sweater, and told my dad I was a little worried people might give me weird looks for wearing pants to church. He reassured me they wouldn't, and I got to hear some lovely holiday music. The end!

-Mico, not planning to go back anytime soon

A:

Dear uncertain,

I haven't been open about this with anyone except for close friends and family, but I stopped attending the LDS church a little over a year ago. It was difficult remaining active, it was difficult choosing to stop being active, and it is difficult trying to find new experiences that replace the things that kept me in the Church for many years that are free of the frustrations that ended up nudging me out. It turns out that life is just difficult sometimes.

I'm glad that I really took my time with my decision because I harbor no anger or ill-will about my time I spent in the Church as a result. (I think that if I had been more rushed in my decision that I might not have ended up in the same place.) I loved the Church and I loved my mission when I served it, and I would never consider that time wasted. My decision to "leave" was one that I carefully considered for many, many, many, many hours, and while it still makes my heart ache when I think about the conversations I had to have with my parents and close friends who were disappointed with my decision, I also feel much more honest now that I can be more open about my thoughts and feelings with them.

I've tried a few other churches since I left, but nothing has really sung to me. My mom asks every few weeks if I've found anything different that's made me happy. I know she's holding out for a change of heart, but it means a lot that she's comfortable enough to ask about it.

I've attended church with my family when I've visited home and it hasn't bothered me, so we haven't had to navigate any of those sorts of things. But I will say that the very gradual softening tone from Salt Lake about relationships being more important than church activity is starting to sink in with many members, at least from my vantage point. I know that there can never be support over the pulpit for people leaving because they're uncomfortable, but I hope that kids in the next few years will have a lot less fear in their hearts when they consider the many choices that they have as they grow up and start making decisions about their faith and families.

My last thought is that my empathy for faithful members who are disappointed in friends leaving is virtually limitless, and my experiences over the last 10 years in seeing close friends leave the Church significantly impacted how I chose to tell the people closest to me. To date, I think I only really botched one of those conversations, with someone who happens to be another retired writer who in all likelihood is reading this. I'm sorry, pal. I probably sounded wishy-washy and the moment to tell you in person arrived so much sooner than I was expecting. And the relief of being able to be candid with you afterwards probably made me sound breathlessly excited about the "new world" waiting for me from the outside. That's not how I meant it to come across and it isn't accurate, and I'm sorry if that disappointed you.

I think many of the other writers on this question probably have more constructive things to say if you reach out to them directly. Not that I'm a stupid waste of space, but I think I found myself in a pretty unique set of circumstances to arrive where I did. I'm not discouraging anyone from emailing me directly, but I think most of the other folks here might be better resources on average than me.

Don't rush.

--Gimgimno

P.S. I should also mention my conversation with my bishop. I had an appointment on a weeknight to talk to him and ask to be released from my calling, because at the time I was still attending church nearly every week. At the end of our long conversation, he shocked me with something to the effect of, "You know, I'm not sure how a lot of people would feel about me saying this, but I'm not really worried about you. You're just finding yourself at a time in your life where you're feeling things you haven't felt before. But you're being thoughtful, and you're being reasonable, and you're not doing anything to try and throw away the good things the Church has given you. I hope you find the happiness you're looking for, and know that I'd love to see you sitting in the back row as often as you'd like to come by."

Not what I was expecting from that conversation, but he's gotten me in the back row a few times out of the respect he earned from me, if nothing else. He texted me a few months ago: "Hi [Gimgimno], this is Bishop [Smith-Monson-Young]. It's been a while since we last talked, but I hope you have been well and are finding peace." I'm not saying that every bishop out there is great, but there are some great local leaders out there. To anyone who hasn't been enjoying church and is reading this: if your biggest problem is with local church leadership, consider moving or commuting and seeing how you like church in another area. The Church is too big to leave over local leadership.

A:

Dear navigate,

See also Board Question #86602.

-Cognoscente

A:

Dearest uncertain:

I don't know that I can say we had a fully mixed-faith marriage, but Sauron and I weren't always on the same page. However, we were always entirely open with each other, which I think is crucial in situations like these. We're on the same page now. But this is tough stuff. I've seen many marriages suffer and end because of these struggles, but I've seen others grow, ours included.

I don't know if you're a member of any of the Facebook groups for nuanced/transitioning/mixed-faith Mormons and couples, but if you're not, I highly recommend finding some that work for you. Out of respect to the Board's overlords, I won't recommend them by name, but they're not hard to find. I think I can safely recommend the work of Dr. Kristy Money (http://drkristymoney.com/), who works with mixed-faith couples, writes a blog, has a podcast, etc.  She's also a personal friend from our days as young moms in graduate student housing together, and an all-around fantastic human being. She's associated with Mormon Transitions (http://www.mormontransitions.org/about/), an organization which also supports mixed-faith families and will support both those who want to stay and those who want to leave.

You'll find your peace again.

Much love,

Waldorf (and Sauron)

A:

Dear uncertain, 

I resigned from the church in what I don't think was the best possible situation, considering my relationship with my family, but at least didn't make anything worse and definitely made me happier (as an extremely far-left woman who struggled with the patriarchal society that is the church). 

My mother (and her entire side of the family) and I are estranged, but we were before I left the church. My dad isn't Mormon and is very progressive, so he obviously didn't have any complaints. I also moved to Las Vegas shortly before I left, so there was never any worry about not fitting in or being ostracized. 

The strange things have all been internal. I've found such a good home in Las Vegas that I don't often find myself in situations related to the church in which I'm uncomfortable. Part of that is because I live downtown, where not many people are religious, let alone super familiar with the church. And part of it is because Las Vegas Mormons tend to be more liberal, or at least accepting, than their Utah counterparts. Where I struggle, though, is with coming to terms with how the church uniquely impacted me. I'm by no means saying that everyone experiences what I have, but as a woman who isn't 100-percent on her sexuality, whose dad is gay and whose favorite people growing up often faced social repercussions for not being involved in the church, I find myself dealing with things emotionally in ways that make me wonder if I would have the same response had I been raised outside of the church (or had never questioned it). 

I can't really think of specifics right now, because it's a feeling that hits me in the moment. But one thing that does come to mind is my relationship with my body and with other people. It took me a long time to be able to wear a tank top in 110-degree Las Vegas weather and not be constantly thinking of my shoulders (or thinking that other people were noticing my shoulders). It took me a long time to learn how to appreciate my emotions. I still struggle with that. And I think most importantly, it took me a long time to learn how to allow myself to feel something that "I'm not supposed to," instead of forcing myself to pretend to be happy or content or satisfied with something just because I was supposed to be. I constantly have to remind myself that I don't have to feel anything other than what I feel. I'm not very good at it yet. I'm used to pretending. 

Feel free to email me at stphgrimes@gmail.com if you'd like.

-Anomalous, who is in no way implying that her experiences are universal