It's time we began basing our relationship on love, not religion.
As a native of Salt Lake City, I was surrounded by religion on all sides, particularly the Mormon religion. My parents were Mormon, my grandparents were Mormon, my cousins were Mormon, and my brothers and sisters were Mormon. Even my closest friends were Mormon. And I was Mormon.
Like most religions, there are different types of Mormons. There are Mormons who no longer want to be Mormon, Mormons who aren’t active Mormons but still consider themselves to be Mormon, and Mormons who try to live Mormonism to its fullest. My family belonged to that last group. Nobody in my family was ever inactive and that includes cousins and second cousins. We all went on missions (if male), married other Mormons in our early 20s, and began to multiply and replenish the earth as best and often as we could.
And yet here I am in my early 40s and things aren't so clear for me anymore.
My religion has always been one of the most important parts of my life. I voluntarily gave up two years of my life to serve a Mormon mission and even though things aren't so clear to me now, I would do it all over again because of the lessons I learned on that mission. But life has a way of needling itself into a person's soul and making one choose what is most important in life and I've chosen my family as the most important part of my life, even more important than my lifelong beliefs.
My wife grew up an agnostic girl from California who moved into Utah during highschool after her parents divorced. In her new-to-Utah eyes, Mormonism was a divisive force that classified kids in her highschool as Mormon or non-Mormon. The Mormons didn't associate with the non-Mormons and the non-Mormons resented the Mormons. In our case, physical attraction had a way of putting the Mormon and non-Mormon classification to the side and shortly after my mission I began to date the woman who would someday become my wife. A year into dating, my wife made the choice to be baptized into Mormonism and we were married soon after with plans to start our family as soon as possible.
My wife's decision to be baptized wasn't one she took lightly. It was only after my family made it clear that I could not date a non-Mormon girl that she considered joining the Mormon Church. She also knew how important my religion was to me and she knew I wouldn’t allow myself to marry a non-Mormon, so she initiated the missionary discussions and set her own date to be baptized. Once she was baptized she became fully committed to Mormonism and we began our lives as husband and wife under the guidance and direction of the Mormon faith. She sacrificed her religious autonomy to become my wife.
After our wedding, everything in my life was going according to plan. I graduated from college, got a decent job, bought a house, and had a few kids. But after almost 20 years together, everything fell apart. My wife left the Mormon Church, my job stagnated, and my wife decided she didn't want to be married to me anymore.
I still remember the day. In tears, my wife informed me that she no longer wanted to be a part of the Mormon Church. She didn't want to go to church on Sundays. She didn't want to pray before dinner. She didn't want to have the missionaries over for meals. And she didn't want me to try to bring her back to the fold. It was all a shock to me because I didn’t have any indication prior to that phone call that my wife had been unhappy in the Mormon Church, but now that I've had a chance to think about it I don't know how she was able to survive as a Mormon as long as she did.
Together, we were active members of the Mormon Church for nearly two decades. We attended five different wards throughout that time and participated in Sunday meetings and other church activities. We showed up on time to our Sunday meetings, and we actively participated in our callings. We even went out of our way to invite others into our home in hopes we could fellowship them into membership. Despite our heavy involvement in the Mormon Church, my wife made a total of one friend from church over a 15 years. Just one. And she's not the kind of person who struggles to make friends. My wife can take a trip to a random mall on a Saturday and come home with two friends, but send my wife to church every Sunday for 20 years and she'll come home feeling hoplessly lost and alone.
I'm the partner in our marriage who struggles to make friends. As an introvert, I'm completely comfortable with the two or three good friends I have in this world, so I don't go out of my way to look overly-friendly at church. But I still made more friends over that 20 year time span than my wife did. Why? I don't know. It seemed like other lifelong Mormons didn't know how to handle my wickedly smart and outspoken wife. Her honesty about the trials and struggles she faced in her life only seemed to make them uncomfortable. Members kept their distance from her, especially when she was openly struggling with faith and depression. The more she spoke up looking for solidarity and friendship, the more they backed away. My family and friends weren't raised to talk about their feelings and emotions. We were told that our weaknesses were simply a lack of faith and that we should pray harder or come more closely to the Lord for comfort. Unfortunately, this method of thinking is pervasive in the Mormon religion, forcing many of those who struggle to gird up their loins and put on a happy face.
As my wife suffered through a pretty serious bout of depression, she made the decision to try and end our marriage. For months she desperately sought someone within our church "family" she could turn to, but all she seemed to find were stoic-faced women dutifully going about their lives as wives, mothers, and servants of the Lord. The women she came across were either unable or unwilling to admit that marriage was really, really hard, and she began to believe she was the problem. No one was ever willing to offer up advice on what to do when praying harder didn't seem to help, so she left. She left church. She left me. And she left the life we had built together, convinced I'd be better off without her.
After several weeks away, my wife returned home with the hopes of repairing our marriage, under the agreement that religion was not to be involved. We were to rely on each other and not an institution where you are seen as a failure if you have marriage troubles (although no one would ever admit such things out loud). As we picked up the pieces of our broken hearts and began to piece our lives back together, the religious things that had been so routine, the things we did—not because we enjoyed them, but because we were expected to do them—fell by the wayside. Six months have passed since I made my own decision to stop attending church, and our family is happier than it ever was before. I haven't officially quit the Mormon Church, but I'm most certainly not to the level that is expected of me as a return missionary and lifelong member. I'm somewhere in-between, and I've never been here before. I don't actively participate in church, but I still consider myself to be Mormon. My religion is still very important to me. It has left me with an unbelievable amount of guilt, but I have my my wife and my kids to think about. And letting my firm grip on Mormonism go has freed me to spend more quality time with all of them. The loosened grip has also allowed me to recognize more easily some of the flaws with the people of the Mormon Church as a whole, the little idiosyncrasies my wife always struggled with, but I refused to acknowledge.
Twenty years ago my wife became Mormon for me, and now it's my turn to take a step back and view life from her religious perspective. It's also time we began basing our relationship on the on the love, trust, and mutual respect we have for each other rather than the guilt, expectations, and presumptions of religion. Our marriage may have been built upon a religious foundation, but I'm grateful that when that foundation came crashing down my wife and I were still standing there, wanting to be with each other regardless of the circumstances.