I never thought I’d be in a mixed-faith marriage. We hadn’t even celebrated our first wedding anniversary before my husband told me he no longer identified with most of the teachings of the Church. I was hurt and confused. We both were. I had imagined this honeymoon stage playing out very differently. Rather than focusing on this new exciting thing called marriage, we were trying to compromise on theology, lifestyle, and what felt like our entire future.
Where do we go? How do we navigate this journey? Who do I choose?
“This isn’t fair.”
My husband’s beliefs changed, and as a result I’m the one who suffered the consequences. Or at least that’s what it felt like. It wasn’t until we started to become more open about his changes in beliefs with those around us that I realized I wasn’t the only one suffering. My husband was having a very hard time with this transition too. Though they might have had good intentions, he felt that people were more interested in fixing him and not so much in understanding him. While there are times to have faith-promoting conversations, there are also times, I believe, that are better served by just listening and trying to understand.
That’s when it hit me. Rather than seeing the situation as a dichotomy (he’s either with me or against me), in reality he was just begging to be understood at a deeper level and I was needing that same understanding from him. Navigating a situation that deviates from family and the surrounding community is no easy task. Getting married with the understanding that we shared similar beliefs, only to have his beliefs change and that foundation crumble is no easy task. Feeling “forced” to change a stance on faith because a spouse believes differently is, again, no easy task. It can be complicated, messy, and confusing for all parties involved. I believe both sides deserve more love and understanding.
Prior to this experience, I hadn’t truly considered reasons as to why someone would not want to come to church or choose to doubt their previously “bulletproof” testimony. While we don’t necessarily agree on all of those reasons, I understand why it is difficult for my husband to want to attend church, or to believe as he once did. As I’ve focused more on understanding him and loving him where he currently is with his faith—not where he was or where I hope he’ll be—he too has come to understand me and recognize the ways in which his change in faith has impacted me. Through this process, we’ve come to see that we still share a lot in common. He is still the same man I fell in love with six years ago. Though our ideas about God and spirituality differ, we agree on other core values and still hold each other’s best interests at heart.
It was this act of “moving in” together that changed the dynamic of our situation. I want to emphasize the word together. It took Nick and I—both—setting boundaries, listening to understand (and not just respond), re-evaluating expectations, compromising, and doing our best not to force our own beliefs on one another to see that what we have is worth the wrestle. It was and still very much is a trial and error process, but one that I am happy to continue, as I know Nick is supportive of my faith. And that’s not to say our approach to this situation will be easy. We just blessed our daughter last year. I recognize each new stage will present its own set of difficulties, but I hope by our open communication and desire to respect each other’s beliefs that we will both be able to share our perspectives and do what feels best.
However, I must say, this approach might not be for everyone. As I’ve rubbed shoulders with many others in a similar mixed-faith boat, I have come to see that every marriage and relationship is unique. What works for one family may not work for another. Our approach is just that, ours. I have found peace in the way we have chosen to navigate this complicated journey. I hope and pray others can find a similar sense of peace in the way that they choose to navigate their own mixed-faith relationships. In this case, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
To me, the Savior embodies what it is to practice perfect love. He loved when it was uncomfortable, not reciprocated, and even ridiculed. A simple yet powerful commandment He told His disciples, one that He repeated three times over, “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). I am so glad this commandment didn’t include disclaimers. Can you imagine, “Love one another, except when someone does not believe or act as you do, then please disregard this commandment”? It sounds absurd when it’s in this context, but when life gets real and loved ones disagree on personal matters, this simple but powerful statement can get lost in translation. I wish we all had access to this perfect love, but we don’t. I understand there are circumstances where love will not heal the continual pain and suffering inflicted by others. My heart goes out to those people, and I hope they can do what is best for themselves and their family’s well-being.
Unfortunately, we are not alone in what can often be a difficult, isolating journey to navigate our religious beliefs. Faith and religious activity are personal, and as such they don’t always follow the same trajectory as that of a spouse, friend, or neighbor. The last few years have given me a front row seat into the lives of many who, like us, are fighting to stay in the Church. If you can’t see it, I encourage you to move in. Move in to see the young man who no longer wants to serve a mission but is too terrified to tell his leaders and peers. Move in to see the mother hurting because her children are ostracized in Primary. Move in to see the LGBTQ youth who are trying to reconcile their personal feelings in the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Move in to see what an amazing man my husband is, regardless of where he is in his faith. There are so many people in need of love. If only we could see the amount of bravery it takes for some to simply show up, I’m sure we would embrace everyone who walks into the Church doors with open arms, all judgment and assumptions aside. This act of “moving in” has certainly changed the way I worship by helping me to love, empathize, and serve more naturally.
Though I could pick sides and choose who to love, it’s such a relief knowing I don’t have to. I get to love God. I get to love my husband. I get to love others independent of where they find themselves on their mortal journey.