A Letter to Wives of Nonmembers
April 1976

“A Letter to Wives of Nonmembers,” Ensign, Apr. 1976, 11

A Letter to Wives of Nonmembers

Second Place All-Church Article Contest

Dear Sisters:

I hear you, because for many years I was one of your number and my longing for help, unvoiced but spoken silently, was akin to yours. Like you, I sat in countless meetings hoping to hear the one talk, the one idea, the one revelation that would give me the key to my husband’s conversion. I didn’t realize I had the key all along. Now I’ve used the key and opened the door, and my husband has stepped through it. But I can’t forget my sisters who still are looking for that key, and I long to help you find yours.

Judging from the number in our ward, I know many of us chose to marry outside the Church. And therein lies the first, and a very important, realization. Accept the very real possibility your husband may not become a member. Statistics are against us. But the point to remember is that it was our choice. To blame our husbands for not becoming members would make them feel they are failing us. Even if we never voice disappointment in our husbands, it can be sensed and felt and it will work against us. Our husbands must be loved for what they are and not what we wish they would become. We can be so engrossed in trying to bring our husbands into the Church that we completely overlook the joy of letting them preside in the home. In the 1971 Relief Society General Conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Council of the Twelve said: “There are some very delicate feelings related to this matter that have to do with the male ego and touch the very center of the nature of manhood. And I must say in all candor that not infrequently a woman can become so determined to lead her husband to activity in the Church that she fails to realize that she could let him lead her there very quickly.” (Ensign, February 1972, p. 70.)

Elder Packer’s advice at that conference has been the greatest single source of help and comfort addressed to our particular situation that I have read in the fifteen years I have been a member of the Church. If you haven’t read it, borrow it from your meetinghouse library, and if possible, photocopy it and read it frequently.

Another insight came to me almost by accident. It came during a youth conference. As YWMIA president and a chaperone, I returned home exhausted from the two nearly sleepless nights that seem to be an indispensable part of the youth conference experience. There was much to do at home on my return Saturday afternoon, so by Sunday morning I was still very tired and slept as late as I dared. I arose barely in time to get to an early morning mothers-and-daughters meeting for which I was responsible, but too late to give Jim and the children breakfast. He was angry when I left the house, and when I returned he was still angry. Harsh words were exchanged and my attendance at the three other scheduled meetings appeared impossible. I resolved to tell our bishop that not only could I not make the meetings, but that I was close to giving up all activity in the Church, though this was not what Jim was asking of me.

In tears I went to Sunday School and sought out the bishop. With one look at me he knew I had trouble. I tried to tell him something of the situation, but, surprisingly, he seemed to be expecting it. I learned later he had dreamed the night before that I would ask for my release. Inviting me into his office, he gave me the following blessing: “Sister Cole, I promise you, if you will do all the things you should do, Jim will be baptized.” This gave me comfort, but I returned home still apprehensive about what Jim’s attitude might be. After apologizing for my failure to be a wife first, and YWMIA president second, we were reconciled, and with Jim’s approval I kept the rest of my schedule for the day.

Of course, as I thought about that blessing, I realized that the important part was that the bishop did not say to me “Go home and tell Jim to do this,” or “tell Jim he must do that.” What he told me was what I had to do: Live the gospel—all of it!

The blessing also brought to mind something a sister had told me quite a few years ago. She said that if her husband had never joined the Church it wouldn’t have been because she had not lived the gospel. She had waited fourteen years for her husband to be baptized, and the thought of waiting that long made me cringe inside because at that time we had been married only two years. I almost had to wait as long as she did; Jim was baptized 13 1/2 years after we were married.

Looking back, I know I had lots of help—from our children, our friends, and of course, as soon as I made myself worthy, from the Holy Ghost. I know I had positive feelings about Jim’s progress. He would never actually say exactly how he felt or how he was doing, but somehow I knew when he had moved a step closer. And I seemed to be prompted to say things that either seemed to help or moved him to do some soul-searching or ask questions of himself or others. Maybe the world would call it intuition, but we know better, don’t we?

Let me summarize the two previous points and share some other thoughts with you.

DO accept full responsibility for choosing to marry outside the Church, and make your husband know and feel that he is everything you could want in a man.

DO begin work on your own spiritual welfare. “Line upon line, precept upon precept” (D&C 98:12), your appreciation of and love for the gospel will grow, and your whole family will be affected by your increase in spirituality.

DON’T be defensive. I guess we all have times when we doubt, and an investigator (even one who doesn’t admit to being one) will naturally have to haul out all the anti-Mormon arguments that he’s heard or read or thought. Trying to see Jim’s point of view and agreeing with him wherever possible—and where it wasn’t possible to agree, remaining calm and agreeable throughout our discussions—won more ground than arguments or heated emotions could have. The Church is true, and truth cannot be hurt by attack.

DON’T bring home personality conflicts with other members of the Church. This was particularly helpful in our marriage during the early years. Without the foundation of faith in the gospel and the Church, petty squabbling can sour anyone’s attitude, let alone an investigator’s.

DO ask your children’s music instructors to teach them Church hymns. This may seem a strange guideline, but it is one that I accidentally adopted and that was obviously a big help. As our daughter, Lori, progressed in her piano studies, I asked her teacher to assign Church hymns as practice work. Hymns echoed through the house day after day, and though Jim had been known to comment disparagingly about hymns in general, it wasn’t long before he found himself humming familiar hymns while he shaved or worked at his gardening. I was delighted! It is just what Elder Packer recommended in his talk, “… if your husband doesn’t feel at home going to church, then do everything you can to make him feel at church while he’s at home.” (p. 71.)

DO take advantage of as many social activities as the Church offers. Part of making Jim feel at home in church was to get him acquainted with our ward members and thus feel comfortable when he did get to a church meeting.

Of course, this works both ways. Be sure you are cheerful and enthusiastic about attending those activities that your husband must attend for business purposes or for socializing with old friends. They may not be your first choice of activity, but it is important to support him.

DO install your husband as head of the house and by your actions let your children know that you respect him as such.

DO hold family home evening. Jim balked at first against the use of the manual. He agreed in principle about having a regular, special time for the family, but he didn’t see the need to have it outlined. We started out with his idea—each family member old enough could conduct the meeting in a way he saw fit. (I saw to it that I used the manual whenever it was my turn.) Eventually, the value of the manual was evident, and it’s in full use in our family now.

DO share the special testimonies and faith-promoting stories told at Church meetings. Though these incidents may seem foreign and incomprehensible to your husband, each story, each testimony will add to your husband’s growth. If he says “I just can’t believe that” or “that doesn’t make sense” or makes some similar comment, don’t be defensive. Agree with him that there are things that could be hard to believe.

DO subscribe to the Church magazines. When your children are young, the Friend has marvelous stories that can be read to them. If your husband is not a reader, try to read to him an occasional paragraph that impresses you from the Ensign. As a normal part of their conversation your teenagers could discuss articles and concepts from the New Era.

DO rely on the Holy Ghost to guide you and prompt you when to speak up, when to remain silent, what to say, how to say it. The Holy Ghost was your gift upon your confirmation as a member of the Church. It can be the most important gift you will ever receive in your life. Use it wisely and with prayer, and I can tell you from my experience, your rewards will be great.

For me, the key came in establishing the best possible relationship with my husband and concentrating on living the gospel to its fullest. Marrying a nonmember guarantees nothing positive, but it does not preclude good things from being a part of one’s life.

I hope that the key that worked for us will work for you, too, and I pray for your success. Should it never come, should your husband never decide to join the Church, do not become discouraged. The increased joy and happiness that will come to your home by living these principles are a reward in themselves.

With much love for you, I am

Your devoted sister in the gospel.

  • Carole Osbourne Cole, a homemaker, serves as Relief Society mother education teacher and Young Women’s president in the Butte East Ward, Butte Montana Stake.

Photography by Longin Lonczyna, Jr.