What can I do to improve my marriage with my inactive husband?
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“What can I do to improve my marriage with my inactive husband?” Ensign, Apr. 1978, 40–41

We married in the temple, but my husband is now inactive. I feel so frustrated by regret and conflicts that it makes our marriage very difficult. Can you help me?

Phillip R. Kunz, professor of sociology, BYU It is difficult to be very specific because there are so many differences from one individual case to another. But usually it is possible to find a working solution within the framework of the following general principles and suggestions.

I think the first thing we should do is seek the Lord’s help through fasting and prayer. Prayer, humbly offered, will strengthen your testimony and increase your patience. Prayer and meditation may bring about the inspiration of “the right words” or behavior that will influence the inactive one. Prayer may actually lead to reactivation. As a rare and beautiful example, we remember Alma the Younger, whose wickedness was halted by an angel. “For this purpose have I come,” said the angel, “to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants [including Alma’s father] might be answered according to their faith.” (Mosiah 27:14.)

While the Lord may not provide such a direct miracle in your case, he will be mindful of you and your circumstances. The lack of such a miracle should not raise self-doubt and feelings of guilt. Continue in humility and prayer. And always remember that your husband has the agency to choose the direction of his life. Your prayers can help, but they cannot ultimately alter his agency.

Also very important, you should counsel closely and consistently with your bishop; he is the one individual ordained and set apart to counsel individual members at the ward level. Because the bishop is frequently in a position to know about the specific case, he can give the best counsel possible. The stake president can be a further resource. While at times an individual may believe priesthood leaders don’t really understand the problem or may not be capable of handling it, they are still the men the Lord has placed in stewardship over members and can receive inspiration for individuals in their charge and should never be overlooked by one with deep, distressing difficulties.

Another suggestion is for you and your husband to do things together as much as possible. Your husband may not attend church, but he might work with you on the welfare farm. He may not go to the temple, but perhaps he would be willing to help you supervise the ward party or call a square dance. Doing Church things together is important, but doing other things is also important for you, so that your relationship will continue to grow. It would be well to seek couples for friends who will set a proper example but who will not alienate the inactive spouse by being overbearing. Since nonmembers and other inactive members will generally do little to increase Church activity, it is most important, if possible, to be good friends with at least one couple who are committed members of the Church.

There are several things that you already know are dangerous. Quarreling with him, criticizing him, nagging him, or reproaching him will usually only drive him further away from you and your values. Be patient and as loving as possible. Be considerate of his feelings and be realistic about the compromises that must be made. Of course, there may be a conflict, but you should be wise and flexible. Seek the Lord in prayer; the Spirit will direct you in each specific case when it appears that you must make a choice between your husband’s wishes and your responsibility to the Church. And keep your bishop informed of your circumstances as they change, too.

President Brigham Young said: “It is not my general practice to counsel the sisters to disobey their husbands, but my counsel is—obey your husbands; and I am sanguine and most emphatic on that subject. But I never counselled a woman to follow her husband to the devil. If a man is determined to expose the lives of his friends, let that man go to the devil and to destruction alone.” (Journal of Discourses, 1:77.)

Raising children with an inactive parent involves more problems, but the general principles discussed above are still useful. Whether active or inactive, he is their father, to be respected and loved. Nothing you do should ever undermine their respect for him. You should honor him as the head of the house. Help him to lead out in family affairs. One home teacher did much to build up an inactive father in the eyes of his children when he overlooked his smoking, Sunday sports, etc., and said, “You children should be really proud of your father. He has the best reputation in the whole country for never swearing.”

When children wonder why they must attend church when their father doesn’t, you can do much to salvage the situation by truthfully explaining as much as he can understand. “Your dad is not yet ready to go to church with us.” It’s appropriate to discuss free agency, the responsibility to prove ourselves, temptation, repentance, and so on with an older child. An interview with the bishop may help an older child understand his role in a family with an inactive parent.

Finally, there remains the highly personal problem of dealing with your own regrets, the “might-have-been,” and the frustrated hopes of “it’s not too late—if only …” Those same principles of free agency and individual responsibility are key in your own attitude. Remain assured that the prophets have said the Lord will not deprive you of any blessings if you are faithful, including, ultimately, the eternal blessings of temple marriage. Your responsibility now is to be faithful and humble, and to trust in the Lord’s eternal justice.