When Your Spouse Isn’t a Member
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“When Your Spouse Isn’t a Member,” Ensign, Mar. 1990, 30

Strengthening Marriage

When Your Spouse Isn’t a Member

Is your husband or wife not a member of the Church? If so, take heart! You’re not alone. Many others, including ourselves, have felt your loneliness and frustration. Although the ideal would be for both spouses to be committed members of the Church, many of us find ourselves in a different situation.

Kristin was born into the Church and then married a nonmember. Susan was already married when she joined the Church—without her husband. We’ve probably felt many of the same emotions you’ve felt in this situation.

We have found it helpful to realize that others are dealing successfully with these circumstances: They are remaining active, fulfilling callings, attending church meetings, and raising their children to be active Latter-day Saints. Here are some ideas from our twenty-one collective years of experience in “part-member” marriages:

Feeling Alone

Kristin: “The first time I felt totally alone—isolated by the fact that my husband is not a member of the Church—was the day our first baby was blessed. Shortly before the meeting began, the ward clerk handed me a small card to fill out. Most of the questions were routine, but one made my heart leap to my throat: Had my baby been ‘born in [the] covenant’?

“Suddenly all my faith, activity, and service in the Church seemed painfully inadequate. I had failed, it seemed—failed myself and my innocent child. I have never felt so empty as when I checked the small box that said ‘no.’”

A Matter of Agency

Susan: “For a while, any contact Tim had with the Church was very stressful for me. I was constantly praying that someone would say the thing that would open his eyes and that no one would do or say anything that would offend him.

“Five years passed before I finally realized that during my own trip down the road of Church investigation, no one had smoothed out every bump or homogenized every personality for my benefit. There had been rough spots here and there; but through it all, I had retained my agency. When I decided to be baptized, I did so because I knew through prayer and study that the Church was true.

“Now I have accepted the fact that my husband is capable of making the same mature investigation of the Church whenever he is ready.”

Through years of prayer and study, we have come to understand that we are not responsible for our husbands’ conversions. Agency is a basic God-given right. The Lord told Joseph Smith, “Here is wisdom, and let every man choose for himself.” (D&C 37:4.) We cannot force another to accept the gospel. The fact is, many of us will never see our spouses join the Church. But we must continue to follow what we know to be true. We will not be held accountable for their salvation, but we will be held accountable for our own actions—how brightly we let our own light shine. Understanding this truth has relieved us of a great burden; in a very real way it has set us free to find contentment, joy, and growth in our part-member marriages.

Stop Comparing

At various times over the years, both of us have fallen into the trap of comparing our mates to the bishop, to home teachers, or to others in the ward—wishing our husbands had the same commitment and testimony those brethren seem to have. But we’ve found this to be destructive and unproductive.

What we try to do instead is to keep the joy alive in our marriages and to enhance the love that brought us together. We look for the good in our spouses. We hope they do the same for us. Each day we find something praiseworthy about our husbands and tell them about it. Our relationship can improve despite their feelings about the Church.

Choose to Be Obedient

Our friend Jackie seems to have the ideal LDS family. Her husband is an active elder, and they have been sealed in the temple. One son completed a successful mission, and another is now in the mission field. Their daughter is a fine example of young womanhood.

It was surprising and encouraging for us to learn that Jackie was baptized before her husband and spent many years singlehandedly overseeing family home evening, family prayer, and weekly Church activities for herself and her children. Of course, not every story will have a perfect ending like Jackie’s. But what a great testimonial she and others are to the effect strong personal faith and commitment can have on a family.

As difficult as it sometimes is, learn to shut the door on the painful thoughts about the many times you have overseen Church activity in your family—and how many more times you may have to do it. We have appreciated President Spencer W. Kimball’s motto, Do It. Often, that has been the thing that has kept us from giving up. We have both had periods of deep spiritual depression, accompanied by physical immobility—only to be richly blessed after obediently attending to our duties.

Seek Assistance

Kristin: “Once when I was ward activities chairman, I was making plans for a ward hayride and caroling party. Imagine my surprise when, as I was about to present the idea at ward correlation meeting, the elders quorum president informed me that they had had one just the night before!”

Being without a husband in priesthood meeting or a wife in Relief Society, member spouses are often inadvertently left out of plans, announcements, and information. The best way to avoid this communication gap is to have dedicated home teachers and visiting teachers who realize the importance of keeping their families apprised of ward activities.

Sometimes we have to help them see how much we need that service. If you have no home teachers or visiting teachers—or if they don’t visit you regularly—visit with the elders quorum president, high priests group leader, Relief Society president, or bishop and explain your needs and concerns. They will undoubtedly do everything they can to assign people to your home who will become real friends to your family. That is the Lord’s plan.

Fill Your Home with Light

It can be very difficult to bridge the gap between the spirit we feel at church and the spirit we feel at home. This is probably true for most families, but it can be painfully obvious in a part-member family. There are ways—“here a little and there a little” (2 Ne. 28:30)—to invite the Spirit of the Lord to abide in your home. Following are some ideas:

  • We frequently play LDS records and tapes. These have uplifting and soothing lyrics and music.

  • Our scriptures and our Church magazines are a regular sight in the living room—and we read them there, too!

  • As the prophet has directed, we have hung pictures of the temple and of the Savior in our children’s bedrooms.

  • Our bulletin boards and refrigerators often display thought-provoking and inspirational quotes.

  • We try to have a blessing on the food and faithfully listen to our children’s bedtime prayers.

Even these relatively simple actions can feel funny and awkward at first. But we’re finding that little by little, having the gospel in our homes is becoming not the exception, but the norm.

“Do What Is Right …”

Kristin: “Trying to get acquainted in a new ward can be hard, even in the best of circumstances. But it can be truly stressful when you move in as a part-member family. It is often taken for granted that since our spouse is not a member, we must be less than committed ourselves. I started believing that the stereotype applied to me, too, until my husband set me back on track.

“Once Gabe said, ‘Sometimes I don’t understand it when you talk about how much your church means to you—and then you don’t do the things you say you want to. I tend to think that maybe you’re not as committed as you claim.’

“I was taken aback, but realized he was right. All too often I haven’t attended meetings that I knew I should attend because I was tired or feared conflict. Not only was I missing the blessings of going, but I was also giving my husband the impression that the gospel was something I could take or leave!

“Since that day, I have earnestly striven to seek first the kingdom of God. (See Matt. 6:33.) Although I still falter at times, I have found that when I put the Lord first, the rest of my life falls more easily into place.”

Develop Good Friends

Our friend Bev has a nonmember husband and was not active in the Church herself for a few years. Yet three of her four children are active; two sons have served missions and have been married in the temple. When we asked Bev how she had kept her children active, she said, “I don’t think it was anything I did, but rather that they had close friends in the Church who set good examples. When the friends decided to go on missions, my boys decided to go, too.”

We can’t overstate how important our own friends have been in helping us stay active. And we constantly encourage our children’s LDS friendships by carpooling to activities, inviting them to birthdays, including them in some family outings, and developing our own friendships with their parents.

Yes, this can be awkward and difficult at first. Satan tries to tell us: “They won’t like you,” “They don’t have time for you,” or “You have nothing in common.” But ignore those thoughts. There is inestimable value in having someone to talk with who both understands and shares your goals.

Attend the Temple if Possible

Susan: “By the time Church policy had changed to allow worthy women who have nonmember husbands to attend the temple, I had been a member for six years—long enough to know how eternally significant the covenants are, and also long enough to know the difficulties in adhering to those covenants.

“Time passed, and I was still making excuses. Then a friend asked outright, ‘Susan, when are you going to the temple?’ For some reason it clicked. Soon some of my close friends and I went to the Oakland Temple, where I received my endowment.

“One of the reasons I had hesitated about the temple was that I feared that the increased knowledge and commitment would widen the gap between my husband and me. But as I prayed about it, I came to feel that following the counsel of the Lord and his prophets—in short, practicing obedience—could only help me become a better Latter-day Saint and, therefore, a better person, a better spouse.

“The hard part is to remember that the covenants I’ve made in the temple are mine, not my husband’s. I try not to expect him to live according to covenants he has not made.”

Even Small Steps Are Important

There may still be times when you feel overwhelmed. Perhaps for now, you truly are unable to attend your meetings or go to the temple. But you can find great joy in your love for your spouse, your family, and the Lord. And through prayer, you can determine a course of action that will bless your family.

We’ve found strength in the scriptures. They were given to all of us, regardless of our individual circumstances, by a loving Father who wants our eternal happiness.

The Lord told Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” (Josh. 1:9.)

You truly are not alone.

  • Kristin Sandoval and Susan Heumphreus teach the Relief Society Compassionate Service/Social Relations lesson in their respective wards—Kristin in the Fairfield (California) Fourth Ward and Susan in the Fairfield First Ward.

Illustrated by Wilson Ong