As I lay in bed next to my wife, Meghan (name has been changed), my thoughts ran wild. Was this the end of our marriage? She’d just told me that she was leaving the Church. It suddenly felt like we were miles apart, not just inches.
This couldn’t be happening.
We’d both grown up active in the Church; both of us had served missions. We’d been married in the temple. We had done everything that you’re “supposed to do,” and now she was telling me that she didn’t believe anymore.
I was panicked. It felt like a big wall of ice was beginning to form between us. I wondered what this would mean for us and our family.
But since that day several years ago, not only has that ice between us thawed, but our marriage has actually thrived and blossomed into something I didn’t know was possible. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my relationships with God, my Savior, and Meghan. And I have more love, faith, and hope than I ever thought possible.
For those who might feel like they’re in a similar seemingly hopeless situation, I want to share three lessons that have gotten me to this place of peace.
Finding out your spouse no longer wants to be a part of the Church can be hard. It can feel like the end of your marriage or life as you know it. I know that’s how I felt. But now that time has passed, I have started to see this situation in a different light.
One of the key facets of the gospel of Jesus Christ is connection. We go to the temple in part to be connected to our past and future families. We kneel in prayer to connect with God. We partake of the sacrament to deepen our connection to our Savior and our covenants. And when your spouse comes to you with questions or concerns about the gospel or the Church, it gives you the opportunity to strengthen your trust and connection with each other, because they obviously love you enough to tell you about whatever is weighing on them.
Instead of seeing differing beliefs as a marriage-ending problem, realize that your spouse is sharing with you feelings that are difficult not only for you but also for them. Responding with love and respect can help take what is clearly a hard situation and allow us to bring about more good than if we were to react negatively or harshly.
If your spouse is struggling with the Church, it can bring a new beginning that allows you to examine and deepen your own beliefs, faith, and connections. You can also take time to ask your spouse what they do believe and establish more understanding between you. Take time to listen to them from a place of love.
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) once said that one of the most important words in the dictionary is remember.1 And it might be one of the most important words in marriage too. Use this circumstance as a way to reconnect—to remember why you married your spouse and what the covenants you have made mean to you. You will be reminded of the joys and experiences you’ve shared together and what sparked your connection in the first place.
As you look back on what you’ve been through, you’ll be reminded that you have a deep connection with each other that can help you get through challenges in the future, including finding your new normal as a mixed-faith couple.
When it comes to any struggles or disagreements in our marriage—whether about Church-related topics or not—Meghan and I try to evaluate our relationship using three questions:
1. What’s working?
2. What’s not working?
3. What do we want to do or think differently?
Starting with what’s working is key—it reminds our brains that our relationship and marriage is working. It establishes common ground and helps us see what we already have and what we are doing well.
When we’ve tried to talk about issues without first acknowledging what is working, our minds tend to dwell on the issues instead of finding solutions.
For example, when we first started having discussions about faith, one of Meghan’s concerns was around our children having priesthood interviews without one of us present.
We started by asking, “What’s working?” and we agreed that we both love our children and care about them. We both want what is best for them. We want them to progress and to grow. And we reestablished the fact that we are on the same team.
Then we focused on “What’s not working?” For instance, Meghan didn’t feel comfortable with some of the questions our teenage children would be asked in bishop interviews without us there.
That brought us to question 3: “What do we want to do or think differently?” Meghan and I sat down and discussed a plan. We agreed that one of us would be present with our children if they had interviews with members of the bishopric. We spoke to our bishop about this, and he was supportive. He reminded us that he had all of our growth and welfare in mind.
When we strive to be patient and humble as we work out our differences, our minds are open to understanding, compromising, and helpful discussions.
There are also great examples of this idea in the scriptures, for example in Ether 2:24–25. The Lord first reviews what will work—everything He has done and will do to make the barges cross the sea safely. And then he asks the brother of Jared, “What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light?”
The Lord uses this pattern of leading us, asking us to find solutions to our struggles. That is one way He teaches us to grow and become more like Him.
I’m a videographer and producer by profession. A project early in my career required me to use a technique called “forced perspective,” which means placing an object close to the lens to distort its size. If you hold a pebble up to your eye, it appears the size of a boulder. But if you hold it at arm’s length, you see that it’s not as big as you once thought.
We sometimes do this with our problems in life.
We can focus so much on our own perspective regarding an issue that it consumes every other good thing in our life. But we can change our perspective and see hardships or challenges, like a spouse leaving the Church, as an opportunity for growth and notice the other goodness around us.
God teaches this in Isaiah 55:8–9. He explains that His perspective is different than ours. When we recognize that we don’t know the end from the beginning, it helps us realize that our journey here on earth may be different than we expected or planned for ourselves. But in His omniscience, God certainly knew all that we would go through in mortality.
We knew before we came to earth that we would face challenges, but God has affirmed that all things can work together for our good if we follow Him and keep His commandments.
Changing my perspective of this situation is what helped me focus on my own journey with Christ. And that is a personal journey we each get to embark on.
When Meghan and I first started down this path of differing beliefs, I thought this challenge would be something I would just have to tolerate. I remember one evening after a particularly tumultuous argument, I was lying in bed with tears in my eyes.
Meghan didn’t want to speak to me, and I felt devastated for both of us.
But as I prayed for help and turned to the Savior, I thought about how much I loved her. I felt a rush of love and gratitude and said, “Meghan, I want to be married to you. I love you and I choose you, but if you want to leave, I understand. I would be heartbroken, but I would understand.”
In that moment, I felt the love of God for Meghan, for me, for my family, and for all of God’s children. We all have different journeys in life, and we can learn to work together even when we believe differently.
Through my choice to follow the Savior and through the mutual respect and love between Meghan and me, this circumstance has helped me become a better husband and father. I’ve learned to become more compassionate and a better listener. And ultimately, I have become a better member of the Church of Jesus Christ as I continue to look for ways to draw close to Him and to apply His healing balm in my life. I actively seek out the Holy Ghost each day, and I have learned to look at our differences of faith as an opportunity for me to deepen my faith and to help me become who I am meant to be.
Things aren’t always completely easy, but the further along we go together, the more endearing this journey becomes. I often think of the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “Remember that God is on your side. He is not an angry, vicious God trying to trip you. He is for you—not against you. He is your Father. He is anxious to do everything possible to bless you. He hears your prayers and desires to make your life all that it can be.”2
I won’t ever stop praying for my family or looking for the goodness and the blessings of our circumstances. I’m grateful every day for a loving wife who, although she believes differently than I do, honors and respects both of our journeys. I don’t know if Meghan and I will ever share a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ again, but my faith in Him motivates me to keep my marriage thriving, follow His commandments, and put my trust in Him. And what I hold on to most is the knowledge that Heavenly Father has promised that “all things shall work together for your good” (Doctrine and Covenants 90:24).