Thursday, October 9, 2008

love and marriage (and spouses changing)

[posted at the exponent]


Several years ago Elder David Bednar gave a devotional address at BYU where he recounted this story:

"Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.

The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times. The young man was quick to observe that the young woman was not quick to observe."

This account has been on my mind recently.

Seven years ago the man who would become my husband found in me a woman who was quick to observe. I was a return missionary, had a fervent testimony of the gospel and the scriptures, held callings of responsibility, (and had only one earring in each ear). We fell in love and married in the temple.

About two years ago, I had my first alcoholic drink. I have written a little about it here and here if you are interested, but for the purposes of this post all that really matters is that drink. And the subsequent ones I had after that. I didn't tell my husband when I had that first drink. (Or the second, etc...) That sounds horrifically deceptive, I know. It is one of those things that I think I will always regret. But I simply had no idea how to approach the subject- ask permission? Announce my intention? Neither of those options seemed at all helpful so I went the passive aggressive route and just DID it with the vague idea that I would eventually find a healthy way to bring it up and talk about it with my beloved husband. But always in the back of my mind was the fear... Would he become incensed? Hate me? Hit me? Be devastated, utterly crushed with grief? Would it be the deal-breaker for our marriage?

To make a long story short(er), we were eventually able to talk about it. He didn't hit me or threaten divorce or fall into a deep depression. We were able to negotiate this change and keep the marriage intact. But going through this experience brought up all sorts of thoughts and issues for me. As exemplified by Elder Bednar's young man looking for a wife, there is a lot of emphasis on finding "the right someone" to marry. There tends to be much less said about what to do when that special someone changes after marriage. We have the young man's rejection of a disobedient woman as the model for other singles; but once married what model does the couple have when one of them loses faith? Acceptance of the 'offending' spouse's actions may feel, to the faithful member, like a slight against god or the church. Yet non-acceptance creates incredible strain in the marriage.

Circumstances like this bring up questions of power, control, and respect. Is the marriage egalitarian or does someone "preside"? The patriarch of old declared "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord" but in today's world exactly whose house is it? The husband of a friend of mine insists that she refrain from herbal teas. Out of respect for him, for his house. For women who are non-wage-earners, there may be the pressure of "you can't buy that stuff with MY money!" But this isn't just a patriarchal thing. Power plays between the genders can go in both directions.

For many members, this just won't be an issue in their marriage; neither spouse loses faith, or if one does they simply won't feel the need to step over any questionable lines. But for some, negotiating these crossings is inevitable and must be dealt with; the challenging question of how much allowance for individual change a marriage can tolerate.

So, what are your thoughts and experiences on the subject? It doesn't have to be Word of Wisdom specific, that is just the example I have the most experience with (For some couples, a spouse joining or reactivating in the church is the touchy issue). Likewise, it does not have to be marriage specific; similar tensions arise in family settings (siblings, parents, etc), between friends, or in roommate situations.

I know this is sensitive topic, feel free to comment anonymously if you're more comfortable that way.


Chandelle said...

Jeremy and I are very lucky that we went through this together. We went through a period where we diverged on the opinion of action, what we were going to DO with our disaffection. Things were strained and confused between us for a long time as we tried to figure out exactly what we believed and what that meant for our marriage. But we came out on the other side together.

Things were very different with family. Jeremy's family simply could not - cannot - accept what had happened. It's been almost two years since we dropped the bomb and his father still asked him last week to "please gather your family to watch the prophet speak." When his brother and sister-in-law became unbelievers, they kept it to themselves for a long time. They saw what had happened to us, and they were terrified to experience that for themselves. My BIL said, "I learned that my parents' love is conditional. I know that they won't accept or love me as I am now. They only want me to be who I used to be."

It's a terrible thing to realize that someone's love for you is conditional, that if you change, their feelings for you can change. This has been my fear as Jeremy and I have grown and changed in such dramatic ways since we got together. We are literally the opposite of who we were when we got married. I keep asking myself, "When are we going to drift apart? When is something going to become unacceptable to the other?"

adam said...

"There tends to be much less said about what to do when that special someone changes after marriage."

This is a huge issue, one that many couples seem to suffer with. Some of it is unavoidable, perhaps, but a lot of it can be dealt with if the couple works on their relationship throughout their lives, rather than just when real problems appear. From a therapist's perspective, couples wait way too long--often on the verge of divorce--before seeking professional help. If they would come in a few years prior, the outcome could really be improved.

Nice post. It has really got me thinking about what "unconditional" love really means, and how it applies in "deal breaker" type situations. I think it is best for couples to be aware of each others' deal breakers right from the start. Mine are probably ongoing infidelity, or being a danger to our son. Other than that, I can't think of too many scenarios that would make me regret or want to leave my relationship.

Numismatist Facts said...

When I drifted away from the church many years ago my mother had a tough time, although she was wise enough not to press me. I had been recently divorced after a temple marriage and at age 30 was discovering that there was much more that I wanted to experience.

Fast forward twenty five years. In the last six months all of her anger and resentments over my leaving the church has surfaced as my husband and I have become involved in Buddhism. She has a few times become openly hostile. My reaction was to quietly retreat and keep that portion of my life private. Emotionally this was very difficult, more so for her than for me I believe. At the present time I can answer her questions but I don't bring up the subject, ever.

This is none of my business, but I will ask anyway. Was there ever any repercussions from mailing your TR back to the bishop? I ask because my name is still on the church rolls. I won't ask for it to be removed for a number of reasons. 1: Daughter is still very active and I don't think she would be happy about it. 2: Mom is still alive and that would remove her last hope for my eternal salvation. 3: I'm not sure I care that much. 4: It will always be a part of me and my culture. Even sitting in the Buddhist Temple there will always be a part of me that is Mormon.

For many years I was able to straddle the line without choosing a side, at least officially. As it stands now it is easier for those around me to just pretend it is a "phase" and that I will soon realize the error of my ways and return to the church. If that gives them comfort then I am fine with it.

Wow, sorry this was so long.

Numismatist Facts said...

One more thing, the whole earring thing? Crazy, but maybe lucky for the girl.

Elizabeth-W said...

When I married my husband I was not active in the church, or not very active, anyway. We've been married 12 years, and over time, I have reconnected, recommitted, worked things out. What has been really hard for me is exactly what you're talking about. I have felt like I pulled a bait and switch maneuver. I would imagine that you might feel similar.
I started my first temple prep class this AM. People have asked, What does your husband think about it? And my response is that he is fine with it. But, he's going to NOT be fine the day I start bugging him to go to church or take the discussions, or whatever. He seems to not be upset by the girls going to church. He attended our daughter's baptism. He helps me get them ready for church (if only because that's 3 hours with the NY Times all to himself.). On the other hand, he is going to tell them he thinks creationism is nuts, that he doesn't believe in life after death, etc. But he, so far, seems okay with their participation.
Part of my going to the temple now is about doing it before my children are old enough to remember it any other way. Maybe for you, it's good to do this while the kiddos are little, too, so they can get adjusted to their family not being typical.
I could imagine that you worry about how to comfort your spouse, how to help him come to terms with the situation you find yourself in.
One thing that has been tricky is tithing. I've worked most of our marriage, and most of the time I haven't paid tithing because we don't have His/Her money. It is OUR money. And I felt like if he didn't feel good about it I wasn't going to do it. If he said, I'm going to take this 200$ a month and do whatever I want with it, I'd sure feel like I should that much play money, too. But, he's more understanding about it than I gave him credit for. We've had some tough financial issues and he hasn't fussed. The tax incentive probably doesn't hurt....I guess what I'm saying is, it seems you married a man much like my husband, pretty low-key, pretty easy-going.

I'd second Adam's comment. I've had people come to my office who have both already been in contact with lawyers. This doesn't have to be a deal breaker. And if it feels like it is, addressing it sooner than later is the best thing.

G said...

thanks guys!
chandelle, yeah, when your changing so much it can be unnerving, unsettling and scary.
I trust you, if that helps at all. :)

adam- yeah, I've seen a few marriages where there is just so much tension, so much walking on eggshells.
(keep up the good work you do!)

numistmatist facts- not a problem at all! (and I appreciate you sharing your story) I never did get any respose from the bishop, though I was braced for the worst. There was a weird (and painful) interview with the stake pres... but it was never specifically addressed.

I don't know if i'll make the move to have my name removed... it just isn't something I think about. And i am still in limbo anyways, not sure how all the dice will fall.
again, I realy appreciate you sharing your own path. I wish you the best with your family.

elizabeth-w, thanks for sharing that, though we are on different sides of the doorway, it's the same end result for our spouses: we've changed and that can be awkward. I wish you the best as you negotiotiate what this will look like for you.
and congratulations on working towards the temple!

angryyoungwoman said...

"Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds."

I know I have a different pov here since I'm not in a committed relationship, but my leaving the church was hard on my immediate family. It was hard for me to realize that they don't love me unconditionally. It was a bit odd seeing how much the relationship changed when I gave voice to feelings I had had for years.

I love your painting, btw. It looks like a Chagall. Beautiful!

G said...

hear hear! more shakespeare, less annecdotes of love spurned over earrings! :)

I'm glad you shared from a singles POV, ayw. while marriage has it's own peculiar set of problems, the issue of individual change usually upsets all of our relationships.

(and thanks... I love chagall)

D'Arcy said...

G--many of my friends are going through this.

Yet here is my issue, and it's totally opposite.

This last year I too gave up church attendance and all the commandments that I used to govern my life by.

I am at the beginning of a relationship with someone who knows nothing of mormonism, is a great, spiritual person but doesn't hold to ANY of my old beliefs.

It seems ideal right now...but who knows my future, what if I someday reembrace mormonism? What if i have children and decide I want them to got to church?

I'll have to be pretty up front about it, and I don't see myself being that person, but what if?

What if?

Elizabeth-W said...

D'arcy, when I married my spouse, part of the deal was that I was allowed to raise Mo babies. At the time, I didn't know that I would, but I wanted the option kept completely open to me. As it turns out, it's a good thing I had that stipulation sort of set in stone. If he would go with me to his faith of origin (Episcopalian), I probably would have been content to stay there if we'd gone as a family. If I am going to go by myself and take kiddos, I prefer to go to the place where I already know all the songs :D

Minnie said...

Congrats on joining the Exponent Team - I was so excited to see your name added on over there. I look forward to reading more of your posts. They are always thought provoking. Love the painting as well - thanks for sharing.

"Nana" said...

I think it is healthy for both parties in a marriage to change through out the years, to stay the same old same old is to give up on life's opportunities.
There should be a separation of church and love, just like there is (or there is supposed to be) a separation of church and state. Even if you are in the same religion you can have a difference of opinion about rules, guild line and even for there to be one true church with one true interpretation of it in not realistic or healthy...that's a cult.
So fall in love with the kind of person you love and live with, not their brand of God. Good people come in all religions (or no religion in particular)and bad people can use them to hide their wicked ways.
Be you, if anyone has a problem with is THEIR problem.