Love in a Faithless Marriage

I paced the living room, charged with fear and frustration, but I wasn’t going to find my lost faith in the sofa cushions. There was no unpopping the bubble that protected my mind, and my marriage. I knew too well what happened to apostates; they became dark and loathsome shells of their former selves, living in bitter denial. Spouses, for righteousness’ sake, left with the children to start over with a valiant member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’d seen this first hand several times. Belief is a basic requirement to enter a temple, and a temple-worthy marriage is considered essential for salvation. Brigham Young wrote,

If there is a despicable character on the face of the earth, it is an apostate from this Church. He is a traitor who has deceived his best friends, betrayed his trust, and forfeited every principle of honor that God placed within him…

Such harsh words aren’t heard in many LDS general conference sermons today, but centuries of public relations couldn’t bleach out Young’s legacy. So, when I started seeing what I perceived as doctrinal inconsistencies, I’d rationalize them away till I’d painted the elephant in the room to match the walls. “The teacher is just a person like me,” I’d think, “they’re not inspired.” Or, “That lesson isn’t literal—not anymore.” I painted my proverbial pet elephant every day for over six years.

Then, in the spring of 2012, I was thinking through an apology often given for teachings that I found unethical. Suddenly, the conclusion slipped between my thoughts. I felt like I’d skied off a cliff and floated out to space. I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t true.

Two opposing truths that end in either eternal damnation or oblivion after an unfulfilled life are scary enough. But for Mormons, one person’s faith is a family affair. I’d been here before. Two bishops and two Mormon marriage counselors had implied the virtue of my leaving the marriage a few years back. My husband Jason had developed, among other compulsions, an addiction that was interpreted as a broken commandment. Our situation was painful, but leaving had seemed ridiculous to me. I loved my husband and he was a good father! What’s more, no one would heal if I abandoned him.

My heart pounded as I realized I was now the one breaking a commandment. What frightened me most was that my offense was myself. I couldn’t fix that.

We’d both been raised Mormons, heard years of the same lessons about the necessity of a “worthy” partner, and that a happy marriage is between a man, a woman, and God. But faith was a footnote when I fell for Jason. Rather than a criterion, being devout Mormons was our license to be together. I’d never met anyone I got along with so well. We understood each other. We’d talk for hours about science, politics, music, and more. We challenged each other. I melted for his smiling blue eyes. His hands fit mine perfectly. We were always having new, creative fun. We were the oddballs at each of our families’ gatherings. We made each other laugh. When we drove across the country together, our friends said we’d want blood in two days; we didn’t fight the entire trip.

I felt more myself with Jason than with anyone. I wasn’t afraid to dream because I believed in myself and him. We got married young, but we supported and grew next to each other. We worked through poverty, psychosis, and parenting two children.

I realized I might lose him. But I couldn’t lose myself on false promises—not for one more second. I walked into the bedroom where Jason was working and dropped like a sandbag onto the bed next to him, keeping my eyes on my lap.

“Jason,” I said, “I’m all wound up. I have no idea what to do about Lily’s preschool—and I don’t believe in the church anymore.” I looked up at him and felt as if the earth shifted for a moment. He sighed as he fell back onto the pillows and laughed.

“Oh, Sweetheart!” he said, “I haven’t believed for two years!” He reached up and kissed me tenderly.

I felt buoyant, sure of my conscience, sure of my senses, and sure that Jason loved me as myself. We were partners because of who we were—not because of some third party. In that moment I finally saw that we had been all along.

“So can we sleep in on Sundays now?” he asked.