Relationship Connection: My husband left our church, changed his behavior

Couple or marriage angry and sad after argument. | Photo by AntonioGuillem /iStock/ Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Question

Almost a year ago on Valentine’s Day, my husband gifted me with an eight-page letter detailing all the issues that he has in regards to the church we both attended. He said he was done with all of it. We have been married 16 years. While our marriage hasn’t been perfect, I have always felt like we were OK because we had each other, our belief and our family.

At first I was devastated, completely blindsided, hurt. I had questions. He felt he had found a different truth and that he was happy.

But what about me? What about our kids? We have three boys that I all of a sudden felt like I was going to have to raise,  spiritually, alone.

Not long after the letter, my husband started behaving in ways that expressly went against the practices we both committed to and agreed to teach our sons. Also, stories emerged of flirtations with other women, et cetera. I have felt my life crumbling out from under me. Our religious beliefs and practices have been such a significant part of our shared commitment to each other and our children.

How do I move forward in my marriage when I feel like he has taken away everything I wanted and fell in love with? I’m in the angry stage of things now and because I wouldn’t marry the man I am married to now if he was to ask me again today, how do I find love, forgiveness and compassion for someone who has hurt me so much?

Answer

Religious differences aside, it’s impossible to have a stable and secure marriage when your husband is flirting with and potentially pursuing relationships with other women.

While it’s common for many marriage partners to go through changes in preferences, beliefs and habits as the years roll on, significant changes that redefine the actual marriage promises are much harder to tolerate. Your shock and devastation are understandable.

You both made promises to each other, to God (presuming that is whom you serve) and to your community based on your common beliefs and goals. Your husband’s surprise change in direction leaves you with more questions than answers about your future.

It’s important to draw a distinction between the different types of betrayals you’ve experienced. Yes, they’re all betrayals to the original promises you both made to one another, but some are handled differently than others.

He might not believe in your religion any longer, but does he believe in marriage? Does he believe that fidelity to you transcends every other commitment in life? If your husband won’t make a commitment to marital fidelity, then you’ll have to make some difficult decisions about what you can tolerate in this marriage.

Most marriages can work through significant differences in beliefs, but only if there is a basic foundation of romantic and sexual fidelity.

Not only is his commitment to fidelity something you need to clarify but also his commitment to principled living.

Your husband isn’t a bad person for leaving your church and shouldn’t be made to feel that way. Living a principled life has nothing to do with any specific religion but rather what is best for stable marriages, families and communities.

In his reaction to leaving your church, your husband may snub his nose at any religious restraints he believes are holding him back. If he wants to have a healthy marriage and family, however, he’s going to need to stay responsible, mature and centered in the time-tested principles that have built and strengthened relationships throughout history. You can expect this of him even if he doesn’t share your faith.

I get the impression that despite all of the hurt and betrayal you’re experiencing, you are still open to figuring out how to stay married to him. If there is an actual problem with womanizing and he’s willing to forsake his flirting and commit to you as his one and only, then you can both begin the work of integrating his new beliefs into your marriage and family culture.

Your husband is seeking direction for his life and you get to do the same. Even though you have to accept things you don’t agree with, it’s critical to get clarity, strength and support so you can know what’s essential at every stage of this long process.

As you seek personal direction for your life, remember to keep your heart soft. This is difficult to do when you’ve been wounded so deeply, but it is essential for healing your marriage and family. Your husband’s struggles are real for him, otherwise he wouldn’t be putting everything at risk by acting on them. It’s critical that you keep your heart soft and open so you can hear why he’s moving this direction. In these kinds of discussions, you will find areas of agreement. Listen for what he believes instead of only hearing what he doesn’t believe. Build on these shared beliefs and strengthen your family practices around these discoveries.

Even though your sons will be confused about these changes, you can still let them know what will and won’t change for them. Your sons don’t need to be thrown into the details of his faith crisis, but they deserve to know why dad isn’t attending the same church or participating in certain practices familiar to them. Obviously, you’ll need to determine how much is appropriate to share, but you don’t need to hide the fact that dad now believes different things than mom.

If your husband is willing to commit to certain moral principles, these can be the guideposts for your family while you both work out the particulars of how you’ll handle the specific religious commitments.

Your husband may have left your faith, but you don’t have to stop living and teaching your beliefs. He can learn to make room for your faith in the same way you’re working to make room for his beliefs. It’s likely he’ll have specific concerns about what you teach your sons. There is no easy answer for how to navigate this, as he may genuinely believe they’ll be harmed by certain teachings. Do everything you can to listen to his concerns while expecting him to hear and respect your concerns.

As difficult as it may be, it is still possible to love your husband even though he’s choosing a different path with his spiritual beliefs. Once you both know that you’re committed to giving each other mutual respect, difficult concerns will be easier to navigate.

You have many difficult conversations ahead of you.

Looking for ways to spend time together as a couple and family will help send signals to each other that this relationship matters and you want to find a way to feel closer and connected. Most couples in these mixed-faith situations hold tight to the common areas, even if it’s only a shared commitment to doing things as a family.

Your husband has changed his religious practices, which understandably creates tremendous anxiety for you. Principled living will help both of you find common ground as you raise your sons. Your home can still be a sanctuary of peace and purpose.

Thanks to Amy Cluff, LCSW for her helpful suggestions.

Stay connected!

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

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25 Comments

  • theone January 18, 2017 at 9:45 am

    You dismiss everything as a betrayal as though it is your go to answer. The comment from her never said anything about feeling betrayed only anger. I would suggest you refrain from reading too much in to ones emotions and how life changes affect people.

  • ladybugavenger January 18, 2017 at 11:31 am

    Religion can’t save you!
    You both need Jesus!

    • comments January 18, 2017 at 12:28 pm

      Well, where is he hanging out nowadays? How do we “find” him?

      • ladybugavenger January 18, 2017 at 2:53 pm

        keep asking and seeking and you shall find Him.

      • ladybugavenger January 18, 2017 at 2:57 pm

        Here’s a hint: he is sitting at the right hand throne of God

      • ladybugavenger January 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm

        Also, if you walk around thinking and acting like you’re not a sinner, then by all means, you have no need for a savior. Me, on the other hand, know I’m a sinner that needed a savior to forgive me and walk with me to a better life (Lord knows, everyone else failed me, but He never will, no matter how many tests and trials I go through)

        Have a blessed day New Years Bob. ?

      • .... January 19, 2017 at 3:34 am

        And another stupid comment from Bob the bigot

  • comments January 18, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    When one partner stops believing in the LDS religion often times the marriage will not survive it.

    • think4urself January 18, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      This is so true and it is so so sad…yet another way the religion is so exclusive.

    • radioviking January 18, 2017 at 4:49 pm

      Have you experienced this kind of scenario or are you referring to someone you personally know?

  • think4urself January 18, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    As someone who has gone through this exact same situation I can tell you this…if you and your husband are committed to each other and have enough love for each other, your marriage will survive. At times you will not be happy, but honestly what marriage is all happiness 24/7. You will need to let go of the ”perfect family” idea that has been ingrained in your mind AND you will need to learn let go of caring what others think.
    I decided that my love for my husband was greater than any religion or lack of. Going though it all I have come away with learning that love can conquer anything! If you allow it to.
    My heart goes out to you!

  • 42214 January 18, 2017 at 4:42 pm

    The lucky guy accomplished 3 things. He gets to wear normal underware, gets Sunday off and gave himself a 10% raise.

    • Henry January 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm

      That 10% savings might be offset by the new cost of becoming a Playah. It’s usually a good idea to sow your wild oats before you get married and have 3 kids to raise.

      • think4urself January 18, 2017 at 9:02 pm

        You’re response alludes to how immature you are. People’s views /beliefs can change and evolve the more they live and experience life. They shouldn’t be shamed for being honest. But unfortunately the religion teaches their followers to do exactly that, just like you’re doing…shaming those who no longer believe.

        • 42214 January 18, 2017 at 10:38 pm

          I don’t know how you come to the conclusion I’m shaming the guy for not believing anymore. I congratulate him and think it’s the best move he could make as a free thinking person. If that’s how you think for yourself you should get help thinking in the future.

          • think4urself January 19, 2017 at 6:39 am

            I agree with you…Look at the reply lines…My reply was to Henry 🙂

        • Henry January 19, 2017 at 9:21 am

          Work on your reading comprehension, think4urself. I fully support everyone’s right to evolve their religious beliefs (as I’ve done myself). The wife in the story suggests that her husband has gone beyond just changing his beliefs, but is perhaps pursuing new relationships with other women. For most of us, a partner being openly unfaithful would be a huge problem in our marriage.

          I’m absolutely not “shaming” the husband for having the intellectual curiousity to change his religious beliefs. I’m saying that the best time to pursue potential relationships with the opposite sex is NOT after you’re already married with children.

          • think4urself January 19, 2017 at 10:57 am

            I hear you and agree with you, my bad. I apologize.

          • Henry January 19, 2017 at 12:53 pm

            Thank you think4urself, I appreciate that. 42214 made what I considered a lighthearted tongue-in-cheek comment, and I responded in kind. I think 42214 and I agree philosophically in our comments the overwhelming majority of the time, and I bet you and I do too. 🙂

  • CaliGirl January 18, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    He went to the trouble to give you an 8-page letter explainIng his concerns about your religious organization. Obviously, he has put a lot of thought into this issue. No one should just blindly follow a church.

    Maybe you should go over each concern and do a little research of your own. Don’t just take your religious leaders word. Crack open a book, look into the doctrine. Then go over your findings and how they compare his.

    Compromise, it’s critical in a marriage. Don’t through away 16-years. Divorce is usually not a “good” choice. Maybe do some research on how divorce adversely effects children before you open that can of worms.

  • Rainbow Dash January 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    Lady I have to be honest here, You are putting WAY WAY WAY too much importance on what religion he is. You make it sound like he’s a terrible person simply because somewhere along the route he started questioning the “divine revelations” that came from a pack old white dudes in Salt Lake City. No one, including God, cares what religion you are. The only thing that matter to him/her, I believe, is how you treat others and what you do while you’re here.

  • JJ January 18, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    You’re not a victim if your husband changes beliefs. He’s not doing anything to you. Also, any “promises to you/God” shouldn’t include believing certain things, since humans were given brains and it’s part of our nature to seek knowledge, which may cause beliefs to change. This advice kind of infuriates me because it validates her false feelings of victimization (“you’ve been wounded so deeply”).

    Here’s my advice: marry a person, not a church.

  • dhamilton2002 January 18, 2017 at 9:47 pm

    Divorce works…

  • .... January 19, 2017 at 3:37 am

    Go back to the singles bar and try again

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