Marriage to Marriage

We are married to marriage.

Our whole culture, across all socio-economic, religious, gender and political boards is overwhelmingly married to the idea of marriage. When someone divorces, they call it a “failed marriage”. But the implication is not that the actual pairing failed; rather, the implication is that something tragic and bad has happened and the individuals themselves have somehow personally failed. How often do you hear these phrases:

“He’s had two (three, four…) failed marriages, no wonder…”

“She’s the product of a broken home.”

“Their marriage dissolved; what a shame.”

Why is it that divorce is considered such a social wart? Before you get all up in arms about the impact on the children, let’s take a look at that for a minute. One might argue that divorce hurts the children the most; well what about an unhappy marriage? How does that impact children? Why does divorce usually impact children in a negative way? The main reason is because the divorcing parties are not placing their children first among their priorities during the process. So is divorce really horrible for children, or has our society’s, thus our, attitude about divorce espoused the negativity that makes it disruptive and difficult?

All that aside, no one is more bent on salvaging marriages than the Mormon Church. Ironically.

I know some individuals who are going through a separation; not maritally, but religiously (from the Mormon Church). It is, however, impacting their marriages immensely, since their spouses are still active members. One man’s wife is being so passive-aggressive it leaves him feeling like a stranger in his own home. One woman’s husband plays the guilt card on her to manipulate her into returning. Another seeks massive amounts of doctrinal evidence to thwart her new-found venture outside of Mormonism.

As I listen to their stories, I want to ask them something: What keeps you holding on? What keeps your spouse holding on? I don’t ask because it’s none of my business. I can presume that they would reply, “Love, children, years together, hobbies, habit, friendship…”. But really, if one spouse thinks they’re not going to the highest kingdom because their other spouse is an apostate, or if it’s a man, he’ll have to be sealed to another woman in the Celestial Kingdom because his wife won’t be worthy, what does that do to a marriage? How tragic.

Most stay together out of love for each other and for their children. I have no judgement other than I think it is a very noble thing to want to spare your kids and yourselves from a divorce in this society. But what about those who have nothing in common with their spouse other than religion and kids… and the religion is gone? Is it worth it?

In typical black and white form, in an Ensign,article James E. Faust spoke specifically to women in the talk initially, although covertly. He played on their worst fears by an ‘anecdotal’ story of a woman who sought a divorce, and years later when her saw her, he noticed that “the years of loneliness and discouragement were evident in her once-beautiful face.” Translation: You will be alone, miserable and ugly if you get divorced.

He also gave a road map to a successful marriage, and I wondered at how this applies to people who are married to non-believers. His formula? Prayer, trust, virtue, divine presence, tithing, and parenthood. (Tithing before children?) Tithing at ALL??? Holy Mercenary, Batman.

That doesn’t leave much wiggle room for the dissenter, does it?

This clearly gives the message to the TBM (True Believing Mormon) that unless their spouse does the above admonishment, they will not have a happy union, and it may already be evident based on the inevitable conflicts they have experienced thus far in the marriage. So what is a TBM to do? Well naturally, the message is to re-convert the non-believer, since missionary work is primary. This becomes the focal point of the marriage, rather than open and honest communication and acceptance. The fundamental principle of couples’ therapy is “You can only change yourself, not the other person”. But that principle is in direct conflict to the Mormon paradigm of ‘convert the masses.’

So really, in a subtle way the Church is encouraging divorce. They have given an ultimatum of sorts. One of the talks given by a GA this last weekend was on marriage and how the only way to have a successful union is if both parties obeyed the gospel. Again, where does that leave the person who has dissented? It is holding the family hostage in the most insidious of ways. The non-believer is being strong-armed to conform, or lose his or her family.

In these situations, I think a great question would be to ask: Does my spouse love me for me, or because I am Mormon? Because that’s what it boils down to. If they love you for you AND because you’re a Mormon, then you’re still fucked. Because the Church issue will always be OUT THERE.

Many people want to hold on to these marriages so badly that they will sometimes go back to church to appease their spouse, they give up rights, give up the place in their homes, allow their boundaries to be crossed, all in the name of “Saving” the marriage from “failing”. But what message does it give the children when they watch a parent act out of integrity? What are they saving?

I am going through a divorce. Not legally yet, but psychologically and physically. Our son is first in our minds. There is no bashing of one parent or the other to him. There are no, nor will there ever be, any strict visitation limits and times. We will be a family, it will just look a little different. My son will see me happy and hopefully, his dad happy, and know that we love him. If I were to stay married, I will have betrayed my spirit, and what kind of parent would I be if I modeled that for my son? My daughters?

The only failure I see in a divorce is when parents don’t put their children first. The only ‘failure’ is that they act with acrimony toward one another instead of peace and love. The only failure is our culture’s misguided ‘marriage’ to marriage as the end-all, be-all of existence. Marriage does not make a person happy. Divorce doesn’t make a person UNhappy. Some marriages should just not be, and our culture and religions hold them together like toxic glue made of guilt and shame to preserve a sense of “rightness” that is no more “right” than two people choosing to live together without a piece of paper to say ‘it’s legal’.

We need to change the way in which we view marriage and families. An appropriate beginning to this could be the release of the parochial and archaic idea that “marriage is between a man and a woman ONLY”. Oh really? Who says? God? You? Who are they to tell me that someones vow of love to each other is what broke up my marriage? What nonsense. I’ll tell them what broke it up–shame. Shame, selfishness and a change in direction. Not someone elses’ love and commitment to one another; not a lack of god or prayer.

My list for a happy union would look like this: love, acceptance, children, communication, mutual respect and autonomy. If they preached THAT from the pulpit, every marriage could be saved if the only major issue was religious beliefs. If a couple practiced these principals and the marriage was still not happy, they could continue practicing them after the dissolution of it, with the children being at the forefront.
Too much shame and guilt surrounds our views of marriage and divorce, and the only way I can see a change coming is to start there; start with the redefinition of marriage legally. Because from there, the focus can then be on what it should be: love.


repost from Ravings of a Mad Woman blog


My name is JulieAnn Henneman. I am an author living in Draper, Utah. My first novel, 2000 dollar loan online. Always Listen to the Ravings of a Mad Woman: a Story of Sex, Porn and Postum in the Land of Zion, is a fictional story about a suburban Mormon housewife who discovers that her husband of 17 years is a sex and pornography addict. I am also a poet and enjoy writing short stories with an erotic bent. You can find my poetry online, and probably some erotic shorts. I will be performing my poetry in the Utah Arts Festival this year, among other venues. I was born and raised in the LDS faith and left several times throughout my life; however, I left for good in 1995. Currently, I am a full-time writer and parent. Beginning next month, I will reprise my role as a creative writing workshop facilitator for Art Access of Utah. Through Art Access, I teach creative writing workshops to adults and teens with disabilities and addiction issues. Oh, and I really, really love coffee.

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4 Responses

  1. LDS culture certainly isn’t doing all that it could to encourage successful marriages. The first change that I would make is to encourage later marriages after longer engagements. Having children only after getting to know each other well as a married couple couldn’t hurt either.

    At the same time, a lot of people going through divorce that I’ve known seem to hope for an ideal divorce. It’s like how I hoped for the perfect marriage. I’d love my wife and our life would be filled with love notes and flowers and I’d never do anything to hurt her. My hopes for the perfect marriage were naïve and I suspect hoping for an ideal divorce is too. Working toward those ideals is important, but reality is sure to fall far short. As parents, it is our responsibility to understand that reality.

    In Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, the author argues that there is no such thing as a good divorce. Children of divorce are inevitably hurt by the separation of their parents. The damage due to divorce may be less than the damage due to staying together in some cases, but divorce isn’t harmless.

    The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study tells the stories of people who are the children of divorced parents and also parents who stayed together despite being miserably unhappy. I think these two books can be invaluable in understanding what a child will go through as their parents’ marriage hits troubled waters.

    I hope you and your family can find the path to the greatest happiness available to you, whatever that may be.

  2. Kullervo says:

    “The first change that I would make is to encourage later marriages after longer engagements.”

    Not gonna happen as long as there’s a law of chastity with real repercussions. And I’m not 100% sure that this is necessary, anyway. It seems to be generally accepted in modern Western culture, but that doesn;t make it true.

    “Having children only after getting to know each other well as a married couple couldn’t hurt either.”

    This one, on the other hand, is really important. Of course, there’s a careful balancing act. We had children relatively late into our marriage, and I know i had a really hard time adjusting to the complete and total change in, well, everything

  3. FFG says:

    Life is about learning from your mistakes and moving on. I am happily married, but believe strongly that divorce is a way out of either a horrible mistake or a bad situation. People rarely enter into divorce proceedings without really thinking it through. It certainly isn’t easy or cheap.

    During my whole childhood, I wanted my parents to get divorced and their marriage wasn’t HORRIBLE. They had their issues, but basically they were not happy and did not match. What can you expect from 2 young kids at BYU? As far as the religious beliefs, how can anyone possibly be expected to make an eternal decision as a young naïve virgin?

    Kids are usually much tougher than we give them credit for. As long as there is mutual respect, open communication, and continued relationships, divorce is not completely devastating. Kids learn from their parents’ mistakes too.

  4. JulieAnn says:

    My contention was never that divorce is “harmless” in our current culture; the premise for my assertion was the cultural origins of why divorce is harmful. It’s easy to point out what is. But if we ‘look under the skirts’ of what IS and ask ourselves why things are the way the are, that can instigate change.

    It’s been proven and shown why staying in bad marraiges, abusive marriages, can harm children. There is even a domestic violence law protecting children from even being exposed to DV. So that’s obvious. But if our culture dealt with divorce in a different way, who’s to say that the impact on children would be the same as it is now? Sure, within the present paradigm, kids are hurt by divorce; I was talking about changing the paradigm of divorce and how that might impact or lessen the impact on children. A long shot, yes, but not impossible. Thank you for your encouragement and thoughts. I will check out those books.

    Kullervo: I agree. As long as there is a ‘punishment’ for exploring sexuality, even as consenting adults, LDS people will inevitibly rush into marriage to expidite the physical intimacy that is so normal for human beings to experience. Talk about unnatural.

    Thank you! Very well-put. My parents were like yours, it sounds like. But there was abuse (verbally and emotionally) on both sides at my house. I was married once in my 20’s (temple and all that) to a very abusive man (You’d think I’d see it coming, but I really didn’t at the tender age of 20) and the second marriage is ending due to some other issues. My STBX made some choices that have made it impossible for me to stay with him. He knows it, he owns it, and well, there it is. But we have committed to put our son first.
    I blame my unhealthy relationship choices on the fact that I was never modeled anything healthy. I had no idea what a healthy relationship looked like!

    I want my kids to see what a healthy relationship looks like. In order to do that, I have to be healthy. Like attracts like. My first divorce was ungodly, and my kids suffered through it; but they are far better off than they would be had I stayed. They are tough, determined and they were made stronger by the experience. They weren’t unscathed, but who said anyone makes it through childhood unscathed, divorce or not? They learned that their mother would not stand by and be abused. Something I didn’t learn from my mother, and gee, look what happened: I married an abuser. My kid are relatively happy, well-adjusted kids who, because of his actions, rarely if ever see their father. But that is their choice.

    The divorce I am going through now is amicable and we support each other as friends. My son sees this and has accepted that we live in different spaces, but that mom and dad are always there for him, and for each other, we just don’t share the same living space. It’s never occurred to him to think that is odd because we are so cooperative and loving with him, and amicable with each other. There is no restrictions in terms of visits or time. My STBX is always there/here. My son is fine for now. Our culture hasn’t gotten a hold of him to tell him how awful it is that mommy and daddy don’t ‘live’ together and sleep together.

    In terms of the ‘easy way out’ of divorce; it is like leaving the Church in terms of difficulty. People think divorce is the easy way out? Holy shit! Leaving a relationship is the most difficult, draining and challenging thing you can do. Same with leaving your religion of origin.
    Sitting complacently by while you are unhappy–THAT is the easy way out, IMO. That is what some people would do rather than leave the church or divorce when they are miserable and unhappy, and they know their kids see that. They sell out for comfort and for the safety of the ‘known’, using their kids as the excuse for staying. I could never do that; my soul is not for sale. If anything, that is what I want my kids to learn. They deserve happiness, they deserve joy.