How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore?

Advice Deconversion Marriage

I recently received the following message. Can you help Eric out? I think it would help to hear from both sides of this situation, so if you know a believing member of the church who is handling a mixed-faith marriage, please invite a response from them. He writes:

Jonathan,

I recently stumbled across the link to your blog on the Letters From a Broad site. I immediately paid attention because your philosophical musings and search for meaning post-Mormonism almost exactly mirror my own.…

Another way in which we are similar is the family heartache our recent ”change of mind“ causes our families. The difference is, I haven’t told my family yet, not even my wife. I realized about two years ago that Mormonism is not true and went through a gradual process of redefining my beliefs, first as a deist, then a hopeful agnostic, and finally (as of this writing!) an agnostic atheist. I was at BYU earning a degree in geology and could not rationalize my religion to make room for the scientific method. Like you, I find inspiration and solace in science and philosophy, and in the innumerable spontaneous moments of joy spent with my children or in nature.

The reason I am writing is because I just read your wife’s post about when you broke the news to her, and the lengthly comments that followed. You see, sooner or later I have to break the news to my own faithful, believing wife. I want this experience to be as painless as possible and am concerned, as you were, of the possibility of divorce or lasting anger. I seriously believe our relationship and her compassion are strong enough to survive, but I need to choose the right time and place.

We are living with our two children in [Outer Darkness] right now and will be here for another 3 1/2 months. Before coming, I told myself I would tell her after we returned home. I didn’t want to make an already difficult ordeal even more difficult, especially since she would be cut off from her support network (mother, sister, and ward family). Lately, however, I have been overwhelmed with a desire to finally come out of the closet and stop hiding the most real part of me of me from the people that matter most. I have so many thoughts I want to share on my blog, but I need them to hear it from me before they stumble across it on my blog. (I briefly—for about 1.5 seconds—considered making another blog for these thoughts and not sharing it with them, but that reeks of the same “double life” crap I am trying to leave behind now.)

I was contemplating telling her a couple of weeks from now (while still in [Outer Darkness]), but when I read your wife’s post I stopped. If her pain and anger will be anything like those your wife experienced, I would rather her be home with her support group—as I will likely not be part of it for a while. The flip side of this is that if the support group is persuasive, it could lead her away from me and even closer to orthodoxy. In [Outer Darkness], at least, there is a chance we could rebuild our relationship from the ground up in love and trust, together.

After all you have been through with Lacey, do either of you have any advice for me at this stage in my journey away from Mormonism? I need to know how to minimize the suffering of my wife (and our possibility of estrangement or divorce), while at the same time allowing for my own freedom and growth.

Feel free to post any or all of this letter on your site, if you like. I am not interested in remaining anonymous. I can’t post these thoughts on my own blog just yet, so I greatly appreciate the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.

Thanks,
Eric

I have redacted some of his message slightly to preserve his anonymity just a while longer so that he gets a chance to inform his wife rather than having her find out through us.

[crossposted at Green Oasis]

12 thoughts on “How Do I Tell My Wife That I Don’t Believe Anymore?

  1. Two ways of looking at it. Pull the bandaid off fast, or slow.

    I slowly brought forth issues that bothered me to my wife, then over time I just quit. She is now fully informed of a few specific reaons I don’t go, and there was never a big emotional scene.

  2. There’s no easy answer. I tried the “band-aid” approach. Turned out very badly. I do think it’s important to stand up for yourself.

    What I have learned is that you must put the relationship first. The church is not the primary ingredient in a marriage, but we often act like it is. Being a good husband or wife or parent is not contingent on church activity. In some ways you have to prove to your spouse that your marriage is worth working on without the Mormon context.

  3. Jonathan,

    I left the church while married, and I am now divorced, so what I offer are lessons learned from mistakes.

    Through all the feelings of deception, humiliation, disillusionment, hurt, and anger, I was unable to express that part of still caring about my spouse.

    My rejection of the church was read as a rejection of my temple marriage, and therefore, a rejection of him and my commitment to love him. I was reeling from my own realizations so much so that I was not able to step back and see the personal rejection he felt. I never took the time to explain the difference in my mind between not believing in the temple and not loving him.

    In hindsight, I believe in the taking-it-slow method, not merely because it “softens the blow”, but because it gives you time to show that your love for her is not dependent on belief in the church. It doesn’t have to be consolidated into one big talk.

    I empathize with the overwhelming desire to tell all, and not hide anymore, but I encourage online ranting/posting, etc. to vent, and to slowly begin to speak your true beliefs to your family. Give her time to adjust. You’ve had a couple years. It might just as well take that long or longer for her to come to terms with your belief system as well.

    So often within the church things are either black or white, and holding everything in and then telling all at once is still maintaining this same black and white behavior. Learn to open the closet door slowly, but don’t stop opening.

    It’s wonderful that you are aware of her social network, and I encourage you to keep it around her, flawed as it may be, so that she doesn’t feel isolated. Mormon women are isolated enough.

    My heart goes out to you and your endeavors.

    Best wishes,

    Liz

  4. I told my wife and she gradually followed me out. Don’t assume that because she’s TBM that she can’t or won’t consider the issues if you raise them in a respectful, non-threatening way.

  5. When my husband told me that he no longer believed, I had a pretty strong emotional reaction. I’m not at all pleased with my response, but you might find it a helpful read.

    FWIW, it’s opened up a much better relationship between us in the years since this happened. Yes, it will be tough at first, but well worth that initial pain, I think.

  6. Gunner,

    The “band-aid” analogy is a good one. Part of my reason for waiting this long is to establish a caring relationship post-belief in order to show her (and myself) that we can be happily married without agreeing — because we already are. Of course, there is always room for improvement, and a little more time wouldn’t hurt…

    I have spoken up on many of my beliefs where they differ from the LDS mainstream (e.g., gay marriage, priesthood authority, creation/evolution, etc.). So I guess the band-aid has already been coming off, slowly. And you know, it’s worked. She is remarkably open-minded and has gradually come to accept some things (evolution, for instance) that once were difficult.

    Runtu and Liz,

    I’m sorry things didn’t go well for you. There is always that risk, I suppose, no matter what approach is taken.

    I thought I had come to terms peacefully with my deconversion, but lately I have identified some feelings just below the surface. This is probably normal since I really haven’t had an outlet for these feelings. Your suggestion to keep them out of the relationship is a good one.

    KingM,

    Thanks for the hopeful advice!

    pilgrimgirl,

    I admire the way you and John have built such a beautiful relationship despite those early differences. Thank you for sharing such a moving story. I hope we can weather the storms as well as you have.

  7. I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule for “the best way,” but it seems to me that if your goal is to keep your marriage, the best approach is probably a slow and gradual one. If you do it quickly, especially when she is out of town with her Mormon family, she may never come back. I think ranting on a blog about your true beliefs anonymously would help you, and slowly bringing up issues with your wife will help her make a gradual transition to the realization that her husband doesn’t believe. With the slow route, she’ll know that you’re questioning the religion, but hopefully won’t feel threatened in her relationship with you. I would also suggest going to great lengths to illustrate to her just how much you love her and do your best to show her that in ways that are not associated with the religion. Don’t take her to the temple; take her to a secular play. Don’t take her to a ward activity; take her on a walk in the park and talk about how much you care about her. And never, never bring up your feelings for her at the same time you bring up your doubts about the religion. But, even if you take this approach, I know at least two people who followed similar paths and ended up divorced. Mormonism does that to people…

    In a different vein, and I admit this may be a bit off topic or even inflammatory, but I have to wonder about something: How close can a relationship really be if your spouse/partner doesn’t know where you stand religiously? I ask not because I don’t believe it is possible but out of ignorance. When I was thinking of leaving, my wife and I talked about all of our feelings openly. Granted, she was never a gung-ho TBM, but still, we worked our way out together and were open and honest the whole time. How does someone get this far out without his spouse/partner not knowing – assuming they have an open and honest relationship?

  8. exmormon,

    You have a good point, but I don’t blame people like Eric and me who kept our disbelief a secret from our spouses. At the risk of seeming to pass the buck, I blame the church.

    I feared for the survival of my marriage if I left the church. I faced a dilemma: be honest with my wife and risk my marriage or be secretive and preserve my marriage. If the marriage is based largely on the promises of eternal marriage instead of on the relationship of the marriage partners, disbelief threatens the marriage. At the time that I came out to my wife, I couldn’t be sure what our relationship was truly based on.

    Yet another way that LDSism is detrimental to families by insinuating itself into family life.

  9. exmoron,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I guess I could start an anonymous blog for these feelings, but I don’t know if I want to make yet another disconnect between my private and public life. I definitely see the wisdom in the slow approach and am looking at ways to make that work in my situation.

    You ask a very good question. In our relationship, I have never lied directly to my wife about my religious beliefs. I go along with the motions (prayer, FHE, etc.) — a form of dishonesty, I guess — but remain purposely vague in gospel conversations. I have been quite vocal in my opposition the Church’s teachings on gay marriage, blind obedience, hell and the devil, etc. The thing is, she has never bluntly asked, “Do you believe the Church is true?” If she did, I would have to be honest with her. But perhaps the very asking of the question would mean she was ready for the answer.

    I don’t like hiding my deepest thoughts from her, and I have always known that it would be temporary. Like most situations in life, it’s not black and white. At first, it seemed obvious that the consequences of complete disclosure would be worse than the consequences of nondisclosure. Now, I see the scale tipping either way.

    I look forward to being 100% open and honest, once the initial shock is over.

    Jonathan,

    I totally relate to the feelings you expressed in your comment. I accept full responsibility for keeping my beliefs a secret, but the church puts us in a precarious position. It is the rigidness of Mormon dogma to which I attribute most of these problems.

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