Preserving Mixed Faith Relationships

Reposting from my blog:

When you first arrive to the other side of faith, or at least to an opposing side to one or more of your family, friends or acquaintances, there are a few pitfalls in which one could accidentallysabotagean otherwise desirable relationship and fellowship with them. Hopefully by identifying those pitfalls and outlining approaches to preserving the relationship we will be aided in a more peaceful transition from having been on the same page in regards to personal beliefs, to now being on an entirely different book. For the most part I advocate the philosophy of “be who you are and say what you want because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind”. But when it comes to preserving or restoring desired relationships, the relationship generally takes priority over personal needs if the relationship is to endure. First let’s look at a few pitfalls in navigating mixed faith relationships.

Wanting to share too much or wanting to de-convert others
Learning upsetting facts about your religion that paint an opposing story to the claims of your previously beloved faith can be very mixed in the emotional realm, from euphoria and enlightenment, to rage and sadness. Being on the other side of the fence with a broadened perspective naturally produces the desires to open the eyes of others, to both “save” them from a perceived fraud and to have them join you in this new path. The pitfall here is potentially driving a wedge in your relationships by exposing information that the party of interest may not be ready to hear, which will activate their defenses and pit them against you, causing them to see you as a threat that may throw out uncomfortable info unexpectedly at any time. Unless the relationship in question is with your own children who are yet minors, we are mostly talking about adults who are responsible for their own paths in life and who are you to choose their path for them? They will more likely find interest or respect towards your new path by the way in which you live it than by forcing information on them about their own ill arrived path. Our past programming or tendency to be a missionary is often the culprit of this pitfall.

Withdrawing personal respect
I’m a strong believer in “we reap what we sow”, especially when it comes to relationships. How we approach others and their still cherished beliefs while in their presence can go a long ways in how they return to us what we usually desire most, personal respect. Remembering that for most religious, faith beliefs are very much intertwined with their personal identities, it makes sense that how we show respectfulness for their beliefs or at minimum, their right to believe as they will, can very much affect the cohesion of that relationship. Sly comments, mean spirited jokes or outright insults towards their beliefs or relition while in their presence will quickly sabotage that relationship to doom if that approach remains unchanged. You don’t have to respect or accept their beliefs, you just have to give them the same respect that you so desire towards your own beliefs and path. Even if they don’t give you that respect, not caving to disrespect yourself may eventually lead to them respecting you, or at least in making for a more enjoyable relationship. When family or friends default to talking about church in front of you, remember that to them, church is still a huge part of their lives. If it makes you uncomfortable, attempt to change the topic or withdraw rather than disrupting the peace between you with disrespectful comments or insults.

Evaluating Relationships
The above two pitfalls are the primary relationship killers that I have observed since leaving Mormonism three years ago. For those relationships that you desire to preserve, being aware of these pitfalls can greatly increase your chances of continuing in fellowship with family and friends. Now, not all relationships are equal, and some were flawed from the start and ought to be let go as ingenuine, morning the loss if necessary and moving forward to new, authentic relationships to replace them. Relationships with still believing family and friends however, are likely ones you would like to continue. Evaluating which relationships are worth preserving can give a direction of how to approach each of those unique relationships. Relationships are generally founded on a common interest or bond of some sort. That common interest or bond can be blood-relatives, employment, hobbies, common-interests(sports, cooking, past experiences etc), location or one of many other possible bonds. Where no bonds exist in a relationship, the effort being put into preserving that relationship ought to be evaluated and perhapsre-channeledinto relationships that are more desirable to succeed. When leaving your religion, sometimes the only common bond in a relationship is now no longer common and so for both parties best interest and when no other common bond can or wants to be established, the relationship ought to be taken off life support and allowed to die so that it can be mourned and moved past, and room made for more genuine relationships.

Tailoring your comportment for compatibility
Once you’ve determined that a relationship is desirable to continue, the task is now up to you to identify compatible or incompatible factors in your behavior so as to best match or preserve the relationship. Some might consider this tailoring of your behavior as “inauthentic” or deceptive. I would point out that behaving appropriately for the occasion and audience at hand does not remove or take away anything from you and if anything, proves your level of maturity andadaptabilityfor those things which matter most to you. You may be a genuine jackass when alone but if that is how you behaved with everyone you interacted with, you’d likely have very few family or friends who would put up with you for long. For the most part, we all tailor our behavior all of the time depending on who our audience is and so any reservations about doing so making you inauthentic can be dispelled.

The task then is to identify what threatens the relationship and what preserves it, the boundaries of both parties to be respected. When a boundary of the other party is known to have been breeched, best to note that in your memory banks and avoid that border dispute in future interactions. When any of your own boundaries are breeched, respectfully bring that to the attention of the other party and let them know that was not okay. For the relationship to work, both parties will have to learn to respect boundaries. We only have control over our own behavior. When the other party in any relationship refuses to respect your boundaries, the length of visits can be modified for self preservation and to hopefully educate them to respect those boundaries should they desire lengthier visits in the future.

Since leaving religion, I have found relationships to be some of the most rewarding investments of our short time on this spec gliding through the oceans of space. I am the only member of my immediate family (siblings and parents) to leave the LDS faith. We meet up for family gatherings about once a month and so I have found it both necessary and rewarding to have established a happy medium of compatibility with them and still be welcomed into their fellowship along with my wife and kids. Relationships require our ability to adapt, respect and at times sacrifice. By avoiding the pitfalls of sharing too much when not invited, respecting the rights of others to believe as they will, and adapting our comportment for compatibility, hopefully we can preserve those relationships we value most and be respected by those we often most desire respect from. Be gentle on yourself and your family or friends as you navigate with them to redefine working relationships and boundaries on the principles of respect, love and compassion. Both sides will make mistakes from heat of the moment irrationality. Be true to yourself, allowing others to be true to themselves. As a closing proverb to engender deeper contemplation, I share the following: “You can be right, or you can be happy“.


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6 Responses

  1. Noah says:

    “They will more likely find interest or respect towards your new path by the way in which you live it than by forcing information on them about their own ill arrived path.” I believe that is the way to be both right AND happy. It’s difficult for family and friends to condemn when they cannot deny the positive changes that have taken place in you as a result of your decision to leave Mormonism. Personally, I never fully left Mormonism, because I still identify as a Mormon; that said, I also identify as an agnostic. Nevertheless, what I abandoned a replaced with purer, deeper, more transcendent spirituality, so if you can show friends and family by your words and actions that you traded in Mormonism for something better, then it will be very difficult for them to find fault.

  2. MikeUtah says:

    Well said Noah.

  3. Daniel says:

    I’m an ex-Mormon atheist, and I often choose to exercise restraint in the comments I make in the presence of my religious family. (I’m fairly fortunate, in that I have an ex-Mormon blog that my family knows about, so they can choose their level of involvement with my views and I don’t really need to make an issue of it in real life.) I think a great many of us do what you’re suggesting — be respectful, and say nothing, if it helps to maintain relationships.

    However, what people often miss is that we do this in an environment where family members do not exercise similar restraint and respect. They exhibit no qualms about presenting their religious view as not only true, but moral. Worse, their religion presents the unapologetic promotion of their superstition as an unalloyed good which ‘brings families together’ and ‘preserves the fabric of society’. As a result, they impugn our morality, and consider us lost and fallen.

    Are you also presenting the ideas in your post to them, and if so, are they listening?

  4. chanson says:

    I agree completely with your analysis and advice. As I wrote years ago (if there’s no solution, there’s no problem), with family members and other personal relationships, you have to accept that others are capable of researching faith questions on their own. And if the relationship matters to you, you have to be willing to accept that the other person might reach (or have reached) a conclusion that is different from yours.

  5. MikeUtah says:

    Thanks for commenting Daniel. I hope my post is written such that both sides could apply the principles to themselves and create greater respect for each other’s views and boundaries. The blog is publicly available so hopefully believers will read and consider it too.

  6. chanson says:

    Just to follow up on Mike and Daniel’s point:

    From observing families IRL (and especially reading on the Internet), I’ve found the situation to be surprisingly parallel. That is, sure you have some Mormons who take an attitude that “This household is still 100% Mormon, I will be sure all of our common space and family interactions reflect this assumption — and if the unbelievers complain, I’ll just make snide comments about them being sinners.” OTOH, I’ve also seen cases where the former Mormon will not stop harping on proofs of why Mormonism is false (even after the believer has specifically asked them to stop having this discussion), and even mocking the believer’s beliefs, so the believer feels uncomfortable in his/her own home. Then, I’ve seen plenty of cases where both sides intuitively figure out appropriate boundaries, and know how to agree to disagree for the sake of the relationship.

    I think it’s a good idea for someone on the outside (like Mike) to write this advice directed at his own group (like he did). To write “You guys need to clean up your act and stop doing XYZ” (without acknowledging that it goes both ways) can backfire. It’s easier to point at an essay like this an say: “Here are the boundaries I’m trying to respect for you. Tell me if there are any points I need to work on. And I need you to respect the same [or equivalent] boundaries for me, and for our family.”

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