Question: “My husband has speculated about Mormon doctrine and pieces of the church’s history for some time, it seemed to come to ahead over the last couple of months with all the media attention to women and the priesthood stuff in the news and he has significant doubts about our faith. He spoke to me and said he’s really struggling and is not sure he wants to remain a member of the church. He says that he really enjoys the family aspects that the church offers and the values it teaches but he cannot rectify his spiritual believes with the knowledge he feels he has about things that have happened in church history. Any ideas for me? I am worried it is impacting our marriage, his doubts are leading him to spend more time away from me in the evenings and to his feeling like he does not want to be a part of the church in the future.”
Answer: Thanks for writing in, I can tell this must be a very difficult time for you and also a very difficult and spiritually strenuous time for your husband. I’ve worked with individuals in the past that have had significant doubts and spiritual struggles with respect to their testimony and belief in the church and gospel doctrine. From what I understand, it sounds like your husband is struggling with several things doctrinal pieces yet the larger part seems to be based upon pieces of church history that have led him to doubt in the authenticity or ‘truth’ of the LDS Church.
I call these significant periods a crisis of faith or a spiritual emergency. Individuals regardless of their faith, at one point or another appeared to have significant struggles with respect to their spiritual beliefs. The difficulty that is presented to most Mormons is that their spiritual beliefs are also very intricately interwoven with cultural practices and the way that they live their lives. Some faiths are similar to this, the way we live, who we relate with, how we spend our time, and what we believe is often influenced and connected to faith tradition and spiritual beliefs about truth in Mormon life. This being stated, it is extremely difficult and emotionally and spiritually heart wrenching to move through a crisis of faith with significant doubts because moving away or distancing yourself spiritually from what was understood at one time as the truth is more than just leaving a faith, it’s leaving or questioning the culture and the entire way ones been living the life.
I have a few recommendations for you, things that I believe that you can do that will influence your marriage and your husband’s spiritual journey.
Listen, Listen, Listen. – listening and hearing his heart and his struggle is extremely important. Nothing is more damning than telling him he’s not spiritual enough or he simply needs to begin praying more often and/or reading the scriptures. The fact of the matter is, he is struggling with his faith and his willingness or ability to believe and he needs someone who will listen and hear his heart. Your husband feeling heard by you, that you actually care about his spiritual struggle, will do more for him in terms of having him feel safe and protected in the marriage relationship than almost anything else. This might prove to be extremely difficult because I’m sure his discussions about his activity in the church and/or the ramifications of his activity and place in the church might lead you to be afraid and overwhelmed. I realize that you probably have a myriad of emotions and I also feel it is very important that you are able to discuss those with him in addition to listening to his heart and feelings.
Your Grounding – I strongly recommend that you do your own work with respect to your being grounded spiritually. Spending time pondering, praying, reading, and worshiping will be very helpful in terms of establishing your own secure base about what you believe and fortified relationship with God. It’s extremely important that you not lose footing in your own beliefs as you attempt to nurture and strengthen your relationship with Deity and what you believe.
The Marriage – your marriage is built on your relationship which entails memories, commitments, friendship, pastimes, shared responsibilities, etc. It is important to remember that your husband’s spiritual believes are not the be-all-end-all to your marriage. Now, I understand your spirituality and religious behavior is a significant part of Mormonism, so it will likely impact your marriage on multiple fronts. Yet, I believe it’s important to remember that your relationship is built on many factors and working to strengthen your relationship emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually is just as important now as it was before his crisis of faith.
I have a few books that I’ve read that might be potentially helpful.
Shaken Faith Syndrome – The process and stages of psychological and spiritual progression and digression path that occurs when faith crisis and spiritual emergencies emerge. I highly recommend this book.
The God Who Weeps – How Mormonism makes sense of life.
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling – The most balanced and comprehensive and “factual” book that I’m aware of that has an unbiased historical view of the history of the LDS church. This can help as solid reference backdrop for historical questions.
Seth Adam Smith’s Blog Post – Seth, an online blogger’s thoughts on faith crisis.
Seeing a LDS counselor that is familiar with faith crisis and spiritual emergency would also be helpful in guiding you as to your path and how you can support and sort through this trying time. Be believing, it will happen.