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Deconstructing Mormon Relationship Advice

May 12, 2009

Over at Friendly Atheist, Hemant’s has had a bunch of fun describing generic non-LDS Christians giving religiously influenced relationship advice, and sometimes I wonder if Mormons can’t have as much fun. But I guess I should’ve been careful with what I wished for.

To be sure, this story isn’t about an atheist and a Mormon falling in love…and I guess that both makes it somewhat anticlimactic and all the more interesting about the relationship advice.

Kathy asks Dr. Elia:

My husband has accused me of being “Too Churchy.” His attitude is that you can still get to heaven without listening to General Conference, missing church or other activities to go camping or vacationing, not attending the temple and just living good.

I must admit that I am a “Molly Mormon.” I try to serve others regularly in and out of my home. I fast every month, attend the temple alone, conduct family prayer and scripture study by myself. He has totally missed the boat! Our religion is my whole life!

I don’t want to have such negativity in my home. I want our marriage to be a celestial one and for our home to reflect the life of Christ. Our children are at a tender age now, and I want them to be strong in the gospel. What can I do to help our marriage?

Oh boy.

Now, I guess I might’ve come to conclusions that I wasn’t necessarily allowed to make, but it seemed to me like Kathy’s husband was indeed a member. Not one of those apostates we’ve been hearing so much about. Instead, I presumed (and maybe it was bad for me to presume) that this was just one member who is not wrapped up in the game of appearances.

…Then again, maybe I should’ve seen the red flags…Believing you can get to heaven by “just living good”? What about celestial temple ordinances for exaltation? This is obvious telestial blasphemy.

But how does Dr. Elia answer?

The main issue afflicting your marriage is lack of spiritual intimacy! I would encourage you to have a heart to heart discussion with your husband. You can also do it in front of a third party like your bishop, if you think it will have a more desired outcome. The success of the discussion will be greatly influenced by the tone and spirit in which it will take place.

..You might want to ask him about your children. Does he want them serving missions and getting married in the temple? If not, then tell him not to change a thing because they will most likely follow the path of least resistance. If, however, he’d like for them to do those things, then it will fall upon him to make some significant spiritual changes in his own life.

I dunno; I guess I would fail this marriage. Because I would say (especially if I were a guy who had said stuff like “living good” is more important than being “too churchy”) it’s really not critical to serve missions or get married in the temple. But then again, my heathen is showing. So, it seems like such a question is asking for trouble — because if the husband has been saying the things Kathy leads us to believe he’s been saying, why would he change the beat with these questions.

There seems to be an underlying presumption…that really, deep down inside, this guy really does care about the orthopraxies of the church, and that by invoking the children, he’ll come to his senses. “What was I thinking?! Of course going on a mission or getting married in the temple is more important than treating others well? I need to get BACK to church!”

And what happens if this doesn’t work..? Now, the wife (and any other people she brings to this — Dr. Elia suggests the Bishop for good ole’ spiritual manpower) has made clear her judgment that she believes his way to be “the path of least resistance.”

As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear a word you are saying.” Kids spot hypocrisy a mile away . . . so how does he want to be remembered by his kids? As for you, stay true to your values. Be strong, faithful and continue to choose the right! You will never regret it; besides by doing so, you will fulfill your stewardship as a mother. As for your husband, at some point in his life, he will need the Savior’s help. Eventually life will bring him to his knees. I hope he chooses to do the right thing without pain causing him to reconsider his relationship with God.

See…this continues the presumption…it assumes a kind of hypocrisy with the husband because he wants to “live good” (and probably teach his kids the same), and yet…*gasp*, he doesn’t do it in the way the church says. So, obviously, because he is not checking all the church blocks, he really isn’t putting his money (oh wait…is he a full tithepayer, or just Kathy?) where his mouth is.

So far, though, I didn’t really have a problem with this piece of advice. I just thought it would raise tensions, not solve the issue, and show a tremendous miscommunication. But in the last three sentences, I just can’t keep up the charade.

But I don’t know. I’m not a doctor.

From → Uncategorized

  1. Nice post. Marital researcher John Gottman found (based on 30 plus years of research) that a couple’s ability to “create shared meaning” is a crucial part of their satisfaction and their staying married. Based on that, I would probably not give specific advice other than suggesting working with a counselor where they could explore the underlying issues, fears, and emotions around this issue, rather than floating around on the surface as they appear to be doing in the article. Heart to heart discussions are good, in this case many may be necessary. While a bishop may give advice on one side, a counselor may be more neutral and help the couple to reach a mutually satisfying solution.

  2. what I worry about in these kinds of situations (even though obviously, I’m not anywhere near this couple) is…what if, even with counseling, the couple do not agree on a created “shared meaning”? I mean, if one side wants one thing, and the other wants another thing, then they might be able to find some compromise, but they both may feel the compromise is not so worthwhile.

  3. For sure, that is a tough issue. Ultimately they may have to decide what they want more. One friend of mine who left the church a while back (her husband is active) is currently trying out a compromise with 2 weeks out of the month going to the LDS ward, then the other 2 weeks she gets to pick what they do. So far it’s working out well.

    I think the key with having shared meaning is getting to the heart of the matter. Specifically what is the core issue for each person that they probably cannot yield on? Usually when that is explored in depth, a person realizes it is a lot smaller than they previously thought.

  4. For some reason, reading this reminds me of the honor code at BYU. The honor code was basically a way to checklist yourself and see if you were living “honorably” but the intent and “essence” behind the rules seemed to be forgotten or ignored completely. It basically is an oral law all the pharisees in Provo love to latch on to. (I’m sorry, after attending BYU I’ve had first hand experience with how the honor code poisons human interactions.)

    Which leads me to also say that I think it’s sad that in the church, a person’s morality is measured on how “active” they are. If a person attends all their meetings, then they are a “faithful moral member.” But as soon as someone stops going to church, people start to question their moral judgment and assume that they are probably breaking the word of wisdom, or having an affair, or gambling, or whatever.

    But yeah, I think that the situation you mentioned in your entry would best be helped if the wife doesn’t nag on the husband to be more “churchy.” I think she could drive him away from the church by putting too much value on perfunctory acts of morality.

  5. It’s funny how ironic that advice is, considering how often “the path of least resistance” is just to go through the churchy motions for the sake of the churchy spouse. Case in point: if this guy wants to increase harmony and lower stress in his marriage, which do you think the path of least resistance would be? Sticking to his guns (insisting on having that church-free family camp-out he was planning), or saying “Honey, I feel like taking you to the temple for our weekly ‘date-night'”?

    It’s also true that your kids pick up on your unspoken messages. If you don’t feel like you’re getting any edification from attending church services and you’re just doing it out of a sense of obligation (to your spouse or to God), the kids will absorb that vibe, and build that into the foundations of their own opinions of church…

  6. After reading this I’m glad that I married a non-member who is just concerned about “living good,” whatever that means. 🙂

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