I Was a Good Mormon Wife ... Until My Husband Stopped Believing in God
A photo of the author with her husband.
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“I don’t believe in God,” my husband whispered in the darkness of our bedroom.
My breath caught, and I was afraid to look at him, this boy I met and married eight years ago.
I was only 19 on the day we were sealed for eternity, the wet snow blowing into our faces as we exited the Portland, Ore., temple. I imagined a life of Church service, my husband at my side as we finished our BYU degrees, raised our children, and served missions together in our old age. On the night we got engaged, we struck a deal. “I’ll get you to heaven,” I said. “But you have to keep me here on earth.”
Now his confession hung over our nuptial bed. And though I’d known this was coming — he’d been struggling with his faith for at least two years — I’d never considered what I’d say. Sean had always been the rational one, a brilliant computer scientist who spoke sense when I was in the throes of clinical depression. Now, my thoughts went still as I groped for his hand. Before I could process what I was saying, forbidden words slipped off my tongue. “You are more important to me than the Church,” I said.
I wondered what my pioneer ancestors would say if they could hear me, these grandparents so faithful that they abandoned their East coast relatives for a life here in this Utah desert. Some of their graves stood a few blocks from where I whispered my betrayal, but I didn’t care. I loved Sean, and that had to be enough.
But in the weeks that followed, there was a distance between us. We stepped lightly around conversation, kept talk to the kids, work and the mundane. Our friendly touches in the kitchen disappeared. My acceptance shifted to bitterness and anger.
I spent my morning runs worrying about what was being said around my Mormon neighborhood. We lived 20 minutes south of BYU’s desert campus, and most of my running partners had husbands high up in the Church hierarchy. I waited anxiously for them to mention my heathen family, wondered if they’d heard that my eternity with my husband was now in jeopardy, that in the hereafter I’d likely be pawned off to some other righteous man as a plural wife — probably my ex-boyfriend; hopefully not Brigham Young. And all the while I couldn’t stop thinking. Why, Sean? I didn’t sign up for this. You promised me we’d spend eternity together, and now you might as well be gone.
That sinister word flickered around in my head: divorce. It manifested itself onto my notebook paper as I scribbled out my daily morning pages. I didn’t want it, but sometimes I thought both of us would be happier if we said good-bye.
Sean and I spent our time in the usual way, taking long summer walks along Hobble Creek. While our two eldest sons raced ahead on their bicycles, we followed with the baby (okay, the two-year-old) in the stroller. Sean obsessed about death. “I’m so terrified of losing you and the boys,” he said one day after waving hello to our neighborhood women’s leader. He looked over at me and said, “I couldn’t bear it.”
Confused sadness flickered in my eyes. His fears were utterly foreign to me. We’d both been taught from an early age that death was simply the gateway back to God. How could he not see — as I did — that this was true? I know we’ll be together again, I wanted to say. Instead I said gently, “I hope for your sake that you die first. Then you won’t have to deal with the grief of losing us.”