013 Honey, We Need to Talk (Part Two): A Therapist’s Take on Telling Your Spouse
Own your mad, glad, sad, and scared
In part one of Honey, We Need to Talk, our panelists and guests focused on their personal experiences as they navigated their initial conversations with their spouses about their changing faith in Mormonism. From their stories, we can see that no two conversations will be identical, but they will almost certainly be intensely emotional.
In part two of Honey, We Need to Talk, we get our resident therapist’s perspective on how to approach these kinds of difficult, sensitive topics with your spouse or partner. Join Aimee and Oliver as they discuss marriage relationships, differentiation, and how these conversations are likely to differ from those you have with friends or extended family. Aimee also gives some excellent practical advice on how to prepare for the talk with your spouse.
Talking with your spouse about a change in belief will be significantly different than sharing with a friend or extended family member. The mantra, “Tell your story, not your reasons,” doesn’t apply as well to the much more intimate relationship you have with your spouse. This is the person with whom you share a home, raise children, share a bed, share a life. Sharing information about your current beliefs will likely be part of your conversations over time.
As Aimee says, “Marriage is just a series of negotiations,” such as where will we live, how many children will we have, what will we spend money on, or how often will we have sex. When someone has a change in belief, it potentially opens up negotiations that were previously tacitly decided: are we going to baptize our children? How will we approach callings? What will we teach our children about prayer/scriptures/etc? This is what makes the conversations with your spouse so different; you don’t have to negotiate as much with friends or other family members.
As you prepare for these initial conversations, focus on the idea of differentiation, or understanding where you end and another person begins. You get to own your own feelings of mad/glad/sad/scared, and you cannot own anyone else’s feelings. Before you approach your spouse, be very clear about your own mad/glad/sad/scared feelings. Separating your feelings about your marriage and your feelings about the church is crucial; recognize where the church ends and your marriage begins.
Having compassion and empathy for your partner is a critical aspect of these conversations. They are going to have their own feelings of grief and loss, and being able to talk openly and stay with them in those feelings, without taking them on yourself, is an important part of your partnership.
Revealing a change in faith can bring up insecurities from both spouses and can lead to questions about what this means for the marriage. Both spouses need reassurance; at the heart of the situation are the questions, “Will you still love me?” and “Do you still love me?” Addressing these questions through positive and respectful actions can be very affirming for the relationship.
Start sharing information slowly. Introducing your concerns gradually, even if your faith transition has been underway for a long time. Remember that your spouse is not in the same place you are and it can feel traumatizing for them to hear everything all at once.
Remember to lead with expressions of love; always start these conversations by reassuring your spouse that you love them and that you’re in with them. Differentiate your relationship from your religion; your marriage and the church are separate things.
Language choices matter. Try to leave any anger at the church out of your initial conversations. Instead, bring the “I” statements: “I feel _______ and that makes me feel mad/glad/sad/scared.” You can still express pain, sadness, and anger without creating a hostile language environment.
Don’t panic if your partner’s reaction feels like a personal rejection. People may say things in the heat of the moment that they don’t really mean, and your partner will likely need space to grieve. Slow down, allow them to express their feelings, and remember that there will be more conversations to come.
Relationships evolve, so keep a big picture view. There will be many more negotiation conversations as a partnership as you work to find your new normal. Have hope as you work together through this process.
Don’t make big promises in these initial conversations; situations and beliefs change and evolve. For example, don’t promise that you’ll never stop going to church, that you’ll never stop wearing garments, that you’ll never drink. Instead, say, “I don’t know what this is going to look like, but I know that I love you, I want to stay married, and I want to work through this together.”
Mormon Mental Health Association - find a list of therapists by state.
“Secrets of a Passionate Marriage” - an audio recording by David Schnarch. It can be found through your local library on OverDrive or Libby, or it can be purchased as an audio CD on Amazon, or as an audio download on Audible.com. (content warning - some adult language)
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