I penned this shortly after coming out as a former Mormon in 2010, but I don’t think I ever posted it anywhere. If you’re starting to have questions or concerns about the Church, I hope these thoughts might help you as you share your faith journey with loved ones.
Pitfalls of Non-Disclosure
I Kept My Disbelief in the Mormon Church from My Believing Wife
Years ago, I worked for a company that regularly had layoffs. Each time a layoff was looming we (the employees) would hear rumors that it was coming and all the associated rumors like how big it would be or what departments were going to be hit the worst. This happened about once a year on average. Each time, I’d tell my wife of the impending layoff to get her ready for the possibility of me losing a job. Each time she worried for nothing—that is until the last layoff I experienced there. The layoff rumors started, and I decided that I wouldn’t worry my dear wife over it this time. As you may have guessed, this was the layoff that hit me. The first indication she got that something was wrong, was me showing up at home early from work. It was anything but enjoyable to share that news from out of the blue. A smart person would have learned a lesson from that. I guess I’m not so smart.
Sometimes we find ourselves deeply affected by the results of one pivotal action. My wife and I are currently in a very rough storm that came from such an action. The swells from the storm terrify us as they take us up and then down and threaten to shatter our marriage to pieces on the rocks. The pivotal moment was my disclosure to her that I no longer believe in the Church or its claimed authority. For years I’ve had some concerns about the Church. These were concerns like the priesthood ban on blacks or President Hinckley saying, “I don’t know that we teach it” regarding the idea that God was once a mortal man. But I shelved these concerns. Then I had an epiphany in July 2008 that left me with no belief in the claimed divine authority of the Church. I didn't tell my sweet wife about it until this April . I made the same mistake I had made with that last layoff, only this time on a much grander scale. I had kept a fundamental change in my core beliefs from her for almost two years. I had my reasons for doing this, but it created a series of problems. I’d like to explain these problems in the hopes that someone might learn from my mistakes.
When I discovered the Church was not what I had thought it was, I was absolutely shocked. Within a matter of a few days I realized I no longer believed in it. My wife and I had built our life together on the premise that the Church was true and that it was critical for us to work together raising our children to live by its teachings. I knew my wife would be upset. I thought there was a chance she might leave me, and I knew that courts typically determine custody issues in favor of the mother in divorces. I was terrified. (Everything I’ve experienced since telling my wife of my disbelief has confirmed that these were realistic fears. In other words, these dangers still exist for us after hiding my disbelief and then disclosing it after so many months.) At first, I thought I might reconcile what I’d learned and “regain my testimony.” I think it was within a couple of weeks that I realized the testimony of the Church was not coming back. At that point I thought that I might be able to just live a lie for the rest of my life and save my wife from the pain of discovering I no longer believed. It was within a few months that I gave that idea up. I realized that I could not, in good conscience, continue to support the Church. At that point the thought of telling my wife was excruciating because I had kept the secret for so long. In the meantime, I joined PostMormon.org [a message board that’s been out of order for years now] and sought support from others who no longer believed. The sense of betrayal I felt by the Church led to me posting rants on PostMormon.org against the Church. I expressed disrespect for the Church, its general leaders, and its precepts. Many of these posts were very sarcastic and mean spirited.
I decided to tell my wife, but timing became an issue. I didn’t want to do it right before the holidays or right before having family from out of state visit us. On top of that I wanted to be in a better place regarding my sense of betrayal by the Church and my anger at the Church. I finally softened my feelings towards the Church. Then company we were planning to have, visited and left. I just needed to work up the courage to disclose my secret. The thought of telling her was so frightening to me that even a couple of weeks before I told her of my disbelief, I wondered if living a lie for the rest of my life would be a better option. I finally told her on a day during the week while the kids were at school. It hit her like a ton of bricks. She was devastated, but not just by the fact that I had spiritually left the Church, but that I had hidden this from her for so long. Since I had hidden this, why wouldn’t she conclude that I might be capable of hiding other things—an affair or a drug habit for example. She quite understandably did not trust me as a result of this. We told a friend in our neighborhood who is a family counselor about my living a lie for so many months, and he said to my wife, “So by keeping this from you, he invalidated you, right?” I was guilty as charged! Worse yet, I had needed support as my beliefs changed, and I didn’t go to her for that support. Some former Mormons might argue that I couldn’t go to her for that support, but I never even tried. I had in fact failed to trust her. Three days after disclosing my disbelief, I told her about my posts on PostMormon.org (no longer exists; was a message board for former Mormons and those moving away from Mormonism) and a blog I had begun about my exit from the Church. The blog expressed disbelief, but I had turned that emotional corner regarding the Church so it was much more respectful than many of my PostMormon posts. The fact that I turned to others for support (even anonymously) and that my posts were so angry and spiteful ripped through her heart like shrapnel. I had betrayed our trust of emotional intimacy by going to others for support behind her back. I mocked things that are sacred to her in my angry posts, and this felt (feels) to her like I was mocking her. She knows I’m a good man, but, to her, this behavior is so incongruent with what a good man is, that she struggled to reconcile the good man she knows with the sneaky and disrespectful behavior.
To be clear, I’m not saying that there is never a reason to withhold such information from your spouse. For example, if your spouse isn’t willing to support you through even the little bumps in life, withholding your disbelief may make sense. A recent or imminent death in the immediate family might be a good reason to withhold your disbelief from a spouse for a time. However, even in exceptional cases, I think one should consider the pitfalls of living a lie. I’m not saying that telling a spouse from the onset is necessarily going to prevent divorce or trauma. However, if I had told my wife right away, she would have had a chance to be my partner in the process. As it was, I excluded her and prevented her from working through this with me. Keeping my disbelief from her only prolonged the inevitable pain over my disbelief. In addition, my non-disclosure led to unnecessary feelings of betrayal and distrust. If a spouse is likely to leave you for leaving the Church, I think it will usually be more likely after keeping your disaffection from him/her, especially for a prolonged period of time. On the other hand, if you tell your spouse of your doubts and disbelief from the beginning, the spouse has the opportunity to see the process and understand its genuine toll on you. Your spouse then has the chance to be there to support you. They may have a better understanding of why you came to the conclusion you came to. They may not take these opportunities to understand and support you, but, generally speaking, I don’t think living a lie for a while makes it any more likely that they’ll understand or support. I think living a lie tends to create more obstacles to this kind of intimacy.
To summarize, keeping your disbelief in the Church from your spouse can lead to the following hazards:
Dishonesty of living a lie.
Betrayal of emotional intimacy.
Inability to work together through the trauma of losing belief.
Larger initial trauma for the believer from an eventual disclosure of unbelief.
Additional feelings by the believing spouse of distrust for the non-believer.
Additional sense by the believing spouse of betrayal by the non-believer.
I don’t want anybody to judge him or herself harshly if they have already kept their disbelief from their spouse. If you discovered you can no longer believe, chances are you felt isolated, trapped, overwhelmed, and had little support or information to work with in making decisions about what to do next. I imagine for some, the loss of a testimony is so traumatic it could lead to depression, inability to make decisions, thoughts of suicide, disabling fear, and a host of other problems. If you’re in this kind of place, know that you’re not alone, that you do matter, that you are loved, and that your life can be wonderful eventually. Don’t take my words as judgment. Rather, learn from my mistakes. See what you can take from my experience to make the best of your situation.
The pitfalls of hiding your disbelief in the Church from your spouse are numerous and significant. For those of you who still believe in the Church, I’d suggest you consider sharing even the little doubts with them any time a doubt comes up. You might think you don’t need to because you’ll never lose your testimony. I would have thought the same thing about myself until that epiphany in 2008.
Coming out | A road map for before, during and after
If you’re concerneda about how to share your disbelief, this video might help. It has great information about disclosing sensitive information about yourself whether it be religious non-belief or some other part of you that you fear others might judge or treat you poorly for.