“You Are The One Who Broke Our Marriage Covenants By Disobeying The Church, So If We Get Divorced Its Your Fault!”

“You are the one who broke our marriage covenants by disobeying the Church, so if we get divorced its your fault!”

One of our companions the other night raised the old notion that somehow when one spouse leaves Mormonism and the other does not, the one who leaves is breaching the marriage contract, and is therefore at fault.

This argument does not hold water. Contacts are based on representations. If a foundational representation is false, the contract is void. For example, what if I enter into a contract to purchase 1967 Mustang convertible in mint condition, and just before paying for it find out that it is a clever reproduction instead of the real thing. This would render the contract void, and release me from my obligation to purchase.

To cast this in religious terms, what of a couple who married and at the same time agreed that they would both be faithful to Jim Jones. If one spouse became uncomfortable with what Jones was doing, discovered the ways in which he was misleading and abusing his followers and insisted on leaving his cult, would that be a breach of a marriage contract or wise behavior based on the discovery that a basic representation (or assumption) on which the marriage was based was false? The same applies to Mormonism.

However, it is extremely hard for people to accept reality when it comes to religious beliefs. This explains why marriages did break up prior to and at Jonestown, with some spouses leaving and others remaining to die. It similarly explains the divorce rate (80% in one study) found in cases where one spouse leaves Mormonism and the other does not.

Having been through the marriage wars on my way out of Mormonism, I have a great deal of empathy for people who find themselves in this situation.

My approach, for what it’s worth, was to be up front with my wife regarding the fact that I was no longer prepared to abide by the Mormon Temple covenant. This amounted to me going to her, telling her that I felt that that aspect of our marriage covenant was based on a grotesque misrepresentation, and was therefore not binding on either of us, and inviting her to engage in a discussion with me regarding the kind of marriage we wanted to have. This was an extraordinarily difficult time for us. She was still a fully believing Mormon, and was suspicious of me in many ways. I tried to persuade her, both by what I said and by what I did over several years, but I still loved her; that I wanted to be a better husband and I had ever been before; that this was a result of my own desires and choices instead of out of a wish to qualify for the celestial Kingdom or fear of God or anything else and therefore was more genuine and reliable than anything based on Mormonism’s false representations could ever be; that I believ
ed that our life together could be better than it had ever been. It took a long time, but eventually she was persuaded.

No marriage is perfect and ours certainly is not. However, it is better now than it has ever been.

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