Years ago I had a blog called “Joseph’s Left One” wherein I mostly complained about the LDS church. But I had a change of heart, and I thought the best thing I could do was help people who were going through the exit process (I prefer “apostasy,” but you know what I mean) avoid some of the mistakes I had made.
I nearly lost my marriage (twice), and I ended up attempting suicide and spending some quality time in a psychiatric hospital, so I’m well-qualified to discuss what not to do when leaving the church.
I see people going through the same struggles, facing the same decisions, and making the same mistakes I made. So, without rehashing my entire past, here are some things I learned that to me made a difference in salvaging my relationships:
1. Do not make the church and/or your leaving it the focus of your relationship. Every LDS marriage has three entities involved: husband, wife, and the church (Mormons would say it’s God, but it’s really the church). We were taught that the gospel/church was the center of our lives, and the focus of our marriages. But marriage is about love, commitment, companionship, intimacy, and a whole lot of other things that are not dependent on the church.
Obviously, the church is going to be a point of contention, but I am convinced that if you put effort into the other areas of your marriage instead of always coming back to your apostasy, you’ll be all right. If you have a good relationship, strengthen and build it. If you don’t have a good relationship, then you have to decide if it’s worth building. But when you put effort into church issues instead of your relationship, you’re toast.
2. Don’t try to convince your loved ones you’re right about the church. They’ve been taught not to listen, and instead to fight back, if you say anything negative or non-faith-promoting about the church. You cannot make people see what you see.
I think the first thing people feel after they figure out Mormonism is that they want other people, particularly their loved ones, to figure it out, too. But we figured it out because we were ready. Trying to get someone to listen when they aren’t ready is pointless.
We want people to respect our beliefs, and we need to return that respect, no matter how difficult that is. I am not endorsing the constant refrain from church members that we keep our mouths shut about what we know. But I’ve found it’s better to answer honestly when people ask, rather than actively pushing my beliefs on others.
3. Don’t feel obligated to explain yourself to anyone. You’ll get visits from hometeachers and bishops and ward members, emails, “love bombs,” attacks, and all kinds of attempts to get you to change the error of your ways. Just remember that you get to choose who you respond to and how you respond. Just because the bishop wants to see you, it doesn’t mean you have to meet with him. When some confrontational person accosts you with hostile questions, you don’t have to answer.
4. Live the life you want. A lot of Ex-Mormons feel like they have to go out and experience life (sometimes by breaking a lot of commandments) to compensate for the years of self-repression in Mormonism. Others of us, myself included, were so determined to not be the stereotypical “apostate” that we felt we always had to be on our best behavior.
But that’s the wrong approach. Live the life you want, not the one that is governed by how you are perceived by others. The choice isn’t between the Mormon template and its opposite; you have to dig deep down to figure out what you believe, what you want, who you are. And that shouldn’t have anything to do with how Mormons see you.
5. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. In Mormonism, anger and contention are of the devil, so we learned to hide our feelings (except of course the positive ones). When you leave the church, it’s natural to feel angry, hurt, and betrayed. I certainly felt that way, probably for about 2 years. When I started posting on the Recovery from Mormonism board, I almost always ended each post with “stupid fucking cult.” I feel a little embarrassed about that, but it was an honest expression of what I was feeling at the time.
It’s OK to be angry and express that anger. But be careful not to take it out on people, especially your loved ones. The anger will fade, eventually (if not, you probably have other issues), but if the anger has been directed at your loved ones, that will cause lasting damage.
One of the things I love about RfM is that, despite what some apologists say, it’s not a cesspool of bitterness. It’s a great place for dealing with the emotions that come out of leaving the church. Almost without exception, people express their feelings and then move on. That’s as it should be.
That’s probably enough for now.