Monday, March 21, 2011

For better or worse

When I was 14, I learned the most important relationship lesson of my life.  (Weird, right?  But it happens.)

I was in Sunday School and our teacher was telling us a story.  Now, not to rip on my old Sunday School teacher too badly, but she was kind of a trip.  The phrase "cool mom" never meant more than with this woman. She had the trendy haircut and elaborate highlights, a better tan than any of us teenage girls (with our stern parents keeping us out of tanning beds, those jerks), a wardrobe that she shared with her high school aged daughters, and a seemingly endless supply of those platform wedge sandals and flip flops that were so cool circa 1999.

And on this Sunday, she told us a story about her marriage.

(Sidenote: Do I feel bad sharing someone else's personal information on the Internet, even if it is anonymously?  I don't know.  Kinda, I guess.  But it definitely helps that she shared her marital problems with a dozen ninth graders, so her expectation of privacy is rather low.)

When Cool Sunday School Teacher was preggo with her youngest child, her husband came to her and told her he had serious doubts about the LDS church.  He had lost his faith and no longer wished to attend church or anything else that goes along with being Mormon.

Cool Sunday School Teacher told us that although it broke her heart, her response was to kick her husband and father of four children (including one in utero) out of the house until he regained his testimony, which -- surprise, surprise -- he did within a matter of months.

No doubt Cool Sunday School Teacher meant to impress upon us the importance of devotion to God (her response), or the fact that trials lead to deepening faith (her husband's alleged response).  Maybe it worked on the other kids, I don't know. 

But for me, all it did was reinforce the idea that finding someone who agrees with you is less important than finding someone who is loyal to you.

Did Brother Cool Sunday School Teacher really have the change of heart he told his pregnant wife about?  I'm going to fight my natural cynicism and say, "Maybe."  

But the real issue is, can Cool Sunday School Teacher answer that question?  If she's honest, the answer is no.  No, she doesn't know whether her husband experienced a religious re-awakening or whether he lied to get his wife and children back.  She never will, because when he had a trial of his faith, her response was to kick him to the curb and feel righteous about it.  Ironically, this also means that if her husband did have the religious experience he claimed, she doesn't really get as much joy out of it because on some level she will have to wonder if the whole thing was fabricated.

Because realistically, when presented with the choice to push aside feelings of doubt and disbelief (which aren't fun to begin with) so you can regain your family, most people choose the easy lying route, and I say this with no judgment.  And it's been (gulp) over a decade years since she told us that story, making it a full 20 years since the original marital estrangement of Brother and Sister Cool Sunday School Teacher.

Maybe he did lie, but since then he's found spiritual peace.  Or maybe he's still as miserable as he must have been when he first approached his wife about his feelings.  Maybe he just doesn't think about any of it anymore. Your guess is as good as mine.

Even more painfully obvious is the fact that Brother Cool Sunday School Teacher will never be able to honestly share his feelings about religion and spirituality with his wife, unless she has subsequently apologized for breaking her own marriage vows by not accepting and supporting him at the moment he needed her most.  Real religious experience or not, he knows now that his wife will only support him in good times -- which in a way, even makes the good times less sweet.

Don't get me wrong, I think if you have a certain list of "dealbreakers," then that's all there is to it.  But in my opinion, dealbreakers are for dating.  Once you're in a real, grown-up, big-girl-pants relationship, it's pretty immature to say, "I will only love you if X, Y, and Z."

To throw in some unnecessary lawyer speak at the end of this post, it's the difference between run-of-the-mill breach and material breach in a contract.  Married people probably breach (ie, little breach) their contract all the time.  It happens, much like real estate agents and mortgage companies will never successfully close a real estate deal on time.  You may get flowers or a reduction in closing costs to compensate you for the breach, and you may even get nothing at all.  (Such is life.)

But material breach (the biggies) are hopefully rare.  Material breaches are the ones that can end the contract.  But even in the case of material breach, it's the non-breaching party's duty to attempt to mitigate his or her damages. 

Yes, some breaches are unforgivable, at which point you must release the divorce lawyers like Zeus released the Kraken oh-so-long ago.  (Mwahahahahaha!  We're going to take your money AND your dignity! - Cordially Yours, The Divorce Lawyers.)  But the thing that most people forget about is that when you react to a little breach by attempting to get out of the contract altogether, you are the one in material breach -- the big no-no, in other words.  You are the one who is in the wrong, you are the one who owes damages.

Cool Sunday School Teacher was not wrong to feel hurt or lost by her husband's confession of doubt, but like the person who tried to get out of buying a house as soon as she found out the pipes were stamped with the wrong brand name, she screwed the pooch when she forgot she promised him eternal loyalty before he ever promised her to never change his mind.

A song that reminds me of someone: "Abide With Me, 'Tis Eventide" - reminds me of my grandmother.  


  1. Well put, and I couldn't agree more. Of course being Irish I can deal with stuff being wrong till I die, which tragically I would most likely do.

  2. The legal analogy in this post is so great, even if it does remind me that I still haven't learned contract law. Also, the marital advice: I'll definitely be repeating "dealbreakers are for dating."

  3. One of the reasons I'm so glad I didn't go to BYU and left the church before I got married.

    I can't imagine putting my degree on the line for my (lack of) religious convictions. That whole time was traumatizing enough.

    And speaking of traumatizing, there was a good podcast on a while ago about a wife dealing with her husband's disaffection from the church. It sounds like she was a lot more thoughtful and empathetic than Sister Cool, but it's a hard transition for both partners to deal with.

  4. Sister Cool Sunday School Teacher doesn't sound so cool to me.

  5. A-freaking-MEN!!!!

    My husband and I have conversations about this all the time. We might not be the best Mormons, but we're honest with each other, and having doubts is NOT a deal breaker.

    NIKOL says it best.

  6. I'll never understand why people think doing that or something like it is totally okay in marriage, but it happens. Then again, I am the daughter of a one mormon republican/one non/less religious democrat parent household, so maybe I have different expectations.