Given how central the family is in LDS doctrine, divorce in the LDS community is a sensitive and complicated issue. To find out more about how Latter-day Saints experience divorce, I surveyed more than 1,000 active members who have been divorced or are currently going through the process.
For Latter-day Saints, families are not only the fundamental unit of society, but also of the Church. With the comforting doctrine that we can be sealed to our loved ones for eternity, divorce is a conclusion drawn with heavy hearts.
To help us understand what it’s like to be divorced in such a family-oriented church, I conducted a survey of 1,062 Latter-day Saints who have experienced divorce. It was truly amazing to see how sincere and willing to respond these participants were—which only emphasizes how much we still have to learn about divorce among Latter-day Saints.
There is much to appreciate about the honesty and vulnerability of the responses that were shared. These are truly touching and delicate experiences that members of the Church endured as they divorced.
These survey results provide an opportunity for personal reflection. All of us know someone who has been divorced. As you read through these results, pay attention to your own inner voice and emotional responses. Ponder what kind of support you have been, are, and can be to those you know in the Church who have experienced or are experiencing a divorce.
Why do divorces happen among Latter-day Saints?
The reasons for a divorce were many and varied. (Respondents could select more than one answer.)
- Emotional Abuse, 49%
- Infidelity, 48%
- Pornography, 24%
- Spouse Left, 23%
- Grew Apart, 22%
- Addiction Concerns, 18%
- Finances, 17%
- Physical Abuse, 17%
- Mental Health Concerns, 14%
- Parenting Differences/Struggles, 14%
- Facebook, 3%
- Other: 18% (This included: Anger, Apostasy, Sexual Abuse, Health [sick/disabled partner or child], Criminal Activity, In-Law Interference, and Homosexuality.)
How often did the couples seek counseling?
Most couples tried going to counseling to support or save their marriage, but perhaps not to the degree we would expect:
- 42% went a little
- 17% went a lot
- 33% said their spouse didn’t want to go
- 3% said that they didn’t want to go
- 5% couldn’t afford counseling services
Note: The definition of what qualified as “counseling support” is unique for those surveyed, and in the course of the survey seemed to be open to interpretation. Some people counted seeing their bishop as counseling support and never saw a professional.
The Expert Says
Licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Jonathan Swinton of Salt Lake City, Utah, gives further insight on LDS couples that seek counseling:
“The percentage of people that really engaged in couples counseling (beyond a few sessions) is likely lower than national averages. . . .
“National studies have shown that 70–75% of couples that do attend couples counseling are able to salvage their relationship, and that typically takes more than a few sessions. The statistics in the LDS survey indicate that only 17% of the couples attended counseling a lot. I find it interesting that most of the respondents did not actively pursue adequate counseling. I certainly see couples where divorce may be the best option. However, I find it a bit sad that the majority of those that divorced didn’t try counseling when studies have shown how effective it is. I wonder how many of those marriages could have been salvaged.”
Does divorce affect church activity?
Most respondents said they were active at the time of their divorce:
- 83% active
- 9% somewhat active
- 8% less active
Many continued to attend church after their divorce:
- 63% continued going to church in the same ward
- 16% continued going but went to a new ward
- 6% occasionally went
- 8% had a short period away
- 6% stopped going
- 2% increased participation
Some shared why their participation decreased:
“The sisters of the ward blamed me for the divorce and told my girls that it was my fault. My girls did not want to go because of the way the adult sisters treated them.”
While others shared what kept them going:
“I wonder if I would have continued going to church if I [didn’t] have children. I wanted them to be strong in the gospel.”
“Church helped me focus on the positive parts in life instead of what the negatives were.”
“During my separation, I clung to the Church more than I ever had before.”
Do callings change as a result of divorce?
- 46% - Yes
- 54% - No
The top reason for a change in calling was relocation. Many others had a different reason for their change in calling. For example, they wanted to focus on home life or to take care of children. Others believe they were released because they were now a bad example, or because local church leaders didn’t want a divorced person in that role. Some noted that they asked for a break because of the new demands they faced after their divorce.