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Ask a Latter-day Saint Therapist: My Spouse Fights Me on Going to Church and Studying the Scriptures

by | Jan. 10, 2020

Editor's Note: The views, information, or opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author. Readers should consider each unique situation. This content is not meant to be a substitute for individual, professional advice.

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Q: I have been married to a worthy priesthood holder for several years now. We have a little daughter.When it comes to gospel routines in our home, I feel that my husband isn’t motivated. He never initiates family prayer or scripture study, and when we get ready to go to church it feels like a battlefield. We both get super irritated and I even felt once that it's much easier for me to just attend without him.

We try to do scripture study via text because he works late, but he doesn’t contribute much. He says he hasn’t been doing personal gospel study. I'm feeling increasingly isolated. Like I'm suddenly the only one who needs the gospel in our lives. Every time I try to address this issue, he gets defensive and nothing changes. We’ve also talked to our bishop, but we still haven’t been able to find common ground. What do I do?

A: Thank you so much for trusting me with this. I appreciate that you describe your husband as a “good priesthood holder.” It speaks to you seeing him as his divine identity, not his current behavior. It’s got to be heavy and hard to assume the mantle of gospel leadership in the home on your own, rather than as an equal partner.

The fact is that most of us wrestle with our dedication to the gospel from time to time. Becoming lethargic in our gospel study, personal prayer, or even church attendance is an all-too-frequent occurrence as the battle rages inside us between light and dark, righteousness and sin, abstinence and temptation, and even devotion and apathy.

First things first, while I’m going to give some general counsel here, I want to give my witness to one of the great promises of the Savior. Whenever I must have a sensitive, important conversation with someone (especially someone that I love), I approach it prayerfully. I ask (and sometimes fast) that the Spirit will guide me. I may plan what I want to say, but I leave myself open to adapting my words, or jettisoning them entirely, as the Holy Ghost directs.

Time and time again, in therapy with my clients, in parenting my children, in resolving conflict with my wife, in healing friendships and family relationships, when I must have a conversation (or multiple conversations) with “a lot riding on them” I remember the promise of the Lord: “it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” (Matthew 10:19-20)

How do we access that Spirit? Christ himself told us. “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:85). I feel impressed to tell you to not underestimate the power of the scriptures in opening your heart and mind to the wisdom of God. I urge you to study the word of God through his prophets, ancient and modern, and seek specific answers both for getting support and guidance for yourself as well as in helping your husband.

There could be any number of things going on here. Perhaps he really is spread too thin and believes that he hasn’t the mental, emotional, or spiritual capacity to truly engage in “one more thing.” Perhaps he is wrestling with his testimony or is encountering the internal darkness that accompanies sin (though it would be a mistake to assume so right off the bat). It could be something else entirely. But you’ll never know unless he opens up, and that’s not something you can control. It is, however, something you can influence.

The fact that he doesn’t want to talk about it and gets irritable suggests that it could be a sore spot for him, and while he may respond defensively (or withdraw) no matter what your approach, there are things you can try that may help him to open up. Many people pull away or push back if they feel criticized. I’m not saying you’ve done that; likely you’ve approached him as softly as you could before (or if) you tried the blunt approach.

Vulnerability is key here. It’s not about his “failings,” or how he may or may not be “letting you down.” I mean, it may be about those things in part, but that’s not the inroad to take. Shaming, guilt-tripping, disapproving, and criticizing usually don’t soften hearts. Rather, consider an approach along the lines of “I feel a divide between us on the subject of the gospel. I don’t want to be divided with you. I want to be close to you. I miss that. I miss feeling close. I miss feeling like we’re partners. I’m open to seeing how I’ve contributed to that divide, and I’m asking you to be open to that on your end. Whatever you’re going through, I’m here for you. Even if it’s hard to talk about, I’m here for you. I can’t promise that I won’t be hurt, but I can promise that I’ll be grateful for the honesty, and it will help us to trust each other. Would you be willing to tell me what’s going on with you, and how I can help?”

It doesn’t have to be those words. You can make it your own. I’ve seen this kind of vulnerability work for many people in similar situations. Again, if you seek the Spirit it can guide you in your delivery and your husband in his receptivity. If the Holy Ghost steers you in a different direction, go with that instead. But in many cases he may support an approach like I just suggested.

Where you go from there depends on what your husband says. There are too many variations and possibilities to address in this article, but I will say that people are never judged back into church activity. They are loved back. And if he never feels that fire for the faith again? How that plays out will depend on you both, but staying close to the Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, along with practicing love, forgiveness, compassion, and personal righteousness, will help you on the way.

God bless you both. I hope this helps.


Jonwe

Jonathan Decker, LMFT

Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical director of Your Family Expert. He offers online relationship courses to people anywhere, as well as face-to-face and online therapy to persons in several states. Jonathan has presented at Brigham Young University Education Week and at regional conferences in Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. He is married with five children. Contact him here and join his Facebook group for daily Gospel-based relationship tips. 

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