An anonymous reader writes:

I am dealing with a big problem and don't know what to do. I have been a convert for 15 years. My husband joined 8 years later. My husband was just called as a ward missionary. He works late every day and doesn't get home until 7:00 or 7:30 pm. He hasn't been to church since being called. He is not able to function in this calling. I don't know why he even accepted. He said to me last week that he has a hard time dealing with people going door to door.

I don't know if I should call a member of the bishopric and tell them. I did explain to one of them that I didn't think my husband could do that calling because of work hours. They said, “Don't worry, it will work out.” I felt as if I had confided in the wrong brother. I know my husband too well. I cannot have him go inactive just because of a calling that is a bad fit. I have worked too hard. I came to church alone at times. He has supported me in all of my callings; but frankly, he feels he cannot do this.

We have been married for 19 years. We have two miracle sons ages nine and four. My nine-year-old is struggling as to why isn't dad going to church and now he wants to stay home. We are sealed in the temple.

Sisters, I have prayed and prayed to Heavenly Father to help me keep strong during this time. Please tell me what I can do. Am I wrong to consider going to the bishopric, or should I stay out of it and watch him go inactive?

We have Family Home Evening and family prayers. He just won't do that calling. I think that he will do better to have a Sunday calling. I just found out that I am ADHD/ADD myself which I had suspected for a long time. I am dealing with lots right now and don't know where to turn. My nine-year old has ADHD/ADD as well. I have listened to the spirit (or I think I have) and that's where the idea came from to speak to a member of the bishopric. I look forward to hearing from you.

Alana writes:

I am a 52 year-old sister whose husband of 32 years decided that being a member of the church is no longer his cup of “Kool-Aid” and decided to join another church that is rich in traditional ritual and the epicenter is in Rome. How am I supposed to cope?

We have no children who are at home anymore so no little ones are influenced by their father. Our grandchildren live in Utah with their parents, we live in Oregon. I love my husband, but I need some input on how to live day to day without wanting to scream, cry, and become depressed. I have been reading the scriptures, praying, seeking the counsel of our bishop and a counselor in our stake presidency, who also happens to be a friend. Although their advice is wonderful, I absolutely need a woman's perspective on the situation.

I've been so emotionally distraught at times I can't recognize answers to my prayers. Is there anything else that I can do to try to live with this? I have managed to keep this from my children; they would be just as devastated as I have been.

Kathy says:

Conflict resolution is the defining skill, art, and gift in any relationship. It is characteristic of anyone who has the maturity to sustain a relationship of any kind a long-term friend, a short-term business colleague, a bunk mate at camp, a missionary companion, or a spouse. Any two people who don't have to negotiate conflicts of any kind are simply not in a relationship. (Dear Abby put it more strongly. She says a couple who has “never had an argument” contains at least one partner who has no brain.) A strong testimony is a very dearly held opinion. What if it is not held mutually? “Argument” is a loaded term for a discussion intended to manage a conflict. I think many of our sisters would be quick to say “We don't argue. We discuss.”

What if it were not a topic as far-reaching as the testimony or commitment to church activity of a spouse? What if it were something simple such as “If you take the first shower, I have to have a cold shower every day. That doesn't seem fair. Let's alternate days, or maybe agree on a schedule that allows the water heater to warm up a new tank-full.” What would we think of a bunk mate who said, “Tough. First come, first served. I'm going to race you to the shower every morning, and if that's a problem for you, I guess you have a problem, don't you?” You would probably rather hear something like, “Hey, no problem. I'd really rather shower at night anyway. It's restful for me.”

I think the point is, anything large or small can become divisive in a relationship, a family, or a marriage. Conflicts over money, for example, are blamed as the most common cause of marital discord. I think couples who find friendly solutions to financial decisions tend to be just like the bunkmates who find that there is, actually, enough hot water. It just takes a friendly discussion to find out how to spread it out so everyone is as comfortable as possible. The spouses just have to agree on a very basic level that they don't want to be in a race with someone they love. One person is doomed to be the loser, and neither spouse will accept that outcome.

I think the huge things, such as eternal marriage and family bonds, are so overwhelming emotionally that couples forget the importance of applying the same conflict resolution skills. It is not a race for the hot water. It is an opportunity to guard the marriage and the family against division. Above all else, it needs to be not only a friendly discussion, but an affirmation of a relationship firmly based on mutual love. In extreme cases, part member couples have to be very courteous bunkmates indeed, to come up with friendly negotiations such as “I will not pressure you to drink with me if you will not pressure me to come to church with you.” Do you think our Father in Heaven would smile down upon a marriage such as that? I can tell you from direct personal observation that He can and does.

What if the test were not so much the trial of the inactive or apostate spouse's faith as the trial of the other spouse's loyalty and love? What if the sanctity of the love between partners turned out to be far more important eternally than the unfortunate choice of one partner to turn his back on the restored gospel and lead his children away from the light into darkness? Might the faithful spouse have influence far beyond her understanding, to save those children, if she would honor her commitment to love and support her spouse?

I hope I have not trivialized the pain of any dear sister who has found her vision for her family shattered into a million painful shards by the decision of her spouse to abandon his priesthood powers and responsibilities for some other course. There are few betrayals more agonizing. It is very clear that “forever families” who worship together and follow the prophet joyfully, united in purpose and devoted to each other and to their ward and stake callings, create a glowing core of strength. Their devotion brings power and leadership and shines exemplary light into their neighborhoods and communities and inspires all who know them to lead vibrant, productive lives. It is a personal tragedy to see that potential evaporating before your eyes. Please understand I am only asking if there might be other ways to view many of our tragedies.

I would encourage our first dear reader to go to her ordained leaders any time she needs to open her heart and share her most tender and troubling issues. I don't think it is ever inappropriate to do so. I think she is concerned that there is something of a sense of doing this “behind her husband's back.” I have no sense whatsoever that she is trying to exclude her husband from a discussion that should not take place without his knowledge. In our first bishops' round table regarding callings, our Las Vegas bishop said it is always acceptable and encouraged to let the bishop know about constraints on our availability.

I would also hope our readers who have shared this trial will offer any comfort or solace they might have found through their experience. Thank you for entrusting this tender issue to the Circle of Sisters.

Jeannie says:

You are not alone. We have received several responses from sisters who are in your situation, either with husbands or children and you're right, it is devastating.

To our first sister, my heart goes out to you in a very big way. Your husband seems to be a very good man wanting to accept the calling and be obedient. The perceived reality of what a ward missionary does has obviously intimidated him.

You know, it may be a very good thing for you to talk to your bishop. Stress the fact that you have worked very hard trying to teach your husband and help him stay active. The calling is scaring him to death and he's seeking an escape route, totally understandable. Secondly, the bishop or person responsible for schooling your husband in his new calling should do just that. At the very least, your husband could then make an educated, prayerful decision and not be weighed down by the guilt of not fulfilling his calling. Sometimes, a bishop may extend a calling and assume that the person called is familiar with the responsibility and needs no briefing.

I just spoke with our ward mission leader and he said the program has changed drastically. No longer are ward missionaries encouraged to put in “at least 10 hours a week.” Their callings have been modified to resemble that of a home teacher with emphasis on fellowshipping and service. Absolutely no door-to-door! This fact reduces the stress factor of knocking on doors (which would intimidate anyone!!) by half, at least.

I also have family members who are dealing with ADD. There are many wonderful aids out there for children and adults with this diagnosis. I'm sure you are checking out all the school programs available as well as medical possibilities. Your family doctor can point you in the right direction if you haven't already discussed this with him.

You are carrying a heavy load right now. Share your concerns with the bishop. You'll be in my prayers. Please write back and let me know how things are going.

To the second sister: you must feel so very alone and as you've expressed, are probably questioning everything. The use of the word “epicenter” is totally appropriate in describing the emotional and spiritual earthquake you are experiencing.

You mentioned that you are actively attending the temple and have friends to stand by you, and our first sister stated in her original letter that hers is a close-knit ward. I'm sure there is great comfort in just being in a holy place and I know that in time, you will receive the strength and inspiration needed to weather this violent storm.

My husband counseled many people in his years as bishop. I took the liberty of asking him what advice he would give to someone in your position. He has had the experience of being raised in a part-member family. He has watched his mother's actions for many years. His advice was to be as charitable to your husband as possible. Try to remind yourself of the good things, the positive things about his character. The Spirit planted in your husband's heart through your love, could turn him to the truth once again. I thought this was good long-term advice and probably very similar to what your own bishop and stake counselor said. You do however, need something for the here and now pain of such a devastating decision. To be slashed to the marrow of your belief system is surely one of the most difficult challenges one can be called upon to endure.

Kathy mentioned that dialogue and compromise are two indispensable components of conflict resolution. Would you feel comfortable suggesting that you attend Mass with him and he attend sacrament meeting with you? This is obviously not a viable permanent solution, but might be regarded as a step in his direction. Perhaps, by his own comparative analysis, he would be able to sort out the confusion. If this is not an option, other areas of common ground will have to be cultivated to keep the chasm from growing. Satan will try mightily to make you aware of that chasm and will magnify every fault or shortcoming your husband may have. During these negative times, please evoke the powers of heaven through the priesthood. Ask your bishop for a blessing as often as you feel the need. Lean on the arm of your home teacher. Use and confide in your visiting teachers.

Lastly, you have been deeply hurt. It is essential that this hurt, anger, and frustration not be allowed to govern your agency. There are many effective tools from religious as well as secular resources, to help you cope, resolve and forgive. If you are interested, there is a list of very useful material that I would be happy to share with you.

The Lord is painfully aware of your situation, sisters. He really can make your present burden bearable just as He did with His spiritually and physically overtaxed children long ago. I sincerely hope that you both can make peace with your weighty challenges.

Alison says:

To our second sister, how sorry I am to hear the pain you are going through! I honestly cannot imagine what I would do or how I would react in a similar circumstance and I pray that I never have to find out. It is my prayer that your husband is merely on a temporary distraction and will soon turn back to the truth.

Last summer a dear friend of mine (who has five children, 11 and under) went through a similar situation. Because we were so close, I have gone through some of the pain with her as she has sorted through this situation. I have asked her if she is willing to share some insights with you and all our readers. Although this is still a relatively new and painful part of her life, she has allowed me to share some of her feelings, but has chosen to remain anonymous. She is showing such strength and integrity in dealing with a situation that would be devastating to any faithful member of the church! What an example she has been to me. Here is what she had to say:

I remember how much it hurt at first, and still does daily, that your husband suddenly doesn't share the same sacred feelings and love of the gospel that you have. It really is a sacred bond between two people that I miss so much now that I don't have it. I don't have anyone to discuss sacrament meeting talks with, or share ideas or inspiration with, or just talk about the world and how it is from the same perspective.

I understand the hurt so well, but am far from finding a solution or any comfort in this situation. I am realizing that, in an odd way, this is good for me in that it is really forcing me to refocus my life in the gospel. I am trying to go back to the scriptures, daily, and pray more sincerely, and question my motives constantly. I talk to the kids more about the gospel and what it means in our lives. I guess, I am trying to not take it for granted. But still I am having a hard time, wondering if I really do feel the spirit, wanting bigger more profound answers to my prayers, waiting for something terrible to happen to [my husband] so he will finally wake up and realize what he is doing.

The pain does dull somewhat over time, though when you pause and think about it, like now, it all comes back and hurts that much more. The sister with grown children should at least take comfort that her kids are married and on their own. They are less dependent on their dad now as far as opinion and example go. In the end, we all have to decide for ourselves, and allow everyone else to do the same.

The I Have a Question column in the Ensign of April 1978, gave some wonderful advice from Phillip R. Kunz, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University. Here was the question: We married in the temple, but my husband is now inactive. I feel so frustrated by regret and conflicts that it makes our marriage very difficult. Can you help me?

Professor Kunz said that while each individual case is different, a working solution can be found within the following general principles:

  1. Seek the Lord's help through fasting and prayer. “Your prayers can help, but they cannot ultimately alter his agency.”
  2. Counsel closely and consistently with your bishop.
  3. Do things with your husband as much as possible so that your relationship will continue to grow.
  4. Don't quarrel, criticize, nag or reproach your husband. Be wise and flexible. Don't undermine your husband with the children. One home teacher did much to build up an inactive father in the eyes of his children when he overlooked his smoking, Sunday sports, etc., and said, “You children should be really proud of your father. He has the best reputation in the whole country for never swearing.”
  5. When children wonder why they must attend church when their father doesn't, you can do much to salvage the situation by truthfully explaining as much as he can understand. “Your dad is not yet ready to go to church with us.” It's appropriate to discuss agency.
  6. In dealing with your own regrets, the “might-have-beens” and frustrated hopes, “remain assured that the prophets have said the Lord will not deprive you of any blessings if you are faithful, including, ultimately, the eternal blessings of Temple marriage.”