Ask Mormon Girl: I no longer keep the Word of Wisdom. Should I tell my spouse?

Dear Ask Mormon Girl: I grew up in the church, served a mission, married in the temple, and so forth, but now I guess you could call me “disaffected.” I do attend church, but I don’t believe that the Word of Wisdom is compulsory from God’s perspective and I do not follow it to the letter. In my wife’s eyes, there’s no wiggle room. My wife is aware of my feelings of disaffection but not that I don’t follow the Word of Widsom. Should I tell her? I don’t want to hurt her.

ML in CA

Ah, the Word of Widsom. A “principle with promise,” it’s true. But scratch your family history, and you may very well find stories of Mormon great-great grandfathers who drank a little beer or great-grandmothers who kept coffee pots on their stoves. Strict observance of the Word of Wisdom did not become a requirement for temple attendance until the 1920s under Church president Heber J. Grant.

Still, it’s undeniable that for observant LDS Church members in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the Word of Wisdom has become a major boundary separating the inside from the outside, us from them, safe from scary. You already know that the fact that you’ve crossed that boundary may make your wife feel worried, afraid, angry, or disappointed, and you want to keep it secret to protect her feelings and maybe yours too.

It seems to me, then, that your question isn’t really about the Word of Wisdom. Your question is really about how to preserve your marriage during a major transition in the nature of your religious faith. I get the feeling that you love your wife, and you care deeply about your marriage. You wouldn’t be writing to a complete stranger for advice if you didn’t.

To get an additional perspective, I shared your question with a woman friend of mine whose marriage has survived a major faith transition. Both husband and wife attend church together; she remains a highly observant member, while he no longer keeps the Word of Wisdom nor believes as he once did. She stressed how important it is to be honest with your spouse, even if you’re afraid that what you have to say will hurt her. In her experience, honesty even in difficult circumstances leads to greater understanding and intimacy. My friend also recommended that your wife check out Faces East, an on-line network for Mormons married to “differently believing” spouses. I think that’s great advice.

I’d just add that I hope you will be gentle with yourself and your wife as you go through this together. Facing a faith transition can be very scary. I hope you’ll do whatever you can to affirm your love for her even as the ground shifts underneath you both.

Maybe you will permanently join the ranks of those many, many Mormons who over the last 175 years loved the faith and still drank the coffee. Or, maybe, sometime down the road, you may find that the pleasure of the occasional glass of wine matters less than the opportunity to demonstrate your solidarity with your wife and the Mormon tradition. In the long run, I am hopeful that if you are honest, gentle, and patient with yourself and your spouse, everything will be okay.

Readers, it’s your turn. And please be gentle. What encouragement or perspective do you have to share?

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10 Comments

Filed under faith transition, Love, word of wisdom

10 responses to “Ask Mormon Girl: I no longer keep the Word of Wisdom. Should I tell my spouse?

  1. Camel

    Maybe, just maybe, he could give up the Starbucks or pinot. Consider it a small sacrifice for the health of the marriage.

  2. The Word of Wisdom tends to be more a Canary in the Coal Mine for losing faith in the church. Whatever it is that you are doing (drinking would be my guess, don’t smoke cigarettes) it usually belies a sense of feeling trapped and wanting to act out more than a desire to get wasted.

    Don’t treat the symptoms as the problem. Tell your wife you are having trouble with your faith, with following leaders, scripture, blind faith, whatever your underlying root problem is.

    Also, be careful with those substances. If you were raised Mormon and haven’t had much experience with them, they can really do a number on you. I’m not saying don’t do them, just keep an eye on the shore.

  3. I have to say I agree that honesty is the best policy. Hiding things from your spouse will damage your marriage. My father is a disaffected Mormon. There marriages in my own extended family that have survived similar faith transitions. Talking honestly and openly helps keep those marriages together. Each spouse must be understanding of the other and realize that they can’t necessarily convert their spouse to believing or following the principles of the church exactly the same what they do.

  4. I agree 100% that you should tell your wife. I would want my wife to tell me if anything were to change with her perspective on faith. Ask her to be open, but only if you are willing to be open to.

    Also pray about it – you have probably expierenced the power of prayer before, it can still work & help you better communicate with her.

  5. Honesty is the best policy. It would be much worse for this man’s wife to find out through the grapevine, or through the discovery of a Starbucks’ cup in the bin. I remember having the believers’ perspective, where finding out a family member drank coffee or alcohol sometimes was just as bad as finding out they shot up heroin. There will probably be an emotional reaction at first, but as long as love and respect are stressed at all times in the relationship, it should work out.

    From what I’ve noticed, most Mo/Post-Mo couples do just fine on this issue as long as the Post-Mo doesn’t take up smoking. It’s generally the most dangerous healthwise compared to coffee, tea, and alcohol, and the most offensive to the party who doesn’t use it. Smoking in part-member families seems to be a major bone of contention due to the stink, the mess, the addiction, and exposure to second-hand smoke. WOW-adhering spouses seem generally able to adjust to moderate, responsible use of caffeine and alcohol, because it has less of an impact on the household.

    But to circle back, holding any secrets that would upset a spouse are never a good idea. If this wife discovers in a roundabout way, her trust in her husband will be damaged.

  6. Monica

    I’ve often heard the saying that “if all our sins smelled like cigarette smoke… “Well, you get the gist.
    Truth always has a way of getting out and, for me, the betrayal that something was hidden from me or the possibility that other people knew and I didn’t, would significantly increase my pain. I think that it’s hard to set guidelines in gray areas. Like, Joanna said, there are those people in our family history. Mine doesn’t go back far. My grandfather drank coffee for health reasons at the urging of his doctor but held a recommend his entire life. My grandmother made me drink green tea when I had a stomach flu (I never understood that one, because it never worked. I can honestly say I’d never drink tea again). A glass of wine, a cup of coffee, and tea all have been proven to have beneficial properties in reasonable amounts. So why are they off limits to us? Because we don’t do well with gray areas. It’s better to skip them altogether than to deal with a possible addiction. Even so, how many Mormon families sit down to a meal and have half of a cow sitting on the table? The Word of Wisdom says red meat sparingly, but somehow a cigarette or a shot of tequila seems so much worse than pot roast and potatoes slathered in gravy.
    Basically, I believe that we’ve been given a guideline that is basically the food pyramid we’ve learned in health classes since elementary school. To me, our problems lie in the “moderation” part. It’s never officially a church function if there’s no refreshments, and they are rarely health food. You sit in any sacrament meeting and you see many members who CLEARLY don’t fully grasp the meaning of moderation. But fortunately they don’t smell like cigarettes ;)
    Our sins are not for the judgment of the rest of the world, they are a hiccup in our progression to becoming more like Christ. However they can cause hurt and embarrassment to our loved ones, so on this one I have to say, tell your wife. Your progression as eternal partners IS her business and clearly that matters to you or you wouldn’t worry about her being hurt.

  7. Sarah

    I also agree that the truth should be told. My husband hid his drinking and tobacco chewing from me for three years and when it came out, I was devastated. It wasn’t the sin, but hiding it from me like I wouldn’t understand. The worst part is that for awhile I thought, “if he could do that for three years without me knowing what else could he do?” The trust came back but I still occasionally check his truck or ask him if he is using.

    Please tell her.

  8. Rereading your question I was struck by the phrase “In my wife’s eyes, there’s no wiggle room.”

    You sound like you are trapped in a corner. That is no way to live. Tell your wife everything. Be patient and kind and all that crap, but be firm too. This is your life and you need to have your choices and feelings respected, even if she doesn’t agree with them.

    Mormons end up getting married so young that they often commit to a life they may not have fully understood and which does not welcome any change.

    But people change, it is natural.

    If your wife can’t handle a shift in your behavior or even in your belief, think long and hard about what that means for you for the next however many years you have till one of you dies.

    Marriage: 2 way street.

  9. RB

    Kirk’s advice = recipe for divorce. Nice.

    There are two things going on here, and most posters seem to get it: There’s a relationship built on commitment, love, and (should be) trust. There’s an issue of faith, obedience, understanding, and personal choices.

    For the relationship – you have to bring it up. How could you have not done so already? How could such a major “faith shift” (and I like that phrase because it’s not just a “behavior shift”) have occurred and you haven’t even discussed it with her? You perceive that there’s no “wiggle room” with your wife. How do you know if you haven’t discussed it?

    The second issue is the doctrine and obedience aspect of it. You don’t believe that it’s “compulsory” from God’s perspective. Hey, that’s your prerogative, but you have to recognize that it is a “faith shift” and goes straight to the hear of your testimony and understanding of gospel principles. If you choose to not believe it – again, that’s your call, do what you want – but you have to accept the consequences because no matter what you think, you’re not going to the temple unless you lie. I’d love to discuss this with you (but won’t ever get the chance) because it’d be interesting to hear how you arrived where you’re at and I just have the feeling something else is going on.

    Now, the real difficulty is in where those two things intersect because you committed to a relationship with your wife based on a shared set of promises and covenants. If you choose to leave those aside, then you no longer have that common base. Who knows? Your wife may just be more accepting than you think, but if she’s not you’d better be aware that it’s not just some wine or coffee that’s driving you apart – it’s your “faith shift” that represented a huge part of the basis for your relationship. How can you expect someone to continue down a path that you are choosing to no longer follow?

    One last semi-side comment: Kirk’s “does not welcome any change” is a narrow and ignorant comment. I’ve watched my parents and in-laws change vastly over time. My wife and I have changed. Anyone who was married in the 50′s and is still married now has very likely changed a lot simply due to society. Behavioral changes are multifaceted and varied and there is almost unlimited amount of room for change in relationships in the church. Where there is not room for “change” is in the fundamentals of the faith, which makes sense given the fact that it’s a faith-based institution.

  10. PMC

    I just want to say that RB said everything perfectly. If this were a “normal”, civil marriage, that would be one thing. But you are not just changing a small habit in your life, you are going against the principles that were meant to be shared as part of your temple marriage. And by “disaffecting”, you are telling your wife that your little habits are more important to you than her desire to be married to you for eternity. That’s alot more serious than telling her that you want to stop using “his and hers” towells or something.

    Oh, and Kirk…. “trapped in a corner”? Yes. God’s commandments have trapped him in a corner. Poor guy.

    I have to add that alot of what I am reading on blogs like this remind me alot of when Jesus said that “men’s hearts would fail them” in the last days. Everybody seems to be slackening their devotion to the Gospel, and everybody else comes running to their emotional rescue… “Oh, years ago there were TONS of members who still drank coffee! Go easy on yourself!” Right. Tell that to the stake president at your temple recommend interview. People’s hearts are definitely failing them.

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