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?