Preserving Mixed Faith Relationships

When you first arrive to the other side of faith, or at least to an opposing side to one or more of your family, friends or acquaintances, there are a few pitfalls in which one could accidentally sabotage an otherwise desirable relationship and fellowship with them.  Hopefully by identifying those pitfalls and outlining approaches to preserving the relationship we will be aided in a more peaceful transition from having been on the same page in regards to personal beliefs, to now being on an entirely different book.  For the most part I advocate the philosophy of "be who you are and say what you want because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind".  But when it comes to preserving or restoring desired relationships, the relationship generally takes priority over personal needs if the relationship is to endure.  First let's look at a few pitfalls in navigating mixed faith relationships.

Wanting to share too much or wanting to de-convert others
Learning upsetting facts about your religion that paint an opposing story to the claims of your previously beloved faith can be very mixed in the emotional realm, from euphoria and enlightenment, to rage and sadness.  Being on the other side of the fence with a broadened perspective naturally produces the desires to open the eyes of others, to both "save" them from a perceived fraud and to have them join you in this new path.  The pitfall here is potentially driving a wedge in your relationships by exposing information that the party of interest may not be ready to hear, which will activate their defenses and pit them against you, causing them to see you as a threat that may throw out uncomfortable info unexpectedly at any time.  Unless the relationship in question is with your own children who are yet minors, we are mostly talking about adults who are responsible for their own paths in life and who are you to choose their path for them?  They will more likely find interest or respect towards your new path by the way in which you live it than by forcing information on them about their own ill arrived path.  Our past programming or tendency to be a missionary is often the culprit of this pitfall.

Withdrawing personal respect
I'm a strong believer in "we reap what we sow", especially when it comes to relationships.  How we approach others and their still cherished beliefs while in their presence can go a long ways in how they return to us what we usually desire most, personal respect.  Remembering that for most religious, faith beliefs are very much intertwined with their personal identities, it makes sense that how we show respectfulness for their beliefs or at minimum, their right to believe as they will, can very much affect the cohesion of that relationship.  Sly comments, mean spirited jokes or outright insults towards their beliefs or relition while in their presence will quickly sabotage that relationship to doom if that approach remains unchanged.  You don't have to respect or accept their beliefs, you just have to give them the same respect that you so desire towards your own beliefs and path.  Even if they don't give you that respect, not caving to disrespect yourself may eventually lead to them respecting you, or at least in making for a more enjoyable relationship.  When family or friends default to talking about church in front of you, remember that to them, church is still a huge part of their lives.  If it makes you uncomfortable, attempt to change the topic or withdraw rather than disrupting the peace between you with disrespectful comments or insults.

Evaluating Relationships
The above two pitfalls are the primary relationship killers that I have observed since leaving Mormonism three years ago.  For those relationships that you desire to preserve, being aware of these pitfalls can greatly increase your chances of continuing in fellowship with family and friends.  Now, not all relationships are equal, and some were flawed from the start and ought to be let go as ingenuine, morning the loss if necessary and moving forward to new, authentic relationships to replace them.  Relationships with still believing family and friends however, are likely ones you would like to continue.  Evaluating which relationships are worth preserving can give a direction of how to approach each of those unique relationships.  Relationships are generally founded on a common interest or bond of some sort.  That common interest or bond can be blood-relatives, employment, hobbies, common-interests(sports, cooking, past experiences etc), location or one of many other possible bonds.  Where no bonds exist in a relationship, the effort being put into preserving that relationship ought to be evaluated and perhaps re-channeled into relationships that are more desirable to succeed.  When leaving your religion, sometimes the only common bond in a relationship is now no longer common and so for both parties best interest and when no other common bond can or wants to be established, the relationship ought to be taken off life support and allowed to die so that it can be mourned and moved past, and room made for more genuine relationships.

Tailoring your comportment for compatibility
Once you've determined that a relationship is desirable to continue, the task is now up to you to identify compatible or incompatible factors in your behavior so as to best match or preserve the relationship.  Some might consider this tailoring of your behavior as "inauthentic" or deceptive.  I would point out that behaving appropriately for the occasion and audience at hand does not remove or take away anything from you and if anything, proves your level of maturity and adaptability for those things which matter most to you.  You may be a genuine jackass when alone but if that is how you behaved with everyone you interacted with, you'd likely have very few family or friends who would put up with you for long.  For the most part, we all tailor our behavior all of the time depending on who our audience is and so any reservations about doing so making you inauthentic can be dispelled.  

The task then is to identify what threatens the relationship and what preserves it, the boundaries of both parties to be respected.  When a boundary of the other party is known to have been breeched, best to note that in your memory banks and avoid that border dispute in future interactions.  When any of your own boundaries are breeched, respectfully bring that to the attention of the other party and let them know that was not okay.  For the relationship to work, both parties will have to learn to respect boundaries.  We only have control over our own behavior.  When the other party in any relationship refuses to respect your boundaries, the length of visits can be modified for self preservation and to hopefully educate them to respect those boundaries should they desire lengthier visits in the future.

Since leaving religion, I have found relationships to be some of the most rewarding investments of our short time on this spec gliding through the oceans of space.  I am the only member of my immediate family (siblings and parents) to leave the LDS faith.  We meet up for family gatherings about once a month and so I have found it both necessary and rewarding to have established a happy medium of compatibility with them and still be welcomed into their fellowship along with my wife and kids.  Relationships require our ability to adapt, respect and at times sacrifice.  By avoiding the pitfalls of sharing too much when not invited, respecting the rights of others to believe as they will, and adapting our comportment for compatibility, hopefully we can preserve those relationships we value most and be respected by those we often most desire respect from.  Be gentle on yourself and your family or friends as you navigate with them to redefine working relationships and boundaries on the principles of respect, love and compassion.  Both sides will make mistakes from heat of the moment irrationality.  Be true to yourself, allowing others to be true to themselves.  As a closing proverb to engender deeper contemplation, I share the following: "You can be right, or you can be happy".

Views: 2130

Comment by C. L. Hanson on May 24, 2011 at 10:01am

This is a really good treatment of a difficult subject that affects so many of us and our families.


Is there any chance you'd be willing to repost it to Main Street Plaza?  We've been having a series on mixed-orientation-marriages, and it might be interesting to follow it up with some discussion of mixed-faith family relationships.  (I know our two communities have a large overlap, but they're not identical, so I don't think it would be redundant to have the same discussion both places.)


Please let me know if you're interested.



Comment by Dugger on May 24, 2011 at 10:04am
That was really good, Mike.  I have already discovered most all of what you wrote to be spot-on, mostly thru trial and error.  I get along pretty well with the TBM DW but I've learned she can't drink from the fire-hose of my new ecclesiastical foundations and she doesn't want to try. Thanks for the insights!
Comment by Anthrogran on May 24, 2011 at 10:48am

This is very timely for me Mike, thanks so much. I'm in the process of researching my paternal family's Irish ancestry I hadn't known existed while growing up. In the process, I found a history book called "When God Took Sides" that explores this theme from the perspective of Irish Catholicism vs. Protestantism for 3 centuries leading up to the "troubles" of the last few decades. Some things don't change! Maybe we are re-inventing the wheel here at LAM but it seems to be necessary (again). Once more, thanks for this. 


Comment by MikeUtah on May 24, 2011 at 12:54pm
Thanks for the comment Bar.  Those are some very real challenges facing mixed faith couples and my heart goes out to those struggling to navigate and balance those challenges.  Both sides will have to learn to compromise and also learn to respect each other's boundaries if the relationship is to survive.  If that becomes impossible then likely the sooner they can amicably end the relationship the better.  Incompatible people are best left to go down their own separate paths and seek out those companionships who are compatible.  Just my 2 cents.
Comment by MamaCthulhu on May 25, 2011 at 5:27pm

.  I WANT MY KIDS BACK before they marry other mobots and the cycle will repeat itself.  Making nice or trying to use facts from original documents that are not fairmormon approved does not work. I wasted half my frikn life living a lie and being angry is part of the grieving process of losing an identity, a spouse and kids.  Bar got it right with mobots in the family will listen to anyone lds and leaving lds'ism makes you lose full credibility and being silenced is cruel.


Comment by MikeUtah on May 25, 2011 at 8:09pm
MamaCthulhu, one thing to keep in mind is that there is likely very little to nothing that can be said to your children to make them leave Mormonism.  Only they can make that decision and path choice for themselves.  I know that's difficult and hurtful to accept, but going against the tribe and programing is almost always a solitary path that is made by each individual who goes down it.  Unless others are at a stage or point in their life where they open themselves up to outside information, our efforts are counterproductive at best and outright damaging to relationships at worst.
Comment by MamaCthulhu on May 25, 2011 at 10:49pm
My 22 and 24 year old ONLY know school.  work.  and everything social is exclusively morg.  My hope was to at least have an open mind toward non lds social things but both feel all needs are taken care of at church.   My self-loathing is because I taught them this degree of obsessiveness and now I can't undo it.   I also find my new non-lds friends to be far more genuine and wish a better life for them.
Comment by Turning point on September 10, 2011 at 11:44am
Great through blog post on this subject. I agree with setting boundaries and I would add they need to be set with directly, honestly, and, most of all appropriately. Often times "setting boundaries" is done with anger. I haven't had to set too many boundaries over my disbelief in the Mormon faith, but I've had to with a fundamentalist Christian sister-in-law. Myself, the Catholics and agnostics in our family finally told her stop preaching to us or she would lose our respect and time together. It got much better. Thanks for the great blog posts you have here MikeUtah...I enjoy and gain from each and every one.
Comment by Angel Love on November 18, 2012 at 9:39am

Do you know of any articles or have any advice on how to make a marriage work after one has left the church and the other is absolutely staying in it?  I actually wanted a divorce after leaving the church and trying to make my marriage work for 2 years. My husband didn't want to divorce.  We are now separated and trying to "work it out". I worry that if we get back together his little hints of wanting me to come back will start again and I know I can't live with my beliefs being disrespected while I am supposed to respect his. Ugh! Please anyone, I really need some advice here.  Thank you and thank you Mike for this great post.  I try to live my life in this way. Sometimes it is hard when you feel squashed by the judging that goes on but it really is the way I find peace and happiness.  I just wish it didn't bother me so much when I don't get that respect in return.  

Comment by c smith on October 7, 2013 at 12:39pm

The issue you speak of (family  and social bonds) is precisely what makes lds attractive to non-mormons, esp like me who never raised a family, got older and found I'd fallen for the lies of feminism and now it is all too late to have a traditional family.  In many ways I could care less about lds mythology and whether it is true or not.  What kept me from jumping into lds was a palpable lack of sincerety and a feeling of going through the motions of life rather than truly being engaged.  still afloat all these years.


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