This is true if you are married, whether you know it or not, whether you admit it or not. Every human’s beliefs are unique to that human. The idea that two spouses are “on the same page” is illusory. (Apologies to those who are not married, but that title was too good to pass up–this also applies to any two people, though. Sameness of belief is not possible.)
Imagine for a moment that you and your spouse (or friend or family member) are both TBMs or “True Believing Mormons.” You both have a temple recommend. You attend church and the temple. You pay tithing. You watch General Conference. You raise your kids to believe in the church and see it as important. You accept callings and invitations to speak. You both think you are on the same page. You’re not.
Or imagine, conversely, that you and your spouse (or other) are nuanced believers. You don’t accept everything. You participate, but are also critical of things you see that are harmful, sexist, homophobic, racist, or transphobic. You discuss your observations openly with each other, and you both have a similar level of belief. You teach your kids healthy skepticism of some of the things they are hearing from seminary teachers or youth leaders that don’t jibe with your values. You may feel like you are on the same page, but the reality is that despite your open communication you are not. Not really.
Even if you believe the same things, you believe those things to different degrees. You may define those things you believe differently. Your experience with those beliefs are also unique to you. And your orientation toward any belief you hold could be positive, negative or apathetic, but it will differ from how others feel about that belief, even if they also believe it.
Do you even know how you define what you believe? For example, what is a “prophet”? Is it a church leader? One who prophesies? Who speaks directly with God? Anyone who has and remembers a meaningful dream? Something else? Are you a prophet, as is foretold in the book of Joel? When Brigham Young said he wasn’t one, was that authoritative? Is it “one who warns” as modern church leaders have claimed in General Conference? The Church, like many institutions, often redefines words to suit its purposes. Have you noticed when someone says “The world defines X as Y, but (smugly) we know…” this is redefining words.
Regardless of how others define beliefs, when we are talking about concepts, we all individually define them differently, and often not well at all, even to ourselves. It’s hard to know what we mean by terms like faith, love, charity, God, priesthood, gender and other terms. Most of us hold our beliefs internally, in our own head, without trying to articulate them. They just are. We may assume everyone who claims a similar belief defines it the same way we do, but it’s highly unlikely. Many disputes are simply because we are using terms differently. It’s unusual for people to interrogate their own beliefs to try to define them. Defining your beliefs is incredibly difficult.
This doesn’t only apply to church concepts, obviously. Things like capitalism, education, health care, parenting, and myriad other things are all concepts with definitional ambiguity.
Quantity of Belief
How much do you believe the things you believe? How strong are those beliefs? Is it a hunch or instinct? Do you have deep knowledge on the subject? Are you relying on a trusted “expert”? It’s really hard to know how much you believe something until those beliefs are tested. My son had a seminary teacher who claimed that Mormons don’t believe in evolution, that the idea was wrong. When my son pressed her on it, her “belief” boiled down to a distaste for the idea that she was descended from monkeys, a distaste monkeys probably shared, and a belief that only atheists believed in evolution. She didn’t actually understand what evolution was, nor did she understand the Church’s position on it (it’s taught at BYU, after all). Her assertion of beliefs was just dogma, her own regurgitation of something she thought was from an authoritative source without understanding it or questioning whether she even knew what the authority figure was talking about. Her belief was, in this case, blind trust in an unreliable authority source, not an actual personal conviction about the topic of evolution.
Some church doctrines are simply more important to some people than they are to others. A former colleague of mine had a father-in-law who was a Stake President. His father-in-law’s personal measure for success was how many people in the stake had a garden. It was his only priority. I darkly joked that he must have already solved all the “big” problems like sexual violence and judgmentalism, and this was now what he was working on. But the reality is that he really really believed in gardens, and while I’m not anti-garden, it seems trivial to me when compared with the soul improvement that comes from eradicating racism and homophobia or creating more respect for women. I support the idea of having a garden, kind of, or at least I don’t oppose it (I do have some rosemary bushes), but I don’t think it’s a soul-saving priority. I admire people who have gardens, but I don’t see it as vital to one’s eternal salvation. He was convinced it was.
Belief & Experience
When I was in the MTC, there was a somewhat cute elder who took a shine to me and would chat me up in devotionals and on the quad. He was obsessed with some scriptures he found in the Book of Mormon that were about priesthood being some kind of order. He shared this newfound insight with me as we waited for some guest speaker to show up, and he was just brimming with enthusiasm for these scriptural references he found that showed how important the priesthood was. I honestly was stumped. I didn’t get it. At all. Nothing he was showing me sounded like anything to me. It just felt like he was pulling some random phrases out and claiming that they meant something huge, but what that was I couldn’t tell you. I had no experience with holding the priesthood or with it being a special order (basically every Mormon man I had ever known had it, including the ones who spit into the sacrament cups or got drunk with their friends the night before blessing the sacrament). I really just didn’t have his personal experiences that would lead me to be enthusiastic or even interested in what he was so thrilled to have found.
Chris Kimball’s book talks quite strongly about the different experiences men and women have in the church, and those differences, while vast, are largely invisible to the other sex, even to those who practice gender equality in their personal and professional lives, even those with many friends of the other sex whom they esteem and value. One difference Chris didn’t mention in his chapter on church discipline was that women, as non-priesthood holders, can be excommunicated by a bishop, not a stake president. That detail just didn’t make it into the book, and maybe just wasn’t on the radar. I don’t think it’s a big omission, but as a woman, I noticed it. Most men might not have.  **SEE CORRECTION BELOW
Another friend was sharing a story about the Elders Quorum in his ward being told by the Relief Society President that they were being assigned to provide food and child care for a women’s event. They were given specific instructions including the menu and timing of the event. He was outraged. As he shared this story, we women immediately thought he was telling a gender-bending satircal story to make a feminist point. However, as it turned out, he was unaware that his story was something every Mormon woman in the discussion had encountered firsthand many times in our tenure in the church, something so unremarkable that the majority of women just do as they are told and commiserate with other women rather than being labelled difficult, uppity, or murmurers.
A Sunday School lesson that assumes everyone in the room is heterosexual won’t phase those who are, but will be received by someone who is not as exclusionary, as making their feelings and experiences invalid or invisible, casting them as an outsider. Scriptures that refer to men sometimes mean mankind, including women, and sometimes just mean men. Men don’t have to wonder which ones include them, but women do. In another chapter of Chris’s book, black church members who were grieving in the wake of church shootings targeting black congregations felt anticipatory relief that the bishop wanted to address everyone, only to find that he wanted to share his recent trip to Idaho; no mention was made of the murder of black churchgoers or the grief in the black community. Our church is a church made for white cishetero men; if you aren’t that, some part of your church experience is inevitably going to feel like Lucy with the football.
You and I might both believe that polygamy is an eternal principle, but I might dread it, and you might look forward to it. That’s sharing a belief, but having a different orientation to that belief. We all believe some things that we don’t like, that we wish weren’t so, but we believe nonetheless. You can believe that the Church is true, and wish that it weren’t. You can believe that the Church isn’t true, and wish that it were. You can disbelieve in priesthood blessings, but wish they worked. All of these are examples of ways in which you and another person (or your spouse) can “believe” the same thing, but feel completely differently about it.
Your belief may be on the same page, but you may not like that page while your spouse may love it.
Belief in Time
So often, marriages in the church fall apart because one spouse loses faith or trust in the institution and the other spouse, who still trusts and loves the church, feels that it’s a betrayal of the marriage promise they made decades earlier. Any change is seen as a threat, an infidelity. But people change. Part of being human is that we have life experiences and those experiences change our perspectives. As those perspectives change, we doubt things we didn’t used to doubt, we understand things we didn’t before, and we let go of childish, simplistic beliefs that no longer serve us. As a child, I used to believe that if I counted to ten before the traffic light changed, my wish would come true. I don’t believe that anymore. As a child, I used to believe that if I cheated on Fast Sunday, I was going to hell if I didn’t repent. I don’t believe that anymore.
Whether we like it or not, people will change. That’s not being inconsistent or being a flip-flopper. That’s growing up. Requiring someone to stop their own personal growth and progress isn’t love; it’s abuse.
- Have you seen these types of differences in your beliefs and someone else’s?
- How do you navigate these differences in your relationships?
 UPDATE: The Church’s new procedures for
excommunication membership withdrawal have rendered this inequity a relic of the past! So, yay for progress I guess because now any endowed woman is also subject to Stake President oversight in membership withdrawal procedures, just like the men. h/t to Chris for enlightening me! Why it irked me that women were previously under the bishop’s purview only goes back to a long string of “girl push-up” rules that are designed to make everything for women lower stakes and easier: missions not being compulsory, lowering the age for women to 19 but then immediately lowering the men’s age to include 18 year olds, women not having any priesthood authority, the “women’s meeting including 8 year old children, etc.
I am very verbal person and good at explaining myself. I always believed I could make other people understand where I was coming from. Then I had special needs children, some with serious medical needs.
Over time I discovered that I had no way to explain to other people what our family is going through. At first this was a loss, but over time, I came to accept that others cannot understand us, and that I don’t want them to have to go through, what we have been through, to come to understand. So I accept that we cannot be understood, at least not completely. But it does help if you have special needs children of your own.
Over time I have also come to see how hard communication is, even between people with similar backgrounds, language, and goals. So often we say one thing, and even if it is heard in the first place (can’t count on that), it is often heard and understood to mean something different than we intended.
In some ways we are each alone, experiencing life without a complete connection. Each time we do connect just a little bit is desperately valuable and worth all the hard work.
My mixed faith marriage seemed to get more difficult once the differences between my belief and my wife’s came publicly visible. That is to say once I stopped attending and once I stopped encouraging my kids to serve missions, the friction increased.
After initial, difficult periods of transition we tend to find equilibrium. I think my wife and I rely on an unspoken hope – my hope that she will eventually leave, and her hope that I will return. We try to focus on values that we still share, and we still go on weekly dates to spend meaningful time together.
While it’s true that all marriages are MFM, it’s a spectrum. When my wife and I were closer on the spectrum it was easier.
Also an interesting corollary to “you are in a MFM” is “you are worshiping a false god” (and so am I).
I guess I came into my marriage many years ago knowing that we didn’t “believe the same” and “hoping” that our joint efforts to believe the same were “good enough”.
The question has become “good enough” for what?
a) Celestial Kingdom Access?
Over time, that became a shame-ladden cudgel used to browbeat both of us into doing diffrent things and de-prioritizing specific individual values.
b) To want to be married to each other?
Counseling has done more for us in this area then the church ever did.
And we are still sorting out what “marriage” means to us right now – it doesn’t help that we are both in the “mid-life crisis” decades of living.
What has been most valuable for me is de-classifying a lot of “religious-based/culture fights” into ethics/values conversations (and revamping my conversation accordingly) about tradition/protocol (like meal prayers from my Deist/Agnostic perspective) and actual choices where my values are at play.
As well as ways to communicate respectfully and shore up the marriage in other aspects (as mentioned above).
Minor point on church discipline—after the update to “membership councils” a few years back, the difference is not so much between men and women as it is between endowed and not endowed. If an endowed member (man or woman) is likely to have their membership withdrawn (formerly called excommunication) that is handled by the stake president. If not endowed can be handled by the bishop but still needs SP approval.
This OP is spot-on. And our kids need to be made aware of it as they mature and prepare to marry.
My wife and I met in our 30s. What drew us together is that our worldviews were similar. We had each developed definitions of what was sacred and what mattered. We have only argued a few times in our married life and each of those conflicts were resolved by defining what we each valued. The mist cleared and we found our own way as a couple. We often fell in love with a thought or goal the other expressed. Several times we found that our common values were not fully expressed in church teachings. They were only hinted at and we had to develop them for ourselves.
I would advise newly married couples to make a point of building a marriage that is beautiful and worth saving for eternity. I don’t think God will want a mediocre marriage relationship in heaven, or one which is unhappy or imbalanced. We should create marriages that are so wonderful God can’t help but love our marriage as much as we do.
Men and women have such different experiences in the church as boys and girls that every marriage is a mixed marriage. It doesn’t matter if both start active or inactive, if you’ve been in the church you have “scars” from childhood or interpretations about who/what you should be as a man or woman. I’ve found after so many discussions with my third wife (I’m her third husband) that so much of what we learned as children doesn’t really match what we are going to face in the world as parents, spouses, employees, or even citizens. Between the two of us we’ve had our spouses, who we married in the temple, have affairs, porn addictions, drug addictions, bipolar disorders, spending to much money, right wing fanaticism, and suicide. Meanwhile our bishops have told us to pay more tithing, do not leave the abuse, pay tithing before bills so you can get church assistance, and even good luck with life because you wanted to pay bills before tithing. It seemed all the other problems didn’t really matter except not paying tithing. So my third wife and I spend a lot of time talking, deconstructing the teachings of our youth, and finally ignoring what bishops or stake presidents may say in order to concentrate on loving our new put together family, and working to be good solid citizens who believe in social justice, progress, and working to build a better world.
This seems like it’d be a good place to link this classic:
“If you remember that no two people’s faith is identical, then all dating, really, is interfaith dating.”
I think Latter-day Saints have a harder time with this because so often the church is basically invoking the platonic ideal of The Restored Gospel and The Truth, both of which we have access to in pure revelatory form, and frame our status relative to the rest of religion (decidedly above) based on this claim. That sometimes results in productive confidence and assurance… and sometimes results in inflexible and proud overinvestment in specific positions we implicitly place in the The Restored Gospel.
“We” (at some approximation) have a faith that because of its emphasis on authority and correctness basically ties the general affirmation to specific affirmation.
If your beliefs haven’t changed over time, you haven’t learned anything. New or better information will always change beliefs.
Yes to all of this!
Very vulnerable comment coming in.
My wife and I experienced very different Mormon upbringings. Mine was in Utah with the traditional multi-generational Mormon family and included being all in on everything including doctrine, policy, and culture. My wife was raised in California with a convert father who died of AIDS when she was ten. She was raised by a single mom with the help of her mom’s little brother who was gay, two siblings that left the church in their high school years, and extended family that was not and never would be Mormon. I had the privileged Mormon upbringing; my wife did not.
Our first few years of marriage involved some very heated discussions and eventually we learned what not to talk about. Fast forward 20 years this July (eek!) and my faith transition. My wife came along for the ride but our experience learning new things couldn’t have been more different. I went from it’s all true to it’s not and causes harm. My wife went from it’s always caused harm to perhaps it’s time to stop the harm cycle. I fell hard and fostered deep resentment toward the institution. She simply recognized yet another layer of frustration in the flawed organization she still loved.
We are lucky to be (mostly) on the same page today with regards to what the Church really is. But I have no doubt we still have differences about how we view the institution, as well as what to do about it. My wife initially wanted to find another faith community. I didn’t see the point as I viewed any new faith community as inherently trying to tell me what to do and I am done with that. So while the future is bright, it will still be full of negotiation. But in many regards, therein lies the joy in life. Writing our own tickets together.
Thank you for letting me share this.
“Most of us hold our beliefs internally, in our own head, without trying to articulate them. They just are.”
For the past 20 years or so I’ve kept a “Book of Knowledge” where I have written out my beliefs (once I feel like I’ve really found TRUTH). It’s my #1 prized possession. Sometimes I go back and update a particular belief when I gain more knowledge or come to a different conclusion than I previously held. It’s been very helpful to me as I’ve gone through a faith transformation. And I think it’s been useful for my spouse to be able to see my beliefs clearly spelled out, and how they’ve changed.
I always wished my spouse would keep a Book of Knowledge so that I could really know and understand what they believe. I think that almost none of our beliefs actually match up, but we are very respectful of each other’s changing beliefs.
Although our beliefs are different, we are generally aligned on our values, and seek to pass these values on to our children (while respecting their beliefs and choices).
It’s tricky- but we are united on wanting positive outcomes for ourselves and our children- and so we’re doing our best to get those outcomes.
aporetic1: Now I want to keep a Book of Knowledge! What a great idea!
@AngelaC Thank you for the validation! I’m very proud of my book and I could talk for ages about how good of an idea *I* think it is. My oldest child is in high school, and when they go off to college I’m going to give them a copy of my book, with blank pages after each entry. That way they can cross out what I’ve written, and write their own entries in it.
I also have what I playfully call my “Book of Anti-Knowledge”. It contains well laid out arguments of the opposite beliefs that are found in my book of knowledge. Or sometimes complementary beliefs to what I have in my book of knowledge. Writing this book has been extremely valuable in helping me see other perspectives, and I believe it has also helped me find a more complete understanding of truth.
Both of my books are far from complete, but I hopefully still have a long time to live.
Sorry for the tangent, but when someone expresses the tiniest bit of interest, I love to share.
It’s vaguely reminding of “Phil’s Osophy,” the book of wisdom Phil Dunfee gives his kids when they become adults on Modern Family.
@AngelaC Lol. I haven’t watched Modern Family so I looked up a youtube clip about Phil’s Osophy and loved it. I had a good laugh. Yes! My book is totally like that in terms of sincerity- (and possibly in terms of ridiculousness when read by others). 🙂