By Divorce-shamed Male
My story or church trauma began when I finally, after years of emotional self-repression, allowed myself to realize the temple marriage I’d wanted so badly to believe was Godly and right was actually a living nightmare. So much of the gospel revolves around marriage and family. My spouse was not willing to attend the temple with me, although she was active. It was also a loveless marriage, without passion or even friendship. I always felt a bit on the “outside” when church meetings focused on marriage, which was often. It made me feel like I was failing. For years I had tried to figure out the source of my long-term depression without success. Because of what I’d been taught in church about staying in a marriage at any cost, I never even considered the idea that my marriage could be the problem.
When the pain of loneliness became so overwhelming I couldn’t find joy anymore, I realized my soul was dying. I started counseling and began doing little things for my spouse, working hard to get her attention and completely failing to do so. In conversations, she would agree to make changes that she wouldn’t actually make. She also refused to attend couples counseling with me, although we met with our bishop who informed us that if we improved our relationship with God, our marriage would get better. My problem wasn’t with God, though; it was with my spouse’s unwillingness to change.
Eventually, as my sadness deepened, I began to consider separation and divorce. It was an arduous decision-making process and a last resort. After months of internal deliberation, I told my spouse and family I was moving out. Their reactions were understandably negative. It felt like my whole world collapsed overnight. Extended family members and church leaders got involved in the drama, and I was told I had dropped the ball, was breaking temple covenants, and had a dark countenance. It became so toxic I could no longer attend that ward. I ward hopped for a while and strongly considered dropping out of activity altogether, but when I got my own place I felt comfortable with the leaders and members in the ward there, so I remained active.
In the process of going through this difficult transition, I was left seriously questioning the church teachings that seemed to cause people to respond to me with judgment instead of love. I was sent scriptures and conference talks about the importance of marriage, which felt like religious abuse. I wasn’t making a frivolous decision. Leaving my marriage was a careful and deliberative process, and I knew the gravity of the covenants I was “breaking”. It felt to me, however, like covenants had been broken long before the marriage ended, as the relationship failed to measure up to any reasonable expectation of what a good marriage should have been. If neglect can be considered abuse, it was an emotionally abusive relationship, and being condemned by church authorities only added to the trauma I experienced.
Looking back, there’s no question I made the right decision for me. My smile reaches my eyes now, and my depression is in remission, hopefully permanently. I understand that marriage is important and church leaders want to do what they can to strengthen families, but there’s a line where stewardship ends and unrighteous dominion begins. I’ve read the bishop’s handbook and it counsels leaders not to advise individuals to stay married or get divorced. In my case, that rule was not adhered to. I felt like my God-given agency was violated on multiple occasions. The only person who knows what it was like to be in that situation was me, and I had a sovereign right to self-determination. Had I been less assertive, I might have allowed myself to be spiritually trampled upon and chosen to remain in a marriage that had long before ceased to meet any of my needs.
I don’t feel that the opposition I encountered was right, loving, or Godly. Marriage is meant to be for life, but when it is defined by suffering instead of love and reasonable efforts to change it have failed, it may be best for it to dissolve. This reality is not understood or supported by many church members and leaders. After going through this experience, I can no longer see the LDS Church as the authoritative organization that knows what is best for me I once believed it to be. Now I answer to God alone.
**How can we as ministers be more sensitive to those in the process of divorcing or who have divorced in the past? How can we actively include them in fellowship and worship? What can we do to approach sensitive family issues with more Christlike love and grace?