Thursday, June 2, 2011

It Doesn't Help to Attack My Marriage

Recently, I was recruited by a friend in my ward to help organize the ward talent show. It was a great opportunity for me to be involved in the social life of the ward to an extent I am rarely offered. Being an event organizer gave me opportunities to interact with folks in settings I normally wouldn't interact. It deepened a number of friendships; it demonstrated to me how much love other members of my ward have for me. Which is a nice thing to know when you often feel as marginal as I do. I contributed my own act to the talent show, a little piece I wrote about my mother. I got lots of positive feedback on the piece from many ward members. Because it told about my mom's growing up in Finland during World War II, and because it wove her story with my grandparent's stories and my own story, one ward member in particular got very excited about the piece as a sort of "family history moment" and thought it ought to become a tradition at future ward talent shows. The general verdict was that the talent show was a smashing success! (It was fun!) And so it felt really, really good to be involved in something folks regarded as fun and a success, and to be able to participate in the ward far more than I almost ever, ever am able to. I felt happy and satisfied about my relationship with my ward in a way I haven't in a long time.

There was a down side, however. For every action I engage in at Church, there is an equal and opposite reaction from my husband. It's almost as if his happiness with me exists in inverse relationship to the extent of my involvement with the Church. So the fact that I needed to attend Church three consecutive Sundays in a row in order to circulate sign-up sheets, and attend a few week-day organizational meetings resulted in something of a row. In order to appease him, I had to promise to give him a few Sundays for the ones I had spent at Church, which I hate. Damn it! Why can't I just go to Church as often as I want? Especially when all he wants to do on Sunday morning is sleep in? This is a real source of anguish for me. I really long to go to Church and sometimes I just can't because of Göran. I've more or less come to accept this with a certain amount of patience, to accept it as a trial the Lord has seen fit to inflict upon me in order to test my faith. Still, it is difficult.

At any rate, this same friend who recruited me to help with the ward talent show also asked me to help him out by printing a questionnaire for singles in the ward. He wanted me to bring it to Church two Sundays ago, and I had to tell him that unfortunately I couldn't make it to Church, because this was right after the talent show, and for the sake of peace at home I needed to stay at home. Yes, it was killing me to have to tell him this. I hated everything about it. But it is what it is. This is what I have to live with.

This friend then launched into a rather uninformed diatribe about my marriage, and announced that he would "no longer support" my relationship with Göran. In fairness, I've been experiencing some stress lately due to issues that have nothing to do with my relationship with Göran; and he assumed that the stress was the result of "marital trouble." So, he was kind of going half-cocked on the assumption that Göran and I were on the verge of breaking up or something similar. I guess it's an assumption many Church members would be inclined to make about a same-sex relationship.

At any rate, the point where my friend announced he could no longer support my marriage was where the conversation had to end. I simply ended it by saying, "I understand how you might have misinterpreted the stress I'm under. But you have no idea what's going on between me and Göran, and it's not what you think." He sent me a few more text messages that showed he recognized he'd gone a bit too far. I realized he felt badly, but his comments had hurt deeply and I didn't want to talk any further, except to send him a few text messages pleading with him to simply be patient with me and try to understand. We eventually met and discussed it over lunch, and mended things, for which I am very, very grateful. Because this is a dear, dear brother to me, and I want my relationship with him to be right.

At our lunch I explained to him that Göran's opposition to my involvement in the Church may not be fair, but it is eminently understandable. He is black, and he knows all about the Church's history of excluding blacks from the priesthood and the Utah Church's sordid support for segregation. Not that, by virtue of his African ancestry, Göran should be any more outraged by the Church's racist history than any other decent person of conscience. But let's just say that the sting of my eagerness to affiliate with the institution is that much more personal for him. And that's just cream for the pie of the Church's anti-same-sex-marriage activism, and the fact that if the Church had its way with me, we would no longer be a couple; the fact that in the eyes of many in the Church, we are not and never will be a couple. That's two big fat strikes. And I explained to my friend that tirades about how he can "no longer support" my marriage can only become strike number three.

Göran is a good, sweet, generous man, very creative and loving, and with an impish sense of humor. Anyone who knows him understands immediately why I love him. And despite the sand in the gears over the issue of my relationship with the Church, we have a very happy marriage that grows only happier as we continue to mature personally and as a couple. The problem introduced by my involvement in the Church has been an opportunity for us to grow; and we have grown. Göran refuses to be convinced of the Church's merits, and I can't fault him for that, except by way of trying to prove him wrong through a life improved by my involvement in it. I expect him to see the light some day, if only enough to let me attend every Sunday and sing in the choir, and maybe even come watch me perform at a ward talent show once in while. (He definitely did not attend this last one.) I understand his attitude even as I am anguished by it. I simply don't know what to do.

I wish he could know what's going on in my heart, all the ways in which my relationship with God, and the context the Church has provided for growth of that relationship, has deepened my love for him, has deepened my appreciation of just how precious our relationship is.

Similarly, I wish folks in the Church could understand that it was his love for me that nurtured me to the point where I could hear the voice of the Spirit again after years of depression and anxiety. I wish they could understand what our commitment to each other has taught me about commitment in general, including the kinds of commitment required by faith. I wish they could see that all the good things that happen in their marriages, all the things their marriages give them that make life worth living and that give faith meaning, all work that way for me too in my marriage. And it just doesn't help anything or anyone to attack my marriage. Not one iota.

I guess a little more patience, a few more miles in this odd path...


Bravone said...

John, It is easy to feel the sincerity in your words. You have two loves who don't appear to love each other - very tough, but not unprecedented. Many marriages over the years have been tried by similar divergent feelings about the Church. One thought that came to mind while reading was that "by the fruit" Goran could come to understand better the role and need both he and the Church play in your life. You said it well when you wrote that hopefully he would realize the benefit of the Church to you "...through a life improved by [your] involvement in it."

I haven't met Goran yet (hopefully this summer!), but from what you've written, spoken, and from my distant view as afforded by facebook, I would agree with your characterization of his attributes. Hopefully those in the Church in your area will afford you both the consideration you deserve. I admire your ability to wade through the challenges you face with the Church without becoming bitter. It is a witness your spiritual maturity - something I'm working on.

Love you,

C. L. Hanson said...

Hang in there!! If you're ready to be an active Mormon and in a same-sex-marriage at the same time, well, that means you're going to be spending some time educating people by your example. Sounds like you're up to the task -- not everybody would be.

Andrew S said...

Göran refuses to be convinced of the Church's merits

I don't want to be the one-trick pony, but I will be this time.

Can one *choose* to be convinced of something? Can one *choose* whether he will find a particular bit of evidence compelling or not?

J G-W said...

Bravone, thanks!

Every time Göran gets to meet Mormons who are gay-friendly, or even pro-marriage-equality, it shifts things for him. I think at some level, he needs demonstrations that the Church is not anti-us.

I hope you will get a chance to meet him in Utah, though the window of opportunity for Göran is more narrow than for me. He will only be there for an extended weekend, while I'll be there for nine days.

I'll call you!

J G-W said...

C.L. - Thanks, your well wishes mean a lot!

Andrew - I don't know how the mystery of belief works. I understand how, at some level, if you don't buy something, you don't buy it; and there's nothing that can make you.

However, I do know that a person can choose to give someone or something a fair hearing. It is possible to make a choice and say to yourself, "OK, I don't like _____. _____ gives me a bad feeling, it makes me uncomfortable. But initial impressions can be wrong. Maybe my initial bad impression about _____ is wrong. Maybe I just don't know enough yet. So I'll set my dislike and my discomfort aside long enough to get to know _____ better, and see if I can't come to understand _____ from a different perspective."

I think we can very consciously choose to do that. And often (not always, of course, but often!) when we do, we in fact can get additional information and perspectives that help us change our view of something.

Of course, we need to choose to do that in good faith. We can choose to recognize that we might have a bias that predisposes us only to see certain things a certain way. So we must choose to interrogate and even wrestle with our bias as well.

I know this is possible because I have done it.

Now, granted, in this particular instance, my husband heard some pretty heavy bad stuff about the Church from me in the early years of our relationship. He knew that I had almost committed suicide because of beliefs that the Church had inculcated in me. So he had reason to regard any involvement on my part with the Church as dangerous.

Also, frankly, I went through an almost Alma-like conversion... From feeling very hostile toward the Church to suddenly attending, starting to live like a Mormon, and wanting to be a member of the Church. This was understandably confusing and frightening to him. So I understand there's some heavy stuff he has to deal with. Even though I've been in this path for six years now, I understand why it's still difficult for him to open up to this, even a little bit.

Anonymous said...

"Every time Göran gets to meet Mormons who are gay-friendly, or even pro-marriage-equality, it shifts things for him. I think at some level, he needs demonstrations that the Church is not anti-us."

imho, while there are certainly members of the church that want marriage equality for everyone, the church itself is quite anti marriage equality or "anti-us" as quoted above.

Eventually, the church my soften its anti equality stance but that won't be until decades after society as a whole finally embraces equality. Heck, the church, still can't preach for or teach about equal heterosexual marriage were women are totally and completely equal to their husbands without being 'presided over'.

As a drive-by commenter, I wish you well in your path.

Andrew S said...


I like the phrasing "mystery" of belief. Remember the mystery part more. If you don't buy something, it doesn't follow that nothing can sway you (especially not when talking about mysteries.) Instead, I'm just saying that what changes your mind is going to be an unconscious reaction to some kind of new information, not a conscious decision to sat, "ok, now I'm going to give a 'fair' hearing."
this idea of a "fair hearing" consciously chosen sounds fictitious to me. Part of the problem with un and subconscious biases is that we don't just choose to have or get rid of them...and that's when we KNOW what those biases are. It's altogether possible to try to get at some, and miss others completely.

I'm not doubting that new information could somehow change these perceptions and biases. But I am saying that since these things work at a less than conscious level (even when one CONSCIOUSLY takes ACTIONS to try to encourage these subconscious responses), it won't matter what state a person was in originally when the decisive new information comes in.

I think it is more helpful to approach it from this way rather than yours (even though, if you read carefully, we aren't saying such different things: I absolutely think new information can and does change hearts) because your way puts too much on human will. So, if Goran doesn't reconsider, maybe it's because he "won't choose to", or won't choose to "in good faith." Even if you sympathize with why he might not do so, I think this puts too much weigt and responsibility on him.

No, I think a better approach would be: whatever "mystery" behind belief hasn't found it fit to reach out and touch him. I don't know how it is you can see some things yet be so blind thing I really get about "Alma like conversions" is the point where it wasn't the person's choice to trigger the critical moment. Sure, they had to choose actions with respect to those things, but one doesn't choose to have such a monumental experience, and one doesn't choose for that experience to change his outlook so drastically...and yet, it does anyway.v

MoHoHawaii said...

John, I read this post with my heart in my throat. Of all the issues in that you write about from time to time, the thought that your reinvolvement with the Church might damage your relationship with Göran touches a nerve like no other.

In saying this I know I come with my own baggage, the lingering feelings of betrayal by the faith tradition of my youth, my sense of outrage over current moral failings of that faith tradition in its treatment of women and gay people (especially vulnerable youth), and my own terror at the prospect of losing the man I love because of unfair immigration laws that, like your ward members, don't consider us to be a family (the situation here is now dire). I get the fact that I'm incapable of viewing your situation other than through the lens of my own situation. I really do.

But, nonetheless, what I can't get over is this one thing: Göran is the love of your life. He is your spouse and the person who will love you until the day you die. He's worth it. I'm sure you know this already, so I appreciate you humoring me on this as I repeat the obvious.

J G-W said...

Anonymous - thanks for the well wishes. I think the topic of whether or not the Church is "anti-us" is fairly complicated. My ward has become a very nurturing, welcoming place for me; and Church teachings have empowered and strengthened me, and helped me to strengthen my relationship. Nor am I quite so pessimistic about the potential for significant change on this issue well before society as a whole has embraced gay marriage for decades.

Still, I agree that my partner has understandable reasons to be apprehensive.

J G-W said...

Andrew - Let's just leave it at... There are aspects of belief/faith that we can control, and there are aspects that we can't... In the language of faith, there is works and there is grace.

So, yes, in terms of the faith challenge in my relationship, I try to be faithful and patient. All I can do in relation to what I cannot control is pray.

I do know that my husband loves me, so if he were capable of understanding my faith as completely as I wished, he would. So that helps me with the patience part of this. I don't think I've ever articulated this as clearly for myself as I have here in response to your questioning. And it's really helpful to see this in those terms, so... Thank you.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - I wish what I were about to say could alleviate your fears. The painful truth is, the key moment in my life was the moment when I placed everything on the altar before God, including my relationship, and essentially said, "Take what you want."

There was a moment when I had to say to God, "If I am not supposed to be in this relationship, I need to know. And if that is true, then I will end it. I'm not sure how I will do it. I'm not sure I'm capable of surviving that kind of heartbreak. But I will end it, because my relationship with you is more important than anything I have, my life included."

For whatever reasons, God's answer back to me was essentially: "Your heart is in the right place, and I'm very pleased with you. But it would be a sin for you to leave Göran. What will please me most right now is that you honor your promises to him."

For whatever reasons, God has not forced me to choose between Göran and him. That being the case, wouldn't it be tragic if Göran forced me to choose between God and him?

I've told this story to a few close friends, and I've seen them literally squirm in discomfort. It seems heartless that I was willing to put my relationship on the altar in this way.

But you need to understand a couple of things. First of all, if I had not done that, I never could have given myself completely and unreservedly to my relationship. Had I held back and refused to give that one thing up that in this world matters more to me than anything else, I would have always lived under the suspicion that my love for Göran was a betrayal of God. And that would almost certainly have poisoned my relationship to the point that, ironically, it might not have survived. So in a paradoxical way, in being willing to lose my life with Göran I have gained my life with Göran.

I am also aware of many ways in which putting my relationship with God as my highest priority has made me a better spouse. There's no question about this in my mind. It's enabled me to make sacrifices for my relationship that I never could have had I put self or my relationship before God.

Beck said...

Goran is adorable and having seen your love for him first hand, and his undeniable love for you, this post is a hard one. For what it's worth, you and Goran have forever changed my perspective of what "marriage" is.

To see your devotion to him, despite his frustration with your beliefs and association with the church that he cannot accept, and to see his devotion to you, despite your frustration with him not understanding your belief nor your participation in the church, says volumes!

J G-W said...

Beck, thank you so much. I think in that statement you've captured so well what I meant when I said that the challenge has actually strengthened our relationship.

MoHoHawaii said...

John, perhaps Göran's attitudes towards the Church will soften over time, especially if he can have some positive interactions with individuals from your ward.

You wrote:

[W]ouldn't it be tragic if Göran forced me to choose between God and him?

I was following you up to this point. I think that tossing the ball back to Göran is an evasion of responsibility on your part. After all, it was you who introduced the potential deal breaker 12 years into your relationship, not Göran. From his point of view, you have a mistress, and he's not entirely wrong-- your investment in the Church really does divide your loyalites to some extent. Following this analogy, just because your mistress said you can keep your wife, doesn't mean your affair with her won't harm your marriage.

Above all else, a spouse needs to know that they are the most important thing in the other person's life.

(As an aside, I don't think that I personally would react like Göran because I think there should be a few hours per week when spouses can do whatever they want by themselves. People need space to pursue separate interests or friendships that have nothing to do with the other person. I would put church activity in this category and let it be, but I'm not Göran.)

Anyway, I think there are a bunch of issues bundled up here. I have faith that you guys will work through them, and I hope I haven't offended you with the directness of these comments. I'm in the bleachers cheering for you guys. I have tremendous respect for you, including the parts of you that I can't understand.

MoHoHawaii said...

OK, just one more post script.

In thinking about this I wonder if the issue really isn't Göran's dislike of the Church. It might be that the fears losing you to it. I'm sure he's fully aware that the Church has urged you in the past and will continue in the future to urge you to "repent" and abandon him. It's not a baseless fear. It's what LDS leaders would tell you to do, all the way up the line.

I can understand how he feels if I imagine myself in this situation. I would not like to be in a position where I felt that my marriage was just one prayer away from being on the receiving end of an Abrahamic sacrifice. I know you don't see it this way. I'm just saying what I think Göran may be feeling.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - Well, the fear of losing me to the Church has definitely been a factor, though I think we've been able to more or less definitively put those to rest. And yes, in one conversation we had on this subject Göran once actually described the Church as a kind of mistress, taking time and attention away from him. I understand how he'd see it that way.

Still, all I can say is that my loyalty to God has to come first... Nothing else in my life or relationship works without that. I understand that from a secular/nontheistic perspective that might seem selfish or dangerous or heartless... From a theistic perspective, it's actually the opposite of all those things. I'm not sure how to fix the gap in perceptions.