Friday, September 16, 2011

Should Mormons Marry Non-Mormons?

In any relationship or organization, all differences compound difficulties. One of the hardest parts of community ("unity of more than one person") is working out differences. With that foundation, every major difference that exists in a marriage compounds the potential for future difficulty - and religious difference is a major difference.

Can it be overcome? Absolutely. Is it easy? Absolutely not! (especially the stronger the beliefs and difference are) It is the #1 breaker of marriage I know for those whose religious beliefs differ in significant ways.

Having said that, the following are multiple sides of the issue:

1) Based on the most recent LDS divorce stats of which I am aware (and, to be totally honest, I have not researched this in over a year), the temple marriage divorce rate is about 6%-10% - the lowest rate of all religion-based rates in the US, by far. The divorce rate for LDS non-temple marriages (when both people are Mormon) is about 18%-21% - dead average for all Christian denominations. The divorce rate for an LDS/non-LDS marriage is about 41%. That's a HUGE difference, and it's the highest rate among all of the religion-based categories.

Basically, a Mormon who marries "outside the faith" is 4-7 times more likely to get divorced than someone who marries in the temple and over twice as likely as someone who marries another member outside the temple. That's significant, to put it mildly. Finally, a 41% divorce rate means a 59% non-divorce rate - but there is no indication of how many of those "successful" marriages only stay intact because the Mormon spouse gives up attending for the sake of the marriage. If you add those two aspects (divorce from the marriage AND divorce from the Church combined), my guess is that the actual "failure rate" (from a strictly religious activity standpoint) probably is as high as 70%. That's frightening.

2) My own "courtship" was not perfectly in line with the Church's general standard - on the other extreme. I never dated anyone other than my wife after she turned 16. I proposed to her (and she wore an actual engagement ring, with the wedding band in her room at home) before my mission - and before her senior year in high school. She was 17 at the time. We got married 6 weeks after I returned from my mission, a few days after she turned 20. We had all kinds of pressure from disbelieving friends and family to slow down and not make that commitment at that age. We understood the concerns as well as we could, and we understand them much better now that we have kids who are past those ages, but we were convinced we were doing what we were supposed to do - and we were right.

3) Inter-faith marriage, when both spouses have strong beliefs that differ, can be and usually is VERY hard, and it is something I believe should NEVER be done with the idea that "s/he will convert after our marriage". That belief leads to actions that lead to pressure that leads to hard feelings that lead to divorce, in my opinion. If you really love someone, you love them not only for who they might become but also for who they are - regardless of who they might become.

4) Having said all that, in the end, I also believe that if two people truly can become one in this life, God will not split them up in the hereafter - since "joining the Church" is not the ultimate goal, and since we symbolically seal them regardless of their denominational affiliation in mortality. Becoming one with each other and with God is the ultimate goal - and that happens outside the LDS Church and outside Christianity all the time. It's just much harder when religious beliefs differ.

Summary: I have no answers for individual circumstances, but, as a general rule, I believe strongly that it is MUCH easier to make a marriage work when foundational religious beliefs are shared. If they aren't, based on real statistics, it becomes a total crap shoot. Some win; at least as many lose.


Peter LLC said...

As someone who happily married a Catholic, I couldn't agree more with: "[An inter-faith marriage] is something I believe should NEVER be done with the idea that "s/he will convert after our marriage".

Also, even the most active members of the Church ought to cross-stitch this and hang it up somewhere: "If you really love someone, you love them not only for who they might become but also for who they are - regardless of who they might become."

Anonymous said...

From Elder Robert D. Hales, discussing the question, "How do I find the right person to marry?":

"Measure the spiritual level of your potential future companions. First, if they are members of the Church, are they active and fully committed, or are they passive or antagonistic? Second, if they are not members, are they receptive to the gospel and its teachings, or are they noncommittal or antagonistic?

"... But if you marry somebody who is antagonistic to the Church or passive toward the gospel, you are placing yourself in a position where you will find someday that you may have to choose between that individual and the Church. That is a very heavy resonsibility." (Ensign, Sep 2011, 46, citing his BYU devotional address of Nov 9, 1976)

Anonymous said...

You are dead on. I know of only a handful of people who have stayed active after marrying a non-member. I have served in leadership positions that where I have constant review of membership records and situations for the past 20 years. If I had to venture a guess, I would say 95% of members who marry a non-member go inactive. Like Elder Hales says, eventually a choice has to be made, and sadly, the choice of church, or any religious activity, usually loses.

Anonymous said...

What the survey doesn't say when talking about "the temple marriage divorce rate is about 6%-10% - the lowest rate of all religion-based rates in the US, by far." is that I know numerous of couple staying together because of their "eternal covenant" but they don't love each other anymore. But the eternal family ideal pressure is so strong among the church that they prefer to stay unhappy together rather to be divorced... Or women stay because they don't have the money or the job to leave as the church teaches us to be a mom at home. And they are in a trap without any financial ressources... I stood in that trap with a violent husband almost all my life because of that. But I know many around me who told me they will stay because kids, because finances... Is not there a huge hidden problem in those statistics?

Papa D said...

Yes, Anonymous, the most recent, that is a problem (a serious problem) - but it is not a uniquely Mormon problem. There are lots of women AND men who stay in unhappy, unhealthy marriages "because kids, because finances, because self-esteem caused by abuse, because familiarity, because fear of being alone, because, because, because . . ."

I absolutely am not trying to diminish the seriousness of the issue, but it is a societal one, not a uniquely Mormon one.

Papa D said...

Also, as a follow-up to my last comment, if you come back and read this, I would suggest you look at another post I wrote:

"When Divorce Is the Best Option"

Sulanne G. said...

I dated both members and non. Talked seriously about marriage with only members, though.
I was engaged to a missionary and was allowed to date while he was gone (proved to be the demise of our relationship, of course).
I met a non-member and we dated for a short time before he asked me to marry him.
(note sarcasm)
I told him that I simply couldn't marry him unless he could take me to the temple. I was a TBM, having just gone through a few disciplinary councils and was on that "high" and "holier than thou" mentality. lol.
Anyway - he was eventually baptized and I agreed to marry him.
He is the stronger of the two of us in faith (I'm so glad).
I have watched many of my friends choose to marry non-members...great people, but when it came down to "how" to live life, their relationships were fraught with tension and were, subsequently, terrible marriages.
All but one has ended in divorce so far and we are just waiting for that one to crumble.

I'd put a plug in for marrying INSIDE of one's faith, no matter what the faith is.


Anonymous said...

Hindus in the US have lower divorce rate than the Mormons. Hindus divorce rate is only 5%. Get your facts right, before posting stuff publicly.

Papa D said...

Anonymous, the most recent, you are correct. I should have been more precise and limited the numerical statement to inter-Christian rates of divorce.

Mea culpa.

Anonymous said...

I'm in a relationship with a non-member. I do love him, but it stresses me out tremendously. I wouldn't leave him because he's not of my faith though. I have spent a long time easing him in on the LDS faith and showing him that we're pretty awesome people, I am sure that if I left him because he wasn't LDS would make him resent not just me, but everyone of the LDS faith. I am also the only tie he has to the church and I feel that I am needed in his life to keep him on the right track.

Anonymous said...

wow. for me I'm Atheist and my wife is Mormon she has three callings and goes every Sunday and takes our son, I'm fine with that and we both agree that when he is old enough to choose if he still wants to go or not he can. I am respectful of her believes and she is of mine. Over the past 15 years i have been married to my wife i have seen many temple marriages end in devours and all of the mixed marriages are still as strong as mine.

Unknown said...


I was teaching the youth about dating nonmembers, and I gave this quote:

“Clearly, right marriage begins with right dating. … Therefore, this warning comes with great emphasis. Do not take the chance of dating nonmembers, or members who are untrained and faithless. A girl may say, ‘Oh, I do not intend to marry this person. It is just a “fun” date.’ But one cannot afford to take a chance on falling in love with someone who may never accept the gospel”.

Our Heavenly Father wants you to date young men who are faithful members of the Church, who will be worthy to take you to the temple and be married the Lord’s way. Don’t settle for less than what the Lord wants you to be. Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Young Women of the Church,” Ensign, Nov 1986

There were two people who opposed it, one was a a girl who was dating nonmember and the other was a leader counselor who married a nonmenber.

The leader counser said that it is not a commandment, it is ONLY a counsel.

Then I said, that the ``LORD WANTS´´ is a commandment.

She then said, that commandments are only those in the temple interview.

Then I asked her if they asked her in the temple inteview if she stores food.

She said no, because to store food is a counsel, not a commandment.

Then we opened to this quote:

How often do we say, “Yes, I will obey the commandment to store food and to help others, but just now I have neither the time nor the money to spare; I will obey later”? Oh, foolish people! While we procrastinate, the harvest will be over and we will not be saved. Now is the time to follow Abraham’s example; now is the time to repent; now is the time for prompt obedience to God’s will.

Spencer W. Kimball, “The Example of Abraham,” Ensign, Jun 1975

Here President kimball said: commandment to store food.

So, she then kept herself quiet with an angry face.

I´m not that kind of teacher who likes to make students feel bad, but unfortunately I had to do that in order to teach correct commandments of dating nonmembers to everybody.

Although I didn´t commented in the class, it came to my mind the following:

The proud do not receive counsel or correction easily. (See Prov. 15:10; Amos 5:10.) Defensiveness is used by them to justify and rationalize their frailties and failures. (See Matt. 3:9; John 6:30–59.)

Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989

Anonymous said...

I am a non-member married to a Mormon (for 16 years now). My wife is strong in the church, accepts and handles her callings (currently Primary President) exceedingly well. This on top of being a full-time working professional. Our children go to church with her.
Our marriage definitely has not been an easy ride for many reasons that also go beyond the church, but as two intelligent people, we consider it all a growing experience. This works for us since we are both capable of compassion, though that very compassion has been a part of the growing experience also. I do not try (or wish) to damage my wife's love of the church and she understands that I do not want to become a member. We have learned to deal with the differences with discussion, respect and understanding.
Currently our marriage is seemingly surrounded by a few family and friend member marriages that can only be described as totally dis-functional. While only one of these is just going into divorce, the others should have been (at least for the sake of their children to grow up and have stable relationships) many years ago. Consider the members with a wife who has banished her husband from staying at the house, has no intimate relationship with him, and tells her close friends all her woes like he's the one who needs to fix it. The effect this has on the children makes me feel sad. She is definitely sending them terribly dis-functional messages about marriage and relationships! BUT, after years of this, they are still not divorced. He still supports financially and with the children, and she partakes of that support. Why? Because they have a temple marriage??

So, in-short (sort of), as someone else pointed out, I doubt that the statistics on divorce mean much in terms of success in marriage.

Papa D said...

There is no commandment to not date non-members. None.

Marraige is difficult. Differences command that difficulty. Differences can be overcome, but they also can be destructive. What happens is up to the individual couples.

Papa D said...

Compound, not command.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm dating a Mormon and I'm an atheist. She really wants a temple marriage someday and I know her parents will never approve of her marrying me. It really stresses me out to think about how complicated and hard everything is, and will be. Especially marriage. All I know is I love her. Any advice from someone who has been here? Or a similar situation.

Papa D said...

The only advice I have is to lover her for who she is - and to keep your eyes. Wide open to the difficulties of differences in marriage.

Above all else, love her - completely and unconditionally and passionately.