My experience ministering at church has shown me that there is one large demographic whose quiet sense of loss in their community is rarely understood by those around them: women with inactive husbands.
There are certainly men who go to church but whose wives are unsupportive, but that’s relatively rare. Far more common are women who strive to get to church as much as possible, often taking kids with them, but whose husbands refuse to get up and come along. I’m not talking about women with non-Mormon husbands–those women knew what they were getting into when they got married–or even women whose husbands have never been very involved in church.
What still shocks and discourages me is just how many men become inactive after marriage and then put their wives in an impossible position: these men may think that they’re not making their wives choose between them and church, but these poor women are still living in a gray twilight zone, trying to trudge along the thorny path of discipleship but doing so without a partner with whom to share her burden, unlike most of her friends at church. Her husband may think that his non-involvement is purely neutral, doing no harm, but that doesn’t help when the kids ask why they have to go to church and Dad doesn’t.
And more than a few such women quit coming to church just because they can’t bear that stress, or because they don’t want to make any more waves. How many women have I ever talked to who would like to come to church, but don’t want to upset their husbands?
While there may be a case to be made for a struggling couple to stay together for the kids, I don’t think a man should go to church just for the sake of setting an example for his family. Such a hollow gesture will surely carry little weight in the long run. Such a man probably just needs to get up off his duff and start being a little more serious and mature, and regain the genuine faith that he carelessly let slip away.
(Incidentally, I’m often bothered by young women’s classes that teach girls only to marry a returned missionary. This might be due to my own status as a non-RM, but it seems that shooting for a missionary offers a fairly small guarantee of spiritual bliss in marriage. Getting married in the temple is by far the strongest predictor of long-term spirituality, and as such I’d rather see more girls make that their goal.)
I can’t help but wonder, why is it that in the vast majority of marriages where one spouse has stopped going to church, it’s almost always the husband who has abdicated faith? Surely if it was a natural thing, the division would be about equal. I can only surmise that these men have largely bought into the culture’s low expectation of men as lazy, overgrown boys, who have little discipline or ambition and should be expected to goof off more often than not. When I talk to many of these men, I see that they’re decent enough guys, and they feel that their experiences have justified them in leaving church, but so few of them seem to care what a burden their choices place on their wives and children. Few seem to actively support their wife despite her heroic efforts to spiritually raise the family on her own. Frankly, as far as I’ve gotten to the root of the life stories of inactive husbands, it’s not offense or evidence that faith is invalid that made them leave church, it was, more than anything else, a desire to play rather than work.
There are some inactive husbands whom I honestly like and even admire, but so many of them are just an embarrassment to my gender. Half the time I want to grab these guys by the collar and tell them to wake up. And before anyone tells me how patronizingly offensive that is, ask yourself this: is your strong emotional reaction to this based on your feelings of love and responsibility to your family, or merely on your own selfish anger at being called out on something you know to be true?