Inactive Husbands

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?

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4 comments on “Inactive Husbands

  1. I just added an old mission buddy on Facebook. His first status update? How good the coffee was at a certain coffee house. I can’t remember which General Authority said it (or whether it was a GA) but it was something to the effect of RM’s being either the church’s greatest asset, or its worst enemy.

    As to the rest, brilliant. I loathe the lazy husband stereotype, but even more, I hate it when members perpetuate it through their lacksadaisical half-hearted devotion to the gospel. I may not be perfect, but in the words of a certain movie (which I will not name here because I will instantly lose soapbox credibility) “I’m tryin’ Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard.”

    Man up. Shut up. Get it done. Stop being lazy. Get to church. Do what you should. And to that mission buddy that will never see this? Stop drinking coffee, dummy.

  2. Overall, obviously, serving a mission creates much better odds of being faithful throughout life than not serving, but it’s hardly a monopoly. In my own ward, besides myself, the Scoutmaster and Ward Mission Leader are non-RMs. If you also count guys who joined the church after mission age, the number gets higher. I wonder how the ratio of RMs to non-RMs in leadership will look in this century vs. the last century.

    Serving an honorable mission is great. Being a faithful husband and father throughout life is better. (But, yes, doing both is still the best…)

  3. I have a few friends and relatives in this position. Two of them in particular continue to go to church, taking the kids, doing their best to bring up their children as had been intended from the beginning, all the while trying not to let it reflect on their father in the children’s eyes. I don’t know how they do it.

    Presenting yourself as a faithful priesthood holder at the time of marriage, agreeing to have a particular kind of family life afterwards, but then failing to live up to that is, I think, as great a deception as having lied about your education or having hid the unpaid debts in your background, or even lying about substance abuse or SSA. These women trusted their husbands, gave themselves and their hopes and futures into the keeping of these men. Maybe some of these problems can’t have been recognized by the men until too late, but there is no excuse for simple neglect in attending to routine obligations. This is the easiest deception for a man to cure, if he just will.

  4. Ardis, I couldn’t agree more. I know of two women in my ward who each married in the temple, and whose husbands went completely inactive within one month. Those are extreme cases, but you certainly never hear about women pulling stunts like that. All we can figure for those situations is that a guy wanted to get himself a cute, handy Mormon wife, and as soon as the deal was closed, he turned off the act. It’s terrible to assume the worst about anybody, but what else makes sense?

    I can assure everyone that women in these situations are especially present in the hearts and prayers of all leaders, and will probably be first in line for extraordinary blessings in the eternal worlds.

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