Adultery: Mormon Style

I’m entitled to talk about adultery.  H1 found himself an adoring Other in his Bishop’s office while supposedly counselling her  and then announced to me one Christmas eve that our marriage was over.  A few weeks later he and she were playing happy families and showing up at church together as pleased as can be.  To tell you the truth it was a bit brutalizing.  But still, I’m happy.  Nathan is my most favorite husband so far!!  In a certain stake I know of (which shall remain unidentified) you have a 50% chance of committing adultery if you are called to be the Stake President and an equal chance if called to be a Bishop of a certain ward which shall (most tactfully of me) remain nameless.

Crude statistics aside this doesn’t make for pleasant reading,  but should give us some food for thought.  Nathan and I have discussed the dilemma of adultery in the church on and off over the years.  We’ve watched the fall-out for wards, the alarm and drama created in the stake, the confusion of children, and the outrage and grief of abandoned spouses.  But mostly we’ve waited for something to change, for a word said from the pulpit, for a special fireside for couples, for some discussion to be initiated from somewhere about how to shore up our marriages and properly support those who are suffering.  We’ve also waited for a supportive process for the aggrieved spouse to be established so that we don’t see her languishing alone without support and care.   But we’ve waited in vain.  While living in Wellington we met a disgruntled ex-Bishop who regaled us with stories of illicit sex in the church from other regions, so we know the problem isn’t necessarily unique to our city (although it does seem quite pronounced) and of course it isn’t unique to our church.  Only a couple of weeks ago my childhood friend Rita came by, who is a devoted Pentecostal told me about her pastor who similarly made off with a young mother in their congregation, and an anglican vicar told me about a similar situation in a local congregation.

However, for a church which sets such store by chastity and sexual purity one  wonders what is going awry.  I can only guess from my intimate experience.  Perhaps there was a lack of spiritual and emotional maturity in the marriage.  Hasty marriages at young ages don’t make for great relationships.  I was duped into believing  that I was qualified to marry by the much touted aphorism:  ‘Two people who love the Lord can make a marriage work.”  That’s all very well but you have to like each other as well. And as my sister would say,  “It helps if your bones have set”.

The other problem that I’ve noticed in my limited experience of only one adulterous husband is the unimaginative, regulatory and punitive style of mormon marriages.  It seems that everything that has been said about marriage and family at church beds down with the couple in an unwieldily pastiche of does and do nots.  It becomes so prescriptive that the couple forgets to create their own unique relationship in a frenzy of trying to do the right thing.  They forget to give themselves time to just be, and rush into marriage, rush into children, accept the church positions that the more jaded of us creep away from, try and finish school, hold down part time jobs, and cope with poverty all at the same time.  Perhaps this was an acceptable format for marriage post-war but I’m not convinced its relevant today.  There needs to be breathing space for couples young and old where we don’t feel the need to see each other through the prism of the church.  Couples need to negotiate and enjoy the rhythms of gospel living rather than trying to  inflict standards upon each other.  I’m tired of seeing flat, haggard and dull marriages with no life or energy or uniqueness, where it seems too obvious that the couple haven’t really looked at or seen each other for years because all of their other responsibilities seem to be standing in the way.

But frankly,  I don’t really know why church leaders in particular are vulnerable to sexual infidelity because when I’ve asked them why they did it (and I’ve asked a few of them) they have replied with answers such:  “I never really loved her”, “I’m doing the most honest thing I’ve ever done”, “This is hard for me as well”, “Well, you get that”, “I didn’t see how I could stay in that marriage”  …  blah, blah, blah.   So is still begs the question.

Back when H1 was doing Miss Daisy I thought I was pretty hot so its not necessarily because they aren’t getting any.  But upon reflection, I wonder if it was because of a lack of joy and, for some of these men,   the spontaneity and pleasure of an unencumbered, fresh, rule-less relationship was too enticing.  With so many have-tos sometimes our want-tos get lost in the ether, and what I’ve come to appreciate after 20 years of unadulterous marriage is the healthiness of letting each other want each other.  Of course there will be relationships that will be held together by a mutual obsession with being the perfect mormons and they are welcome to it if it works (but leave the rest of us alone is my only request).  Children are whiney, demanding, and a bit over-rated, church callings can be  time consuming and if we add to that a  responsible church position,  and a dose of emotional and spiritual immaturity the cocktail is dynamite.

Perhaps the problem could be the youngness and immaturity of the church in certain places.  Up until recently the General Handbook of Instructions appears to be an ‘optional extra’ and ignoring it has placed unnecessary stress on the blokes by requiring all kinds of time-wasting innovations that tend to go nowhere.  I know this because I’ve had two husbands in responsible church positions who have both expressed frustration with local revelation which contradicts General Instructions.

Or perhaps the problem is our disavowal of a problem area.  We have found a very robust language for talking to adolescents about sexual promiscuity and abstinence but very little for talking to married couples about how to be sexually healthy, happy and how to manage the sex when you’re actually allowed to do it.

Or on a more basic level, perhaps local leaders should preferably be considered from the ranks of those who have served missions.  There is something grounding and settling about having served a mission which can only support what can be an extraordinarily difficult task.  And with so many church leaders around here  habitually missing Sunday School and Priesthood is it any wonder that some of them are running the spiritual gas tanks a bit dry? Ooops did I just say that?

  • Linda Furness

    Gina, I think this is spot on. I now have two divorced children who were married in the church. They each married the wrong person too soon for perhaps the right reasons, but after 16 and 20 years they just could not do it any more. Somewhere along the way, members have lost the perception that marriage can also be fun. It is a perception which needs to be changed or there will continue to be too many more failed marriages.

  • Ganesh Cherian

    Defining causes of infidelity is tricky. You bring up some great points and some lovely insights.

    I have worked with many couples both in and outside the church and dealt with adultery on many occasions. Some of the marriages I thought would endure have long since dissolved and ones that I thought would self-destruct have blossomed. So I am not sure I have any great insights to add.

    I do see that enduring relationships need friendship, commitment and commandments. I think generally member (Christian) marriages fare better than their non-member peers because there is more definition about where the boundaries are and drugs and alcohol are less of a factor. However the flipside is that the fallout from breakdowns in member marriages can be much more severe because the expectations are so much greater.

    What is surprising to me is, the majority of cases I have worked with – the adulterer has been the women. This brings up some tricky nuances in our culture. We have been programmed in the church to favor the woman in the breakdown of a relationship. There are not many support structures in place for the men folk.

    • kiwimormon

      These are some really, really interesting points you raise Ganesh! I say yes for a support system for both men and women. One of the problems however is that the bishop is usually the first go to guy for dealing with adultery (as you would know). But what happens if they are completely clueless about what to do?

  • Ruth Grey

    The other really important factor in the issue which Gina touched on briefly is the fallout of adultery, in that it has far reaching and long term consequences to many, many people not just the agrieved wife and family. I speak from first hand experience as the daughter of an adulterous father who has been a leader in the church and in the greater community. I spent over a decade coming to terms with all that had happened to our fractured family and was not helped by church leaders and numerous ,members alike telling me how I should have reacted and how I should feel about my father – all lay couch psychologists of course. It was not until living in another city and having a TR interview with a member of the Stake presidency who recognized my pain and listened without judgement or advice but empathy and compassion did I finally have a path that seemed clearer to forgive and move on and navigate a some sort of realationship with my father.There seems to be a glich in the way mormons interpret their doctrine that doesn’t make provision for anguish and anger in such situations … or maybe it was just bad luck on my part, or the area in which I lived at the time just doesn’t have the depth and experience to cope with such things …. ahh, but there lies another blog post aye Gina?

  • kiwimormon

    Which begs the need to have a thoughtful and relevant conversations about adultery in our church communities. Perhaps we need to have a sacrament meeting devoted to it, or a special fireside, or something – anything we we can hear from abandoned spouses, children, repentant adulterers etc. How good would that be?

  • JohnnyS


    I think you’re on to something here, but, as a man whose wife was a serial adulteress, I do think that there’s something else that’s related and that is how the church pushes its young people far too quickly into marriage when said young people really don’t have a clue what it’s about. I was 23 when I married my first wife and she was 21. We knew nothing about what it took to make a marriage work and had no real concept of what an eternal marriage was. We both made our share of mistakes along the way. If we had been 30 when we’d met, we never would have gotten married in the first place.

    Also, and this is a fact that some posters have mentioned and has GOT to be emphasized more, the consequences of adultery are incredibly far-reaching and life altering in ways most cheaters simply can’t imagine. The common experience of the betrayed spouses with whom I’ve commiserated over the years echoes what you heard from the church leaders you mention above. Most of the betrayed spouses heard things along those same lines. When I asked for a reason, for instance, what I was told was “I just wanted to do something for me.” This was a particularly astonishing statement given the fact that we had two very young children at the time, including a beautiful little girl we had just adopted six months before.

    I think we in the church need to face the adultery question more directly in our marriage prep classes and in the the YM/YW programs. Often, it seems, we just want to focus on the positive and give the party line that if two people get married in the temple, things will work out. We do our young people an incredible disservice by talking such nonsense. And also kudos to Ganesh, who recognizes that women are often the cheaters. The myth of the uber-righteous choice daughter of God is another gender-centric myth that must be shattered.


  • kiwimormon

    I’m glad you got something out of this post. In this blog’s short life of 1.5 weeks that one got hundreds and hundreds of hits which indicates to me some lingering discussion we need to be having in church about adultery. Yet it was the Adultery blog that raised the biggest concern for one of my church leaders. I think he was mostly worried about the fact that I had signaled that to be a local problem and it wouldn’t be hard to put two and two together. But those of us who have been victims of adultery have some interesting territory to navigate that saccharin narratives about the wonders of marriage and the imperatives of forgiveness can’t bend to. I think you are quite right about young marriage – its a lethal combination and one the literature actually suggests is problematic.

  • kiwimormon

    Reblogged this on kiwimormon.

  • AnnieB

    Young Marriage in the church is a problem area for me too. I find statements from mission presidents to the “to be returned missionaries” to get married as soon as possible. Yet they are not in a position to support a family. They are encouraged to not wait to have children, but are not in a position to support children. After having missionaries live in my house for the past year, its shed light that these missionaries are still kids. So while the young husband/father is at school, guess who most often has to pick up a job and support the family too. Yet these same leaders are pretty quick to quote the “The Family a Proclamation to the World” that women are to be the nurturers and the Men are to be the providers. I agree with Kiwimormon, we should be encouraging a time to nurture relationships and gain maturity and skill sets to be successful at marriage. What a confusing message we are giving to our young people, no wonder after 10 years they want something exciting and for themselves and different. All these young men get taught in priesthood is to get ready to go on a mission, be worthy to go on a mission. When they should be taught how to support a family and provide. What are they going to do when they get back from their mission, have a plan. Most young men don’t have any solid plan on what they want to do after their mission. I have plenty of young couples in my ward where the male is still at school for 5 years still trying to figure out what he wants to major in. Or after finishing school then decides that he can’t do that no more and has to go back to school for a new career option while having a wife and three kids to support. I dread every fast sunday in Relief Society as I call that 5-10min testimony bearing session as a counsel session as many of them sadly talk about their situations and how had life is and really how miserable they are. If the gospel is suppose to give you joy then why do we have alarming stats regarding depression. There’s another topic Kiwimormon – Women in the church and depression.

    • kiwimormon

      Great point and a brilliant idea for a blog/conversation!