I've been thinking lately about the fact that many Mormon marriages end when one spouse reveals (s)he doesn't believe anymore. Why is this so? The quick answer is , I think, the emphasis on eternal marriage and the necessity of marriage to attain the Celestial Kingdom (CK), the highest degree of heaven for Mormons. Too many people--probably more women--think, "If he doesn't believe, if he isn't righteous, he can't take me to the Celestial Kingdom. Therefore, I might as well get divorced and find a man who is worthy."
There are gender biases in this that probably cause more women to bail on "unfaithful" men than men to bail on women. Basically, while the doctrine says "neither is the man without the woman or the woman without the man," really, people feel that a man can make it to the CK without his wife (and then marry some more of them). A woman has a much harder time getting there without her husband, particularly because she won't have a conduit to the priesthood in her "unworthy" husband (not matter how wonderful a person, husband, and father he may be).
Need I express how disgusting and tragic I find this? One of the smartest things I ever did in my life was to accept what my husband was telling me--"I'm not sure I'll always believe"--and give him credit that he was, in fact, a smart, caring person, and think, "There must be something to what he's saying."
Is that to say it didn't freak me out? No. Of course it freaked me out. I had my cultural conditioning; my initial reaction was one of absolute fear and panic. The thought ran through my mind: What about the Celestial Kingdom? I pushed it out of my mind, and thought of us instead. Over the next couple months, as both of us made our final break from the church, we reworked our relationship at the same time. My husband expressed to me that our relationship--not the Lord, as I had been raised to feel--was the most important thing to him. More important, in fact, than it had been when we believed in eternal marriage.
In the light of these ideas, I drummed up some conference talks to try to find any gems the Brethren might have given the church to support the idea that in/out couples should get divorced (or not). Most talks on marriage gave some practical advice on improving marriage (communicate, go on a date, make the other one your first priority, etc.), including living righteously, praying daily, having faith, making Christ the center of your marriage, etc.
I didn't find what I was looking for--a talk explicitly on divorcing an apostate spouse--but there were references to sin, unfaithfulness, etc. being destroyers of marriage. The man that talked the most about marriage and divorce, as I could tell through my less-than-comprehensive search, was Spencer W. Kimball (president of the church from 1973-1985). He was unequivocal about in/out marriages: don't do it.
Here are some quotes from two of his talks (emphases mine):
"To be really happy in marriage, one must have a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life. The conscience will continue to afflict, unless it has been seared, in which case the marriage is already in jeopardy. A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable. Inactivity is destructive to marriage, especially where the parties are inactive in varying degrees.
"Religious differences are the most trying and among the most unsolvable of all differences.
"Marriage is ordained of God. It is not merely a social custom. Without proper and successful marriage, one will never be exalted. Read the words of your Lord, that it is right and proper to be married.
"That being true, the thoughtful and intelligent Latter-day Saint will plan his life carefully to be sure there are no impediments placed in the way. By making one serious mistake, one may place in the way obstacles which may never be removed and which may block the way to eternal life and godhood—our ultimate destiny. If two people love the Lord more than their own lives and then love each other more than their own lives, working together in total harmony with the gospel program as their basic structure, they are sure to have this great happiness.”
Spencer W. Kimball, “Oneness in Marriage,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 3
“I have warned the youth against the many hazards of interfaith marriage, and with all the power I possessed, I warned young people to avoid the sorrows and disillusionments which come from marrying out of the Church and the unhappy situations which almost invariably result when a believer marries an unbelieving spouse. I pointed out the demands of the Church upon its members in time, energy, and funds; the deepness of the spiritual ties which tighten after marriage and as the family comes; the antagonisms which naturally follow such mismating; the fact that these and many other reasons argue eloquently for marriage within the Church, where husband and wife have common backgrounds, common ideals and standards, common beliefs, hopes, and objectives, and, above all, where marriage may be eternalized through righteous entry into the holy temple.”
“We are grateful that this one survey reveals that about 90 percent of the temple marriages hold fast. Because of this, we recommend that people marry those who are of the same racial [!?!?! Happy Birthday, MLK, Jr] background generally, and of somewhat the same economic and social and educational background (some of those are not an absolute necessity, but preferred), and above all, the same religious background, without question. In spite of the most favorable matings, the evil one still takes a monumental toll and is the cause for many broken homes and frustrated lives.”from Marriage and Divorce, Spencer W Kimball
For what it's worth, Hinckley made a statement that could be used to reverse Kimball's earlier statements. Hinckley tried to encourage women married to non-Mormon spouses. It was, though, in the hopes that those spouses will eventually convert.
"Support, sustain, uphold, and bless your husbands with your love and your encouragement, and the Lord will bless you. Even if they are not members of the Church, bless them with kindness and reach out to them every good way that you can. The chances are that they will become members of the Church before they reach the time they die. It may be a long time and you may have a lot to put up with, but if that happens, you will think it is all worth it."
— From Church News. member meeting,