LDS: Therapist works to help Mormons survive divorce

The Salt Lake Tribune/October 12, 2007

Jennifer James no longer believes in checklists - LDS seminary graduate; served a two-year church mission; temple worthiness - for potential Mormon mates. They are not enough.

"Too many people check these things off their to-do list and then wake up to find they had no relationship," says James, a Mormon author and divorce therapist. "Such marriages are an event to accomplish, rather than a lifelong experience to nurture and learn from. Real marriages require work and dedication."

Clients often come to her with a sense of betrayal. They did everything the LDS Church told them to, yet their marriages still failed.

James knows how they feel.

As an LDS convert, she sought a faithful Mormon to marry her in one of the church's 125 temples. She found two husbands; the first marriage failed after three years, the second lasted two decades.

"We fell in love, got married and thought the temple would solve everything," James says. "It didn't solve anything. We felt trapped."

She readily acknowledges her part in the collapse of her marriages.

"We did not know how to create a meaningful partnership and there was no help from the church," James says.

Now James is trying to help others with her therapy practice, her book, Latter-day Divorce and Beyond: Surviving Singlehood, and public speaking.

When James speaks at LDS singles conferences, both men and women rush up to her and say, "All I'm dating are losers."

That suggests both groups see themselves as "winners," she says, and should date each other, but they don't. They need to be more self-scrutinizing and realize it's not all the other person's fault.

"It's our natural inclination to pose and pretend, to 'fake it 'til we make it,' to to blame or deny or delude others," she says. "All that is a pattern of hiding our true selves."

James thinks premarital counseling should be required before any temple wedding, followed after marriage with regular group therapy so people can see where their marriage falls on the happiness barometer, so they can seek help sooner if necessary.

She would like to see a beefed-up department of LDS social services, with Mormon professionals offering marriage therapy.

"An entire subculture of Saints are out there broken, hurting and disenfranchised with no programs to help or heal them so that they can have successful future relationships," James says. "The [LDS] Church can't even keep a head-count because 'we' should not exist in this 'forever family' church."

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