From 'sacred underwear' to Victoria's Secret: The devout Mormon woman who chose love over faith when her husband became an atheist
19:00 GMT, 12 June 2012
Maren Stephenson, 27, was a devoted Mormon wife and mother in Utah who imagined a life of faithful service to the Church and an eternity spent with her husband of eight years, Sean.
And then, out of the blue one night, Sean shook her world by turning to her in bed and telling her that he no longer believed in God.
Shocked to the core by his confession, Maren's life was turned upside down as she vacillated between bitterness, confusion and anger until finally her own belief system came crumbling down too.
True love: Maren and Sean Stephenson were followers of the Mormon faith until Sean stopped believing and Maren was forced to reevaluate (posed by models)
Maren and Sean Stephenson had married at the tender age of 19 at a temple in Portland, Oregon while still students at the Mormon-affiliated university of Brigham Young in Utah.
Their friends and family all belonged to the Church of Latter Day Saints and Maren's running partners' husbands held senior posts within the Church hierarchy.
When Sean broke from the faith, his wife's initial response was instinctual and loyal to their love of each other.
He was after all the man who had pulled out of the depths of depression that she had suffered since turning 15 and about which she still blogs.
'You are more important to me than the Church,' she had told him, as she recalled in Salon.
But that certainty very quickly disintegrated within the next few weeks and their relationship became impersonal and distant.
Maren began to worry what their friends in the Church would think and wonder why Sean had put her in the position of being caught between them and what they would surely see as a 'heathen family'.
'And all the while I couldn't stop thinking. Why, Sean I didn't sign up for this. You promised me we'd spend eternity together, and now you might as well be gone,' she wrote.
Restrictive: When Sean stopped wearing his 'temple garments' Maren sought council from a friend who instead made her rethink the Church's motivations
Though Sean tried to be supportive by taking his wife and children to services, when he left half way through, Maren confessed she would cry in the bathroom just thinking about the word 'atheist'.
Unable to cope with her husband's dramatic changes in rituals and habits, when he stopped wearing his 'sacred underwear' and switched to boxers, she gave in and called a friend for support.
But instead of a comforting shoulder, Maren was bombarded with questions about Sean's sexual fantasies and what pornographic activities he was involved in that could have led him to such sin.
Knowing that Sean was a deeply intelligent and curious individual, Maren was shocked that her friend would not accept that his rejection came from a place of reason rather than because of his desire to disobey.
'I knew Sean was still a good person… The Church was wrong about him. What else might they be wrong about'
'This started my brain twitching,' she remembered. 'I knew Sean was still a good person, that he still maintained the same moral standards he had when he married me. The Church was wrong about him. What else might they be wrong about'
When Maren finally dared to join Sean in reading about the Mormon faith and Joseph Smith's polygamy, a Pandora's box of doubt and shame was opened.
'I sat there silent as he kept talking, a horror growing in my gut. I knew that if Sean was right, then Joseph Smith was a fraud. I saw no difference between his acts and the modern-day acts of Warren Jeffs, whom I abhorred.
And if Joseph Smith was a fraud – then what did that make the Church' She questioned.
Over the ensuing few months, Maren experienced revelation after revelation about the way of life to which she had given her own, and she realised that leaving the Church would yield plenty of advantages like having time to themselves on weekends and having more money.
The benefits also affected their relationship as married adults. She recalled: 'When I shed my garments for slippery Victoria Secret panties, my self-esteem skyrocketed, and our late nights shifted to other things.
'We were finally adults, taking our firsts together, learning about each other without barriers.'
Though it has only been seven months since Maren left God behind, she is still unsure of many things.
But the one thing that comforts her, she wrote in Salon, is that 'whatever happens, wherever we go, Sean will be at my side, holding my hand.'