By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Phillip Barlow was 27 when he met his future wife in a Weber State
University LDS student ward. He had served a church mission to the San
Francisco Bay Area, graduated from college and was heading to Harvard
to study religion.
But Phil was inexperienced in love. He was apprehensive about
leaving the womb of Utah for what he feared would be Babylon. He
didn't know what to expect and was nervous about being alone.
So he proposed to the girl he had been dating only a few months.
After seven years, two kids and endless trips to counselors and
Mormon leaders, Phil and his wife divorced. As a devoted member of The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he was emotionally,
religiously and financially devastated.
"From my perspective, she is a perfectly nice person, but we had
no business being married," he says now. "The way we came to see the
world was completely different. I have my own weaknesses and they
punched her buttons."
Growing up in a small Utah town, the woman felt oppressed by her
father, the church and men in general. Though her mild-mannered
husband was the antithesis of her authoritarian father, she
transferred all those feelings to Phil.
"She felt suffocated by men," he says. "The way she chose to break
out was by eating."
Phil began to notice crazy things. When he came back from work,
the heart of a newly purchased watermelon would be gone. After the
week's groceries disappeared in a single day, he had to hide food for
himself and their two children. He had no idea what was happening. "It
was as severe a form of addiction as alcoholism or cocaine," he says.
Today, they would have realized the woman was bulimic, but this
was 1980 and her disease was not yet widely recognized. They sought
counseling, but no one had any answers.
While dealing with a marriage spiraling out of control, Phil was
teaching at the LDS Institute of Religion for Mormon students in the
Boston area and completing graduate work on religion.
Phil's wife became involved with a New Age religion called
Eckankar, which believes in souls traveling outside their bodies. He
tried to be understanding, even attended a few Eckankar meetings, but
that just added religion to their list of growing differences.
After several years of struggle and counseling, their professional
marriage counselor asked them, "What would it be like to imagine
As a Mormon, divorce was unthinkable, but the suggestion gave the
couple a sense of profound relief.
The two agreed to share child-raising, alternating a year-long
stay with each parent. Phil had them first.
The divorce cost Phil his livelihood. No divorced person can teach
at the LDS Institute, no matter what caused it.
"They fired me with comments of great compassion," he recalls. "It
didn't sound like they were judging me. They were trying to be soft
and gentle, saying things like, 'Can you imagine how awkward it would
be if you were assigned to teach a class on marriage and family?' They
implied they were doing this for my own good."
In a flash, he was thrust into the gravest economic, occupational,
marital, faith and religious crisis of his life. He felt abandoned by
some church members.
"I didn't even know if I could finish my doctoral program," he
says. "I had to pull out of my exams, come back to Utah and live in
the basement of my parents' house. I was sick day and night for
It took years of soul-searching, mental anguish and hard work for
Phil to regain his equilibrium. Eventually, he was able to finish his
degree and trust love again. He finally met a divorced Mormon woman
with three children, and, he says, "things got happy."
Today he has been joyously married for 18 years, is the proud
father of six and chairs Mormon studies at Utah State University.
"Divorce should not be a casual thing," he says. "I appreciate the
church's support of marriage and family in its various dimensions.
However, we may err when we confuse ironclad rules with guiding
principles. There are situations where divorce is the most
constructive, compassionate and wise thing to do."