Relationships and the Recovering Fundamentalist

In this Relationships and the Recovering Fundamentalist tab, we’ll be looking at:

  • How programming in fundamentalism can make itself felt in new relationships
  • The transition time can be a mishmash of emotions.
  • A summary of where we were when leaving fundamentalism in relation to relationships


We recovering fundamentalists may find ourselves in unhappy relationships partly because of our past religious mindset, some of which still influences us whether we realize it or not. The purpose of this Relationships and the Recovering Fundamentalist section is to help us become conscious of what fundamentalist influences may still be present, with the goal of outgrowing these influences prior to choosing new friends.

If we choose new friends while still “under the influence,” the quality of our relationships may be significantly different than if we were free and happy when we chose our new friends. If we are free and happy, we can avoid some unhappy experiences that otherwise we might passively fall into.


Not only can emotions be confused, but our past experience in the religious group may be all that we know. That experience needs to be sorted out in order to understand it and to figure out who we are as we leave.

For example, we may not have been attracted to fundamentalist guys or gals (boring, lack of “red blood,” conformity) but we were also used to their steady traits, such as commitment, honesty, and acceptance of our (then) common language. We can get in deep trouble if we become attracted to someone who is not boring, is a non-conformist, and has “red blood” and if we also assume that the traits of commitment and honesty will also be present. We can live to regret it if we assume that his words mean what we understand them to mean and that his life will be orderly, as were the lives of the fundamentalists we know.

To avoid unhappy, dead-end relationships that come with a deep emotional price, we need to sort out who we are now. We need to find our own value systems and be our own free person, adult on both mental and emotional levels, before matching up with someone that we wouldn’t have chosen had we been healthier.

There are plenty of “worldly” people who are able to commit themselves, are honest, and put their lives behind their words. There are plenty who have orderly lives, too – but they are not the ones prowling around for an easy relationship.

The sad thing is that we can “hear” these words and say, “Of course,” but sometimes we still need a lot of growth before we internalize how to become a healthy and respectful adult, how to honor ourselves. There’s a difference between head knowledge, where something makes logical sense, and knowledge that comes out of life’s experiences. It can take time to gain “street smarts.”

You may already have been in one or more dead-end relationships. If you are lucky, your friend moved on of his own accord. Other individuals can be harder to dislodge, and the picture can be complex.

Wherever you are right now, it is where the sum of your experiences and choices have brought you so. Where you are right now is your classroom to learn what you want and who you are – and who you aren’t. If you feel foolish or dumb for getting into the situation you are in, be gentle with yourself. So many of us recovering fundamentalists have or have had relationships that we wouldn’t have chosen had we been healthier. That was our path, and unfortunately our path may have delivered a great deal of additional pain, after the pain of leaving our fundamentalist community.

You may have occasional episodes of grieving over losses throughout your life – and many of those losses may have come as a result of weaknesses traceable to the shadow of fundamentalism in your life.

Grieve when you need to, but remember that you have your place in the sun, that you have constructive things to do, and that nothing is black or white. Look for the silver linings, and build on them. You are not alone. There are many of us who have paid a heavy price for being too ill-equipped to face the real world as we left our fundamentalist group. This is just a fact of life, a sad fact, but a fact. We have to deal with it, learn our hard lessons, and go on from there. 

Just because we may have lost a battle doesn’t mean we lose the war. Just because we have suffered losses and pain after leaving fundamentalism doesn’t mean that we are victims. Those hard times were our classroom, and we can dust ourselves off and continue to make progress. You are a warrior, my friend – a warrior of the human spirit, and many joys remain. We are here. You are not alone.


Aside from possibly struggling with faith and doubt, with fundamentalist family pressures, with setting up a new life without knowing what we are doing, we may have expectations for our new freedom that aren’t too realistic.

Though we may have been lonely in fundamentalism, we were also familiar with ecstasy and emotionalism and a feeling of “rightness,” whether built on fantasy or not. Couple those elements with lack of personal emotional boundaries, and we may find that “the wish” for a particular relationship to work can overwhelm us and make us oblivious to reality.

We may build a house of cards on hopes and words, whereas a more experienced and mature person would recognize red flags straight off and leave the relationship behind. We, in contrast, are used to being passive and putting up with all sorts of church people without judging them. The result is that we may not hold our new friend sufficiently to account. 

Our learned high expectations for individuals and our given naïveté, inexperience, and immaturity can make for a bad combination. We may be lucky to meet a good person right off, one who stands behind his words, is mature, and is capable of love and intimacy, but the odds are that we will first meet – and perhaps even be victimized by – some attractive individual who may appear initially charming and congenial, even good and trustworthy, but whose life does not stand the test of time. Such an individual may turn out to be more trouble than he is worth.

In other words, we are used to people of character in our fundamentalist circle. To carry over the expectation that the first folk we meet on the outside of the church will also be people of character can get us into deep trouble. Who is it that approaches the run-away girl in a train station? If she is lucky, that person will be from a non-profit shelter for girls, but more often than not, an unsavory individual “befriends” her, and sex and drugs may not be far behind. 

Think of yourself as that vagabond in the train station. Find your non-profit “shelter” where you can get yourself oriented and grow stronger and healthier. Work on yourself first so that you can tell the difference between someone who might become a true friend and someone who lacks the capacity to become a true friend.

As you gain in insight and wisdom and get a sense of the whole picture, you may have a lot to grieve, to forgive yourself and others for, and to move on from. Our lives, coming from fundamentalism, may be messy, or at the least, may have had a messy stretch before we extricated ourselves. That is one of the legacies of a rigid religion that denies freedom of thought and a right to be human to its adherents.

I recall a thought heard recently… something about success in life being treacherous, because it is from sorrow that we learn our values and come to appreciate the true meanings of life. We have backgrounds and experiences that money cannot buy…. hard, yes, but valuable in what they have taught us and have yet to teach us.

Many of the dysfunctions in our relationships reflect our fundamentalist programming. For example, if we are used to not having emotional personal boundaries from our religious background, then we may attract someone who is happy to roll over into emotional areas where we should be saying, “No.” We may find ourselves being used and not even recognize that fact, because it feels so familiar. There can be a fine line between being used and being abused. Watch out if someone is not careful about your feelings.

In the next tab, let’s look at some preliminary considerations for prior to developing new friendships.