I love this picture. It symbolizes so much about marriage. Two individuals: two minds, two hearts, two spirits coming together in one journey. They do not know what is ahead, but certainly have expectations. They look in the same direction, but certainly with different perspectives. They wait, together, sometimes touching, sometimes apart. Marriage – what a journey!
There is so much in our world today that is trying to tear marriage apart. The statistics show that about 50% of marriages end in divorce, and the U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the world.
So, what are the challenges we see in today’s marriages? Finances, infidelity, illness, death of a loved one, anger, abuse, childlessness, selfishness…the list goes on and on.
So, where is the hope for today’s marriages? How do we go forward and handle challenges handed to us?
First, I think we need to recognize that marriage is work. It is a living, breathing thing that takes care, time, and energy to maintain. Sometimes we spend more time caring for our house or our cars than we do our marriages. If you expect your marriage to thrive, then you must water it regularly, fill it with premium fuel, and protect it like a mama bear.
There are times when divorce is inevitable, out of our control, or prompted individually. I am not here to judge or make anyone who has been through a divorce or difficult marriage feel guilty. I know that each marriage is different. I know that spouses are unfaithful, abusive, and selfish – and that some of these spouses make decisions regardless of the faithfulness and goodness of another. This piece is not meant as demeaning or critical for those who have or are going through that struggle. My heart truly aches, and my compassion and empathy seek out those broken hearts and homes that struggle.
For those looking to increase the happiness and joy in their marriages, here are some suggestions for keeping your marriage living and breathing:
1. When there are problems, look first in the mirror. It is human behavior to blame and find fault with another. But, human behavior, is sometimes not enough to keep a marriage healthy. We must rise above, and choose the divine. Often, we are missing our own selfishness that could be contributing to the marital stress. It is so difficult to change another person. We fought so hard for our agency in the preexistence, we are surely going to fight to keep it now. When another person tries to “change” us, we naturally rebel.
So, this takes a lot of humility and strength to look at yourself, to see how you are possibly contributing (See Three Questions that Will Help Your Marriage). As you look at yourself, and start to work on those weaknesses, the system will naturally start to change itself.
2. Choose your team. The world teaches us that marriage is simply a contract between two people, and that if it gets too uncomfortable, it can be easily altered. Our Father in Heaven teaches us that marriage is a covenant — that with His help, we will have the opportunity to live with our spouses and families eternally. So my question is: Whose team do you choose? Do you see your marriage as a contract, easily made and easily broken? Or, do you see it as a promise with your Heavenly Father on the other end? He is waiting to fulfill His promises to you. He is bound when we do what He asks (D&C 82:10).
When we include Heavenly Father in our marriages, we have greater power. We have greater insight. We have greater compassion and understanding.
The second part of the team is this: Do you see your partner as part of your team, or are you competing against one another? I see a lot of couples talk like this: “Well, I did three really nice things for him/her last week and I haven’t seen him/her do anything for me!” This is score keeping. One point for my team, none for you. When we do this, we unconsciously move from compassion to competition. We are on the same team. One point is one point for the team. It doesn’t really matter who put the points on the scoreboard.
In any marriage, there are ups and downs. Sometimes one partner may be doing more than another. But, if we are working for the same team, it really doesn’t matter.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy observed: “When troubles come, the parties to a contractual marriage seek happiness by walking away. They marry to obtain benefits and will stay only as long as they’re receiving what they bargained for. But when troubles come to a covenant marriage, the husband and wife work them through. … Contract companions each give 50 percent; covenant companions each give 100 percent. Marriage is by nature a covenant, not just a private contract one may cancel at will” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1996, 34; or Ensign, Nov. 1996, 26).
3. How are you driving your wagon?
Some of the best marital and relationship advice I have found comes from D&C 121. In verses 41 and 42 we read:
“No power or influence ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile–“
If we read this as applicable to every one of us, not just priesthood bearers, we can learn many lessons. Persuasion, long-suffering, and gentleness are key in developing relationships and keeping them. When we behave this way with one another, we feel loved. We feed our marriages.
One of the challenges in marriages is anger and selfishness. When we are angry, we cannot feel the spirit of the Lord. We don’t think as clearly, and often, rush to judgment. I always say, “Yelling at someone and expecting them to change is like trying to drive the car by honking the horn.” It just doesn’t work.
Proverbs 16:32 states: “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.”
In preparing for this, I came across an analogy that I thought was particularly fitting.
“Have you heard the story about the farmer who hitched two mice to his wagon? His neighbor saw him climbing into the wagon and laughed at the farmer. ‘You don’t really expect those two little mice to pull that wagon, do you?’ he asked. The farmer replied, ‘Why not? I have a whip.” (taken from “A Gentle Reminder”, Martha Macfarlane Wiser).
Often, we use our anger as a whip. We can become pushy or overbearing. Anger will effect our marriage – just not for the better. So, how are you driving your wagon?
4. How much work are you putting in your marriage?
Because marriage is a living thing, we must do some upkeep. We must be willing to water, take care, and manage the living thing called marriage.
We need to date. We need to openly communicate. We need to spend time – one on one – together. It takes time. It takes energy. But, when marriages are mutual, and when spouses are united, there is great power. Think of it: this is God’s ultimate plan – the family. When we work at our marriages, we are working in God’s framework. What can be more powerful? What can be more rewarding?
We must save our marriages. By implementing the above steps, we can avoid many of the challenges that come in marriage:
1. When there are problems, look first in the mirror.
2. Choose God’s team.
3. Drive your wagon with love, tenderness, kindness and patience.
4. Work at it. Make time, spend energy, create passion.
As we work together as couples, and fulfill our covenants to the Lord, He will strengthen us. “The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of
righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (D&C 121:46)