We wish we could stand on the rooftops and shout to all the world, “Stay married!” We can’t, but our Church leaders are actually doing it through the airwaves as General Conferences are broadcast worldwide. Their continual plea is for couples to work out problems, stay married and create an eternal family.
At General Conference April, 2007, Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, “Now I speak to married members, especially to any who may be considering divorce. I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation. Divorce is not an all-purpose solution, and it often creates long-term heartache. (Dallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” Ensign, May 2007, 70-73)
In his nationally published book, Standing for Something, President Gordon B. Hinckley devoted an entire section to the importance of marriage. He made the plea to all the world: “Get married and stay married.” (p. 146) We suggest you read or reread these two chapters, What God Hath Joined Together and We can Save our Nation by Saving our Homes. You will see again why staying married is so vitally important to yourself, your children, and society.
The Ripple Effect
Sadly, divorces are happening everywhere, and far too many in Latter-day Saint families. The fallout is horrendous, greater than any of these couples can imagine. When a marriage breaks up, not only are the children of the couple damaged, and they are, but so is every family who knows them. The ripple effect is significant. It’s a little like suicide, when one happens it often brings about others in that community. It becomes the “easy” way out, which could never be further from the truth. And so it is with divorce. It spreads.
Children of intact families are watching what’s happening to other families and they become fearful that divorce will happen to their parents or to them”if” they get married. Seeds of fear and distrust are planted. Some divorcing parents say “My children will get over it and everything will be fine.” That’s a lie. They will never get over it. Even if they wear a happy face, their hearts are aching.
We saw this vividly when serving as bishop on BYU campus. A young student with divorced parents bore her testimony and cried, saying her only dream was to be walking with her mother on one side and her father on the other. She said, “I just want to be with both of them at the same time.” The divorce had happened many years before when she was a small child. The heartache lingers on and on throughout the child’s life.
An Alarming Trend
Tragically, divorce is becoming the fashionable thing to do. It’s even glorified in some settings. The hue and cry of the world is: “If you’re married and not happy, then get out of the marriage. That must be the problem, so move on and find happiness somewhere else.” On a recent popular talk show we saw a woman proclaiming this very thing: she wasn’t happy, so she divorced and moved on. It appeared she had little thought for her children, or her spouse who had given so much to her through the years, including fidelity. She just wanted to try new things and move on to a “more fulfilling” life for herself, seemingly blind to the pain her decision caused to so many others.
When this happens, the women who make these decisions feel a need to justify their actions and often write articles, books, and proclaim to the world that this is the way to happiness. The woman on this show boasted that she was having a marvelous spiritual experience for herself. It was all about “me”. Our hearts ached for the innocent victims of her self-gratification.
Oh, the craftiness of Satan! He works with tireless effort and cunning to move people out of the very thing that will bring them the greatest happiness and into that which will eventually bring them the greatest sorrow. Remember, his goal is “that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27)
We have met with many women who divorced and later wished they had never done it. Same with men. Even those with a stable second marriages have expressed their regrets.
A man whose wife divorced him told us, “I should have stayed and fought for my family. She told me to move out and said if I did she would work with me and we could have a peaceful divorce, for the children’s sake.’ So I left, to keep the peace. That was many years ago. The result is that my children claim I abandoned them, even though I didn’t want the divorce and did all in my power to be with them. She turned them against me. I should have stayed in our home and insisted we work out the problems together. My children are grown and are a mess as a result of this divorce. On their visits to my new home they put my second wife, an angel of a woman, through a literal hell as she tried to show her love to them. My advice is: Don’t leave, find a way to make it work.”
As we visited with a couple at one of our retreats they both, sitting together at dinner with us, said, “This is our second marriage. Even though we love each other we both wish we had stayed married to our first spouse. A second marriage is extremely difficult. We wish we had put this much effort into our first marriage and made it work. This is so difficult for us and our children. Please tell others contemplating divorce what we have said. Happiness isn’t on the other side of the fence.”
Some are Justified
Of course, there are some divorces that are justified. When continual abuse and unrepentant infidelity occur, then serious action is required. In these cases divorce may be the only option.
Elder Oaks said, “There are many good Church members who have been divorced. . . .We know that many of you are innocent victims-members whose former spouses persistently betrayed sacred covenants or abandoned or refused to perform marriage responsibilities for an extended period. Members who have experienced such abuse have firsthand knowledge of circumstances worse than divorce.”
Elder Oaks went on to say, “We know that some look back on their divorces with regret at their own partial or predominant fault in the breakup. All who have been through divorce know the pain and need the healing power and hope that come from the Atonement. That healing power and that hope are there for them and also for their children.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” Ensign, May 2007, 70-73)
There are many second marriages that work out well, but nothing restores the family like the biological or adoptive parents staying together and finding happiness as a family. Everyone in a second, third or more marriage, who may be reading this article, we encourage you to do everything in your power to make the marriage you are in a lasting and happy one. Let your children see you working at making it work.
Most Problems Can Be Resolved
Generally speaking, divorces occur over problems that can be resolved. With a few changes marriages can be saved. A woman who came to us was ready to divorce her husband because of his abusive tongue, the name calling and disrespectful way he treated her, along with drinking. We worked with her in helping her realize the importance of setting personal boundaries by being kind, gentle, respectful and firm.
It took time, patience and consistency on her part, but the results were amazing.
He now treats her with respect and has become fully active in the Church and they have now been sealed in the temple. She said, “He’s a wonderful husband and father now. It scares me to think how close I came to divorcing him.” We’ve seen this same scenario over and over. When people work at it, marriages can be saved and become beautiful and lasting. They just have to be willing to pay the price.
When couples have an eternal perspective with the happiness of their family in focus, these changes can be made and happiness not only restored, but increased beyond what they had before.
When married people are not happy, marriage is not the problem. Selfishness is. Women who say they just aren’t happy and want out have their heads buried in the sand, or perhaps more accurately, in the laundry. We were impressed with the recent Ensign article A Reflection on Gratitude by Michelle Van Tassell ( Ensign , February 2009, p. 18-19).
She tells of the unhappiness she was experiencing and how disappointed she was with a marriage she thought had divine confirmation. She had become critical of her husband and blamed him for her unhappiness and was considering divorcing him. She had prayed for help and yet felt abandoned by the Lord. Then she said, “One morning I was doing laundry when I caught a glance of myself in a mirror. The reflection surprised me. I had not showered or groomed for the day, and as I looked at myself, I thought I was lucky that anyone would want to wake up next to me every day. For the first time, I found myself feeling grateful to my husband for loving me. I examined myself with new eyes and thought about our marriage from his perspective.”
It was an awakening for her. She said, “That simple moment changed my perspective as well as my relationship with my husband.” They now have a happy marriage. This article is well worth reading to find more about what she discovered.
Very often it’s the husbands who need to wake up. Too often when a woman is ready to divorce, she complains that her husband was just plain dense to her needs. These women reach a limit at which they see no return. The husband is blind-sided. He’s stunned. It’s like, Boom! Where did that come from? He had no idea his wife would actually consider divorcing him. He’s happy in his own little world, oblivious to what’s causing her misery.
Sometimes we shake our heads and wonder why he didn’t see his part in the problem. He fails to appreciate all she does in keeping the family going-cooking, cleaning, and mothering their children. He fails to compliment her, but rather criticizes her for not doing more, or for her weight or other personal flaws he may see in her. Or he may be failing in holding up his end of the family needs, such as fixing what’s broken, taking care of the yard and the home repairs, helping kids with homework, etc. Being a good husband is far more than earning a living. It’s coming home and pitching in.
Sometimes with women it’s being disappointed that the man she married doesn’t make the kind of money her friend’s husband makes. She can’t buy all the extras her friend has, or she’s sick of having to help bring in some of the money for the family needs. Some women turn to credit cards to make up for the deficit and that only increases the stress on the marriage.
A woman we know left her husband to marry a financially successful divorced man. She left the Church and chose the world instead. Her children have lost far more than a married father and mother. They lost the opportunity to be raised in the Church by two faithful parents. The father is trying to teach them, but they live with her and she has the greater influence. Problems with the children are already brewing. It’s a terrible trade-off. There are far worse things than having to struggle financially.
Sometimes couples go into debt in an effort to live a better lifestyle. Debt can be devastating. Couples dealing with this problem need serious financial counseling. Help is available. Your bishop may be able to guide you to a financial advisor. One source of help is Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover. Getting on a firm financial base can bring a lot of peace into marriage. And it’s not about how much you make, it’s about what you do with what you have.
All of these issues can be resolved. Changes can happen. Couples can find ways to work out their problems and secure their family’s happiness. It takes work, but is the most vitally important work anyone will ever do.
Elder Oaks said, “Of course, there can be times when one spouse falls short and the other is wounded and feels pain. When that happens, the one who is wronged should balance current disappointments against the good of the past and the brighter prospects of the future.” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” Ensign, May 2007, 70-73)
Society is Counting on You
Married couples owe it to society to stay married. They made sacred vows to stay together, even through very tough times. The stability of a society is damaged by every divorce that happens. Sometimes couples forget that they will be accountable to God for breaking those sacred marital vows. We made those covenants with Him and He is there to help us keep them in every way possible, we just need to call on Him and pay attention to the help He has already given.
This help comes from our attendance at church meetings and the temple, through Church magazines and lessons, and from His servants, the prophets. President Hinckley put a great emphasis on marriage, as have all the latter-day prophets. At a BYU Married Students Regional Conference, Feb. 11, 1996 he said, “I want to talk to you a little about your homes. I do not care whether they are simple and small or fancy and large; I care about the spirit of those homes. I want to suggest some cornerstones on which to build homes. . . I do not hesitate to promise that if you will go to your homes and cultivate and nurture it among these four cornerstones, your life will be happy and fruitful. . . .There will be tough times, of course. We all have them.”
President Hinckley’s four cornerstones:
1. “Mutual respect . Respect one another. . . . that respect which comes of the knowledge that she is a daughter of God and that I am a son of God-His children, and that if I offend her, I offend our Father in Heaven. Never forget that-mutual respect, the kind of respect that manifests itself in courtesy and kindness and patience and forgiveness and deference . . [then] there will be happiness in your lives.”
2 . “The soft answer. It was said of old that a soft answer turneth away wrath’ (Prov. 15:1) . Learn to speak quietly in the house . . . when we lift our voices tiny molehills become great mountains of conflict . . .Quiet speech is the speech of peace . . . of harmony . . . of love. Keep your voices down.”
3 . “Financial honesty. If you want to get ahead in life, live honestly with the Lord and then you will be more inclined to live honestly with others, including honestly with each other.”
4. “Prayer. Get on your knees together, husband and wife, taking your turns thanking the Lord for one another and invoking His blessings upon your dreams, your hopes, your ambitions, your lives, and your children . . .” ( Church News, Feb. 17, 1996, p. 3-4)
It’s a Choice
A Latter-day Saint sister from Arizona recently told us that as a young married woman she made a conscious decision about her marriage.
She said, “I told myself I could have a crummy marriage or a good one. It’s up to me. I chose to work hard and have a good marriage.” Many years later her two nieces, whose parents divorced, came to her and said, “We want what you have.” She realized then how her decision had influenced others beyond her immediate family. Whether we like it or not, we are training the next generation of husbands and wives. Let’s give them the example our Church leaders are pleading for us to give.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ has the divine power to lift you to great heights from what appears at times to be an unbearable burden or weakness. The Lord knows your circumstances and your challenges. He said to Paul and to all of us,My grace is sufficient for thee.'” ( Ensign, Nov. 2007, 19)
Decide now to be happy in your marriage, seek the Lord’s help, and then do whatever it takes to make it happen. Be committed to stay married.
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