In a recent article, I mentioned the beauty of a singular scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants on strengthening each other. Doctrine and Covenants 108:7 counsels:
“Therefore, strengthen your brethren in all your conversation, in all your prayers, in all your exhortations, and in all your doings” (emphasis added).
That’s pretty comprehensive. All of your conversation, all your prayers, all your exhortations, and all your doings – strengthen each other. So, we have a divine mandate to be uplifting and supportive and helpful to each other. What I have pondered much recently is how this might particularly apply to strengthening marriage relationships – for ourselves, for our families, and for our Latter-day Saint faith community.
We as Latter-day Saints are pretty good about helping and strengthening others when there is an obvious physical need. My ward does a great job of helping families move in to new homes or out of homes when they are leaving the area. Lots of casseroles and meals are offered in our communities when a new baby arrives. Home teachers often lend a helping hand when a vehicle is out of commission and a family needs extra transportation.
But strengthening marriage is another issue. After all, isn’t marriage kind of a private thing? Isn’t what goes on with someone else’s marriage none of my business?
I think that without a community and a culture that sustains and strengthens marriage relationships, many marriages fray and come apart and eventually drift into dangerous challenges. We want the marriages of our friends and family members to succeed. We want those who face marital challenges to overcome them. But we often don’t really know what might help or how to help.
We are Their Community
We must realize that we are the community that sustains the marriages of those we know and care about. We are the ones who create the culture that helps them to believe in marriage and its potential for happiness. What can we do?
I am seeking answers to the questions of how we, as Latter-day Saints, might more proactively and appropriately think, act, and work together to strengthen marriage relationships in our own families and faith communities. I need your help. Let me say that more clearly: I NEED YOUR HELP.
This article will share some thoughts, but what I need most is your ideas, your past and present experiences, and your insights on what has been done, what is being done, and what might be done to more proactively and appropriately strengthen marriage relationships among ourselves as Latter-day Saints. So, dust off your thinking cap and send ideas my way at [email protected]“>[email protected].
A Marital Ideal for Latter-day Saints
The issuance of The Family: A Proclamation to the World in 1995 by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed and highlighted the ideal that Latter-day Saints hold for marriage. The Proclamation states:
“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God.… Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children…. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.” (emphasis added)
Preparing to marry in the temple and then doing so is the first and most important step to creating strong, healthy marriage relationships as a Latter-day Saint. We must be aware of and seek the ideal that our doctrine upholds. Fortunately, we also have many strong examples that demonstrate the possibility of reaching toward this ideal of a strong, caring, eternally united marriage relationship in our own midst.
Give yourself a blessing. Go back to the Ensign magazine and the Church News, if available to you, and read the conference talks and interviews with President Gordon B. Hinckley. Pay special attention to his remarks regarding marriage and, in particular, his own union of 67 years to his beloved Marjorie Pay Hinckley. Read of his love for her, their down-to-earth enjoyment of life together, and their lasting commitment. It will bring you an experience, spiritually, that will testify of marriage and move you to tears at the tenderness of this sweet couple. It will motivate you to do more in your own life to consider marriage and how to keep it strong and healthy.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated at the most recent General Conference:
“She was my dear companion for more than two-thirds of a century, my equal before the Lord, really my superior. And now in old age she has again become the girl of my dreams…. When all is said and done there is no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife, and nothing more portentous for good or evil than the unending consequences of marriage.” (Ensign, November 2004, pp. 82-83)
I would draw your attention not only to his comment that there can be “no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife,” but to this resounding declaration: “[There is] nothing more portentous for good or evil than the unending consequences of marriage.” I have pondered this statement many long hours. I have tried to think through its implications. I find it to be profoundly true that marriage and its health and stability has unending and dramatic consequences, for good or ill, across generations and across eternity. I believe that the health of marriage relationships is in some ways a reflection of the health of the Latter-day Saints as a whole, and a reflection of the health of the kingdom of God.
If this is true … what are we doing to strengthen marriage?
A Marital Appeal to Latter-day Saints
We have the fortunate blessing, as a people, to see before us the living example of a caring, strong marriage that lasted for two-thirds of a century and will continue into eternity. As we thank the Lord in our prayers for a prophet, may we also thank him for that example of a strong, healthy marriage.
I spoke recently with a woman not of my own faith community. She is faithful in her religious beliefs and committed to her marital partner. But she spoke with bitterness about her experience with him. She spoke of being emotionally abused and of being called foul names in front of her children.
She spoke of being treated as a second-class citizen in her own home. Her marriage has brought her less joy than bitterness.
In his remarks at the last General Conference on “The Women in Our Lives,” President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke of such degradation and its devastating effects within marriage. While he also spoke much of gospel principles that would help to alleviate and resolve such painful relationships, I wish to highlight the warning voice of a prophet:
“Notwithstanding this preeminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused…. We see the bitter fruit of that degradation all about us. Divorce is one of its results. This evil runs rampant through our society. It is the outcome of disrespect for one’s marriage partner. It manifests itself in neglect, in criticism, in abuse, in abandonment. We in the Church are not immune from it…. It is a scene of great beauty when a young man and a young woman join hands at the altar in a covenant before God that they will honor and love one another. Then how dismal the picture when a few months later, or a few years later, there are offensive remarks, mean and cutting words, raised voices, bitter accusations. It need not be, my dear brothers and sisters.” (emphasis added; Ensign, November 2004, pp. 83-84)
We in the Church are not immune from it.
It need not be.
We Are Not Immune
To be “immune” to a difficulty is, according to Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, to be “free” or “exempt” or “not susceptible” to a problem or its consequences. It would be a wonder if Latter-day Saints who faithfully prepared their lives and married in the temple, or had their marriages sealed in the temple, were “free” from the threat or possibility of marital difficulty and heartbreak. Such is not the case. However, there is great protection and a decreased likelihood of such challenges for individuals and couples who follow God’s counsel and marry in the temple or live by gospel teachings.
A related definition of “immune” is to be “marked by protection,” and it is a reality that living under the blessing of gospel covenants will bring an added protection and support to couples and their families.
Thus, we can be somewhat protected by the gospel and its covenants. But we are never fully immune, and so we must be attentive to the need for repentance, forgiveness, effort, learning, and other things that will help us to strengthen marriage. The diseases that swirl about society today can infiltrate the heart of a man, the mind of a woman, or the haven of a family and wreak damage on a marital relationship. Such diseases include selfishness, infidelity, lack of intimacy, emotional or verbal or physical abuse, communication problems – the list marches on.
It has been said before, but it bears being said again, that a temple marriage is not equivalent to a celestial marriage. To be married in the temple, in the right place and by the right authority, is one of the highest ideals of our Latter-day Saint faith. It brings eternal blessings. But once the covenant of marriage, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage, is entered into, then each spouse must work to keep the covenants that will allow them to move toward a marriage relationship that is “celestial” in its quality.
What I am suggesting is that a temple marriage is a necessary ideal and starting point, ideally, for a marriage relationship. If one does not marry in the temple, then he or she should seek the blessing of having a marriage relationship that is sealed in the temple. But being married in the temple is a starting point, or an ideal point, and not an ending point. Covenants that are made in sacred settings must be lived out at home in the practical realities of our everyday lives as husbands and wives, parents and children.
It is possible to enter into a temple marriage and yet to experience, at some point, an unhealthy or hurtful or painful marriage relationship. What we need is both a temple marriage and a healthy marriage that becomes a celestial marriage.
The Need for Healthy Marriages and Communities
In much of the public discussion about strengthening marriage relationships today, the term that is used to explore this topic is the idea of “healthy marriages.” It is a useful concept. Research on marriage shows that healthy marriages assist in providing:
- Higher levels of personal happiness
- Better physical and mental health
- Increased economic stability for individuals
- Better economic, social, and psychological well-being for children
- Higher levels of responsible and caring father involvement
- Fewer mental and emotional problems for individuals
- More satisfying and frequent intimacy with a spouse
- Lesser involvement in risk behaviors such as alcoholism, drug use, etc.
- Higher motivation and productivity in the workplace
- More stable and less violent communities
A key development in efforts to strengthen marriage within the past decade has been the emergence of community-based “healthy marriage initiatives.” Typically, these initiatives have been centered within local communities or regions and aim to strengthen marriage and family relationships in a variety of ways. Such initiatives have focused on increasing public awareness, providing education, and facilitating community collaboration to strengthen marriages.
Also, the “healthy marriage” approach has been focused on specific communities of interest such as the African-American community, Latino community, and even within the Catholic community. This narrowing of an initiative to a specific community of interest profiles the need for approaches that fit with a particular group’s values, culture, and needs.
Among such potential communities of interest, I would submit, is the growing national and international community of Latter-day Saints (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
To quote the oft-quoted statement written by sociologist Rodney Stark:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormons, will soon achieve a worldwide following comparable to that of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and other dominant world faiths. . . . Today they stand on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the Prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert [fourteen hundred years ago].
” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of a New World Faith, 1984)
What does this have to do with healthy marriages? As I mentioned earlier, I would submit that the strength of any community is no stronger than the strength of the marriages that support and bind that community. Therein lies a community’s true strength: in the homes and lives of its people.
Sam Gurnoe, who is a Native American healer and thinker, once said: “Outside of a culture, a community, and a spirituality, you can treat but you cannot heal.” (quoted by William J. Doherty, 2001)
To me, the significance of that statement lies in the recognition that when an individual or a family needs healing and support, they typically look to the community in which they feel a sense of belonging. They look to those spiritual values that have meaning to them. They long for the direction and guidance that a caring community can provide.
And thus, for me, the interest in understanding what we already do well and what we might learn to do better in our own faith community to strengthen marriage relationships.
Thoughts on Strengthening Marriages
Strengthening marriage and couple relationships is a fundamental need for healthy children, families and communities. What are strategies and approaches that can be applied to strengthening marriages specifically in Latter-day Saint contexts? A variety of creative approaches may be useful in working with Latter-day Saint couples, families and communities to strengthen marriage.
The “how-tos” of strengthening marriage relationships involve a variety of both formal and informal strategies that can be used to help couples, families and communities. When using such strategies, it is important to consider the needs, culture and strengths of the particular audience or community of interest that you wish to serve. The Latter-day Saint community comprises a large and growing community of interest that offers unique opportunities and challenges for working to strengthen marriage. There are specific formal and informal “how-to” approaches to strengthening marriage in Latter-day Saint contexts that have been practiced. It is important to identify specific resources and issues to consider as you work on your own marriage, support a friend or child who is marrying, or discuss ideas with local leaders.
Some of the specific questions that I have been asked and hope to answer include:
- What are the specific strengths of the Latter-day Saint context that can be utilized in efforts to strengthen marriage?
- What are specific issues to consider in working in Latter-day Saint contexts?
- What particular needs have been identified in research or through experience and other means that are of importance to strengthening marriage in Latter-day Saint contexts?
- What specific ideas or approaches have been utilized to strengthen marriage in Latter-day Saint contexts?
- What further ideas and approaches might be developed to strengthen marriage in Latter-day Saint contexts?
So, I’m interested in your own ideas, experiences, and insights related to this topic. I’d like you to share, if possible, what you have seen and thought and experienced.
An accomplished author and scholar on marriage, William J. Doherty, has written:
“Solitary marriage fits well with today’s consumer culture of marriage, but it is lonely and fragile. When the cold and rain come, we need the shelter of more than each other, knowing that a pro-marriage community will not only nurture us but also make demands on us as citizens to take our marital commitment seriously and to be stakeholders in the marriages of others around us. We either stand together for marriages in our communities, or else we will be picked off one by one, the weakest first, by a culture that preys on long-term love. Even if you feel strong in your marriage, consider that the next weak one in the pack might be your friend’s marriage, or your daughter’s. We have to build a world that is safe for marriage.” (Take Back Your Marriage, 2001)
It is a haunting thought to consider that the next marriage needing support and guidance, either in preparing for marriage or sustaining it after it has begun, may be that of a friend, daughter, sibling, or fellow church member. Can we not help each other?
President Boyd K. Packer has stated:
“The ultimate purpose of every teaching, every activity in the Church, is that parents and their children are happy at home, sealed in an eternal marriage, and linked to their generations.” (“The Father and the Family,” April 1994)
A marriage that is healthy and sealed in the temple will bless generations over time in the gospel of Christ. A marriage that is broken and unhealthy will not do so.
The topic of strengthening marriage must be broad enough to encompass many realities. The sixteen-year old priest or young woman who has begun dating and wishes to marry in the temple in a few years. The twenty-three year old convert and young single adult who wants to find an LDS companion but also faces family concerns. The couple in their mid-thirties who is seeking to be sealed together in the temple. The woman who converts and becomes a Latter-day Saint but remains married to a spouse who expresses little interest in the gospel. The husband and wife in their forties whose relationship has become strained due to depression, pornography, or raising a difficult child. The empty-nest couple whose children have left home and left behind a mother and father who hardly seem to know each other.
These individuals, these couples, are our Heavenly Father’s children. He cares for them and loves them. He has given them commandments to follow and guidance to consider. He has given them the opportunity to make covenants and follow His Son. We are among them.
He has given them, us, all of us – something else. A community of Saints. We are that community. We need to be anxiously engaged in blessing and supporting and sustaining one another in healthy marriage relationships.
What do you think? Please share your ideas, experiences, and insights. (You can share any comments or feedback with Sean Brotherson at [email protected]“>[email protected] – look forward to hearing from you!)