Strengthening the marriage relationships of others is constantly on my mind. It’s what I get paid to think about and study. It’s what I spend my days learning about and working to accomplish.
Every time that I take a phone call, answer an e-mail, or visit in person with someone who is seeking to strengthen and overcome a marital bump in the road, I gain new motivation to find ways to strengthen marriage relationships. Why? Because I believe that change is usually possible and answers are usually available for the many challenges that occur in marriage.
There is a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants which I believe is a beautiful model for how we can approach one another and work to strengthen one another’s relationships. 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.”
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. But how does this apply to strengthening the marriage relationships of others?
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 somebody else’s 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 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’d like to suggest six practical ways to strengthen somebody else’s marriage.
(1) Buy Them a Good Book on Marriage and Encourage Them to Read It
I’m a big believer in the idea that the right resource at the right time can make a world of difference. I have witnessed this recently with the experience of couples who struggle in marriage and their usage of books that have been helpful to them. A book can make all the difference for some spouses or couples who need preparation, knowledge, or guidance in marriage.
Recently I was working on dis-assembling an old swing set in my backyard and asked a couple of my children to assist me. When it came time to remove some old, rusted screws I asked my son to go and get me a wrench and a screwdriver. He did and came back with some tools that I attempted to use and had no success. I asked an older child to go and get some different tools and she came back with them. No success. Finally, we went in the house together and after some time were able to find the precise tools we needed. At that point we went to work and with the right tools in place we had much greater success in taking apart the swing set. We had needed the right resource.
This principle of finding a useful, helpful resource applies equally to the resources that we might help a couple to access in marriage. I let everyone else give glasses or silverware to newly married couples. I always give a good book that I feel will help them.
I visited with a couple recently and asked if there were any resources that had been particularly helpful to them. They told me that reading and applying the ideas from a book called Five Love Languages, by author Gary Chapman, had literally helped them to re-build and renew their marriage relationship. Another couple had found great help in reading and applying the ideas from author and scholar John Gottman in his fine book, Seven Principles to Making Marriage Work. The point here is that a good resource can yield great benefits in helping to strengthen the marriage relationship of a couple. I wish that every couple had a good library of books on marriage and relationships to read and re-read. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that President Joseph Fielding Smith was known for giving books. This is my number one recommendation.
I knew that if I offered this suggestion people would probably then ask what books I recommend, so I offer up this short list of my Top 10 in three categories. Keep in mind that another person’s list would vary and that is fine, there are many good books out there.
For LDS Newlyweds
1 – Just for Newlyweds by Brent Barlow. Available from Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores, this is a thoughtful, insightful book. Great gift for LDS couples getting married. Classic by a known and respected LDS author.
2 – And They Were Not Ashamed by Laura Brotherson. Anyone who has read what I’ve written recently or heard me speak recently knows that I’m high on this book on intimacy in marriage for LDS couples. I’ve recommended it six times in the last ten days to couples or spouses needing help or suggestions. Another great gift for newlywed couples or any couple. Available from Deseret Book or other LDS bookstores, also available on-line at or at Amazon (on-line bookstore).
3 – Between Husband and Wife by Douglas Brinley and Stephen Lamb. A ground-breaking book for the LDS market several years ago and still a great gift for newlywed couples or other couples. Also focuses on intimacy in marriage. Available at Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores.
For LDS Couples by LDS Authors
4 – Twelve Traps in Today’s Marriage and How to Avoid Them by Brent Barlow. A good overall, general guide to healthy marriage and lasting love by Dr. Barlow of Brigham Young University. My copy is dog-eared. Very directed toward LDS couples and very helpful. A great resource.
5 – One Flesh, One Heart by Carlfred Broderick.
A classic book by a classic LDS scholar and author, this one is more difficult to find but very worth it. Dr. Broderick is now deceased but his insights remain marvelous and helpful. I hope someone reprints this, but in the meantime find it if you can.
6 – Strengthening Our Families, edited by David Dollahite. This monumental work centered in principles from the Proclamation on the Family has dozens of articles and essays that teach about marriage and healthy family relationships. It combines scholarly and gospel insights with power and purpose. A great resource. Available at Deseret Book and other LDS bookstores.
For Couples in General
7 – Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman. This is simply the best resource available for the general public by the world’s leading researcher on marriage. The book is insightful, practical, and helpful for any who read it and take it seriously. A great resource.
8 – Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The reason I recommend this is because it has been helpful to many couples that I know. A good resource that can provide much insight into the dynamics of love in a marriage.
9 – Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley, Howard Markman, and Susan Blumberg. This book is also by some of the leading scholars in the field of marriage and it is very descriptive, practical, and helpful for many couples. Another useful resource.
10 – The Great Marriage Tune-Up Book by Jeffry Larson. This resource for a general audience by an accomplished BYU scholar is practical, proven, and highly useful. I’m biased toward it because it’s based on years of research that is sound and reliable. Very good resource.
So, can a book really help and make a different in strengthening another couple’s marriage. I recommended a book to a Meridian reader over a year ago. After some time, I received a note back and was told that they had been reading it and things had improved greatly for them and they had positive hope for their marriage for the first time in several years. It can make a difference. Use some of the books on this list, or others that you find or have recommended, to make a difference in the life of a couple.
(2) Arrange for a Couple to Attend a Marriage Education Course
One of the best-kept secrets on marriage and relationships is that there are many good courses available that can strengthen marriage relationships. Some states have started to believe in this concept and have invested thousands of dollars in making these courses available, states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, and Utah. Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, likes to tell people that giving a marriage education course rather than a blender to couples getting married may be the best investment in that couple’s future you could ever make.
Do such courses make a meaningful difference? For a majority of couples, they do make a substantial difference. BYU researcher Jason Carroll published a monumental study last year that summarized the effects of marriage education for couples and concluded that there are significant benefits in marital stability and satisfaction for most couples who take such a course.
The easiest place to begin looking for such courses is on the Internet at which lists dozens of courses and links to locations that they are offered around the United States and even the world. Many universities and community education programs also offer such courses. I will use a future column to list some of the best courses available. For now, remember that learning is a lifelong adventure and giving the gift of education is one of the best gifts of all.
You may even help another couple by arranging for them to attend the course and also attending yourself as a couple to learn and provide support. Give the gift of knowledge, relationship skills, and perspective.
(3) Babysit for Another Couple On an Evening or for an Overnight Getaway
I recently visited with a couple who had a baby nearly nine months ago. In that time, they have not gone on a single date together. They hope that this will change but didn’t seem to have any idea of when that might happen.
Could you or I make that happen for such a couple?
Many couples who live away from extended family members or other friends who could assist with babysitting end up sacrificing time together for extended periods. They may not have an evening alone with each other just to visit or walk or go on a date for months and sometimes years. They may not have time to go together and attend the temple. They may not have time to get away for a lunch by themselves. And they often will have gone years without slipping away together for an overnight getaway just as a couple.
Marriage relationships thrive best when they are nourished by sufficient doses of time alone as a husband and wife. Time just to talk, walk, hold hands, share thoughts, dream dreams, and plan for the future.
So, one of the biggest and best gifts that you could give to another couple to strengthen their relationship is the gift of time. Do not wait for them to ask. Volunteer. They may be uncertain about leaving their children, and so you may need to give them reassurance and support that the children will survive a few hours or even an overnight stay without mother and father. Many extended family members will drop by to visit but will never kick the couple out of the house to spend a few hours at the temple or the shopping mall or on a walk together.
The gift of watching another couple’s children so they can have time together for an evening or an overnight getaway can help that couple to become renewed and strengthen their relationship. I participated in some educational retreats for couples under stress several years ago. These couples came for four days and three nights to relax, talk, learn, and focus on their relationship and their family future. For many of them, it was the literal renewal of the future of their relationship to have such time away together. Give the gift of time.
(4) Talk to Them and Encourage Them to Work at Marital Concerns
At times you or I may become the person who a friend, family member, or acquaintance asks about how to handle a marital concern.
This is a topic deserving of its own column, but basically, in such circumstances it is important often to be a source of encouragement that they work on their marital concerns.
When a person speaks up about a marital concern, too often it may be our tendency to rush to their emotional aid and give comfort when they are sharing feelings. It is okay to be a listening ear. But this can be a challenge if the person is commenting on what an insensitive spouse he or she lives with and we then become a cheerleader for that point of view. In other words, we can in our efforts to comfort become cheerleaders for a negative view of the spouse. That can become a problem.
We should encourage those who bring up marital concerns to be open, but we should also encourage them as needed to talk to those who might give them needed help. First of all, we should encourage them to talk openly with their own spouses about the issues they may raise. I have a friend who listens and then he says, rather bluntly, “So, is that attitude or behavior working for you in your relationship? Because if it’s not, maybe you should look in the mirror and try something different!” We may refer people to see their priesthood leader, a counselor, or other appropriate individuals who can provide support if it is needed.
At times, it may also be appropriate to bring up an issue on your own and encourage a person to work at marital concerns. Elder Neal A. Maxwell recalled the time when he made a comment and a colleague of his told him quietly that he could have gone all day without making that comment. He took it as quiet moment of caring correction. Sometimes we need to be willing to provide moments of caring correction. We should not be in haste to do this and should strive to avoid being busybodies or hypocrites who meddle in the affairs of others. But at the same time, it is sometimes needful to speak the truth in love and let a family member, friend, or acquaintance know that they have attitudes or behavior in their marriage relationship that should be improved.
(5) Be a Positive Example in Your Conversations about Marriage and Relationships
A couple of years ago I learned a great lesson from Dr. James Harper, who is the dean of the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University. He was speaking on a panel at a conference on the subject of strengthening family relationships and marriage. He commented that perhaps the most important thing we could do is to watch our own language and how we talk about marriage and relationships with others. He noted that often we may talk about marriage or relationships in ways that are sarcastic, skeptical, or complaining and thus we create a negative picture for others about marriage.
This insight reminds me of the Doctrine and Covenants passage that we should “strengthen [our] brethren in all [our] conversation.” What an insight! Our conversation alone can weaken or strengthen how others may look at their marriage relationships.
I do not think that this means we should not speak of marital difficulties or be honest about the challenges that may beset a marriage. However, when speaking of such things we should try to be hopeful and straightforward and positive about the opportunities for growth and improvement and healing.
As an example, I am reminded of some research on the effects of divorce that suggests one of the challenges for some children who have divorced parents is that they fear commitment in marriage relationships. In other words, having seen the trust in their parents’ relationship break down and result in divorce, they themselves may struggle with a sense of fear about whether they can trust another person in a marriage relationship when it comes time for them to marry. One of the factors that affects this is how negatively the parents speak of one another and the difficulties they experienced in the marriage relationship. Negative conversation can thus lead toward negative fears about marriage itself.
We are surrounded in our media culture by what I call “deficiency models” of marriage. We see couples on television or in other media who speak to each other with rudeness and sarcasm, treat one another with disrespect, and complain constantly about marriage. Most of us who are married, if we acted the same way as these media models, would find ourselves very unhappy and unable to resolve the resulting marital difficulties as easily as they do in a half hour on television.
We can, however, in our own efforts provide positive examples in our conversation and efforts to encourage caring, support, patience and love in marriage relationships.
(6) Pray for the Marriage Relationships of Others
I am a little slow when it comes to seeing the great blessings that God has provided for us. It was not until recently that I learned how powerful it is to pray for marriage, not only for your own marriage but for the marriages of others you care about. It is true that the effectual and fervent prayers of the Lord’s children, his sons and daughters who seek righteousness, can bring great blessings into our lives. Prayer can bring such blessings.
Do you pray for the marriages of those around you? Do you pray for the marriages of your children or grandchildren? Do you pray for the marriages of those you know who are struggling? Do you pray for the marriages of friends who have recently married or have remarried?
I am thinking of a relative I know and love. I know that this relative has had marital struggles. I have worried about this relative for years. But, until I recently learned this principle, I had not prayed for that relative’s marriage. I used to worry. Now I pray.
Pray for the marriage relationships of others and in this way you can certainly bless and strengthen their marriages.
Be On the Watch to Strengthen Marriages
The scriptures speak of those men who, in our time, are called to serve as watchmen on the tower who warn us of dangers abroad and near our gates. They have warned us to care for our families and to preserve our marriage relationships. They have warned us that these relationships are in trouble in today’s world and need our care.
In another sense, each of is a guardian not only of our own relationships but of others who we know and care about. It is not enough simply to care for our own. We must care for each other. We must be proactive in strengthening marriage relationships and this must include the marriages of others.
I recently attended a fortieth wedding anniversary party and dinner for some folks I know and love-my parents. I live far away from them and could not do much of the planning or preparation. What amazed me and my siblings was how many others who know and love them worked to celebrate this event and highlight the significance of their time together. Friends traveled from far away just to be there and celebrate with them. Relatives did so also and provided food, fun, and support. A dear friend who is herself not married came and spent hours cooking and cleaning and letting them know of her love and support. This was an event in which I saw loved ones coming together to strengthen and celebrate not their own marriages-but the marriage of another couple, my own beloved parents.
This is the only way, I believe, that we can help marriages to survive and thrive in a time of challenges that threaten marriage relationships. We must work together. We must care for each other. We must watch out for and support and strengthen the marriage relationships of others as well as ourselves. We must be on the watch to strengthen marriages.