There is a woman who is out to re-make the world. Well, at least out to re-make marriages. Her name is Diane Sollee. Her mission: to help couples learn and practice the skills that will give them a different kind of marriage, a better marriage – a “smart” marriage.
What exactly is a “smart” marriage? Log on to the Internet location for the organization that Diane leads, the Coalition for Marriage, Family, and Couples Education, and you will find the answer. At www.smarthmarriages.com you will find “Marriage Central” on the World Wide Web, a virtual smorgasbord of speeches, legislation, articles, and ideas related to helping couples to strengthen their marriages individually and also in their communities. It is the location where you can find the manifesto of the marriage movement. It is the location where you can find what it means to create a “community marriage policy” in the town where you live. It is a great beginning point if you are looking for ideas and resources to work at the task of making yours a smart marriage.
The high point of the marriage education movement each year is the annual conference put on by Diane Sollee, the Smart Marriages, Happy Families Conference. It is attended annually by thousands of educators, policy makers, pastors and clergy, social workers and psychologists, and garden-variety couples who are looking to find the latest information on making marriages better. This year it will take place in Reno, Nevada from June 26-29, 2003, and you can still register! Just log on to www.smartmarriages.com and look up information on the conference. I have attended this conference for several years and just this year have persuaded my lovely wife of nearly twelve years to accompany me to this event. We’ll try to report back on the happenings.
Now, back to the topic of what it means to have a “smart” marriage. Essentially, it means that you approach the quality of your marriage relationship with your mind as well as your heart. Good marriages don’t just happen. They require hard work and dedication and forgiveness and, well, smarts. They require us to learn. To think before we speak. To say it differently next time. To apologize. To learn what we might do to make things improve and then really change if there is a need.
Here are ten questions to ask yourself that can help you to think through whether you are taking a “smart” approach to marriage:
(1) Do I know the counsel of the leaders of the Church on selecting a marriage companion?
This applies primarily to those who are not yet married or may marry again. The leaders of the Church have provided wise counsel on selecting a marital partner. They have suggested, for example, that it is not the size of a person’s bank account but the way they manage the money available to them that is most important. They have suggested that the manner in which they consistently treat you and make you feel in their presence is an important barometer of their love for you. Seek out and apply such counsel.
(2) Have I sought knowledge on what is required to make a marriage successful?
All marriages are unique, but most marriages have common characteristics that lead them to be more happy or less happy. There is much available research and many good books, both by LDS and non-LDS authors, that address the topic of making marriage successful. Have you sought knowledge from such sources? I recently asked a young man what he liked to read. He told me that he had probably not read five books in his life. I contrasted that with President Hinckley’s admonition to parents to read regularly to their children and for themselves to read good books. Certainly, good books on marital relationships can qualify for our reading list!
(3) Have I evaluated the strengths and weaknesses in my marriage relationship?
Did you know that there are quality, research-based couple assessments that you can take that help you to understand, as a couple, the strengths and weaknesses in your marriage relationship? Brigham Young University has developed one of the most extensively used tools, called RELATE, and it is available on-line. Others that are well-known include FOCCUS and PREPARE. If you are interested in a better, smarter understanding of where your relationship stands and what you might work on, find out about one of these tools. Drop me a note if you need more information.
(4) Have I got down on my knees and sought knowledge from my Father in Heaven about how to be a better marital companion?
Our Father in Heaven has ordained marriage to be an eternal relationship. He will help us to know how we might improve our own attitudes and actions in marriage. He will help us to know how to make a challenging relationship better, and a good relationship more wonderful. Is prayer about your marriage relationship a pattern in your life?
(5) If you have specific challenges in your marital life, have you sought answers from good books or professional sources?
I am often surprised by the number of persons I speak to, including Latter-day Saints, who have specific marital challenges yet seem unwilling to seek help. A friend in South Dakota, Mary Mastick, recently mentioned to a group that “We need to overcome the stigma that asking for help in marriage is somehow worse than seeking a divorce.” Many persons who need or could benefit from more understanding or insight about their challenges do not seek it. For example, many young couples run into challenges with sexual intimacy early in marriage, but do not seek out information that can help them to understand their unique challenges. Being ignorant is not being “smart” about your marriage and its future.
(6) Have I sought to learn from the example of others about how to have a successful marriage relationship?
Many of us see both positive and negative examples of marital life around us. I enjoy reading biographies of many Church leaders because it often shares insight into how such individuals have handled the ups and downs of marriage and family life. For example, President Hinckley’s biography recounts his enjoyment of humor and Sister Hinckley’s enjoyment of it also. Together, they have laughed their way through some of life’s challenges and tears. I have observed that couples who have learned to laugh with each other have a built-in stress reduction device. Learn from others – that’s smart.
(7) Have I taken a class or attended a workshop with my marital partner that is meant to strengthen our relationship?
There are many good opportunities to learn and strengthen our marriage relationships. Classes, workshops and seminars are offered in communities across the country – have you ever signed up and attended? My wife and I took a Marriage Enrichment class together after we were married and it gave us many good insights into our own relationship. Today we often use a phrase together that we learned in that class: “Differences are not necessarily deficiencies!” That one principle has blessed us many times. Learn about what is offered through your local university, community college, county extension office, faith community, institute, or other educational organization.
These last three questions are questions you should ask about your marriage each day.
(8) Have I expressed my love today? Did my spouse feel of that love?
(9) Have I expressed my appreciation to my spouse today? Have I been specific and sincere?
(10) Have I apologized to my spouse for any offense given today? Have I made an effort to correct any offensive attitudes, words, or actions?
I know that marriages come in many varieties and each couple’s experience is different.
Yet each of us may ask the questions that apply to us and try to make ours a better marriage, a more successful marriage – a “smart” marriage.