As we begin this article on strengthening marriage we suggest you first watch this 3 minute video created by the Church to help viewers understand the importance of marriage. This will lay a foundation for the message we present in this article.
Marriage in the line of fire
Not only is marriage in the line of fire, it is Satan’s main target. His best weapons are being aimed and furled with a fury at the very heart of marriage. He knows if he can devalue the concept of marriage and ruin existing marriages he will win the battle for the souls of mankind. Marriage is essential in the Lord’s plan of happiness. As stated in The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve “proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is our divine duty to do everything in our power to make our marriages lasting and happy. The happy part is as vital as the lasting part. In fact, it’s the happy that will create the lasting.
Before we get to the heart of how-to’s in marriage, we encourage readers to visit this site to see how you can stand for marriage and the family. We encourage Utah citizens to attend this conference and learn what can be done to help protect marriage and the family.
Cherish your marriage
We recently visited with someone we are very close to, who is suffering a terminal illness, and asked him what message he would give others about marriage. This is a man who has served valiantly in the Church throughout his life, having performed marriages and sealings, and given countless hours of counsel to members of his ward, stake, and family. He understands the plan of salvation. He knows beyond doubt that life goes on eternally, and that he will be with his family again. In light of all that, still he wants to stay. He wants to be here on this earth with his wife, children, and grandchildren. He said, “This is a beautiful world. I have loved being in this world. I will miss it. Most of all I will miss my wife and children.”
He went on to say, looking directly at his wife, “I wish I had done more for her. I wish I could do more now.” Then he looked at his hands and said, “I will miss these hands. I will miss having the ability to touch and feel. I will miss touching her, holding her hand, and hugging her. I won’t have this privilege again until the resurrection. Tell everyone to tenderly touch their spouses more. Express their love with that touch. They will not always have it. I will miss that.”
When a marriage is filled with that kind of love, we want it to go on forever. We can make the forever part happen by the way we handle our marriage in this life. Marriage isn’t easy. It can be wonderful but there will always be challenges. We were impressed by an interview of a couple married 65 years. When asked how they managed to stay married that long the wife said, “We were born in a time where if something was broke, you fixed it. Not throw it away.”
That’s the secret. Fix the problems. That reminds of us a study President Gordon B. Hinckley referred to in his book Standing for Something. He said a scholarly study found that the best way to help society was for people to get married and stay married. He reminded us that the Church leaders have been saying that for years. “Get married and stay married.” That’s the key.
So, you may ask, how does a couple stay married? We’re reminded of a short little story we found in Reader’s Digest a few years ago. A wife wrote in to tell how she and her husband were at their daughter’s volleyball game. As they sat in the bleachers watching the game, the wife was distracted by another couple sitting a few rows in front of them. The woman was stroking her husband’s cheek, rubbing his shoulders, and kissing his ear. Seeing this, the wife turned to her husband and said, “I don’t know whether to watch them or the game.” Her husband quickly responded with, “Watch them. You already know how to play volleyball.”
There’s a message here. We need to be willing to learn new things that will enrich our marriage relationships. The Doctrine and Covenants says it this way: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated- And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130:20 & 21)
If we want the blessings promised to those who pay tithing, we must pay our tithing. If we want the blessing of a lasting, happy marriage we need to learn the laws or actions that will make it happen.
Marriage is a partnership
President Monson put this in perspective when he said, “In marriage neither partner is superior nor inferior to the other. You walk side by side as a son and a daughter of God” (Thomas S. Monson, “Priesthood Power”, Gen. Conf. April 2011).
Marriage is not a partnership with your parents or your kids. It’s a partnership with your spouse. The Lord teaches us, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.” (Matthew 19:5) Then in the Doctrine and Covenants He further states, “Thou shalt love thy wife/ [husband] with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her/[him] and none else” (D&C 42:22).
In this type of marital partnership each spouse puts the other as his or her top priority. Families change as we go through life, but the marriage must remain as the main focus throughout all the stages of life.
The Lord reminds us that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). That is true with marriage. It can be divided into four seasons, each having its own set of challenges and rewards. During each of these seasons couples must remember that no matter what else is going on, they must keep their marriage as their main focus. Kids grow up and move out, creating families of their own. Husband and wife must nurture their marriage through all seasons in order for each to be fulfilling and rewarding.
During all seasons couples need to remember what worked to create a loving relationship during their courtship and keep it going. Here are a few of what we’ll call love reminders:
Say the words “I love you” every day.
Don’t be like the husband whose wife asked him if he still loved her. He said, “I told you I did the day I married you. If it changes I’ll let you know.” That won’t work! Tell her or him “I love you” every day, without fail.
Say “please” and “thank you” to each other. When you do this it helps you focus on the kind things your spouse does for you. It’s simple courtesy. Most people are good at teaching their kids to say these words, but many forget to say them to their spouses. Don’t forget! Let your kids hear you saying these thoughtful words to each other and they’ll be more likely to use them, also.
Give each other little gifts, such as flowers on special occasions, a favorite cookie just for the fun of it, or some other favorite thing your spouse enjoys. Little surprises for no reason at all can spark up a marriage. They say I’m thinking about you, and that builds love.
Go on weekly dates without the kids. Even if it’s just for an hour or so to be alone doing something you enjoy together. Make it fun. We all need a little get-away time with our spouse. Sometimes have a special over night date. These can be very refreshing and make marriage more enjoyable. We have a brother and his wife serving a mission now. Their mission president told them to be sure to get away and see the beautiful countryside as often as they could. He told them that building their marriage was one of the most important parts of their mission.
As we review the 4 seasons of marriage look at your own marriage, identify the season you’re in and discuss what you can do to keep your focus on your marriage during this season.
The 4 Seasons of Marriage
Season 1 – Young married life
This is a time when couples are focused completely on “us”. They’re deciding where to live, how education fits, what jobs they need and how that fits with their goals. This is a time when they need to realize that being with friends is no longer a priority. Their spouse must come first. This is a time when they learn to be unselfish, putting their spouse before their own desires.
This is a season when future plans are made. Joint goals are set and you work together to make them happen, being willing to adjust when changes are needed. Plans don’t always work out the way we hope, but with faith and working together alternate plans can lead to an even better result.
This is a season where spouses learn how to enjoy intimacy, both emotional and sexual. This is when they learn what each other needs in this area and do their best to meet these needs. Once again, this is where unselfishness can be a great blessing to the marriage.
Season 2 – Young family life
Life can move in on you during these years when children come along. Once again, no matter what’s going on couples must keep their focus on making their marriage vital and alive.
During this season wives can be over-the-top involved in their kids lives. In speaking with a young father with three children, we asked him if he was still on the top of his wife’s priority list. He said, “I’m not even on the list.” That’s sad. Wives, no matter how busy you are with the kids, make room for your husband or you may lose the precious relationship you so much desire. Give him the loving attention he needs and deserves. It doesn’t take that much time to greet him with a hug and kiss-not a peck-a genuine deep-down kiss that says I’m so happy you’re home. Kids can be put on hold for a minute while you make your man feel loved and important.
Husbands, no matter how busy you are trying to earn a living don’t forget your wife. She needs your attention, your help, and your loving gestures. How hard can it be to give her a call or a text in the middle of the day just to say you love her? How hard can it be to bring her home a little treat once in a while? Do it. The pay off will be well worth it.
Keep on kissing. A lot. Remember, touch each other in tender ways. Find time to talk and plan, or your plans may slip away unfulfilled. Negotiate the needs of each other and your children. Work together. This takes having private conversations. Allow for them. If both of you work out of the home, this can be an added challenge. That’s why negotiation is continually needed to keep the focus on your marriage and the family’s needs.
Look through the above list of love reminders and see how well you’re doing. Both of you. Don’t forget those date nights. Keep your focus on your marriage. The kids will be grown and gone before you know it and it will be just the two of you again. If you’ve kept your marriage fun and fulfilling the next season will be even better.
Season 3 – Kids leaving the nest
Like we said, children grow up. Before long they are teenagers, then young adults moving out. Missions, college, and marriage can be at your door sooner than you think. This is another time to negotiate changes that need to happen. Both husband and wife can feel the melancholy that comes with this season. That’s normal. However, the Lord basically prepares us for this by making these kids just a little less desirable to be around. They are spreading their wings and they can be challenging during this time. You’re ready for them to be on their own, sort of. We need to let them move on without hovering over their every move. We don’t stop caring and being in on their lives, but much less than before. Let them have the chance to succeed, and even to fail. That’s part of their learning. Pray for them and for yourselves.
This is an important season to refocus on your marriage. Both husband and wife will be experiencing new feelings and situations during this time. In many cases the husband is at the top of his game with his career and enjoying the recognition and fulfillment of his chosen career. That’s a nice place to be. But it’s not the case with all husbands. Some may be experiencing the opposite. Feeling like a failure for not being where he wanted to be in a career. He may even have lost a job he loved to someone younger who required less pay. That can be a pretty devastating feeling.
As for the wife, she may be feeling like she just lost her job, too. The kids are gone! She was so invested in their lives that she may have forgotten to prepare for when they would no longer need her. This, too, can be a devastating and lonely feeling.
This is a crucial time when couples need to talk. Listen to each other. Let true feelings be expressed without criticism. Listening to your spouse with empathy and understanding is a gift. Give the gift. Then ask the question to each other, “what would you like to do now?” Consider the options. Make a plan and give each other the loving support needed to make this season fulfilling.
Remember the funds you have saved for your retirement, need to be safeguarded for your future and for making your own dreams come true. Let your children do the major part in financing their own dreams. It will be an important part of their education in preparing for life.
Do some fun things together that you may not have been able to do when the kids were home. Plan a fun trip. Looking forward to making a few of your own dreams, as a couple, come true can be very fulfilling. Always keep in mind the counsel of President Gordon B. Hinkley, to be continually be looking after the happiness of your companion.
If your wife wants to seek employment outside the home now, or go back to school, give her your encouragement and support. If your husband wants to change a job or go back to school to open a door to a new career, hear him out and give him your blessing. We know a man who did this at age 50 and found a whole new and fulfilling career, including his wife in all the decisions so they could enjoy this new life together. We’ve seen women do the same. The main thing here is to discuss the options and be each other’s cheerleader.
We recently watched this happen with a couple in our ward. I will call them Barney and Cindy, because, well, that’s their real names and they have given me permission to share their story. My visiting teaching companion and I were making our monthly visit to Cindy. Her husband answered the door and explained that she had to run a sudden errand and had forgotten we were coming. That was a first-she’s always there. Barney said, “But please come in and tell me the message. He was insistent. So we did and he shared his thoughts on the subject as well. Then he said, “Do you have time for me to show you Cindy’s preschool classroom downstairs?”
We knew about her preschool because Cindy had commiserated with us about having an empty nest and wasn’t sure what she’d do to fill her life. Without going into details, she knew what she wanted to do. In fact, she had already started planning the year before. She wanted to do preschool for her grandchildren and a couple of other little ones. She calls it “Grandma C’s Preschool”.
Barney took us downstairs and showed us her classroom. He had helped her, along with their college daughter Caroline, to set up this adorable classroom. He pointed out the cute things on the walls, the cozy reading corner with fluffy cushions, the cute little desk/table and chairs. He was so proud of Cindy and all she was doing. He said, “She loves doing this, and the kids adore her for it. So do their parents.” He couldn’t say enough about how hard she worked and how happy she seemed with this choice for this new season of her life.
We knew how hard he had worked to help make this happen for her. That’s what marriage is supposed to be like. Helping each other fulfill dreams and ambitions. Let this be a season for making dreams come true. If kids do the boomerang thing and come home for a short time, set boundaries that work for you and don’t let them take away your dreams. Even if they need a little boost, don’t let them become kids again. They are responsible adults and need to be treated that way.
Season 4 – The golden years
If you have planned well this can be full-on genuine golden years. Even when health issues arise, and eventually they do, at least somewhat. Still, because of the love you have nourished and built through the years, this can be a beautiful season of married life. It will be different than all the other years because your kids will be grown and becoming parents, even grandparents themselves. They will need you less, even if you’d like to be needed more. At least a little. Their lives are full and busy and time can whiz by them without their even realizing they haven’t contacted you. You’ll need each other more than ever during this season.
This is the ideal time to serve a mission. As soon as you can, do it. Plan for it financially and spiritually. It will be the highlight of these golden years. In fact, a mission (or missions) will make it more golden than just about anything else you can do.
We know a couple where the wife dreamed of serving a mission and wanted to go with all her heart. Her husband wasn’t on board. Still, he knew how much it meant to her, so he made it possible and they went. It was more joyful than he ever dreamed. A few years after their return she became ill. Had they waited longer she would not have been able to go. What a blessing that he helped make her dream come true.
As time marches on in this season of life, bodies change. Physical disabilities seem to pop out of nowhere. Even your hearing takes a plunge in the wrong direction. A husband in this aging time said, “Tell people to be patient with their spouse during this time.” He went on to explain. “I have always been kind to my wife and yet I began to realize that I was now being sharp with her, and sometimes she with me. I wondered what was happening and discovered that when I thought she was ignoring me, she wasn’t. She just couldn’t hear me. I realized that when she thought I was ignoring her requests, I wasn’t at all. I just couldn’t remember what she asked me to do.” He said they talked about it and tried to be more understanding and patient after that. He said, “I bite my tongue a lot, and so does she. It saves our relationship.”
When you are fortunate enough to still be alive and able to take care of each other during this season it is a great a blessing. No one will ever care for you like your mate does, especially if you’ve fostered that kind of caring love through the many years of your marriage.
We’re reminded of the story we heard of a man who visited his wife every day in an Alzheimer care center. One day the nurse asked him, “Why do you come every day? She doesn’t even know who your are.” He said, “That’s OK. I know who she is.” That’s called enduring love.
It also brings up the point that there may come a time when you can no longer care for your spouse in your home. What then? Consider your options before this time arrives. Discuss what should be the best for each of you should this happen. This is another time when you need to have planned ahead financially in case such a time comes.
We know a couple who recently reached that state. Both were quite mentally alert, just unable to physically care for each other. They knew and decided to move into an assisted living center so they could be together.
The point here is to keep building and strengthening your marriage so that when you are in your declining years your love will be strong enough to meet the needs of each other.
Our prophet, President Monson, gave wise counsel when he said, “If any of you are having difficulty in your marriage, I urge you to do all that you can to make whatever repairs are necessary, that you might be as happy as you were when your marriage started out. We who are married in the house of the Lord do so for time and for all eternity, and then we must put forth the necessary effort to make it so. I realize that there are situations where marriages cannot be saved, but I feel strongly that for the most part they can be and should be. Do not let your marriage get to the point where it is in jeopardy.” (Thomas S. Monson, “Priesthood Power”, Gen. Conf. April 2011)
We have found that one of our greatest assets in overcoming problems is to pray together. When we were married those many long years ago, the sealer told us to take each other by the hand and kneel by our bed each night. He said, “Gary, tonight will be your turn to say the prayer. And, Joy, tomorrow night will be yours. Take turns every night for the rest of your lives and the Lord will help you through any problems you face.” We have followed that counsel and find it to be true.
We know that our Savior, Jesus Christ wants each of us to have a lasting and happy marriage. He has shown us the way. We reiterate it in this prescription for a happy marriage by President Gordon B. Hinckley, which we’ve shared before but do it again because of the wisdom in it.
He said, “If there is forbearance, if there is forgiveness, if there is an anxious looking after the happiness of one’s companion then love will flourish and blossom. The prescription is simple and wonderfully effective. It’s love. It’s plain simple every day love and respect.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Look to the Future”, Oct. 1997 Gen. Conf.)
[For books and articles by Gary and Joy Lundberg visit their website]