Improving Marriage: An Invitation to a Better Way
By H. Wallace Goddard
Consider this logic chain:
To have a good marriage, a couple must work out their differences.
To work out differences, partners must share discontents fairly.
To share discontents fairly, partners need communication skills.
Therefore, communication skills are the key to good marriages.
This has been the reigning paradigm of most marriage education for decades. For some groups, it still is. Despite its popularity, I think it is a trap from Satan.
Checking the Assumptions
To have a good marriage, is it necessary to work out our differences? Is it possible for people with substantial and continuing differences to work together gladly and productively? I think it is. As long as we are mortal, we will continue to have unresolvable differences.
Does the sharing of discontents help people work out their differences? There is substantial evidence that the sharing of discontents makes people defensive. Each party in a warring marriage rehearses his or her own goodness while magnifying the partner’s faults. Is this to way to get people to build trust and strengthen a relationship?
Are communication skills really the key? If my partner tells me my faults with perfect equanimity and precision, does that increase my affection for her and strengthen our relationship? If I use best practices in describing how my spouse falls short in meeting my expectations, does that guarantee that she is motivated and able to change in the way I want? I don’t believe so.
A Different Way
The logic chain above makes sense if we see ourselves as faulty machines that can be improved by our partner’s tinkering. Unfortunately this metaphor may not be an apt description of our situation. Consider a very different logic chain:
To have a good marriage, a couple must effectively use their strengths.
To effectively use their strengths, partners must be mindful of each other’s strengths.
To be mindful of strengths, nothing is as helpful as the pure love that comes from Christ.
Having the pure love of Christ is the key to a good marriage.
This approach may be more helpful than the former one based on the machine metaphor if we see ourselves as
People with god-given strengths and a divine nature
Who are burdened by the evil and weakness that comes with mortality
Whose best hope is to patiently outlast mortality
While striving to have God fill us with Himself.
Applying true doctrine
President Packer wisely taught us that “preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior”. (Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1986). It is better to study gospel principles than to study bad behavior-in ourselves or in others. In that spirit, I have tried to apply King Benjamin’s amazing, angel-delivered counsel to the challenges of marriage.
And this is the means whereby [marital] salvation cometh.. . . neither are there any conditions whereby [marriage] can be saved except the conditions which I have told you.
Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend. (Mosiah 4:8-9)
Let me interrupt King Benjamin to ask, do we really think that believing in God can form the foundation for stronger marriages? Do we honestly believe that acknowledging that God is all-knowing is vital for our marital well-being?
Continuing with King Benjamin:
And again, believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them. (Mosiah 4:10)
Note that this is the inverse of the world’s wisdom. Rather than confessing my spouse’s sins, I should confess my own. I am to be a penitent rather than a judge.
In the summary of commands and catalogue of promises that follows the verses above, notice the suggestion that our fundamental problem is that we are far from our heavenly home and divine nature. We are fallen.
And again I say unto you as I have said before, that as ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God, or if ye have known of his goodness and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, which causeth such exceedingly great joy in your souls, even so I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, and your own nothingness, and his goodness and long-suffering towards you, unworthy creatures, and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel.
And behold, I say unto you that if ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins; and ye shall grow in the knowledge of the glory of him that created you, or in the knowledge of that which is just and true. (Mosiah 4:11-12)
Wow! Do you think that if we all enjoyed a remission or our sins and humbly rejoiced in God always, we would be better marriage partners? I do. I am certain of it. King Benjamin adds another promise that is especially pertinent for marriage:
And ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to [your spouse] according to that which is his [or her] due. (Mosiah 4:13)
If I properly understand the doctrine, it appears that faith and repentance are the keys to marriage.
An invitation-Upcoming marriage retreat in Utah
Would you and your spouse like to further explore how to apply these principles to your marriage? Would you be interested in joining a small group of saints to study how the gospel can help us move beyond popular nonsense and assist you in becoming better marital partners?
My wife, Nancy, and I will be in Utah later this month. We will be hosting a marriage retreat on the evening of Friday, September 26 and the morning of Saturday, September 27. The cost is only $89 per couple. We would like to invite you to join us. For more information, visit www.marriagegarden.org. To sign up please call 801-607-0458 or Email: [email protected] But hurry! There are only a few slots available!