Jonathan Decker is a marriage and family therapist specializing in couples and family counseling for those dealing with mental illness. He earned a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University and a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from Brigham Young University. He lives with his wife and children in St. George, Utah.
This past Sunday, as our elder’s quorom discussed eternal marriage, the question was raised: “What type of husbands do our wives want us to be?” While some specific desires surely vary from woman to woman, a general answer was given to me by the Spirit in that moment, an answer which I shared with the quorom and now with you. “We’re not the only ones who read about the stripling warriors growing up,” I offered. “Our wives, both now and when they were young women, read those passages too. From this story, in part, they formulated their notions about what a real man is supposed to look and act like. If we want to know what type of husbands our wives want us to be, maybe we should start there.” With the instructor’s consent, I read these few verses:
“And they were all young men, and they were exeedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity, but behold, this was not all- they were men who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.
“Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives, they had been taught by their mothers that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 53:20-21, Alma 56: 47-48, The Book of Mormon).
Aside from the part about being “young men” (as for some men that train left a long time ago) what can we husbands apply from these passages in order to become the men God, and His daughters, need and expect us to be?
1: A stripling husband is courageous. He will stand for Christ even when it’s not convenient or when he faces negative outcomes in the short-term for doing so. He will defend the honor of his wife and children, and will say no to activities that will diminish his ability to lead the family by the Holy Ghost. He will deny the cowardice that drives lesser men to blame their faults on others, avoid confession and repentance, and struggle to say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” out of vain fear of appearing weak.
2. A stripling husband is strong and active. In other words, he’s no couch potato. He obeys the Word of Wisdom in spirit and letter, caring for his bodily temple through exercise, eating well, and rest as best he can. He works hard to care for his family. He is far from the stereotypical husband who comes home, grabs a cold beverage, and plops down in front of the TV while his wife cooks, does the dishes, and gets the kids to bed. Instead, he recognizes that her day, at home or at work, was just as long and tiring as his (perhaps more so) and is eager to help so that they can both rest and relax. He makes time for play and recreation with his family.
3. A stripling husband is reliable and true. He does what he says he’s going to do. He keeps his baptismal, priesthood, and temple covenants with fidelity. His wife doesn’t worry about whether he will succumb to pornography, adultery, or other vices. This is because, day in and day out, he does those things necessary to keep his focus on eternity. He is consistent in leading the family in prayer, scripture study, and Sabbath worship. He magnifies Church callings and does his home teaching.
4. A stripling husband is sober and obedient. Though he recognizes the importance of fun and laughter, he does not trifle with sacred things; rather, he models reverence and joyful adoration of the divine. He speaks of Christ with gratitude, faith, and humility. He provides an example of obedience, knowing that he cannot expect his children to follow God if he doesn’t do so first. He recognizes that his wife needs him to strengthen her, just as he needs her to strengthen him.
5. A stripling husband isn’t a fighter, but he’s not afraid to defend. He doesn’t seek to estabish dominance through control, fear, or intimidation. He minds his temper. He is never violent, aggressive, or insulting. However, he will defend his wife and children from temptation, sin, and outside threats.
6. A stripling husband values his family’s liberty more than his own life. This means that he encourages them to develop their talents and become who they want to be, not who he wants them to be. He wants them to pursue their dreams. He balances protective instinct with the realization that his wife is his equal partner and his children are his stewardship; neither of them is his property. He remembers that force and coercion were Satan’s plan, so he guides his family towards godliness “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. [Using] kindness and pure knowledge…without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121: 41-42).
7. A stripling husband recognizes that a woman’s voice is worth listening to. He honors his mother and treasures the lessons she taught him. He recognizes that there are things of tremendous worth to learn from the words and examples of women, including his wife and daughters. He never mistreats them, never acts or believes himself superior to them, and remembers that the lives of the stripling warriors were saved through the faith they learned from women. He teaches his daughters and sons about the great women in the scriptures and in church, world, and family history (first taking time to learn about them himself). He doesn’t “tune out” when a woman speaks in General Conference or sacrament meeting. Most importantly, he hears, cherishes, and consults with his wife, embracing her value in his thoughts, words, and behavior. He is grateful for her unique talents, traits, and skills, and is quick to express that gratitude.
As the elder’s quorom discussion ended, one man sighed thoughtfully: “Wow. Who doesn’t feel guilty now, hearing all of that?” Guilt was not the intention, though I see his meaning: most of us fall short of the marvelous standard of character exemplified by those righteous “sons of Helaman.” Thankfully, we are not alone as we seek to refine our characters; our Father in Heaven, our Savior Jesus Christ, and our beloved wives stand ready to support and uphold us in the lifelong pursuit to become and remain “stripling husbands.” If we are sincere and committed they will offer patience, forgiveness, and encouragement throughout the process. I bear my witness that Jesus Christ lives, that his church has been restored, and that The Book of Mormon, along with The Holy Bible and other scriptures, are full of life-enriching lessons if we’ll prayerfully seek them out.
I also leave a witness that there is such a thing as a good man, and that there are modern sons of Helaman all around us; I’ve observed far too many firsthand to say otherwise. It is my hope that we all may live so as to be counted among them.