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The following comes from Wallace Goddard’s new series, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships. To see the previous article in the series, click here.
The teacher asked the high priests, “What advice do you have for a successful marriage?” The class responded gladly.
“Never go to bed mad.”
“There are two key words for a happy marriage: ‘Yes, Dear.’”
“You should never fight or argue.”
Yep. There is no place like priesthood meeting to get terrible advice for marriage.
Research says that there is one thing that matters most in marriage: positivity. To be more specific, a healthy marriage needs five positives for each negative—a preponderance of kind words and deeds. All different kinds of relationships can flourish when the partners see and dwell on the good.
But there is more. Sandra Murray is a prominent psychologist and relationship researcher who discovered that, in the happiest marriages, partners see qualities in each other that no one else sees— not even best friends and lifelong family members. She calls these positive illusions.
But maybe these qualities aren’t really illusions. Maybe in happy marriages, partners see deeply into each other’s souls. Maybe they see goodness that can be discerned only through eyes of love.
I think the Lord calls this “pure knowledge.” He recommends that we influence each other “by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile” (D&C 121:42).
When our perceptions of each other are filtered of earthly impurities, then we see as Heaven sees and we are more likely to love as Heaven loves. We are no longer guilty of the hypocrisy of seeing faults in our partners while ignoring our own narrowmindedness and folly.
While science recommends an emphasis on positives, God recommends one panacea for relationships: charity. There is nothing that strengthens relationships like the generosity of spirit that causes us to see good in people and offer compassion for their struggles. This is the way Jesus sees us (and where would we be without that???). It is the way He invites us to see each other.
I understand that most members of our high priest group know little about the research on marriage. But I’m surprised that we don’t look more to the gospel for answers. Doesn’t the gospel of Jesus Christ teach us how to live together with love?
After hearing many strongly expressed answers to the happy-marriage question, the teacher observed: “There is no one key. Every relationship is different.”
I disagree. There is one key. It is the willingness to see, feel, and act as Jesus would see, feel, and act. It is called charity.
How do we get charity? No pep rally will get us there. No nutritional supplement can provide it. There is only one source for this precious gift. “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God” (Moroni 7:47).
We cannot create charity in ourselves. We can make ourselves humble. We can withhold impatience and judgment. We can feel compassion for others. Then we must call on God “with all the energy of heart” for the heavenly gift only He can give.
Charity is the gift that changes everything, especially in marriage.
To read more about positivity in marriage, read John Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. For more about positivity in general, read Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity.
To read more about charity in marriage, read my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.