Our culture shouts many instructions about family relationships. “If you want a good marriage, you’ve gotta communicate better.” “The key to effective parenting is managing the consequences of children’s choices.”
There are lots more cultural messages and most of them are nonsense. When our sacred relationships are built upon cultural mandates, we are built on sand. When the tides of life come in, our relationships are washed away.
Our relationship practices should be built on solid, enduring family doctrine. We and our families should be built on the rock of gospel truth—and Jesus Himself.
What are the vital and distinctive doctrines that form the foundation of family life?
1. Relationships are eternal. Unlike our Christian brothers and sisters, we understand that our lives and relationships did not begin at birth and do not cease at death. We lived as a part of God’s family from the beginning of time. And our sacred, loving relationships not only continue but are glorified in the life ahead.
This is foundational doctrine! We are not mere shop projects created by God at the beginning of our mortality. And we will never be cast off. We are literally God’s children! He knows and cherishes each of us. He is anxious to have us home with Him! This solid foundation changes everything!
2. God is committed to blessing us. Sometimes we imagine that God is regularly irritated or dissatisfied with us. That is Satan’s doctrine. Elder Holland taught something very different!
The first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor (“Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders among You,” Ensign, May 2016, 126–27, italics in original).
3. Mortality is not a catastrophe to be endured but a carefully designed education to be embraced.
Orson Whitney observed that “it is for our development, our purification, our growth, our education and advancement, that we buffet the fierce waves of sorrow and misfortune; and we shall be all the stronger and better when we have swum the flood and stand upon the farther shore.”
The world will test us. We will be tempted many times in many ways. Even in the case of the greatest of challenges, “all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
4. No matter how hard we try, we are all polluted by mortality. “Because of the fall our natures have become evil continually” (Ether 3:2). We are a mess. Any one of us who is unchanged by God, “is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19).
5. Jesus stands ready to cleanse and renew us, but we must trust Him and call on Him. It is not enough to be nice, avoid major sins, and show up at church fairly often. These practices don’t save; Jesus does!
I try to follow Alma’s pattern. Awakening to his foolishness, awfulness, and sinfulness, his mind turned to what his father had taught him “concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world” (Alma 36:17).
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. (Alma 36:18)
Jesus has the power. Our only hope is to partner with Him.
6. As brothers and sisters, we have obligations to each other. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. The surest sign that we understand our discipleship is that we love and help each other. Right between washing His disciples’ feet and going to die for them, Jesus commands us to love one another as He loves us. That is a breathtaking directive!
7. The Lord teaches the principles of influence. The famous statement of leadership principles was given through Joseph Smith at a time when he was tempted to smite Missourians.
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile (D&C 121:41-42)
When we understand these principles, we move from the world’s focus on communication and consequences to the Lord’s emphasis on relationship, compassion, and love. We move one step closer to being like Jesus.
Consider a couple of ways the gospel perspective can transform our family relationships. Instead of basing our marriages on better communication, we might focus on positivity and kindness. (See #2 above.) In fact, good research underscores that five positives for each negative is the best path to a strong relationship.
Instead of focusing our parenting on control and consequences, we might create the kind of learning environment Heavenly Father provides in life (See #2 & 3 above.) This is perfectly consistent with the recommendations of research. In parenting as well as in marriage, nurture is foundational.
There is lots more to say about applying the principles of Jesus to our relationships. In fact, I have been working at making the connections for about 30 years. Some examples:
In Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, I have written about the ways the principles and covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ can guide our marriages.
In Bringing Up Our Children in Light and Truth and The Soft-Spoken Parent, I have written about foundational gospel principles of parenting. In revising Between Parent and Child, I have tried to update Haim Ginott’s powerful message about compassion.
In Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships and Finding Joy in Family Life, I have written about those gospel principles that can help us in our personal well-being, marriage, and parenting.
In addition to books, we offer marriage retreats in which we talk about the ways the Gospel of Jesus Christ combines with research discoveries to strengthen our marriages. Our next retreat is March 18 in Alpine, Utah: https://drwally.com/event/create-a-heavenly-marriage-using-eternal-principles/
Naturally, I recommend these books and experiences. But I don’t recommend them as the final word on connecting the gospel of Jesus Christ to relationships. I recommend them to spark your thinking about the continuing challenge and opportunity to learn Jesus’ principles of relationships—how to get along with ourselves, our partners, and our children.