Wally Goddard is a professional who has won awards at the highest levels for teaching families how to counter their hardest challenges with remarkable solutions. In other words, when it comes to our big, family dilemmas, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s research-based, grounded and up on the latest tools for creating flourishing families. So, after all these years of being on the frontline for family success, what has he learned?
He tells us in a new book, called Discoveries, Essential Truths for Relationships where he explores how to improve your relationship with yourself, your spouse, and your children. What he writes may surprise you.
“The world’s best expert on families and relationships is God. No one else can match His understanding—no one. So, as sensible humans, where do we turn for guidance on families and relationships? Everywhere except God. We draw heavily on the traditions of our fathers. We consult whatever book comes along. We bumble along as imperfect people, parents, and partners with very narrow points of view. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can extract great riches of family truth from God’s counsel to us. We can find great treasures of knowledge.”
What’s more, he says, the best research only verifies what God has taught us all along. By this, he says, he doesn’t mean the philosophies of men, the false assumptions, the speculations and assertions that claim to teach about these key relationships, but, the solid, empirical research that test and explore how people really work.
He says “In our lifetimes we’ve seen all kinds of doctrines of men be put forth to deal with our relationships with self, spouse, and children. The self-esteem movement for your relationship with self, the communication movement in marriage, the tough-love classes in parenting. The average person might be tossed to and fro and carried with every wind of doctrine with all these voices.” How do you know who to trust for solid advice about your dearest relationships?”
Wally says, “If you gather data on what works with humans for well-being, it is exactly what God has been saying all along. Everything God has told us is absolutely spot-on.”
What’s ironic, is that with all this grounding in the gospel, it is not always clear to us as Latter-day Saints how to transfer that knowledge to those moments when we find our spouses hard to live with and our children’s choices baffling, when we feel distance instead of connection. To have a marriage partner and children means we are constantly solving relationship issues, weighing our words, seeking how to love them most effectively, and not sure if we have succeeded. Every challenge imaginable comes up in the laboratory of family life.
We have all this light, and, yet, we go about solving our family problems too often by mimicking the world and its temporary philosophies. In fact, though we should be a light on the hill, too often we are not far behind the world in its dismal statistics on family challenges. We need to understand better how to apply gospel knowledge to our most important relationships—even with their pushes and pulls. God could not have created a more important laboratory than the family, in fact, to teach us what the gospel means.
How can we be a light on a hill, if our light has gone out?
That’s why I found this book so helpful. Wally invites us to learn from a Father, who knows, supported also by research, but the emphasis is on teaching that transforms our way of seeing. Because I have known Wally for years, the ideas he shares have certainly changed my way of being a family member for a long time. This book will have the same impact on you. I think of Wally as my wise friend.
It is divided into three parts that each focus on developing flourishing relationships for well-being—first, with yourself, for well-being; second in marriage, and third in parenting.
Here’s a sample from the book in each area.
Well-Being: Develop a Flourishing Relationship with Yourself
In our relationship with self, he stays that for well-being, we should cherish our past—rather than disdain our mistakes our brood on our injuries from others.
Wally wrote, “When I feel assaulted by my recollection of mistakes and failings, rather than brood, I call out with Alma, “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.” I throw myself on the merits, mercy, and grace of Him who is mighty to save. I pray that He will forgive me of my sins and heal the people I have injured. Instead of dwelling on my inadequacies, I ask Him to use my gifts. Rather than feel defeated by my weaknesses, I ask him to change my nature and make me more like Him. That is what He loves to do. And the key to accessing His power is calling on Him with full purpose of heart.”
He continued, “A young woman knocked on my door at the university. ‘Do you have a few minutes?’
“Come in,” I said. She was a student at the university and had once been a Latter-day Saint. I was her branch president even though she didn’t attend church meetings.
“She sat in front of me. ‘I have just come from my therapist and I’m feeling confused. My dad has been dead for years, but I have never stopped hurting about his absence during his long sickness. Today my therapist asked me to mentally sit my dad in a chair in front of me and to blast him with my years of pain, loss, and frustration, to let him know how furious I am that he got sick and didn’t take part in my life, and to tell him how I resent him for failing to protect me from an angry mother.’
I waited for her to say more. ‘What do you think of that?’ she finally asked. I am not a therapist and I didn’t know her therapist’s objectives. But I have learned a little about God’s processes for peace. ‘I don’t know your therapist’s objectives,’ I said. ‘I leave you to judge whether that activity brings you the peace you seek. I do have a suggestion, though. Someday you will be ready to have another conversation with your deceased father. Invite him to sit comfortably in a chair in front of you. Then kneel at his feet and ask him, “Dad, your life was cut short by chronic illness and death.
”’Would you tell me what we would have done together if you hadn’t gotten sick? Tell me about ball games we would have attended, lectures you would have given me, love and encouragement you would have offered. Help me create the life we might have had together if you had not gotten sick.’”
“Then listen. Imagine his voice in your mind. I’m guessing he would say something like ‘Sweetheart, I am so sorry! How I yearned to be a part of your life. How I wanted to be a dad to you. Thank you for inviting me to create a new history for us.’
“’Your dad will rejoice in the invitation,’ I finished. This young woman and I both felt the power of the invitation to create a new history with her father. That conversation started a healing process for her.
“Resentment is very energizing—even if it is destructive. It provides a ready justification for being stuck in our pained lives. In contrast, forgiveness is very liberating.
“God offers surprising counsel to us, His Saints of the latter days: ‘My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin’” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:8–9).
Marriage: Develop a Flourishing Relationship with Your Spouse
One of the keys to nurturing your marriage is to focus on the eighty percent. Wally writes:
“While out jogging in central Provo, Nancy and I found our dream house—a stately, historic Craftsman-style house with a lovely lawn, arbor, carriage house, and playground. We were enchanted. We reworked our jogging path so that we passed that house every day. Often, we walked around the house and peeked through the back fence just to see more of the amazing yard. We dreamed. We coveted.
“In a stroke of good fortune, one day there was a For Sale sign in the yard. Breaking with all propriety, we went directly to the door and inquired. The friendly homeowner welcomed us and showed us through the house. It was all we had dreamed of. We were in love! We made an offer. We dragged our relatives over to see the house. A few weeks later, we closed on the sale. We now owned our dream home.
“I remember leaving the closing with house key in hand. We drove directly to our new home. We unlocked the front door and stepped inside. I flipped the light switch. And it exploded. After the initial shock, we laughed. We realized that we had created a fantasy home in which nothing would ever go wrong. The reality was different.
“The swamp cooler was inadequate in the summer. The old drains plugged up. The impressive carriage house left an unforgettable dent in our finances when we undertook to stabilize it. The thermostat was too close to the oven, so every time we baked, the furnace shut off. Then the boiler that heated the house broke down. The house was charming, but it required immense love and patience.
“Nancy and I have thought that there were great lessons for marriage to be learned from our experience with that house. It is easy to idealize and romanticize a relationship. It seems so perfect! Yet sometimes we forget the pains and challenges of living in a fallen world. In this world, things don’t work just right. We miscommunicate. We are more different from each other than we realized. We’re focused on our own needs. Sometimes we’re just cranky.
“As I have thought about marriage, I have estimated that most of us appreciate about eighty percent of our partner’s characteristics. We love their kindness, consideration, unselfishness, and talents. Yet there are also those quirky preferences and tendencies that don’t align with our own. Maybe there is a twenty percent margin of irritation in even the healthiest relationships. Yet nothing foretells the future of the relationship better than our focus. Do we dwell on the twenty percent that irritates us? Do we ruminate and recriminate? Do thoughts fester and fluster? Do we wish our spouses were different?
“Each day we make the vital choice. Will we gripe about the twenty percent or celebrate the eighty percent? Do we remember and cherish our spouse’s strengths and goodness? When the inevitable irritations arise, do we keep them in perspective as small problems to be solved or accepted rather than flaws that are unbearable? Are our souls filled with gratitude for the gift of love our spouses have granted us? Our relationship happiness depends in large measure on the single choice to focus on and cherish the good while minimizing and managing the bad.
“Let’s talk for a minute about that twenty percent we don’t like about our partner. We are tempted to focus our attention there because we hope to help our partner conquer some of their imperfection. That’s a contract with misery. Gottman’s estimate is that about seventy percent of what you don’t like about your spouse will never change. It is part of who they are. Therapy won’t remove it. Griping will only aggravate and harden it. You can be mad about it and dwell on it, but it isn’t going to change.
“Can you see that this is a heavenly design for marriage? God is giving us a choice to make every day. He invites us to keep our focus on the abundant good rather than the marginal bad. Jesus’ new commandment was “that ye love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). When we love the way Jesus loved—wholeheartedly, redemptively, relentlessly—our marriages are strengthened, and we become more like Him! He loves us in spite of our failings, and He asks that we do the same with our spouses.
“There is a catch in all this. If seventy percent of what we don’t like will never change, what about that thirty percent of what we don’t like that can change? We might be tempted to think, “There’s my opportunity!” Nope. Gottman’s research shows that the only way to get spouses to change is by loving and accepting them as they are. “
Parenting: Develop a Strengthening Relationship with Children
Wally says that the Lord’s instruction on parenting also dives deep. He writes:
“Like me, you have probably heard the saying ‘children don’t come with instruction manuals” hundreds of times. The saying has always annoyed me. I don’t believe it. Children do come with manuals. They are the manuals! In everything they say and do, they are giving us instructions. The problem is that we don’t use the manuals they give us. We don’t understand the instructions, or we don’t take them seriously. But the manuals are there, clear as day. If we read them.
“Recently, an amazingly sensitive and insightful mother called me and explained that her son in kindergarten had started misbehaving. Rather than his usual happy and docile self, he has been angry and contrary. He picks on his sister and rebels against his mother’s influence. None of the usual family systems are working for him. He seems to have become a rebel.
“The natural response is to punish the child into submission by insisting, ‘You will not act that way in this family.’ There is an enticing logic to such a response. We love to set limits and ladle out consequences. And we try to convince ourselves that they are necessary for children. Yet, unwisely done, such punishments are like pouring gasoline on a fire. They make things worse. They make life more confusing and lonely for children without teaching them how to manage themselves. Such punishments damage the relationship of trust that should exist between parent and child.
“I don’t believe that the rebel boy was just letting his badness take over. I think he was trying to tell his mother something important. I asked her what was different in her son’s life. What was he trying to tell her about his experience? Could kindergarten be upsetting to him? Could the addition of the baby to the family make him feel less noticed and appreciated? Had a friend moved away or turned against this young boy?
“Mom thought a moment and then replied, ‘Actually, his just-younger sister has recently become the star of the family. She has been cheerful and loving and may have crowded him out of his starring role in the family.’ Mom thought some more and continued, ‘And his dad uses too much sarcasm with him. I’m sure it feels like criticism and maybe even mocking to our son.’
“There it is—Mom is reading her son’s instruction manual! Using her natural compassion and great insight, she is getting vital instructions for helping him.”
The insights in Discoveries, Essential Truths for Relationships are critical for happy family relationships. In a world with so many books and so many authors, this is one that can elevate for your family life and your own approach to the most profound relationships—the ones in your family.