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 many of us turn for guidance on families and relationships? Everywhere except God. We draw heavily on the traditions of our fathers. We consult the latest books about relationships. We bumble along as imperfect people, parents, and partners, doing our best but knowing we fall far short. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can find essential truths for relationships in God’s counsel to us. We can discover hidden treasures of knowledge. Let me give you some examples:
- Did you know that recent research has revealed the keys to personal well-being and that the same keys are perfectly described in scripture and by modern prophets and apostles?
- Did you know that the greatest research discoveries in marriage over the last decades have emphasized qualities of character rather than skills? God has taught those same qualities of character since the beginning of time.
- Did you know that the single most important predictor of effective parenting is also God’s first and greatest commandment (see John 13:34–35)?
- Did you know that the control technique (called induction) recommended by the best research on parenting is perfectly described in Doctrine and Covenants 121?
- Did you know that compassion, or understanding, is one of the foundation principles of effective relationships and that the Father and the Son model it perfectly (as in Moses 7 and Alma 7)?
On all the key principles of family life, God is both the Expert and the Exemplar. He has always known the processes that can make us happy people, good companions, and effective parents. He has been teaching them since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, many of us haven’t taken Him seriously as a Guide for family life. We know the scriptures are the word of God, but we rarely recognize them as spot-on counsel for family living.
In fairness, I should say that I am no different from anyone else. I missed most of God’s profound scriptural lessons for my family. When I had family dilemmas, I turned to books and classes to find answers. I found a small number of God’s answers but overlooked most of them. Interestingly, I started to discover far more of His processes when I began a PhD program in family and human development. That program opened my eyes to the amazing discoveries being made in the areas of personal well‑being, couple relationships, and parenting. The big surprise for me was that the greatest discoveries of good research align perfectly with the principles God has always taught. He has always had the best answers, but the best thinking of scholars opened my eyes to Him and taught me to ask Him better questions.
It is worth noting that academic fads have come and gone. What is different today is that research is better than it has ever been. It is so substantial and consistent that the basic processes for healthy relationships are no longer being debated.
Martin Seligman has summarized the discoveries on personal well-being. I participated with a national team of scholars who summarized the discoveries on couple relationships, and another team that summarized the discoveries on parenting. There will be refinements in our understanding of well-being, marriage, and parenting, but the core truths are well established. In every case, the recommendations of good research agree with God’s timeless counsel.
So, why has He given such a flood of scholarly truth in our time? I think the reason is simple: Satan is making an unprecedented assault on goodness, truth, and families. God has countered with an outpouring of truth, lest the very elect be deceived. Important parts of that truth come through research.
I do not recommend that we use research by itself. Instead, I recommend that we test every suggestion of research with the scriptures. If a recommendation does not agree with God’s counsel, we should not follow it. However, in my experience, good research almost unfailingly agrees with His counsel.
There is another test. When research and revelation recommend a certain practice, we still need to invoke the lessons of life in order to properly apply the idea. God provided this laboratory of life experience so that we could learn from our own experience how to wisely apply principles to our daily living. He has given us these discoveries to arm us for the last‑days’ battle for our souls. He wants us to win! He wants us to enjoy great personal peace, loving companionships, and effective parenting.
One of the great discoveries of my life was completely unexpected. A woman came to see me as her bishop. She recounted a story of awfulness and misery that stretched to every corner of her life. She had abused, and she had been abused. She had deceived and conned. As she told her story, I was overwhelmed. I briefly wondered if a bishop was allowed to counsel a member to get to the spirit world by any means as quickly as possible to free herself of such a terrible mess.
After her tale of woe, the woman paused and then asked, “What would the Lord have me do?”
I was surprised to hear myself saying, “There are three things the Lord would have you do.” I had no idea what they were. But I pulled a piece of paper from the desk and wrote the number 1. As I did so, words of specific counsel came to mind. I wrote them down, and this sister and I discussed the counsel. The same thing happened with the second and third pieces of counsel—the Lord gave specific and helpful direction. And much to my surprise, the direction was hopeful, loving, and encouraging. There was not a hint of chastening—only encouragement, love, and invitation.
I was dumbfounded. When that sister left, I closed the door behind her and fell to my knees. “Father I had no idea you loved your children so much! I just didn’t know! I couldn’t have imagined.”
I had delivered His message of practical and loving counsel to one of His children whose life was a wreck. Through this experience, I realized Heavenly Father loved me the same way. I could no longer refuse to accept His love for me after He had me deliver His life-changing love to one of His most spiritually destitute children.
God wants to teach us and bless us. He wants us to know the principles that will get us safely home to Him.
In my new book, Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships, I share some of the most powerful lessons God has taught me about relationships. I am thankful for the research that has sent me to His word with more meaningful questions. I am thankful for experience that has shown me how to apply the truths. Most of all, I am thankful for the divine revelations that bring the truths into one great whole. Each of these things—research, experience, and revelation—has substantially expanded my understanding. I have tried to harmonize these great insights in my own family life. It is a privilege to share decades of discoveries with you.
The majority of this article is drawn from my new book Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships, a collection of articles previously published on latterdaysaintmag.com. Discoveries is available now at Deseretbook.com and is coming soon to your favorite Latter-day Saint bookstore.