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[This article is an excerpt from the Lundberg’s latest book Because We Love Our Marriage: 12 Ways to Safeguard Your Eternal Relationship, available at LDS bookstores and amazon.com]

Every action taken is preceded by a thought. When it comes to marriage we need to heed the words of President Howard W. Hunter: “Be faithful in your marriage covenants in thought, word, and deed.”  Many years earlier President David O. McKay said, “Tell me what you think about when you do not have to think, and I will tell you what you are. Latter-day Saints have the responsibility of thinking pure thoughts, of cherishing high ideals. As long as they do, their actions will be in accordance with those ideals.” (David O. McKay, “Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness,” Instructor, Mar. 1965)

The key, then, is to keep your thoughts focused on your eternal goals and your eternal companion.

How Thoughts Affect Marriage

Let’s say you are noticing how attractive a fellow employee is. Or maybe you have become attracted to your friend’s wife or husband, whichever the case may be. Or it may even be someone you serve with in your ward or stake. Is his or her face lingering in your mind? Sudden little thoughts of how you wish you could be with that person in an intimate relationship may pop into your head. The evil one is good at trying to smuggle those ideas into the minds of the faithful. When you let these thoughts linger, it’s called “coveting.” And there’s a scripture about that, too: “[T]hou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, . . . nor anything that is thy neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).

One of the most tragic examples of this is the biblical story of King David. David looked upon Bathsheba, the wife of another, and wanted her for his own. Her beauty captured him. He would not let the thought of her leave his mind. He had to know who she was. “And David sent and inquired after the woman. And one said, Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her, . . . and she returned unto her house. And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child” (2 Samuel 11:305).

Bathsheba knew this could not be her husband’s child because he was a soldier and had been away at war too long. King David tried to remedy the problem by having Bathsheba’s husband come home for a time, hoping he would lie with her and think the baby was his. But Uriah was an honorable man and would not be with his wife out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers, who could not be with their wives.

No amount of trickery on David’s part worked. He was in a terrible mess and put himself in even further spiritual jeopardy by ordering Uriah to be put in death’s path on the battlefront, where he was killed in battle.

His sinful acts led to his tragic downfall. The depth of his sorrow for his sins haunted him throughout the remainder of his life.

God Knows Your Thoughts

We cannot keep our thoughts secret from Heavenly Father. He knows exactly what we’re thinking. It was made clear to Oliver Cowdery and to all of us that God “knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart” (D&C 6:16). Ezekiel gave another witness of this power when he told of how the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him and said, “I know the things that come into your mind, every one of them” (Ezekiel 11:5).

If romantic thoughts of someone other than your spouse enter your mind, quickly get rid of them. Make your mind an inviting place for the Spirit to dwell—full of thoughts you would be happy to have God viewing.

In 3 Nephi the Savior gave this warning: “But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery already in his heart” (3 Nephi 12:28). It is never proper to let desires for someone else linger even for one tiny minute in your mind. That means we must be on guard at all times and in all places and in all our thinking.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “Love makes us instinctively reach out to God and other people. Lust, on the other hand, is anything but godly and celebrates self -indulgence. Love comes with open hands and open hearts; lust come with only an open appetite. These are just some of the reasons that prostituting the true meaning of love—either with imagination or another person—is so destructive. It destroys that which is second only to our faith in God—namely, faith in those we love” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Place No More for the Enemy of My Soul,” Ensign, May 2010).

Elder David A. Bednar said, “Sometimes [bad thoughts] are almost thrust upon us. . . . If you didn’t seek it out, if you didn’t invite it, it’s only a sin if once you’ve seen it, you let it stay” (“Face to Face with Elder and Sister Bednar,” LDS Media Library video, 23:20, May 2015).

Ways to Be On Guard

If romantic thoughts of someone other than your spouse occupy your mind, here are some things you can do.

1. Immediately replace that person’s image with a mental picture of your spouse. Remember a fun time you had together. Maybe it was a romantic dinner out. Envision how your husband looked that night. If you are the husband, remember things about your wife that melted your heart. See her face, her smile, her eyes. When you focus on your mate in this way, there will be no room for thoughts of anyone else.

2. Keep a picture of your spouse on your desk at work and at home. Look at it often and think of the tender times you have spent together. Change it around from time to time with photos of some of your happiest times. Keep those memories alive and fresh in your mind.

3. Create romantic memories with your spouse. Keeping love alive takes effort. Plan fun evenings together. Get away for a night now and then. Making fun memories can fill up your mind with the kind of food-for-thought that will nourish your marriage.

4. Stay away from that “other” person. If the thought of someone else is tempting you, stay away from that person. If it’s someone at work, limit the time you spend with that person or ask for a transfer. Do all you can to protect yourself from any romantic thoughts about that person. “Out of sight, out of mind” may well be the remedy for this kind of temptation.

5. If needed, sing a hymn. Elder Boyd K. Packer said, “Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn. . . . Go over it carefully in your mind. Memorize it. Even though you have had no musical training, you can think through a hymn. Now use this hymn as a place for your thoughts to go. Make it your emergency channel. Whenever you find that these shady actors have slipped from the sideline of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this record [of a hymn]. . . . As the music begins and the words form in your mind, the unworthy thoughts will slip shamefully away” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 1975, 46-47).

6. Put a picture of the Savior nearby and look at it, remembering what He did for you and how much He loves you and wants your family to return to Him.

7. Attend the temple regularly. Keep a picture of the temple in your home. Remember sacred covenants made there and vow daily to keep them. Keeping your wedding picture in a visible place will help this happen.

8. Pray that your mind will be filled with loving thoughts of your spouse and your family and that you will have the power to resist unclean thoughts. The Savior taught that we “must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him” (3 Nephi 18:15). Pray for the Holy Ghost to help you fill your mind with righteous thoughts.

Allow Time for Growth

Keep your mind focused on your eternal goal. Stop thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and stick with the one you married. Give a little time for growth as you work toward building a strong and loving relationship that will last forever. That takes keeping your thoughts focused on your eternal mate and family.

We close with the words of President Russell M. Nelson: “The noblest yearning of the human heart is for a marriage that can endure beyond death. Fidelity to a temple marriage does that. It allows families to be together forever” (Russell M. Nelson, “Celestial Marriage,” Ensign, Nov. 2008).

[Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He and his wife Joy have written several books and articles on strengthening marriage and family. Visit their website at https://www.garyjoylundberg.com/]