In the preface to this article (read here) we suggested that exchanging Independence for Interdependence is usually a good trade. As we expected, there was major pushback on the idea of giving up independence for anything!
What we hope to do in this article is not only to clarify why we advocate interdependence but to present three strong arguments for making, keeping, and strengthening the marriage commitment. More and more Church members need these arguments as marriage in the Chruch as well as in the world is dropping off and getting pushed back to later in life
If you are married, please view this article as motivation to make your commitment even more total. If you are someone who knows you are in love but are having a hard time deciding if this is really THE person for you; and if the commitment of marriage frightens you a bit, please use the logic of this article to give you the courage to go ahead. And if you know someone who needs the courage to commit, please pass this article on to them.
We know of a lot of folks in the Church who desperately want to convince their children that marriage, temple marriage, is THE thing to do. We hope that these three arguments will give you some ammunition—and that they will help you present it in a way that sounds less like preaching and more like logic!
Argument #1 for Eternal marriage commitment: Be Water instead of Hydrogen and Oxygen
In a recent Time Magazine article, author Jon Birger suggests that the decline of traditional dating and courtship and the increasing rate of singleness and longer delaying of marriage in the Mormon culture is due to simple demographics—the fact that there are more active women in the Church than men and thus men can take more time and be more choosy.
There may be some truth in that analysis, but the bigger problem, throughout most of the western world’s current culture as well as within the Church, is a rising fear of commitment, an obsession with preserving all options, and the notion that independence is the best state of life and that it is undermined and endangered by the interdependence of marriage.
The Gospel teaches us that real commitment to the one you love—formal commitment, forever commitment—is something that adds to your freedom and your joy and your options, not something that subtracts from them. Even those who know this is true have to act on it—which is easier if we understand three things:
- Understand that while you want to be as sure as possible, marriage is always somewhat of a leap of faith. If it feels right to your heart and to your brain, if you’ve asked the right questions and resolved or thought through any major or glaring potential problems in your relationship—then what you need to do is to make a decision. Then, as we are advised in D&C 9, take your decision to God in prayer and ask for a confirmation—for a peace about it—for a feeling of light and right about the decision you have made. Do this individually and together as a couple, and if you feel the peace of a confirmation on the decision you have made, set your marriage date!
- Understand that commitment is not what you do after a lot of experimenting and certainly not after living together and proving to yourselves that you are completely compatible. The simple fact is that you will have tough times, and it will be the commitment that gets you through those tough times.
- If you hope to have children, think of those children now! Is that child generally better off with a couple that has made the full and total commitment of eternal marriage? Even if you want to put off having kids, it doesn’t always work out that way, and a child’s chances of living with both parents throughout his or her childhood is dramatically higher if the parents have made the fullest possible eternal commitment. And the idea that you can’t afford marriage usually doesn’t hold water. Marriages don’t have to be expensive affairs, and the fact is that two people can live together more economically than they can live separately.
And the reality is that the marriage commitment to interdependence does not lessen you as an individual, it enhances you. You are still you, and you have your views and your opinions and your skills and your unique nature as much as you ever did. When approached with love and commitment, marriage creates an almost magical synergy where the total is greater than the sum of its parts. There is still you and there is still your spouse and neither has given up any of their essence. But there is also the combined entity of “us” which complements individual strengths and compensates for individual weaknesses.
The metaphor is water. Hydrogen, by itself, is a gas possessing many unique properties. Oxygen is another gas with its own set of qualities. But when they are combined, in a committed, fused sort of way, they become the marvelous, clear, flowing, life-giving thing called water!
Life is not always easy for water. It can be evaporated, frozen, even dammed. But oh what a miracle water is. Water can do things and go places and bring about results that neither hydrogen nor oxygen, by themselves, could even imagine.
The hydrogen is still hydrogen—it has not lost or given up any of what it is. And the same is true of the oxygen. But by combining, by joining, by committing to each other, they have become something more—they have become the magic of water. And they and the whole world are better off for it.
Argument #2 for Eternal marriage commitment: True Adventure!
As we are writing this article we have just finished a short visit with our youngest son Eli who lives in Manhattan with his wife Julie and their adorable little Zara and Dean. And we are just boarding a plane to visit our youngest daughter Charity and her new husband Ian who live in London.
If you were to ask Eli, who is a world traveler and an extreme kind of sports guy, to tell you about his most exciting experiences, what do you think he would say? Or if you asked Charity, who just traveled around the world in 80 days, to share her greatest adventure, what would she tell you?
Let’s put those questions on hold for a moment, and start more broadly with Eli and Charity’s whole generation, which has been named “Millennials.”
Both in and out of the Church, one of he most frequent reasons we hear from the Millennial generation for wanting to avoid marriage or at least delay it for a long time is that they still want excitement, independence, freedom and adventure in their lives.
They also want some peace and solitude.
And they think they would throw all of them out the window if they “settled down” and got married and had a family.
But just the contrary is true. While skydiving or kite surfing or traveling the globe might seem adventurous and exciting, they pale almost into insignificance when compared to the ultimate adventure of marriage and the incomparable excitement of bringing a child into the world.
We know that everyone has their own timing and that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for marriage and family. We are all unique and “our way” (or Eli’s way or Charity’s way) is not necessarily the best way for every young person in the Church.
But adventure? Excitement? Deliberately making the commitment of marriage is like jumping off a cliff. The risk and the rush of it are breathtaking. And fighting through the inevitable differences and difficulties is the challenge of a lifetime with potential rewards that outshine any gold medal.
The irony is that many are avoiding marriage today because they think it will be dull. Ask 100 married people if marriage is dull and see if you can find one who says it is. Ask Charity or Eli about it. Hard? Yes! Often unpleasant? Yes! Containing doubts and a certain amount of second-guessing? Yes! But dull? Never!
Family life, particularly with kids, is like surfing a wave. Sometimes you wipe out, and even when you do ride one, there is constant adjusting and weight shifting and rebalancing, and you are always in danger of hitting something or losing the curl. But when you catch a perfect wave, and the pipeline opens up and its just you and the energy of the ocean, it makes it all worth it and you are up at dawn the next morning to have the adventure again because there is always the unknown and no two days and no two waves are the same.
Teddy Roosevelt hoped to never be among “those cold and timid souls who never knew either victory or defeat.” Instead, he wanted to be one “who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause.”
Did you ever hear a better description than that of what it is like to have and live with a family every day? Is there any better name than “arena” for the turmoil and unpredictability and wonderful little moments of triumph in a young family?
And there is no peace, no calm satisfaction, no welling joy like simply holding hands with someone you love more than yourself, someone you have committed yourself to forever; or like seeing your own child succeed at something—or just watching him sleep at the end of a hard day.
Now we know that everyone is unique and each person needs to find what is best for him or her. There is no pattern or timetable or sequence that works for all people. But the danger is listening too much to the current trends and the prevailing wisdom about staying vital and fulfilled by doing your own independent thing and keeping all your self-entertaining options open for as long as you possibly can.
But it’s all baloney! And what looked exciting in your twenties will start to look a little stereotyped in your thirties, and may look like an absolute drag in your forties and beyond.
You can keep looking elsewhere for excitement and adventure—trying all kinds of thrill-seeking, from extreme sports to video games to buying a better car or finding a flashier boyfriend or girlfriend. And you can seek peace and contentment in everything from meditation to deep breathing.
Or you can take God at His word, up the ante, double down, take the biggest risk of all with the biggest potential rewards of excitement, joy, and thrills; and this one, this ultimate and unmatched adventure, is marriage and family!
Of one thing we are sure: Eli and Charity, our two youngest, who have each pretty much maxed out when it comes to excitement, would tell you, unequivocally, that the true adventure of life is total commitment—to spouse and family.
Argument #3 for Eternal marriage commitment: Magic and the Fulfillment of God’s Plan
We happen to be finishing up this article from the middle of the Mediterranean where we are speaking on a cruise ship—and as luck would have it, the magic show tonight in the ship’s theatre gave us the metaphor we needed for our conclusion.
Real, full on, no-caveat, nothing-held-back Eternal marriage can actually become a kind of magic. It is the magic of synergy—of a combination where the total is greater than the sum of its parts—where one plus one can equal more than two, much more.
Last year in Philadelphia we were reminded of this kind of magic by singer and song writer John Legend who was the commencement speaker at our son’s graduation from U Penn. He talked about his song “All of me.” It is a song about the magic of the kind of commitment where “All of me loves all of you.”
Of course marriage can be thought of as a responsibility, which it certainly is. It can be thought of as a duty and as a sacrifice and as a challenge too, all of which would be accurate. And these same words would also be fitting descriptions for the children and family that usually come with marriage.
But if those were the only contexts for marriage, we might miss the most important and the most fantastic aspects of what it is and what it can be. We might miss the “all of me loves all of you” part, and we might miss the magic of knowing Marriage as synergy! Marriage as Adventure! Marriage as the ultimate security and joy!
Once there is the total commitment, things become much more simple and much more positive. When disagreements happen, you just do what you have to do to work through them. There is no thought of jumping ship or second-guessing about whether you knew each other well enough before marriage. Total commitment is unquestioned, and it is so strong that it makes molehills out of what could otherwise be mountains.
When marriage is built on total commitment—life takes on a certain purpose and clarity. Bailing out or giving up is never an option, so you don’t waste time or mental energy contemplating it. You just work through things, believing in each other and believing in your commitment.
Not all marriages will last, or should last, and perhaps some should never have happened, but the best chance marriages have come via total commitment. It makes you strong. It makes you resilient. It frees up your mind and your heart to know things and feel things you couldn’t access without it. And it allows you to give your partner the greatest gift and the most profound security imaginable—the gift of yourself and the security of knowing that you will always be hers—only hers, and she will always be yours—only yours.
Paraphrasing the rest of the words of John Legend’s song:
I love all of you….I love your edges, your imperfections, your craziness, all of you, all in, always. You’re my end and my beginning, even when I lose I’m winning. The world is beating you down, I’m around through every mood. My head’s under water but I’m breathing fine ‘cause I give you all of me and you give me all of you.
That is a kind of magic that everyone who is in love can understand.
And the only greater magic is when a couple is sealed by the power of the Priesthood and understands that there is an eternal synergy—even a oneness— whereby our marriage and our family becomes part of Heavenly Father’s eternal family and an integral link in the very government of God.