In a few days you will be married and I will watch you close the door on your childhood with poignancy. You will pack your youth away like a dress you outgrew, and I confess I will miss everything about your presence in this house. I think I will run into your room to tell you something, and I’ll be surprised that you’re not there.
I want to give you a parting gift—my thoughts on how to be joyfully happy in marriage. These keys are easier to say than to accomplish, but I trust that in the journey ahead you will understand what to do—and perhaps in just the right moment they will come back to you.
This counsel I give to both.
Marrying across an Altar
The altar in the temple at which you will kneel is profoundly significant. It is an altar that symbolizes the great, atoning sacrifice of our Savior. Why would the Lord have us sealed across this altar? This is the great secret.
You know that His atonement means at-one-ment, and it is through this stunning, unimaginable gift that we can again be reconciled to God, made at-one with him, our face turning home again, the veil rent.
Surprisingly, it is also through the Lord’s atonement that we become one with each other, that two who have lived their lives separately and singly can be joined for eternity, never to be entirely separated again.
Oneness in marriage is actually made possible through the atonement and the gradual change and expansion in us that is promised if we accept this gift. We are to leave behind our old, smaller selves.
Satan’s work is to scatter and divide us. The Greek word for Satan is “diabolos” meaning to divide or separate. This name means “He who places division.”
It was Satan’s work to scatter the Children of Israel, and the Lord’s to gather them in one again. Those who ultimately live in Zion will be of one heart. Satan sows division. The Lord invites us to oneness.
So there you’ll be, kneeling across an altar symbolizing that opportunity for the oneness you seek—and it will come if you are both willing to accept the Lord’s gift of grace that this altar symbolizes.
We come to each other in marriage incomplete and somewhat fragmented. We are still children about so many things. The Lord says, “I will take you on a journey to wholeness. The broken things in you I can mend. The incompletion, I can complete.”
The promises for this journey are more than finite minds can comprehend, but the sacrifice is not just Christ’s–it will involve your sacrifice as well—the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. You must be willing to grow, discard the parts of you that are small and contracted. You must shed parts of yourself that are burdening the way—even your favorite, most habitual, and long justified weaknesses.
Oh, that is hard! Happiness is built on repentance and changing–and expanding yourself is happily not your job alone. Christ has taken that on long ago.
It may be tempting to think that you have come to this altar to change your new husband. If you don’t think it now, there may be times in the future you might be convinced that is your job.
It is tempting to think you have a better plan for his way of being. But be very wary of having a plan for how anyone can change. When you are dealing with another person’s identity, you are on sacred ground. Take off your shoes where you stand.
If you will both remember this temple altar and be devoted to the Lord who unites you, He will change both of you as you submit your heart to Him. You don’t need to do His work for your spouse.
A repenting couple is a happy couple–repenting particularly in the sense that you are both humble and willing to enlarge your understanding and perspective, willing to change what is trivial and weak about yourself.
Both of you can remember that you are coming to marriage to take a journey together back into the Lord’s presence. That means you are both committed to finding an expanded, better version of yourself and you trust that the Lord’s gift can work this in you. It is, in fact, only the Lord’s gift that can work this in you.
Create Holy Habits
Couples create a culture together. It is their own new world that they create. You’ve seen couples who become fat together or sloppy together or mean spirited together.
From this moment onward, you will be the greatest influence in each other’s life. Decide to become devoted disciples of Jesus Christ together. Pray together morning and night. Life will be hectic and demanding. You may feel that there is so much to do that you have to just hit the ground running to even survive. But build into your very system this unshakeable habit of talking to the Lord together.
This comes with some really practical advice. Go to bed at the same time. That bedtime practice matters because this is your time to talk, to download your day, to share your sorrows and find your solutions—and, of course, say your prayers.
In your prayers remember to express your gratitude for each other in the most specific ways. Be grateful for the gifts you gave each other that day and the service that was rendered. Watch each day for the inspiration that the Lord has given you. Remember it and thank him aloud and specifically in your prayers for His gift to you this day.
Of course read your scriptures, attend the temple, watch for opportunities to serve. Say to yourselves from the beginning, this is who we are, this is what we do.
This is like a mission statement for you as a couple. Put it in place as a foundation and then when the winds blow, when life is wearying, when you are overwhelmed, you have these holy habits in place—and then everything is easier.
Never Underestimate Your Power for Good in His Life
Though each of us are grand, eternal spirits, lit by God Himself, here on earth we are fragile, our view of ourselves constantly evolving. We may rise and fall according to the reflection we see of ourselves in each other’s eyes. You will have the greatest influence on how your new husband comes to see himself (and, of course, he will have this same impact on you.)
This is a surging power for good or ill in each other’s life which you must never underestimate. The problem, of course, is that in the rub and grind of every day life your spouse’s weaknesses become clear. Sometimes you have strengths where he doesn’t and you see solutions to a problem that he continues to enlarge. Or vice versa.
How tempting it is to take out life’s difficulties on each other. This is especially challenging when you live with relentless difficulties in part sponsored by your spouse.
You won’t need to remind your husband of his weaknesses. He already knows. And he’ll know yours as well. Just as you hope he will see past your flaws, look past his as well. Marriage is a union of two flawed human beings who are making the most important journey together. In spite of those flaws, we forgive each other, we build each other, and yes, sometimes we even compensate for each other’s weaknesses as part of the journey.
Watch for the good things he does and remind him that you noticed. Reflect his strengths back to him. See into his soul for the greatness that lies there. Be his ally and friend—not only to him but to others as well.
Some are degrading to their spouse—and just as bad—they complain to others about their spouse. Your Dad and I decided a long time ago that we would never do this. I am absolutely confident that he will watch out for me in every situation and that he will use any conversation about me to build me in the eyes of others.
More importantly he always makes me think better of myself. When life is hard and I feel disappointed in my weaknesses, I know exactly where to go to feel better. I look in his eyes and I see reflected there the very best idea of myself. “I know you. I believe in you.” He says it and lives it and makes me believe it. What a profound service from a spouse.
I try to return that service. Once life became very financially challenging for us. This is common in marriage, but it played upon a weakness of mine. I have been sometimes quick to fear, anxious, in this case, about those bills that never stop arriving.
I’ve learned that in fear you can make the very worst speeches, lashing out because you are worried—almost as if your emotions are a pressure cooker, seething and committed to boil over. In a day when we felt keenly the shift in the larger economy, Dad turned to me and asked, “Are you OK?” I reached deep down, past the rumbling of fear to my deepest self and answered, “I know we will be fine because I know how well you solve any problem.” Dad has told me many times how much I built his confidence that day.
We are each made larger by the way the other sees us. Find every good thing about your spouse and reflect it back to him.
Be Each Other’s Safe Harbor
Oh, the inexpressible comfort of having a safe harbor on earth, a place where in all your vulnerabilities and plainness and heartache there is shelter from the storm. Sometimes those storms are outside and life is just too tough. Sometimes those storms are inside and you keenly wish you were more. To have a place of ultimate safety when the winds blow is what one spouse can do for another.
Of course, you hope your spouse is a safe harbor for you, but you must also learn what it takes to be a safe harbor for him. To be someone’s safe harbor you have to develop strengths you’ve never had to call upon before. You must rise above the temptation to moodiness. You will have to rise above ego and fear and pettiness and so many of the weaknesses attached to mortality. For all of us that is a wrestle, but we work at it because we love our spouse and know they deserve our best.
Being a safe harbor means:
You don’t use his vulnerabilities against him.
You are aware of his sensitivities and don’t go trampling there.
You listen, even if you are listening to the same angst you’ve heard so many times before.
You help him find the deepest wisdom in himself.
You shore him up for another day.
Be Wise in Dealing with Differences
When two people come together, it is more like two universes coming together with galaxies and whirling worlds, stars that have arisen and then sunk to darkness. Each of you is huge, a collection of memories and things forgotten that still press upon your consciousness, and, what’s more, pre-mortal existences that you can’t remember but have shaped who you are.
Now you are seeking to become a union of one—which means you are bringing all of this enormity that is yourselves together. In this, your planets may collide.
You will have differences. Your preferences may diverge. Your ideas about what really, really matters may sometimes clash. At the most basic level, in some vital areas you may not see the world the same way.
What makes things particularly challenging is that we are convinced that the way we have come to see the world is reality. We believe that what we perceive is the absolute truth about existence. After all, it is has worked for us so far. Or at least, it has somewhat worked.
You think, “What I see is absolute truth. It’s the way things are.” You’ve never before had to so closely associate and be shoulder to shoulder with someone who undoubtedly thinks absolute truth looks different than you do. This can either be frightening and irritating or a chance to grow.
You see it in small things, of course. He says, “Keep it cool, I’m so hot.” She says, “I’m freezing.” He says, “Early to bed for a great start the next day.” She says, “I love to stay up late. It’s my only personal time of the day.” He says, “I love blue Christmas lights.” She says, “Nobody would think of decorating at Christmas with blue lights.”
These are tiny examples, but life is full of much bigger ones. Much. Some people deal with differences by fighting. Some seek to overpower the other by will. This can take a number of forms like pouting, whining, undercutting each other. Oh how unfortunate this is.
Instead of going into the ring and fighting out differences, sit down together and talk. Ask, “How do you see this? Why does this matter so much to you? How important is this? What can we do to meet both of our needs?” Learn to give each a chance to talk about why something matters so much. Find solutions that accommodate both.
Neither is always right. Neither should dominate.
Truly seek to understand each other’s viewpoint. It may turn out that what you thought was reality, is only your opinion. You will grow to see things in a much richer way when you listen to each other and come up with ideas that bring in the best of both of your perspectives.
What stands in the way of this is if your opinion is charged with a lot of emotion. People always used to give the advice, “Never go to bed angry.” I think it is a much better idea sometimes to get your rest and talk about something in the morning. Fatigue, fear, worry are all expressed sometimes in anger. Be careful when you are battling these states. They can erupt in unnecessary anger.
Don’t forget to use laughter as your secret weapon to defuse a situation.
Here’s two phrases you must never forget and will probably use often:
“I see this must be so.”
“You may be right.”
Your differences can be your strength and enlarge your personal universe.
Watch for Opportunities to Serve Each Other
You get to develop an eye for how to serve somebody else—namely that person you are pledged to love. Watch for those opportunities because they come every day.
Dad has a repeating event that shows up every day on his calendar. It is, “Have I made Maurine happy today?” Neither of us actually think that anyone can make you happy. That is your own responsibility. Yet, how sweet to think your father remembers every day to think about ways to please me and help me and lift my life. It makes life a little piece of heaven.
One key way to serve each other is to keep the romance alive. Think of ways to say I love you. Plan surprises. Be light hearted. Nobody says that because you become married you have to be sober and adult. Hold on to your youthful exuberance about life and love. It’s contagious.
Believe that Things Work Out
Some people think that as you get mature, you become less hopeful. In reality, optimism is the gift of the spiritually mature. It is because they have come to see how very much they can rely on the Lord to carry them. They know that He is completely trustworthy.
If you are worried in a coming day, if you feel a bit hopeless or fearful, remember President Gordon B. Hinckley’s line, “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It will all work out. If you do your best, it will all work out. Put your trust in God and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us.”
We used to have a quote like that from President Hinckley on our bathroom mirror. It kept us going. I read it every day. I reminded myself often that “Things work out.”
You know what? They do. Even if things look temporarily difficult—they work out. Believe that together and you will be fueled with energy, productivity and hope.
So dear daughter, rejoice. You have seen some of the world, but I know that marriage will be your greatest journey yet.
I love you.
KelsieSeptember 14, 2015
I really thought that this advice was inspired. I have been trying to research helpful marriage advice. I feel that I am flawed in many ways and that I have struggled to build and respect my husband in the way that I should. This has given me some concrete tips that I believe will help build and sustain our marriage. Thank you for writing this. I believe our marriage will become more rewarding and enjoyable with these tips.
ElizabethSeptember 9, 2015
As so many before me have said, this is inspired advice for the newly wed and wonderful reminders for those of us with a few years under our belts. Thanks for sharing.