I know three lovely children who live in a world of separated parents, a world in which mommy and daddy have nothing but bitter things to say of each other, a world in which the Church no longer plays the role it should.
I know a young lady who came to me for counsel very confused and desperate. She had lost confidence in and respect for her parents because of their constant disagreement on how their children should be reared.
In a third family, one daughter became pregnant in high school, another daughter married out of the Church and now is completely inactive, and their brother no longer honors his priesthood.
What caused these individual tragedies? What brought about the breakdown in the family structure and, obviously, in the marriages involved?
In my four years as a bishop I have had occasion to counsel many people regarding problems that have developed in their marriages, and I believe that there are a number of fundamental roots to their problems.
Based on my own experience in counseling others, I would like to share some of the signs of a failing marriage. These “signs” are not presented in any particular order of importance, because that which affects one family may not play a part in the problem of another.
Hopefully, the problems outlined here will offer their own solutions. However, no problem will be solved unless both husband and wife are willing to adjust their lives to achieve their common goals.
The three children in my first example come from a home broken by constant criticism instead of built by love. The children’s father refused to listen to their mother or try to understand her. Instead he offered nothing but barbs of criticism. Compliments were never given. When we begin to criticize instead of building and uplifting a loved one, then we are headed for trouble.
How long has it been since you complimented your loved ones, made your partner feel important, praised him or her for thoughtfulness, kindness, devotion? When did you last kiss your partner just because you love him or her? Do you share your loved one’s happiness in accomplishments? Are you a good listener? Do you support your companion in church callings, community projects, or in the important roles of husband or wife and parents?
You can help your partner in marriage grow and achieve happiness if love is the motivation and patience is the key word.
The young lady in my second example came to me because her parents no longer presented a picture of harmony, and they openly disagreed in front of their children.
Few things are more divisive in a family than parental disagreement and open discussion regarding discipline or a breach of conduct in front of the children involved. Most children learn quickly to use this disagreement to their own supposed advantage, which may cause an ever-widening rift between husband and wife.
Anything that might cause a child to choose loyalty between two parents should be avoided at all costs. Discuss differences in private, present a united front, and protect order and discipline in the home.
Parents seldom realize, until too late, that the children most often pay the awful price when love and harmony do not exist in the home.
A terrible price was paid by the two sisters and their brother in my third example. The tragedy in their lives came about not because their parents were not active in the Church, but perhaps because they were unwise in where they placed their priorities and interests.
A sign of a failing family is when a husband and wife allow outside interests greater priority than home and family. Creating a happy, successful home is not easy, and it can be even more difficult when one or both parents become overly involved in church, civic, club, and social affairs, or even vocational interests, and thus neglect their children and home.
I am not suggesting that outside interests should be eliminated—we need a balance in our lives—but they should not become all time-consuming.
In the particular case I have in mind, the mother had many outside interests in the community and the Church, including one that involved heavy leadership responsibility; and the father held two or three positions in addition to spending some evenings and Saturdays at his place of employment.
Each family has to align its own priorities so that quality home and family life need not be impaired. No matter what the calling, every effort should be made to utilize time properly, to allow sufficient time for the family. Any additional financial rewards from extra work hours have to be weighed against the overall emotional and spiritual cost to the family. The tragic breakdown of the family of which I write perhaps would not have happened if proper priorities had been established.
Reference to financial rewards brings up a major factor in the breakdown of marriages: the lack of unity in handling family finances.
Every family unit must be operated on sound business principles. It is amazing how many people effect sound economic principles every day in their businesses but never seem to employ the same proven rules at home.
“Keeping up with the Joneses,” over-commitment, lack of planning, and poor or no budget application can cause financial pressure few relationships can withstand. No family can be master of its destiny when in bondage, and debt surely is bondage.
I remember one family that, because of extravagances and little or no objective planning, experienced almost total financial ruin. A resolve to seek counsel and a year of strict spending discipline resulted in a financially sound and healthy situation. In fact, the family members found that they were realizing up to thirty percent greater buying power from each dollar spent.
Of course, members of this family, as all other families, had to agree on their own program. But before they could do that, they had to communicate. Lack of communication within families is a sure sign of impending breakdown. Resentment, pride, apathy, lack of confidence—all contribute to poor or no communication.
Some of us are prone to manifest displeasure with our marriage partner when, in fact, we are really displeased with ourselves. We become disappointed in our loved one’s performance when perhaps we have never communicated our expectations to him or her. Sometimes we may think that it is too much bother to correct a problem or at least bring it out into the open, but if it is not resolved, it can become so big that it will mar the relationship.
Problems that arise in a marriage should be brought out into the open. When we start thinking in terms of “I” instead of “we,” there is a problem. When respect for each individual in the family no longer exists, there is a problem. When husband and wife no longer pray together, there is a problem.
No successful marriage can be kept on its course unless there is constant care and unless there is constant evaluation of current situations and their effects on the overall marriage and family goals.
If we are to live harmoniously in the celestial kingdom, the adjustments and learning in life must take place in mortality, and the spiritual level is determined to a great degree by the climate within the family.