It was late and the house was dark when she got home. Freezing and exhausted after chaperoning a Mutual snow party (where she had melted the toes of her boots over the campfire), Barbara Yates of Blackfoot, Idaho, tiptoed into her bedroom, thinking her husband was asleep. To her surprise she found the bed untouched, a bag of marshmallows on her pillow, and a certificate from her husband (effective immediately) good for a warm bath, a clean towel, and a cup of hot chocolate.
When Karen Schiffman’s husband asked her to lunch one Friday afternoon, she accepted, believing his story about finding a new spot a few minutes away from their home in Orem, Utah. But when he picked her up, he drove to the freeway and headed north, speeding past the exits. The farther they went, the more questions she asked and the bigger her husband’s grin grew. Finally he turned to her and asked: “How would you like lunch in Salt Lake City—oh, and dinner and breakfast, too?”
Karen just stared at him with her mouth open. They’d left their four children with a friend for just a short luncheon date! But he explained that he had arranged for a babysitter, packed the suitcases, and reserved a motel room “for a much needed overnight vacation.”
When the Ensign asked husbands and wives how they show their love for each other, we got lots of answers. Some were very similar, varying only slightly. Others were more creative. But when all of the answers—coming from thirty states, seven countries, and a couple of APO and “at sea” addresses—are seen as a group, it becomes obvious that love is abundant in many Latter-day Saint marriages, and that even though it is expressed in hundreds of ways, it is recognized, relished, and reciprocated.
Not at all startling is the repeated idea that the feelings aren’t expressed in dramatic or spectacular displays. Usually they are a result of days and years and lifetimes of quiet words and moments, sensitivity and selflessness, spiritual support—and a great deal of thoughtfulness.
Why is it that the words “I love you”—when said to the right person, by the right person, at the right moment—are so important? Yet according to our letters, that well-used phrase is never overused.
Officiators in every Latter-day Saint temple in the world counsel thousands of newlyweds every year to express their love for each other daily to come right out and say it. “If your husband doesn’t tell you every day that he loves you,” some jokingly instruct the bride, “you come back and tell me about it!”
“I’ve never had to go back and complain,” says Laura Irwin of Dawson Creek, British Columbia. “And in eight years he’s never forgotten our anniversary, either. Maybe that’s because it’s on April Fool’s Day!”
Of course there are an infinite number of ways to say “I love you”—not just in words. But the Saints we heard from unanimously agree that those other ways should accompany, not replace, the actual words—that daily expressions of love are a wonderful reminder.
Arlene Pommerville of Midland, Michigan, says her husband frequently asks her if she’ll marry him again. “I thought he was just being silly,” Arlene says, “so I never thought too much about it.” But after realizing that some couples probably wouldn’t marry each other again, she began to look forward to hearing his request. “I am glad that after nine children and fourteen years of marriage he would still ask me to be his eternal companion all over again.”
One Salt Lake City woman says that although her husband wasn’t very demonstrative, his “goodnight, sweetheart” and kiss “always made me feel loved and cherished.” He said it almost every night until his death.
Wives know they need to be expressive, too. It’s not uncommon for several who wrote us to meet their husbands at the door with a hug and a kiss. Although May Nielson of Payson, Utah, usually didn’t do that sort of thing in the middle of the day, she tried it once when her husband came in from the fields at noon. “He looked a bit surprised,” she says, but they both liked it so much that they’ve made it a habit. “We didn’t need anything like this to assure each other of our love,” she explains. “But it has been like an extra bonus, an enrichment of our already happy companionship.”
Short phone calls once a day from their husbands are very popular with many wives, especially young mothers who feel they need at least one “sane” conversation during the day. So are love poetry and “I love you” in sign language. And three anythings—squeezes of the hand, light taps on the shoulder, horn honks when driving away, or blinks of the headlights—symbolize “I love you” to some. When Gertrude Blair of LaCrescenta, California, stood by her husband’s hospital bed during emergency treatment for a cardiac arrest, she took his hand, felt three faint squeezes, and told the doctors that he would be all right. Within moments her husband’s heartbeat again registered on the monitor screen.
Writing love notes isn’t really a new idea, but it’s not a stale one, either, according to the letters we received. Such notes are found all over Latter-day Saint homes, in lunch boxes, in shirt pockets, in shoes, on the refrigerator, in scriptures, in overnight cases. Afterwards, they’re found in scrapbooks and other repositories of family treasures.
Brent Arnell, a Scoutmaster from Calabasas, California, found notes placed in several strategic spots in his pack at summer camp. “Sorry you hurt yourself,” said the note in the band-aid box. And in his razor, which he didn’t use until the last day, he found: “I’m so glad you decided to shave before coming home. See you this afternoon!”
Sally Gale of Layton, Utah, writes “wisecracks” on the shells of the hard-boiled eggs she puts in her husband’s lunch. The cracks run from semi-serious (“We are egg-stremely proud of you”) to fun. On April Fool’s Day, the note said, “Want to hear a funny yolk?” When he cracked the egg, he found that it was raw.
Hoping to get a laugh and maybe a comment about putting too much sugar in her husband’s lunch, Mella Bedel of Centerville, Utah, put a note inside his sandwich. But when Dan didn’t say anything about it, she questioned him. His sandwich had seemed a little extra chewy that day, he admitted.
Some sandwich-eating husbands don’t get that far. LeAnn Averett of Springville, Utah, still has one note she wrote to her husband—with a bite taken out of it.
Lorraine Jones of Riverside, California, often tucks notes here and there in her husband’s clean clothes. One morning he woke her up early, asking: “Don’t you love me anymore? All my socks are empty!”
Husbands are note-writers, too. Mary Winters of Lemon Grove, California, finds computer messages when she cleans out her husband’s lunch box. One year Jean Hammond of Idaho Falls, Idaho, found twelve index cards in her Christmas stocking, each redeemable for a temple session and a treat (dinner, chocolate malt, an activity of her choice, etc.). And when Gayle Randall of Enterprise, Utah, returned home after a short visit with relatives, the notes that turned up all over the house were evidence that Theron had missed her: “Washing dishes isn’t fun, Oh Dearest Darling mine! Jog my memory of this fact, And I’ll take you out to dine!”
Summing up well the feelings of note-writers and note-receivers, Joan Spencer of Lansing, Michigan, said, “Nothing can lift a day more than warm words of love from someone you care for.”
It’s clear from our letters that husbands and wives love sensitive, understanding partners and that being that way is often the best proof of love.
Traveling on a long trip was becoming “an emotional challenge” for Margie Johnson of Provo, Utah, because her three energetic children under five were tired of being cooped up in the car for so long. Noticing this, Jim, who usually drives, pulled over and offered to change places. “It would have been much easier for him to keep driving and try to ignore the baby,” Margie says, “but he knew that I enjoyed driving and needed a reprieve. His consideration for my feelings plays a big part in our marriage.”
When the doctor told a California woman that she might never have children, she “spent the whole evening enveloped in a cloud of self-pity and gloom, angry that I had to carry such an unfair burden.” But when her husband arrived home, he handed her a paper bag containing two bottles of her favorite colognes. To some, she explains, that might have been the wrong gift for that particular moment. But he was sensitive enough to her feelings to know that the gift was just right for her. “I realized that this was his quiet way of letting me know that he loved me, and that our problem didn’t diminish my womanliness to him in any way.”
Taci Fernuik of Amarillo, Texas, was so excited about her first Halloween after she was married that she went all out to decorate their little apartment and make special treats for the trick-or-treaters. But it got later and later and not one masked youngster wandered down the dark driveway to the back of the house and then down the stairs to their basement apartment. As every uneventful half-hour ticked away, she became more depressed. Finally her husband, Ron, put on his coat and left. He returned a few minutes later without telling her where he had gone. But just then Taci heard some giggling outside the door. The doorbell rang, and “trick-or-treat!” echoed in her ears.
Another form of sensitivity is selflessness—the willingness to put the other person first, to make sacrifices for each other and the family. And equally important is appreciation for that selflessness.
Many wives we heard from say they appreciate the way their husbands fulfill their role as husbands and fathers. “He shows he loves me,” several write, “by spending so much time with me and the children.” “Knowing how much he cares for and loves our children brings me great honor and a feeling of self-worth,” says Linda Cox of Goldsboro, North Carolina.
Most husbands understand that their wives who stay at home don’t get to punch out at five o’clock and leave everything until the next day. And they understand, too, that whether their wives work at home or away from home they are usually as tired by the time evening comes as men are. Our letters show that many husbands see evenings and weekends as a joint responsibility with their wives, rather than just hers alone.
A typical example, similar to many others we received, is a letter from Faye Sowards of San Jose, California. When she was first married, Faye worked in a bank while her husband also worked and went to school. Trying to be very organized about her housework, she sorted out a basketful of laundry one morning to wash later on when she got home. But when she returned that evening, she found that her husband, eager to do his part, had helped—he had ironed the whole basket of dirty clothes! (He got more into the hang of things later on, Faye says.)
After their first baby was born, he would get up in the night, change the diaper, and bring the baby to her for nursing. “The novelty of this system didn’t wear off even through five pregnancies,” she says.
“I know our three sons will be considerate husbands and fathers,” she continues, reflecting the thoughts of a multitude of other wives, “because they have had such a terrific live-in model. I recognize how fortunate I am and try to show him how much I appreciate all he does for me.”
Some husbands completely take over the care of the house and the kids for one evening a week so their wives can have some quiet time to themselves.
Husbands recognize and appreciate their wives’ efforts and selflessness, too. Typical is the response of Steve Thornbrue of Portland, Oregon, who says his wife shows her love by filling their home with laughter and music, making it a place of simple elegance and cleanliness, and caring so devotedly for their children. And Bryan Gordon of Blackfoot, Idaho, says that it is “pleasant to think during the day of going home where peace and love are waiting.”
Sharing things of the spirit with each other, working side by side to achieve mutual and personal goals, experiencing testimony and good feelings and peace—all of these things draw husbands and wives closer together and increase their love for one another.
Taci Fernuik, expressing the thoughts of many others, says her husband “evidences love for me every time he leads the family in scripture reading, prayers, and family home evening. But something extra special to me is his evidence of love when he lays his hands on my head and blesses me to get well. I’m so thankful for a man like this, and am striving to be worthy of him.”
Paige Reese of Logandale, Nevada, says she tries to support her husband in his church work because “I know that our marriage is strengthened when he magnifies his priesthood and his callings.”
But giving support goes both ways. Faye Sowards says she bets her husband “is one of the few men who’s ever taught charm and poise to a Merrie Miss class—I was too sick to go and couldn’t get a substitute.”
When Sherry Bratsman of Sugar City, Idaho, was called to be ward Relief Society president, she hesitated because of her several young children. But “my husband assured me I could do the job and that he would help in any way.” He had a chance to make good on that promise a few months ago when one of the babies was quite sick the same day Sherry had arranged to interview thirty visiting teachers. “I was ready to call them all and arrange for a different time, but my husband took the morning off and stayed with the children so I could fill my responsibility.”
Many other ways of expressing love came up frequently: thinking the best of one another; being proud of each other and showing it; complimenting instead of criticizing; following the golden rule; solving problems in reasonable, calm, relaxed ways; listening to, understanding, and valuing each other’s ideas, for example.
Another extremely popular way of demonstrating love is to do simple things for each other—planned or unplanned, expected or unexpected, sincere, heartfelt, thoughtful, and personal. Our letters provided us with many more ideas than we can list, contributed by many more people than we can name. But here’s a sample:
He takes his shoes off (for the first day at least) when she washes the kitchen floor. She hides chocolate mints or gum for him in his drawer. He does all the cooking on their camping trips so she can have a vacation, too. She records Ensign and Church News articles, personal messages, and songs and greetings from the kids for him to listen to during his long road trips. He gives her a steering wheel knob with a flower embedded inside, saying, “Here’s a rose that won’t make you sneeze.” She gives him a five-pound box of homemade cookies with a note promising to keep the cookie jar filled for an entire year. He surprises her with a delicious birthday breakfast, complete with her brothers and sisters and their spouses. (“There was only one problem,” she says: “the guest of honor looked like she just got out of bed!”)
He comes home from work very tired and finds the table beautifully set for a candlelight dinner for two. She smiles and tells him he’s the best-looking man in the ward. He responds, “Just in the ward?”
Not all expressions of love need to be spontaneous, though. Some couples like to come up with and faithfully maintain traditions. For example, Don Center of Topeka, Kansas, says he and his wife exchange “I love you” gifts on the first day of every month; the gifts have to be different every time, and they can’t cost any money. But Jane Willie and her husband, newlyweds living in Salt Lake City, can’t wait for the first of each month. They celebrate every Thursday (the day they got married) with a special dinner, gifts, and time together to review their courtship and strengthen their love.
Celebrating “all-time firsts” is another idea. “It helps show love and occasionally prevents hurt feelings,” says Mary Seely of Brigham City, Utah. Early in their marriage, a broken glass was one of their “all-time firsts.” Just the other day, they celebrated another “first”: the last glass of that set was broken.
Time together is an essential tradition, and according to the letters we received, available time really isn’t that hard to find if you try. Wanting a few quiet moments alone with her husband daily, Patricia Peterson of Camarillo, California, gets up with him at 5:15 every morning, prepares him a good breakfast which they enjoy together, and packs him a lunch. Several couples hire a babysitter on a permanent Friday night basis so there’s no weekly hassle trying to find one, and the momentum of going out every weekend will discourage last-minute cancellings.
Elder Stuart Knell and his wife, Winifred, serving together in the Bristol England Mission, have found, after forty years of married life, “the perfect answer to a happy marriage”—in the missionary handbook, of all places. There they are encouraged, like all missionaries, to take the time weekly to hold companionship evaluation sessions. Doing this, they say, “we love and understand each other more, and we have talked together more in the last four months than all of our married life. We even discuss the things which irritate us, and we are both in our middle sixties.”
Some couples get away alone for an overnight vacation at least once a year, feeling that babysitter wages are a good investment in their marriage. Long bus rides to stake temple excursions provide an ideal time to be together and talk. And some wives frequently accompany their husbands on out-of-town business trips—just for the chance to be together alone for a while.
Other traditions involve flowers. Mrs. Leon Searle of Midvale, Utah, remembers the love both of her parents had for roses and how painstakingly they cared for their rose garden. “Dad would always pick the first rose that bloomed in the summer,” she says, “and present it to my mother with a kiss. He continued to do this every morning until the last rose faded in the fall.” And Judy S. Russell of Mesa, Arizona, loves her husband’s flower-giving tradition because it’s so untraditional: “I never get flowers for Mother’s Day, our anniversary, or any other special occasion,” she says. “But I do get them when the weather is bad, or I am sick, or just because the sun shines—and I know I am loved.”
Like many of the Saints who wrote us, Mervyn Dykes of Wellington, New Zealand, found it impossible to explain all the things his wife does to show her love. But an important reason he loves her, he says, is that she loves him—even though neither he nor their life together is exactly what she dreamed of when she was a schoolgirl. She thought she’d marry someone small-boned and slender with dark, flashing eyes. But she got a blond, green-eyed, 230-pound discus thrower. She loves to collect dainty furniture, but has four overly energetic children and a husband who demolishes chairs just by sitting on them. She’d like a beautiful wardrobe, but spends her clothes money on things for the kids or surprises for her husband. She’d like to travel, but is content for now to take a trip down to the store once in a while. She used to sing for large audiences in concert halls, but is now usually accompanied only by the drier in the laundry.
A martyr? Deprived and taken advantage of? No, she’s content with her husband and her life. “One day not so long ago,” Mervyn tells, “she walked up to me, all smiles, and firmly pressed a thick slice of bread and jam into my face.
“‘Why did you do that?’ I spluttered.
“‘Because I’ve always wanted to do it to someone,’ she grinned. ‘And there wasn’t a custard cream pie handy.’
“Then she giggled and sped out of the room, pursued by a large discus thrower threateningly waving the remains of a slice of bread and jam.
“Really,” he concludes, “is it any wonder I love her?”