Brother and Sister Hansen are good parents. They love their children and spend a lot of time with them. They help them with their schoolwork and encourage them to develop their talents. They have family home evenings and activities regularly.
But feelings of unity and happiness are sometimes missing in their family—often because unity and happiness are also often missing in their marriage.
Like many husbands and wives, Brother and Sister Hansen think that the way to have happy children is to focus time and attention on the children. But we have found that the most productive place to begin developing a happy family is within the marriage itself: happy parents generally make happy children.
In a home where parents put a strong emphasis on their own relationship, day by day working to strengthen the bonds of love between themselves, the children feel secure. They learn patience, tolerance, kindness, love, and forgiveness, not merely by hearing lessons about them, but in seeing the examples of their parents.
One of the best ways to have happy, secure children, then, is to have a happy, secure marriage.
A Relief Society lesson a few years ago emphasized well the influence the husband/wife relationship has on children in the family:
“Marriage is the foundation upon which all other relationships in the family are built. The relationship between husband and wife is the basis for everything else in the family. …
“Beginning when the child is very young and continuing through maturity, the family environment and more specifically the relationship between father and mother provides an example for the child as he interacts with others. The way the child is included in the parents’ relationship, or the way the child feels he affects his parents’ relationship, is probably the single most important factor in his personality development. Thus—
“Exhibiting warm, caring actions toward your spouse can be interpreted by the child as acceptance of himself as well.
“Responding to your spouse cooperatively rather than competitively should help the child to be cooperative and fair rather than maneuvering and spiteful. …
“Having an increased zest for marriage and life in general will provide the necessary model for the child to develop appropriate attitudes for his future life.” (1975–76 Relief Society Courses of Study, pp. 112, 114–15.)
We’ve found this to be true in our own family. When we were first married, Ed would occasionally come home “on his ear” about something that happened at work. As he walked in the door, Ann would immediately wonder what she had done to make him irritable. It took many reassurances for her to understand that Ed wasn’t angry with her. We have noticed a similar reaction in our children when the two of us have been at odds about something. They seem to feel an element of responsibility for our problems.
By the same token, they seem to feel peaceful and secure when we are on warm and friendly terms. And they’re more cooperative and considerate when that’s the tone of our marriage.
How can husbands and wives better their marriage? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that obedience to the basic commandments alone will automatically ensure a happy marriage. In marriage one needs to apply additional principles and instructions from the Lord, and every husband and wife need to focus specifically on improving their relationship—and be willing to spend the time and effort necessary.
Carlfred Broderick, a stake president and professional counselor, says: “People come to me and say, ‘President Broderick, we pay an honest tithe, we keep the Word of Wisdom, we attend to all of our church meetings and duties, and yet we have a miserable marriage. How can you explain that?’
“I remind them of the scripture that ‘there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“‘And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.’ [D&C 130:20–21.] Laws of marital success are spelled out in section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 121] and in chapter 12 of Romans [Rom. 12], among other places.” (See “Pair Diagnosis,” Journal of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, Jan. 1980, p. 11.)
Relationship principles are sometimes more difficult to learn and obey than principles of individual righteousness because they involve not only our own feelings and attitudes, but also those of someone else. And yet, in order to obtain the blessing of happy, loving relationships, we have to obey the principles upon which they are based.
Perhaps the most simply stated of all marriage relationship principles is found in the fifth chapter of Ephesians:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. …
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:22, 25.)
Examining this passage has helped us understand three very important ways to strengthen our marriage. How does a woman learn to esteem her husband and follow him as she would the Lord? How does a man learn to love his wife as much as Christ loves us, his church? The answers to these questions lie partially in the example of Christ himself: (1) He always treats us with great care, (2) he knows us, and (3) he has spent his life in service to us.
Following the Savior’s example, husbands and wives should treat each other with care and courtesy, come to know each other well, and serve or help one another. In an atmosphere of consideration, understanding, and service, husbands and wives open the way for the Lord to magnify their love for one another and their happiness as individuals and as a family.
We have found that there are certain times when it is particularly important to be caring, understanding, and helpful: when there’s a birth or death in the family, when someone in the family is ill, when the family moves, when your companion has made a mistake, when your companion is tired or worried, when your companion has a church assignment to fulfill, when deadlines must be met, when company comes, on Sundays, on vacations, during holidays.
Praying specifically for the Lord’s help to more fully understand and appreciate each other is essential. We’ve also found it very helpful to prayerfully read together our patriarchal blessings, personal histories, or family history from time to time. Even looking through photo albums and thoughtfully pondering the pictures can lead to unexpected insights. Sincere attempts to draw closer to each other’s family and understand them better can bring deeper understanding as well.
In our marriage, we have found that the increasing responsibilities of having children, working, earning a degree, and fulfilling our church assignments can easily fill all our time. Tender feelings, gentle courtesies, and spontaneous fun (which are as essential to ongoing courtship as they are to initial courtship) are easily crunched or pushed aside unless we make deliberate, cooperative efforts to have some regular time for just us.
A few years ago we decided we needed a weekly date. We go for walks and buy an ice-cream cone. We hike up in the hills. We clean the house for a sick friend. We play one-on-one basketball. We redeem coupons at the hamburger place. We plan our budget or go to the library or plan outings and surprises for the kids. Sometimes (the budget willing) we go to a play or a movie, occasionally doubling with good friends. (See accompanying article on pp. 49 to 51 for more ideas.)
Besides returning home feeling refreshed—a golden benefit in and of itself—we also find that our children take an added interest in us. They want to know where we went and what we did (and if we got any treats). From time to time we find the children at play pretending they are mom and dad going on a date.
Even though we find ourselves with less and less money each year, we have grown much closer together from our dates and have enjoyed each other so much that we consider the money spent on a good babysitter as one of our best investments.
Another indispensable time together is our weekly husband/wife planning session. Although it took us almost a year to make it a habit, we now wonder how we ever got along without it. It helps us have more interest in what the other is doing. It helps us realize how important we are to each other and to our children. It gives us time to look at ourselves and at the children and decide on a course of action to meet our problems. For example, when we’ve noticed that one of the children is acting sassy, or fussing more than usual, we’ve discussed various courses of action we should take. Sometimes we notice that important items such as family histories and letter-writing are going undone and we schedule time to work on these tasks. We also plan our dates, special time with the children, details for family home evening, Sunday activities, and our schedule for home teaching and visiting teaching. At first we found that often we were too tired or too lazy to follow through on our plans. But we eventually made a rule that unless someone was sick, we would do what we had planned. We found ourselves much happier when we obeyed that rule.
For us, Sunday is the best time for these weekly planning meetings. After lunch is over and the children are down for their nap, we sit down together and plan. It usually takes between fifteen and thirty minutes, occasionally longer if big events or unusual problems need more talking over.
We have discovered how vital it is to work on our marriage—our most important human relationship. When we take time and energy to treat each other well and to know and serve each other, we grow in love for one another and find greater satisfaction in our dealings with our family and with other people. When we have bad feelings toward each other, we find it difficult to be warm and kind and peaceful with our children and with others. When we pray with all our hearts and work with all our might to treat each other as Christ would treat us, we find solutions to our problems.
Although right now our children take a great deal of our time and attention, we realize that someday each of them will leave us and be sealed to a companion. If we are worthy, we will enjoy continued association with them throughout eternity. But our closest relationship will always be as husband and wife. Any successes we have in strengthening our ties to each other will last forever. And we will find even greater happiness in our hearts if we give our children a precious gift—the example of a growing, fulfilling marriage.
Adding Zest to Marriage
Here are activities some couples have used to liven up their marriage:
Ideas for Taking Time for Each Other
Ideas for Courtesies and Communication
My companion …
Ideas for Lending Each Other a Hand
My companion …
“Specials” or Surprises
(Adapted from Spouse Observation Checklist in Assessment in Treatment of Marital Dysfunction, by Robert Weiss, Ph.D., and Barbara Ann Perry, MA., Associates of the Oregon Marital Studies, University of Oregon. Used by permission.)
Let’s Talk about It
After reading “Happy Parents = Happy Children,” you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a husband/wife study period:
1. Why does the tone of a marriage have such a great effect on the rest of the family?
2. What goals besides personal righteousness are needed for a happy marriage? What relationship principles are important in your marriage?
3. Examine your own progress at treating each other with care and courtesy. How could you do better?
4. Do you take time for each other on a frequent, regular basis? What have been some of your favorite times together? Make plans now for husband/wife time during the coming week.
5. Do you make it a habit to help each other out with personal and family responsibilities? Express appreciation for things your spouse has done for you recently. Discuss how each could be more aware of the other’s needs.
6. Discuss some of the benefits of a weekly husband/wife planning session. How could they help the family as well as the marriage?