Whenever my husband and I need a good laugh, we pull out a small stash of folded hotel stationery tucked within our family Bible. Neatly scrawled there are the goals we outlined for ourselves in front of a bright fire in a small skiing cottage on our honeymoon. Looking at those idealistic goals, I remember both of us, hugging in front of the fire, determined to make our marriage a very happy, successful partnership. And that it is—despite the fact that a number of the goals listed on those carefully saved papers have long since been replaced by reality—and two stubborn, loving individuals working together.
Our goals covered everything from finances to exercise, including a decision never to spend over twenty dollars for an unbudgeted item without consulting each other.
But only two months after our marriage, I came home from school one afternoon to discover my entrepreneuring husband, Lan, sitting on our one piece of furniture, a tiny couch, leafing through an airplane parts manual. “You’ll never believe what we bought today!” he announced in unrestrained glee.
“What did we buy today?” I asked, a sudden foreboding warning me to sit down.
“Last night in the classifieds, I read about this fantastic deal our at the Bountiful Airport. A local insurance company is selling a Grumann two-seater for a lady in Phoenix.”
“A Grumann two-seater?” I asked weakly.
“Yes. A beautiful little plane. Lists for $15,000 in good condition. We got it for $2,000.”
“Two thousand!” I was beginning to feel quite faint.
“Can you believe it! We got it at that price because the lady ran out of gas and had to land it in a field. Coming down she went between some trees and peeled the wings back.” Lan’s enthusiasm didn’t abate, but my shock only deepened after we drove to the airport and climbed into the cockpit of our small red plane without wings.
It was on the way home, when the numbness began to wear off, that I thought to remind him of our list of goals. “Oh, I remembered,” he admitted, with all the charm of a little boy who has just been to see Santa Claus, “but I knew you’d understand on a deal like this. I had to act fast or it would be gone.”
We owned the plane for only four weeks. Without doing much repair work, Lan sold it for a profit.
Since then I have learned to appreciate the business sense and creativity of my husband, but learning to trust his decisions has meant giving up one original honeymoon goal. And that is not the only goal that has been changed or replaced. Identifying and eliminating unrealistic expectations has trimmed our list into a workable blueprint for a fulfilling marriage.
But that sorting-out process is not an easy one! Curious, romantic beings that we are, we build many expectations before marriage. From watching other marriages, reading books on compatibility, listening to “experts,” we begin to sketch in our minds a picture of the perfect marriage. Yet our picture may be slightly, even dramatically, different from our companion’s. And when those different expectations start surfacing—right after the honeymoon—it takes both vision and commitment to sort out a realistic blueprint both partners can live by.
The necessary vision of who your partner really is—the ability to see beyond an irritating moment into the eyes and heart of the person you love—makes the sorting-out process easier; it becomes a strengthening, bonding experience instead of a weakening drag on your relationship. It requires accepting the other and choosing to interpret his or her actions and intentions with love, not doubt.
At the temple marriage ceremony of our niece, Cindi, the wise priesthood leader who presided taught the principle of vision with a few simple questions.
Cindi knelt, all in white, radiant, shyly smiling across the altar at Steve, his smiling eyes also filled with sweetness and love. All of us tasted the joy of this beginning as we watched those smiles.
“Steve, look at Cindi,” Brother Bay said. “Isn’t she beautiful?” A wordless, powerful nod answered him. “Can you imagine her doing anything wrong right now?”
“No,” he said softly. Brother Bay turned. “Cindi, you look at Steve. Isn’t he handsome?”
“Oh yes!” she smiled across the altar.
“Can you imagine him doing anything wrong today?”
“No,” she said, smiling again.
Lan and I smiled too with an inward joy, remembering our many mistakes, yet savoring still our vision of each other.
“Never forget your feelings now, Cindi and Steve. Always look for the best, and you will find it.”
Reflecting on Brother Bay’s counsel, I could see how, one by one, our unrealistic expectations had been stripped away, revealing the practical, operating bones of our relationship. We had grown in love, compassion, and the ability to grow and be flexible. We had learned patience, trust, and loyalty.
But it is our vision of each other that makes it worth the time and pain such lessons have been bought with. This vision of each other helps us look beyond the momentary frustrations and trust in each other’s true nature and potential, despite problems. But we must choose how to look at our companions, and the way we choose will determine our response.
For three months I had been diligently studying the May 1980 issue of the Ensign and all the sesquicentennial general conference talks. Our stake was sponsoring an Ensign competition as part of our sesquicentennial celebrations, and our bishop had recruited me to absorb the entire issue from cover to cover. As the evening for the competition loomed closer, I studied during every spare moment, nervous and filled with excitement, but very grateful for all I was learning.
Two hours before the game began, my husband received a call from his mother. “King’s been hurt,” he announced to me, worry streaking his eyes. “I’ve got to go.”
“But, honey,” I began.
“I’ll try to be back,” he yelled, as he headed for the front door.
“But what about the children? I’m supposed to sit on the stage.”
“I’ll take them with me.” And two minutes later, they were gone. Now, in case I seem unfeeling, it may help to know that King is a cat. Not just any cat, but a remarkable sixteen-year-old cat who had slept on the foot of Lan’s bed for over ten years before he married me. Lan and King were old friends. But a cat is a cat, and a wife is a wife, I told myself, as I sat there seesawing between fuming and laughing.
Ten minutes before I had to leave, Lan called from the veterinarian’s office. “They’re going to operate. King’s hip has been wrenched out of its socket.”
I tried to keep the tears out of my voice. “How long do you think it will take?” I asked.
“I don’t know. But good luck tonight, honey! I know you’ll do really well!” We both hung up, and I started listing in my mind all the reasons to be upset. After all, tonight was my big night! I’d worked on this for months! Couldn’t someone else sit in the waiting room?
But fortunately, I knelt to pray for some last-minute courage. And I received not only courage, but patience, and another way to look at the situation. I realized how blessed I was to have a husband who was sensitive and caring about creation. And that quality of tenderness didn’t end with animals. That same protectiveness and love was magnified as it extended to me and to our children. Besides, I knew he really loved me, and it was not like he was putting King first. I felt almost like chuckling at my initial perspective. Then I remembered that even the sparrows and the lilies of the field were loved and cared for by God.
Choices exist in every situation, and training ourselves to have vision is as simple as slowing our response-time long enough to say a prayer and consider alternate views. When Adam and Eve received the joyous news that through the Son’s sacrifice they might earn the right to live with the Father again, they rejoiced in their new-found vision of life.
“And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
“And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.” (Moses 5:10–11; italics added.)
Truly, through their problems, Adam and Eve learned to see, to know the good from the evil. We inherit this gift of mortality, the ability to see, and the agency to choose for ourselves. How we use this vision can sometimes make an eternal difference in our lives.
But along with vision, one more quality is essential if love is to last. And that is commitment. Even with vision, the separating of unrealistic expectations from potential goals is painful. But if we are committed to the marriage, that determination gives us strength and helps us find creative ways to endure in our love.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had one afternoon on the way home from work riding on the bus next to a pert, older woman. She had remarked that soon she would be celebrating her fortieth wedding anniversary with her husband.
“You know why many marriages fall apart nowadays?” she queried, her eyes snapping. “They don’t have any glue! I’m not perfect, and neither is my husband, but we’re happy. And you know why? Because we’ve had enough loyalty to each other to hang together through our problems, and each problem we’ve resolved has been like a drop of glue, holding us together. After forty years, there’s a lot of glue,” she winked at me, chuckling softly, “there’s a lot of glue.”
Determination to endure. Loyalty. Commitment. Of such is the glue that holds people together when they’ve lost their vision. Commitment is the shelter, the healing place, for bruised and weakened love.
The importance of commitment was brought vividly home to me through the personal experience of a close friend. “Shortly after our first wedding anniversary,” she related, “a deep and shattering depression engulfed my husband. Satan-fed fires of self-doubt consumed him, and he struggled with insecurity, losing the ability to love himself. In his misery he confessed, ‘My mind tells me I love you, but I can’t feel it. I just don’t know how I feel anymore.’
“For two weeks, I hung on the edge of those words, not sleeping, not tasting life. But in my anguished prayers, the Lord held out a lifeline. He helped me understand that my husband couldn’t love me until he could love himself again.
“With that insight, I found the strength to hope, to hang on. I held fast to my eternal sense of John’s worth, to the son the Lord loved so dearly.
“When he lashed out at his wrong choices and himself, I quietly reaffirmed my faith in him. Repeated words of love and faith over two months finally broke through John’s negative self-image. We emerged from the experience more strongly committed to each other.
“John freely admits that without the unwavering commitment and love he felt from me during those months, he doesn’t know where he would be, where we would be.”
The final refuge for all of us is the Savior’s love. His atonement was the perfect expression of love and commitment. He marked the path we all must follow if we are to gain the commitment and vision necessary to endure to the end in love. “Love one another,” he told us, “as I have loved you.” (John 15:12.)
And there is the key. The Savior sees each of us as we are, knowing who we can become, but loving us as we are. He beholds us with perfect vision and welcomes us with love that is both patient and eternal.
That kind of Christlike love, that kind of vision and commitment, gives us the room to sort through our false expectations and emerge with an ever-growing capacity to share the gifts of life eternally.