They had been married for thirteen years and had five children. Things had gone smoothly in their marriage—but then Phil unexpectedly lost his job. After several discouraging months of job hunting, he began to feel something was wrong with him.
As time passed, his discouragement started to affect other areas of his life. He began blaming the Lord for not helping him—and his prayers and scripture study suffered. His church attendance dropped because he felt that everyone was against him. The more he rebelled, however, the worse he felt about himself.
Home life suffered, too. Feeling that he was failing his family, he began spending less time at home in order to avoid Karen and the kids. When he was home, he usually lost himself in front of the TV.
Karen didn’t know how to help. Every time she tried to talk to him about it, he interpreted what she said as a put-down, and they usually ended up arguing.
Finally they decided they’d better go to their bishop for help. It wasn’t hard for the bishop to recognize that Phil’s low self-esteem was a major part of the problem. “Low self-esteem can wreck a marriage,” he told Phil, “because the feelings we have about ourselves usually determine the way we feel about others. If we don’t love ourselves, it’s impossible to show much love for anybody else—especially our spouse.
“Now, you may be expecting me to give you a secret cure for low self-esteem,” he continued. “But I’ve discovered that the best remedy is found right in the gospel. The only secret is that it’s been here all along and many of us don’t see it.”
“Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” is the first step—faith in his gospel, in his promises, in his ability to help us. Faith in the Lord leads us to faith in ourselves. It helps us see ourselves as the spirit offspring of God, created in his image, and as gods in embryo with tremendous potential and worth. “What a difference it would make,” President Harold B. Lee once said, “if we really sensed our divine relationship to God, our Heavenly Father, our relationship to Jesus Christ, our Savior and our elder brother, and our relationship to each other.” (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 6.)
Often we become so concerned with immediate problems—a sick child, a lost job, our weaknesses—that we fail to see the good we do accomplish and our potential for doing even better. But faith can restore our vision. It can show us who we are, who our spouse and children are, and what our potential is. It can help us try harder to overcome our difficulties.
President Spencer W. Kimball has explained that “we knew before we were born that we were coming to the earth for bodies and experiences and that we would have joys and sorrows, ease and pain, comforts and hardships, health and sickness, successes and disappointments, and we knew also that after a period of life we would die. We accepted all these eventualities with a glad heart, eager to accept both the favorable and unfavorable. We eagerly accepted the chance to come earthward even though it might be for only a day or a year. … We were willing to take life as it came and as we might organize and control it, and this without murmur, complaint, or unreasonable demands.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972, p. 106.)
Another stumbling block to self-esteem—one that Phil was struggling with—is the idea that God gives us problems as punishment for something we’ve done wrong. But the Lord says, “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.) Our weaknesses are not punishments, but means to a greater strength.
As we develop faith, we are better able to keep adverse circumstances from overcoming us and ruining our marriages. Even though problems arise, faith can help us remember that we are still worthwhile and that we have much to offer. Circumstances don’t need to lower self-esteem or “justify” unkindness to others.
The bishop continued: “Phil, some people would tell you there’s nothing you can do about your situation, that ‘the world’ has treated you unfairly. That point of view would seem to justify your negative attitude toward the Lord and your family. Blaming others for your problems would then be the logical thing to do.
“But faith leads to repentance,” he said. “And for you, that means accepting responsibility for your behavior, not blaming others, and conforming to the Lord’s commandments.”
Our conscience is a powerful reminder of what we should and shouldn’t be doing; it won’t allow peace of mind if we continually rationalize our sins. Repentance and obedience to the Lord’s commandments are inseparably connected with self-esteem.
Keeping the commandments also leads to love in marriage: “To be really happy in marriage,” said President Spencer W. Kimball, “there must be a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life. … A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable.” (Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976, pp. 23–24.)
A stinging conscience can indeed destroy self-esteem and damage a marriage. However, as we become honest with ourselves and with the Lord, we realize our need for repentance. And as we repent, feelings of guilt leave—and love for the Lord, our spouses, and ourselves can then flow freely.
The Book of Enos shows how self-esteem enables us to love others. Enos had often heard his father speak of the joy that comes from qualifying for eternal life. One day he decided that he would like to experience this joy himself. “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
“And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
“And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.”
With the security Enos now felt, knowing he was acceptable to the Lord, his thoughts immediately turned to his friends. Now, it came to pass that when I had heard these words I began to feel a desire for the welfare of my brethren, the Nephites; wherefore, I did pour out my whole soul unto God for them.” (Enos 1:4–6, 9.)
Repentance helps us see ourselves honestly. It helps us stop deceiving ourselves into blaming others for our own mistakes. And in helping us feel better about ourselves, it frees us to concentrate on the welfare of others, particularly that of our spouse.
“Baptism,” continued the bishop, “symbolizes our being born again as sons and daughters of Christ with a commitment to a new way of life. We renew that rebirth each week as we partake of the sacrament.” This weekly opportunity “allows us,” said Elder David B. Haight, “to experience a personal relationship to God and enlarges our knowledge and understanding of Him and His Only Begotten Son.” (Ensign, May 1983, p. 14.)
If we truly develop that relationship with deity, the Spirit responds, by entering our lives. Said Elder Melvin J. Ballard: I am a witness that there is a spirit attending the administration of the sacrament that warms the soul from head to foot; you feel the wounds of the spirit being healed, and the load being lifted. Comfort and happiness come to the soul that is worthy and truly desirous of partaking of this spiritual food.” (Crusader for Righteousness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1966, p. 133.)
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost, the Comforter, can bless us with self-respect as we honor the promises we make at baptism and during the sacrament. The Spirit can then permeate our relationships with others—especially marriage, the most sacred of relationships.
“If we’re true to our covenants,” the bishop told Phil, “the Holy Ghost will guide us in dealing with problems. Daily we can call upon heaven for the support we need in overcoming our burdens.”
When adversity, confusion, and unrighteousness buffet us, “nothing short of the guidance of the Holy Spirit can bring us through safely,” said President Marion G. Romney. And no matter what problems we may be facing, “the Holy Spirit brings peace to all who follow it.” (Ensign, Jan. 1980, pp. 2, 4.)
As we recognize and follow the whisperings of the Spirit, we learn to encourage our spouse through the difficult times—and our marriages are strengthened instead of threatened. “Of all that can bless marriages,” said Elder James E. Faust, “there is one special enriching ingredient, which above all else will help join a man and a woman together in a very real, sacred, spiritual sense. It is the presence of the divine in marriage. … Having the companionship and enjoying the fruits of a Holy and Divine Presence is the kernel of a great happiness in marriage. Spiritual oneness is the anchor.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 10–11.)
“Understanding and applying the principles and ordinances of the gospel won’t solve all our problems,” the bishop concluded. “But faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost can do much in helping us deal with them. As we apply them in our lives, our self-esteem and our ability to cope with adversity will be strengthened. And as we apply them in our marriages, our relationships will flourish.”
Let’s Talk About It
After reading “How Gospel Truths Enhance Self-esteem in Marriage,” you may wish to discuss some of these ideas and questions with your husband or wife:
1. Why is self-esteem so important for a successful marriage?
2. How can “faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” lead to faith in ourselves?
3. Discuss: “Repentance helps us see ourselves honestly. It helps us stop deceiving ourselves into blaming others for our own mistakes.”
4. Discuss the fruits of the Spirit that can be given to those who honor their baptismal covenants and seek the influence of the Holy Ghost. (See Gal. 5:22–23.) How can these fruits enhance a marriage?
Terry R. Baker, father of eight, is Young Men president in his Friendswood, Texas, ward. He has a Ph.D. in Family Relations.