Stage Sets and Scribbling: How Personal Growth Enhances Marriage


I recall once telling a friend that I keep falling in love with the same man, over and over again.

“How can you do that?” she asked.

“I guess it’s because he keeps changing, and I keep changing. We are always becoming. The discovery process continues, and every so often I realize that my husband is so much more than the man I married.

“When I was first married I thought I knew all about my husband, but as time went on and we grew up together, I found in him new colors and qualities of character. It is really quite exciting.”

My feelings may seem startling to some. For them, marriage has become a living arrangement with none of the joys of real companionship. Yet my husband and I have discovered that while we still struggle on the road to marital bliss, marriage can be rich and fulfilling. Perhaps an insight or two we have discovered along the way may prove helpful.

Obtain a Greater Endowment of the Spirit

We have found that feelings which lead to discord in marriage can be overcome through obtaining a greater endowment of the Spirit. King Benjamin teaches that when we are “filled with the love of God,” we “will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably.” (Mosiah 4:12, 13.) When we have the Spirit in our lives, we have a greater capacity to feel this type of love.

Criticalness, impatience, depression, discouragement, and hopelessness may be the result of a spiritual “low”—a lack of the Spirit. One woman shared a bleak picture of her marriage. She had been abandoned by her first husband and had raised her three children alone. Then, after years of being single, she married again. But the adjustment was not easy. At times she wondered if life was not simpler and easier living alone.

Then she became aware of the fruits of the Spirit that could be obtained through diligence in prayer and service. She glowed with renewed enthusiasm as she told me, “My whole life has changed! I cannot believe the difference. When I spend time each morning reading the scriptures and other good books and pray for the Spirit to attend me throughout the day, I am filled with love, peace, and confidence.

“Although the problems in my marriage haven’t diminished, the frustration is gone. Somehow I’ve been given the faith that if I’m true to myself and seek his Spirit, things will work out. I’ve never been happier.”

Because we are not perfect people, we will always need to fine-tune our lives for greater harmony both individually and as husband and wife. And while we should not run from or ignore problems, having our hearts filled with the Spirit will often dilute most of them. With an abundance of the Spirit in our hearts, our desire and motivation will always be to build up or edify our relationship and our spouse.

In times when my own marriage has seemed less than ideal, my husband and I have found it helpful to ask ourselves the following questions:

1. Am I filled with love, compassion, and understanding?

2. Am I concerned with a particular problem, but otherwise hopeful? (Words such as “you always,” and “you never” imply that you believe change cannot occur. But faith in another that he or she can improve is a characteristic of one who has the Spirit.)

3. Can I honestly say that I have experienced the fruits of the Spirit in my life recently?

4. Am I at peace with myself—pleased with my rate of progress? (Often we become disgruntled with others as a reaction to our displeasure with ourselves.)

Never Give Up the Quest to Become

We have discovered that our marriage is most vibrant when each of us is true to that inner voice that whispers, “Go forth, progress, learn, develop, become.” The renewal process of marriage begins with the renewal process of the individual.

President Gordon B. Hinckley recently gave the women of the Church some counsel which applies equally well to men. “In very large measure each of us holds the key to the blessings of the Almighty upon us. If we wish the blessing, we must pay the price. A part of that price lies in being faithful. Faithful to what? Faithful to ourselves, to the very best that is within us. No woman can afford to demean herself, to belittle herself, to downgrade her abilities or her capacities. Let each be faithful to the great, divine attributes that are within her.” (Ensign, Nov. 1984, p. 90.)

There seems to be something within each of us that becomes frustrated when we cease to grow—intellectually, socially, spiritually, and physically. In a sense, our greatest obligation and responsibility is to be true to ourselves—to discover, with the help of the Lord, that which we should focus on. We cannot hope that marital happiness will suffice for personal progress, for without progress there will be no happiness.

Growth, in whatever area, has enhanced our individual lives and our marriage as we have learned to support each other. Several years ago I contemplated the possibility of attending a summer session at Brigham Young University to continue my college education. The term was five weeks long and the four children would accompany me. My husband, however, would be able to join us only occasionally. I wrestled with this decision—wanting the knowledge, yet already aching with homesickness for my husband. Then there were those who criticized my plans.

In response to the criticism my husband said, “Why do you worry about what others think? There are really only two considerations. The first is whether or not you feel your Heavenly Father would be pleased, and you’ve felt in your heart that he would be. The second is whether or not I’ll support you—and I do. I know that whatever you learn will benefit our family. Go for it!”

And his support did not stop at words. A few summers later while at BYU I frantically called my husband at home in California. “Honey,” I said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m too sick with morning sickness to keep my mind on my studies, and I can’t bear the kitchen; just the sight of the refrigerator and stove makes me feel nauseous. I keep sending the children to the cafeteria for dinner. I can’t go on like this.”

He responded with, “I’ll begin a fast for you tomorrow.” That was the last day of my morning sickness.

Another time, when I was at home again, my husband came home to find me behind the typewriter. “Hi,” I said, “I’m writing something that’s really good. It’s coming like rain from heaven. Would you mind fixing dinner?”

He smiled and responded, “How ‘bout French toast?”

While it seems that my inner voice calls me to the classroom, books, and degrees, my husband’s directs him to the development of manual skills. I remember the time he was asked to build a stage set for a dramatic production. He had no idea how to go about it, so he went to the library and came home loaded with books on building stage sets. The next day he went to work on a tri-level house set that was so beyond the call of duty that when the curtain went up the audience applauded for several minutes in appreciation and astonishment.

Another time, he decided that it would be in the best interest of business to learn to pilot an airplane. He would be able to spend less time in traveling—and the challenge would be exciting. Within a few months he had his license and we were on our way to general conference, barnstorming over Nevada.

Eight years ago we bought a rickety old farmhouse—with square nails, hand-rolled windows, one bath, and an unsteady rhythmic motion. Our task was to make this unlivable house a home for a family of twelve. My husband caught the vision—tear out the existing cantilever bathroom, the kitchen, and dining and living rooms; tie the barn to the main house and make it into a kitchen; tear off the shaky porch and replace it with brick. The task was monumental, but finally we stood on the lawn, looked up at our masterpiece and sighed, “We did it.”

There were times when I asked Norm, “Why do you feel that you have to do this yourself?” He would answer, “Because I enjoy doing it; besides, we don’t have the money to pay anyone.”

I accepted that answer, but I realized that there was more involved than the saving of money or a chance to build talents. He was growing—my husband was becoming. That feeling of exhilaration is a product of personal sacrifice and triumph.

And where there is personal triumph there is also marriage triumph and family triumph. Our lives are intertwined; the growth and success of one contributes to the growth and success of all. There is excitement in the air of the home when the individuals are growing, becoming, learning, aspiring—and sharing that growth with the other members of the family. In the realm of marriage, dropouts do little to contribute to the health and vitality of the relationship.

We have learned that to have this kind of marriage—one that contributes to and grows from personal development—we need to let go for growth’s sake. It takes time to develop, and often requires time alone—time to exercise, time to think, time to read, time to study, time to pray.

However, sharing is also a vital part of this growth if it is to enrich the marriage relationship. Without it, our pursuits become selfish endeavors that separate us from our spouse and our children. We must not only grow, but give. Norm and I call this “cross-fertilizing,” or participating in the other’s growth. For instance, my husband has a love and understanding of classical music that I did not share when we were first married. In time I have developed an appreciation for “his” music—now it is “our” music. A real treat for us—a time to be together in our marriage—is to escape for an evening at the San Francisco Opera house.

I seem to have a natural thirst for the written word, and through the years, I have gathered bits of truth and insight here and there. Whenever my husband has a talk to give, he will ask, “What do you have on this subject?” Consequently, my drawers and boxes of quotes have contributed to his success as a speaker.

Love and learning—these two keys have worked to bring success to our marriage. When we seek diligently for the fruits of the Spirit, we are filled with love, compassion, tenderness, and affection—all the qualities of a rich marriage. And if we strive to be faithful to the very best within us, we enrich our own lives and complement the lives of our loved ones. We become a working whole, each with his or her contribution, striving to grow and become one—with our spouse and with our Father in Heaven.

Let’s Talk about It

After you have read “Stage Sets and Scribbling,” you may want to discuss the following ideas and questions as husband and wife.

1. How does one gain “a greater endowment of the Spirit?” This article mentions prayer, service, and scriptural study. What else would you add, based on your experience?

2. What do the scriptures say about personal growth? What part does it play in the plan of salvation? What part does it play in marriage?

3. President Hinckley has encouraged us to be “faithful to the very best that is within us.” How can you discover the best in yourselves? And how can you help each other stretch toward your potential as individuals and as husband and wife?

4. The article points out that if personal growth is to enrich the marriage relationship, you must share in each other’s growing experiences. What could you do to improve the ways in which you share your growth with each other?

[photos] Photography by Michael M. McConkie

Mollie Hobaugh Sorensen, mother of ten, is a Sunday School teacher in the Napa (California) First Ward.