One Sunday afternoon when I was a bishop, a very disillusioned woman came to talk with me. She and her large family had recently moved into our ward. She related that while growing up she had been taught many times that if she lived a faithful life and sought spiritual guidance, she would find her “one and only eternal companion,” and that temple marriage and righteous living would guarantee her a successful marriage. She had tried to follow this counsel, but after many years of an apparently happy marriage, her husband abandoned her for another woman, leaving her with many children and no financial foundation.
“What went wrong?” she asked. “Doesn’t God keep his promises?”
After attending to her feelings of pain and confusion, I reassured her of God’s love and suggested that the problem wasn’t with God or with her, but with her former husband—and with people who had led her to believe some things that just aren’t so.
Certainly studies do indicate a lower percentage of divorce among those who marry in the temple. (See Ensign, July 1984, p. 79.) But although temple marriage seems to be a significant aid in keeping partners together, it doesn’t guarantee a permanent bond.
The gospel promises no “one and only.” (See Ensign, June 1977, pp. 39–41.) However, it does teach us how to build meaningful marriages. Revelation may guide you to marry someone who potentially will remain a good companion. But that individual is a free agent and may choose to reject his potential. He is free to violate covenants by committing blatant acts or by complacently letting a relationship wither.
The only path to a successful marriage is a husband and a wife who unselfishly work together to make it so. Those who sit back and expect the Lord to make a marriage succeed will probably be disappointed. Those who work hard but have a companion who will not cooperate will have the Lord’s guidance and support. If they continue to live righteously, nothing will be withheld from them in the eternities.
This woman’s disillusionment is but one example of the many myths that people have about marriage. Let’s consider some others.
People do change; however, the most accurate prediction of the kind of companion your spouse will be in the future is the kind of companion he is right now. Those who marry a person with the intention of overhauling her personality or of converting him usually face serious disappointments.
There are temporary crises that must be endured, times when stress is high and patience and sacrifice are required. But often what we see as a temporary crisis is really part of our chosen life-style. A man who postpones spending time with his wife and family until he is less busy may never find that time. To postpone nourishing your family relationships may mean losing them. I know many men and women who have sacrificed outstanding careers and even Church opportunities to preserve enduring, meaningful family relationships. They do not regret their decisions.
The underlying assumption here is “I certainly am not at fault.” The only person we can really change is ourself. The Savior has told us that we cannot see to remove the mote in someone else’s eye until we have removed the beam from our own. (See Matt. 7:3–5.) Seeing the beam—our weaknesses—may not be easy, but finding and removing them from our lives will do much more to strengthen a marriage than dwelling on our partner’s faults.
I knew a woman who was offended by some of her husband’s hygiene practices. When she finally opened up to him, she was surprised at his relief. He hadn’t been able to figure out why she had become so cold to him, and interpreted that she had simply stopped loving him. Love does not automatically sweep away personal differences and the possibility for misunderstanding; but it does provide a foundation for the sharing of feelings without fear of having those feelings rejected or abused.
It is easy to assume that ours is the most accurate view of things and that once we straighten our spouse out, the problem will be solved. Actually, in most conflicts, each position is “right” depending on one’s point of view. Our challenge is not to convince the other he or she is wrong, but to understand our spouse’s point of view. Knowing my wife’s point of view equips me to more effectively share my own perspective. We may not fully agree all the time, but listening and trying to understand shows that we care. Most people, in fact, are more apt to listen to someone who cares than to someone who is “right.”
It is natural to experience differences in opinion whenever we honestly interact with others. The key to unity in marriage is not an absence of conflict, but a commitment to things greater than self—our marriage, our family, the Savior. My wife and I have some strong conflicts in ideas at times, but we are more committed to our relationship than to the winning of a particular argument. Because of this commitment, our differences of opinion have often brought us closer to each other. They do not always bring about full agreement, but they do help us to understand and know each other at a deeper level and to focus on our common goals.
The Savior taught that “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me.” (3 Ne. 11:29.) The contentious person “knows” he is right. He does not listen. He is too busy defending his own ego and proving his spouse wrong to consider her feelings or ideas. You can experience disagreement without contention if you are sensitive to the other’s feelings and ideas and are “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” (James 1:19.)
We sometimes equate the euphoria we feel during courtship with real love. Then, in marriage, when conflicts emerge, we feel we have made a mistake. Most happily married couples have had to work out difficulties with each other—they may even have struggled through short periods when they did not particularly like each other. In spite of how they felt, though, they stayed committed to the relationship. Instead of worrying about their negative feelings, they focused on loving behavior, which ultimately resulted in a depth of love that they hadn’t realized was possible.
Honesty and trust are essential to marriage, but “letting it all hang out” can be harmful. What is your goal in sharing these feelings? If you are trying to “make him pay for what he has done” or to “show her how stupid she really is,” then you may destroy your relationship. You may seem to feel better after you vent your feelings, but the long term results may leave you feeling worse.
On the other hand, if you are sharing because you care about your companion and want to build your relationship, then how you feel is just one consideration. Your companion’s feelings and reactions will be important to you also. The caring spouse not only shares, but also asks and listens.
Timing is important in sharing feelings. If my wife has had a bad day and is exhausted and discouraged when I get home, the last thing she needs is my criticism. Later in the evening, after I have helped her clean up and put the kids to bed, she may be better able to respond to my concerns.
Remember that some things may be better left unsaid. I look back at the many times I was tempted to explode at my wife over petty things that seemed big at the moment. I am grateful for those times that I bit my lip and let them pass. But I am also grateful for those painfully intimate moments when I took the leap and shared significant negative feelings as clearly and as gently as I could. It is not easy to tell the difference between the petty and the significant. I have found that if an irritation persists and seems to be a wedge in the relationship, then it should be shared.
A husband came home grumpy from work, criticized his wife from his TV chair while she struggled to get the kids to bed, and then expected some intimate affection from her. When she shared her frustration with him, he rationalized, “I had a bad day at work.”
A bad day or miserable feelings never justify rude or unkind behavior. Our Savior is the example. His life was full of “bad days.” People sought to catch him in his words; they accepted him when he fed them and left him when his doctrines seemed hard; they eventually took his life. Yet he never used those experiences as an excuse to belittle or hurt others.
False assumptions can damage, even destroy, a marriage. It is vital that couples look at their perceptions of marriage in light of gospel truths in order to reject the myths and develop a loving relationship that will last forever.
After reading “Marriage Myths” individually or as a couple, you may want to discuss the following questions and ideas.
1. This article discusses ten false assumptions about marriage. What others could you list?
2. Which of these have seemed to influence your relationship with your husband or wife?
3. How can differences of opinion become bonds rather than wedges in marriage? How is it possible to disagree without being contentious?
4. Select a “myth” that relates to your relationship with your spouse and discuss how you replaced it with a sound perspective and love.