Finding Marital Unity through the Scriptures

Print Share

    They hadn’t been married very long, but they were having some “little” problems and wanted their bishop’s advice. The bishop decided to talk to them separately first to assess their individual perceptions of the difficulties.

    Among other things, Janet complained, Jim’s tastes for expensive seafood were exerting a strain on their already limited budget.

    When it was Jim’s turn, he complained that Janet insisted on cooking a lot of dishes with expensive seafood such as crab, clams, and shrimp. “I’ve never really liked seafood,” he said.

    The bishop laughed. “It looks like you two have a slight communication problem,” he said. He invited the two to talk about it.

    “You told me the first week we were married,” Janet began, “that you loved clam chowder and the shrimp creole dish I fixed for dinner.”

    “Well, honey,” Jim said apologetically, “I guess I wasn’t totally honest with you.”

    The bishop then shared with them a diagram known as the “Johari Window,” developed by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. (See Joseph Luft, Group Processes, 2d ed., Palo Alto, California: Mayfield Publishing Co., 1970.) “This diagram won’t solve your communication problems,” he said, “but it may serve as a mirror to reflect some of the blind spots in your relationship.”

    The bishop kindly pointed out that Jim and Janet seemed to have no difficulty in some areas of their lives: they successfully shared a joint checking account, indicating financial communication; and they prayed together, studied the scriptures together, held family home evening and attended church together, indicating a strong degree of spiritual intimacy. But when it came to sharing personal feelings, they didn’t seem to be very adept. The bishop suggested that, with regard to psychological and emotional intimacy, Jim and Janet’s relationship could perhaps be depicted like this:

    The bishop then suggested that a higher level of trust within their marriage—accompanied by more open communication—could bring about a relationship that could be illustrated as follows:

    “But how do we go about opening up that window of free and intimate communication?” Jim asked. “If we always tell each other how we really feel, we’re likely to hurt one another’s feelings.”

    “The best place to go for insight into marriage is to the Lord—through prayer and the scriptures,” the bishop said. He urged them to search the scriptures to find sacred counsel on ways to strengthen their marriage. Opening the LDS edition of the Bible, he turned to the Topical Guide and pointed out several topics such as “Affection,” “Charity,” “Family, Love within,” “Friendship,” “Kindness,” “Love,” “Marriage,” “Marriage, Celestial,” “Marriage, Continuing Courtship in,” “Marriage, Fatherhood,” “Marriage, Husbands,” “Marriage, Motherhood,” and “Marriage, Wives.” And he explained that the principles found in many other scriptural passages could also be applied to marriage. Following are some scriptural insights into marital communication:

    Becoming One. “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24.) This great biblical injunction is repeated again in the Pearl of Great Price in both the books of Moses (Moses 3:24) and Abraham (Abr. 5:18). What does it mean?

    Physical unity within marriage, whereby husband and wife become co-creators with our Heavenly Father, is one important way to become one flesh. But there are also other ways in which husbands and wives can, in a symbolic sense, become one in their marriage. The Apostle Paul said: “The body is not one member, but many. …

    “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. …

    “There should be no schism in the body; but … the members should have the same care one for another.

    “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:14, 21, 25–26.)

    Although Paul was describing the need for unity among members of the Church, unity—emotional and spiritual, as well as physical—is absolutely essential to a happy marriage, one in which the partners symbolically become one in all things.

    Affection. Toward the close of his earthly ministry, the Savior gave his disciples a new commandment to “love one another; as I have loved you.” (John 13:34; italics added.) Many other scriptures counsel us to “live together in love” (D&C 42:45), and to “live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest” (Eccl. 9:9). The Apostle Paul encouraged husbands to love their wives “even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25.) And through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord again commanded each husband in Zion to “love thy wife with all thy heart, and [to] cleave unto her and none else.” (D&C 42:22.)

    Emotional Honesty. The honest sharing of one’s emotions, needs, thoughts, and beliefs is an important dimension in becoming one in marriage. Maintaining long lists of private pet peeves and secretly harboring hurt feelings are not avenues toward marital unity. Husbands and wives often feel ill at ease in sharing their true feelings about various matters for fear of hurting their mate’s feelings or becoming embroiled in attacks and counterattacks.

    However, the Apostle John teaches us that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear.” (1 Jn. 4:18.) And Paul counsels us to speak “the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15.) King Benjamin teaches us further that we should not “have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably, and to render to every man according to that which is his due.” (Mosiah 4:13.)

    In other words, an attitude of kindness and charity—of “perfect love”—is required. Before sharing your emotions, it would be well to ask yourself: “Will sharing those emotions bring us closer together? Will suppressing my feelings actually keep us apart?” There are times when the repression of rather strong feelings and beliefs can increase the social, emotional, and psychological distance between couples.

    On the other hand, couples who can, with love, express their true emotions, even when they reflect disappointment, discouragement, and anger, provide an opportunity to resolve their differences and eventually emerge with a stronger relationship than before. The important key is how one shares those emotions and feelings. Without exploding in anger or assuming an air of self-righteousness, partners should share their feelings in a manner that is sensitive, open, and kind, allowing for easy responses from each other.

    Resolving Differences As Friends. There is no better counsel given in holy writ regarding the resolution of differences than that found in section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Although the Lord was addressing the manner in which priesthood power and authority should be exercised, the same principles apply in bringing about needed changes in marriage relationships—“by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

    “By kindness, and pure knowledge.” (D&C 121:41–42.)

    “Pure knowledge” may include inspiration and a need to get all the facts straight before discussing a problem, and then sticking to the issue at hand without any overkill of the problem. “Long-suffering” indicates that couples would do well to drop the expressions “you never do that” or “you always do that.” Always and never allow very little room for change.

    Paul’s counsel to the Philippians is especially appropriate in this regard: “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (Philip. 2:3.)

    Becoming Like-minded. Paul’s counsel to the Philippians is also helpful in developing greater spiritual and intellectual intimacy in marriage: “Be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Philip. 2:2.) The Brethren have counseled on the wisdom of same-faith marriages. When couples are not like-minded about the things that matter most in life, it is extremely difficult to achieve marital happiness, “for intelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; wisdom receiveth wisdom; truth embraceth truth; virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own.” (D&C 88:40.)

    Even under the best of conditions, marriage involves the merging of two sets of free agency, two sets of family traditions, two sets of personal habits, preferences, attitudes, and beliefs. But this process of symbolically becoming one by becoming like-minded does not occur through merely living in the same house. Husbands and wives must be willing to share their innermost thoughts, needs, desires, hopes, and dreams with each other.

    They may also realize, with Orson Pratt, that the closer they are to the Lord, the closer they will be to each other: “The more righteous a people become the more they are qualified for loving others and rendering them happy. A wicked man can have but little love for his wife; while a righteous man, being filled with the love of God, is sure to manifest this heavenly attribute in every thought and feeling of his heart, and in every word and deed. Love, joy, and innocence will radiate from his very countenance, and be expressed in every look. This will beget confidence in the wife of his bosom, and she will love him in return; for love begets love; happiness imparts happiness; and these heaven born emotions will continue to increase more and more, until they are perfected and glorified in all the fulness of eternal love itself.” (The Seer, Salt Lake City: Eugene Wagner, 1960, p. 156.)

    Developing Physical Intimacy. The Lord revealed to Joseph Smith that a husband and wife “shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.” (D&C 49:16.) President Kimball reaffirmed that “the union of the sexes, husband and wife (and only husband and wife), was for the principal purpose of bringing children into the world.” He then added: “We know of no directive from the Lord that proper sexual experience between husbands and wives need be limited totally to the procreation of children.” (Ensign, Oct. 1975, p. 4.) In essence, physical intimacy within the proper bonds of marriage can and should become a spiritually bonding force within marriage.

    Unfortunately, some couples fail to realize that “sexual experiences were never intended by the Lord to be a mere plaything or merely to satisfy passions and lusts.” (Spencer W. Kimball, ibid.) When couples engage in physical intimacy devoid of emotional and spiritual intimacy, or when they participate in unholy practices, what should be a spiritually bonding element in their marriage may actually become a disruptive force. Physical intimacy is an area that the husband and wife must also discuss with complete emotional honesty, “that their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love.” (Col. 2:2.)

    Going to the scriptures and to the words of modern prophets for inspired counsel is one of the best ways husbands and wives can improve their communication and strengthen their marriage. As we seek the Lord’s help in this most important of relationships, he will bless us with greater love and understanding for each other.

    How Well Are We Communicating?

    Use this quiz as an introduction to a discussion with your husband or wife. First, respond individually on paper. Then compare and discuss your answers.

    1. My spouse and I can comfortably discuss anything that bothers us.

    Usually

    Sometimes

    Never

    2. We tend to “clam up” rather than discuss differences.

         

    3. I wish I felt more free to talk to him/her about pet peeves and “little” problems.

         

    4. I try not to let him/her know when I’m upset about something.

         

    5. When I get angry, I often say things for which I’m later very sorry.

         

    6. The frequency of our disagreements is decreasing.

         

    7. We enjoy the same kinds of books, foods, activities.

         

    8. I feel that he/she is truly a good friend.

         

    9. I wish we had thought-provoking discussions more often.

         

    10. I think I could be more sensitive to his/her needs.

         

    11. I wish he/she would demonstrate his/her affection for me more openly.

         

    12. I wish I felt free to demonstrate my affection for my mate more openly.

         

    13. The physical intimacy within our marriage draws us close spiritually and emotionally.

         

    14. I wish our lives were more spiritually oriented.

         

    15. I feel we are making good progress towards making our marriage what we want it to be.

         

    [photos] Photography by Jed A. Clark

    Spencer J. Condie, professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, is currently on leave while he serves as mission president in Vienna, Austria.