For Latter-day Saint men of marrying age, the decision to marry has its own peculiar concerns. These concerns have to do with a man’s confidence in being a capable husband and father, his understanding of how the priesthood operates in the home, and his ideas about what the women he dates expect of marriage.
A Brigham Young University master’s thesis identified four basic reasons many men in the United States aged twenty-five to twenty-nine remain single. All four give rise to a fear of marriage:
They are two to three times more likely than single women to have had unhappy childhoods. Many grew up in homes in which there were such problems as alcoholism, infidelity, poor credit, poor providers and homemakers. Men from these families are more often comfortable being alone.
They want to be better qualified than the women they marry. The current trend of women seeking degrees makes some men feel that they have fewer available choices than in the past.
They fear failure, lack ability to make a commitment, feel financially inadequate, or experience conflict between career goals and marriage.
They indicate an inability to find the right person to marry. (Stephen F. Duncan, “Perceived Reasons for Singleness in a Select Male Population,” master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1985.)
My work in Church education has kept me close to men and women of marrying age. Over the years, I have watched with interest the process of dating, courtship, and marriage. Generally, I find that women want to find husbands, but many do little dating. Those I’ve talked with were extremely concerned about marriage. On the other hand, many of the male returned missionaries—two, three, four, or more years after their missions—have not been earnestly seeking a marriage companion.
For this reason, and because of a stake assignment, I conducted a survey of 250 returned missionaries in my university stake regarding their attitudes about marriage. The survey shows some of the ways that eligible men in the Church differ from other single men in the U.S.:
The overwhelming majority of returned missionaries were reared by their natural parents, perceive that their parents are in love, and feel fully accepted in their home.
Over 80 percent desire to marry as soon as they find the proper companion.
Ninety percent do not believe that there is just “one woman” who could be their “right” marriage partner.
Forty percent date at least weekly, but 10 percent date only once a semester or less.
Only 10 percent are reluctant to marry because of poor parental example or because they possess a fearful attitude toward marriage.
Respondents indicated a reluctance to marry as soon as possible because of financial concerns (60 percent), particularity about the person they marry (55 percent), a desire to be closer to graduation (30 percent), and a feeling of inadequacy for marriage (20 percent).
Many returned missionaries wrote that one obstacle to finding a marriage partner was that women now want to accomplish more before marriage and thus postpone marriage for a few years. Other comments about how parents, leaders, and teachers affected their attitudes about marriage were quite revealing:
“Finding a marriage partner is difficult because of all the ‘hype’ in our LDS society about getting married. After feeling as if I should get married, trying to force a marriage with a girl I didn’t love and having panic and disorder result from the breakup, I realized that marriage is not the solution to a young man’s problems. We should emphasize solving our problems before we get married.”
“Marriage is a goal that I am striving to meet, but past family experience has given me worries as to my adequacy.”
“Marriage is attractive yet frightening. It must be wonderful, but I have known so many people who have made mistakes in choosing a partner that I’m afraid I could learn to resent or even hate someone I thought I had loved before.”
“Marriage is supposed to be a wonderful institution, but it looks like a lot of work. It is appealing, in a way, to not date and thus avoid the responsibility of looking for a marriage partner. This, for me, is largely a result of fear about marriage. Sometimes married couples don’t look very happy to me, and that worries me.”
In spite of these fears, returned missionaries are encouraged to seek a wife. “Every person should want to be married,” said Elder Spencer W. Kimball. “There are some who might not be able to, but every person should want to be married because that is what God in heaven planned for us. …
“Missionaries should begin to think marriage when they return from their missions. … There seems to be an increasing number who abandon the idea of marriage. …
“There will be many excuses, of course: ‘I could not support a wife and go to college.’ … ‘I thought it would be proper to wait a few years for my marriage and my children.’ What the Lord will say to these excuses we can only imagine. We are sure he will at least say, ‘You have not placed first things first.’” (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982, pp. 291–92.)
Returned missionaries who struggle with marriage fears need the power of faith in order to build confidence in marriage relationships. I am convinced that the following ten principles will bring that power of faith into a young man’s life. They will enable him not only to desire and prepare for marriage but also to find a worthy young woman for his eternal companion.
Come to the Lord. Latter-day Saints who put the Lord foremost in their minds and hearts are able to establish correct priorities. A sound and sure knowledge of the Atonement creates a solid foundation for righteous decision making. Jacob, after explaining the role of the Atonement, gives this impassioned plea:
“O then, my beloved brethren, come unto the Lord, the Holy One. Remember that his paths are righteous.” (2 Ne. 9:41.)
Moroni also promised that if men came to the Lord he would make their weaknesses become strengths. (Ether 12:27.) Fully accepting the Lord and experiencing a change of heart is a process that takes consistent effort, but it serves as the foundation for putting the other nine principles into practice.
Study the scriptures with constant prayer, praying to feel the Lord’s acceptance. Joseph Smith taught that the knowledge that one’s life is pleasing to the Lord is necessary for a person to have faith. (Lectures on Faith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985, pp. 67–68.) Many single men have not felt adequate acceptance in their own families, so feeling accepted by the Lord enables them to move into marriage relationships with greater confidence.
Diligent scripture study can become a means whereby a person may feel, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the Lord’s appreciation. Oliver Cowdery was told to treasure up the Lord’s words in his heart. Oliver was then told that, if he were diligent in keeping the commandments, the Lord would encircle him in the arms of his love. (D&C 6:20.) This promise is extended to all who pay the price of study and prayer.
Be pure. One of the great challenges of our times is to keep sexual innuendos from permeating our thoughts and influencing our desires. We are so saturated with messages of immorality that we must make conscientious efforts to fill our minds with whatever is uplifting and good.
Reading good books, casting off quickly the evil thoughts that come, remembering the sacredness of our covenants, and staying clear of inappropriate movies, videos, and literature will help us to help establish pure thoughts. “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45) is an appropriate scripture on which to base our efforts to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost. The sin of sexual immorality tears down our feelings of worth and isolates us from all that is good.
Cultivate a spirit of appreciation. Our current society is deadening our appreciation for individual blessings because of its emphasis on self-indulgence. Thus, it is important to constantly count one’s blessings. Those who have filled their hearts with deep appreciation for what they have are more able to see the good in others, a valuable trait in helping a marriage succeed.
Captain Moroni, when encompassed about with the challenges of war and sin, was described as “a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people.” (Alma 48:12.)
One of the best ways to develop this swelling of the heart is to enumerate the blessings that one enjoys and then express thanks to God and to others. It is especially helpful to express appreciation to those who receive little thanks for what they do.
Do not compare yourself with other people. One of the things a young man must do is recognize his own uniqueness. That way he does not worry unduly about competition from others. Every person has unique qualities and capabilities that will bring specific blessings to a relationship, and every person should learn what those qualities and capabilities are.
Serve others for righteous reasons. Church callings and opportunities to serve will benefit any young man searching for his future sweetheart. The payment of tithes and offerings, an active concern for those one home teaches, and small acts of kindness on a regular basis will help a man establish habits that can benefit his marriage greatly and enable him to love more fully.
Cultivate friendships with individuals you can listen to and share with. One of the great blessings of true friendship is being able to communicate about sacred and meaningful things in a trusting way. If a young man practices listening with his heart, he will be able to empathize with his friends—male or female—who will in turn be able to do the same for him.
One of the most important and fulfilling aspects of family life is the empathic listening that occurs among spouses and children. The times when couples share their heart-felt thoughts become some of the most sacred moments of marriage. The ability to listen and share is valuable to all future family relationships.
Date regularly, but date those who have similar interests. The old adage that we marry whom we date is true. A young man is wise to be selective—but not so selective that he doesn’t date different young women on a regular basis. A single man would do well to notice in the women he meets the things that seem compatible with his standards and interests. Mutual interests, commitments, and personality traits can make for enjoyable dating experiences and lasting friendships.
Be prepared to choose, using a proper balance between agency and inspiration. Elder Boyd K. Packer said this about choosing a marriage companion:
“While I am sure some young couples have some special guidance in getting together, I do not believe in predestined love. If you desire the inspiration of the Lord in this crucial decision, you must live the standards of the Church, and you must pray constantly for the wisdom to recognize those qualities upon which a successful union may be based. You must do the choosing, rather than to seek for some one-and-only so-called soul mate, chosen for you by someone else and waiting for you.” (Packer, p. 11.)
“How do you choose a wife?” Elder Bruce R. McConkie asked. “I’ve heard a lot of young people from Brigham Young University and elsewhere say, ‘I’ve got to get a feeling of inspiration. I’ve got to get some revelation. I’ve got to fast and pray and get the Lord to manifest to me whom I should marry.’ Well, maybe it will be a little shock to you, but never in my life did I ever ask the Lord whom I ought to marry. It never occurred to me to ask him. I went out and found the girl I wanted; she suited me; I evaluated and weighed the proposition, and it just seemed a hundred percent to me as though this ought to be. Now, if I’d done things perfectly, I’d have done some counseling with the Lord, which I didn’t do; but all I did was pray to the Lord and ask for some guidance and direction in connection with the decision I’d reached.” (“Agency or Inspiration—Which?” Speeches of the Year, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1973, p. 111.)
Forgive everyone, especially those who may be partly responsible for your fear of marriage. The Lord requires that we forgive everyone, and the key to forgiving everyone is forgiving those who have hurt us deeply. For us to be spiritually and emotionally healthy, the spirit of forgiveness should permeate every relationship we have. It doesn’t matter whether the person being forgiven responds in a loving manner; we need to let go of our inner pain.
Blaming others cannot solve problems and may cause them to continue indefinitely. Fasting and prayer for the power of forgiveness is an integral part of the process of reconciliation. With forgiveness—whether we receive it or give it—comes peace and confidence that will allow us to appreciate more fully what the Master has done for us.
Faith in the Lord allows young people to go to the marriage altar confident that they can enjoy a successful marriage together. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke of the importance of faith and determination in marriage:
“May I say that almost all marriages could be beautiful, harmonious, happy, and eternal ones, if the two people primarily involved would determine that it should be, that it must be, that it will be.” (“Marriage Is Honorable,” Speeches of the Year, Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1973, p. 257.)
As a young man commits himself to grow in the faith, he will develop feelings about marriage similar to those expressed by one participant in my stake survey:
“Marriage is an equal partnership with God, instituted for the benefit of the man and woman to assist each other in returning to our Father in Heaven. It can be a great power and means of expressing love and doing good to others.”