“What makes the difference in a marriage?” I asked myself as I watched the couples of our ward come into the chapel for sacrament meeting. Some were newlyweds and some were elderly couples so well-adjusted to each other that they looked and talked alike. But many were couples very much like my husband and me—with children in various stages of growth, a mortgage, career, and Church callings adding to the challenges of living.
There was a time when I naively thought that every temple marriage automatically continued “happily ever after.” But I have come to realize that all marriages are not equal. Throughout the Church, we can find marriages ranging from those charged with unparalleled fulfillment to those steeped in bitter disillusionment. Marriages have their ups and downs—times of great contentment and personal growth, yet other times of frustration and stagnation.
So what makes a strong marriage? The answers are as varied as the people who give them: Always think of your partner before yourself, take time away from children and responsibilities, never go to bed angry, marry the right person, be the right kind of husband or wife.
Love, unselfishness, continued courtship, open communication, righteousness—these all make a difference in marriage. But I am convinced that success in marriage starts with trust.
According to LDS counselor Carlfred Broderick, the “really rewarding … experiences in life are to be found in trusting and enduring relationships. Security and stability, integrity and inner peace, certainty of another person’s commitment—these are profoundly satisfying things.” (Couples, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979, pp. 158–59.)
Trust is as central to a happy marriage as faith is to a testimony. If trust is strong and secure, the marriage can grow and flourish despite difficulties and crises. But if trust is weak or erratic, then the marriage will crumble under the pressures of daily life.
To really understand the importance of trust in marriage, we need to consider trust in oneself as a marriage partner, trust in one’s spouse, trust in marriage itself, and trust in the Lord.
Trust in a marriage partnership begins with trust in oneself. Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard speaks of the “leap of faith” that every person must make when embracing Christianity. We take a similar “leap” when we marry and commit ourselves to a person we have known for only a short time.
This leap of faith into marriage requires a high level of trust in ourselves. Marriage is an affirmation both of personal worth and of potential growth. By exchanging vows, we say to our spouse, “I see in you, as I see in myself, a wonderful, lovable person. I believe we can grow together and share the blessings of eternity.” The realization that someone has chosen us and loves us can do much to enhance our self-esteem and self-confidence.
The Doctrine and Covenants also tells us that, if we develop love for all mankind and let virtue govern our thoughts, our confidence will increase: “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.)
What a blessing it is to have a faithful spouse! And how devastating it is for a husband or wife to be constantly suspicious of each other’s actions! Shakespeare, in The Winter’s Tale, illustrates this well. The marriage of Leontes and Hermione, the King and Queen of Sicilia, breaks up when Leontes cannot believe his wife to be as good and gracious as she is. In order to revive the marriage, he is told, “it is required you do awake your faith.” (Act 5, sc. 3, l. 11.) Marriage is not only a promise of mutual fidelity, but also a promise of mutual trust in that fidelity.
But trust in one’s spouse involves more than just an assurance that he or she is morally faithful. We must also have confidence in each other’s integrity, intelligence, abilities, and potential. In fact, a lack of trust in the small, mundane aspects of life can eventually damage a marriage just as much as a lack of trust in fidelity. The daily nagging, second-guessing, and withholding of support can erode love until no foundation of trust is left.
Many experiences in my own marriage have convinced me that couples need to create a bond of trust. Recently, my husband and I were talking about buying a personal computer. My husband was excited about the possibilities, but I was apprehensive about the cost. However, we had agreed long ago that neither of us would make a major purchase without the other’s agreement. So my husband, true to his promise, delayed purchase while the discussion continued.
Eventually I became so impressed with his faithfulness to our agreement that I consented, even though I still wasn’t convinced we needed a computer. We did spend a lot of money, but the computer has proved to be more enjoyable and useful than I imagined. Even more important, I feel that the strengthened trust we developed in each other’s integrity and judgment was worth far more than the cost of the computer.
I have found that trust in my spouse does not require that we agree in every decision—that is simply unrealistic. It does mean, however, that I securely trust his efforts and good intentions. Then when differences occur, communication and compromise can take place in an atmosphere of good will and love. For both of us, forgiveness and tolerance have become important manifestations of that basic trust. In such an environment, despite occasional errors in judgment, our trust has remained high, our love and understanding have flourished, and our marriage bonds have become stronger. The trust that we have invested in each other has yielded a rich return.
Marriage is a process; the wedding ceremony is only the event that begins it. Marriage is a lifetime of struggling together to become one. Indeed, it is often the struggle itself that strengthens our union and knits our hearts together.
A girlhood experience helped me to understand how struggle can strengthen us. My family raised chukars, a game bird. My brothers and sisters and I spent hours gazing at the eggs in the incubator, waiting to see the birds break out of their shells. The first time we watched the eggs hatch, we felt sorry for the little birds. It seemed to take so long and be so grueling. (We didn’t know then that chukar fledglings take from 48 to 72 hours just to break out of their shells.) We were afraid that the fledglings’ strength would not be equal to the task.
So we helped them a bit. As the chukars began to hatch, we carefully chipped away bits of the shells to make it a little easier for them. We were thrilled when the first chukars emerged from their shells! But to our horror, we saw that every one of the birds had deformed feet. Over the next few days, the chukars died, unable to walk to their food or water.
We were grief-stricken when we learned that our kindhearted assistance had caused the problem. The energy the chicks spend breaking through their eggshells strengthens and develops their legs, feet, and neck, so that they can run around and maintain their balance when they finally emerge. Our attempts to make it easier for the birds destroyed them.
The same is true of marriage. By meeting the challenges, facing the difficulties, and working things out together, we grow closer to becoming one. If we have trust that marriage is a unifying process, we realize that the inevitable problems and conflicts that arise are stepping-stones and not obstacles.
There is in all of us something of the “natural man” spoken of by King Benjamin. (See Mosiah 3:19.) Because of the Fall, we are all subject to the enticements of Satan. The more we succumb to those enticements, the more “carnal, sensual, and devilish” we become. (See Mosiah 16:3.) But Christ’s atonement offers us a chance to be reborn as his spiritual sons and daughters and to receive from him the power of eternal life. Without his atonement, we would be lost forever; with it, we can inherit all that God has. As we learn of the Atonement and as our faith in the Savior increases, we experience the cleansing effects of repentance and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Our sense of self-worth increases.
In Mosiah 4, King Benjamin describes the transformations that will occur in our lives if we base our trust firmly on the atoning power of the Savior. We will have no mind to injure one another, he says, but we will want to live peaceably. We will deal justly with each other. We will not neglect the needs of our families; we will teach our children “to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; … to love one another, and to serve one another.” (See Mosiah 4:11–15.) What better foundation could we have for a trusting, loving, lasting marriage?
My sister is an example of this concept. She has twelve children, which is in itself an overwhelming challenge. In addition, her husband’s heavy Church and career responsibilities keep him away from home many hours each day. She has weathered the career changes of her husband and the subsequent moves and financial worries that, by the world’s standards, might make a woman bitter and resentful, prone to blame any unhappiness on her husband. But she has remained cheerful and optimistic.
How do you do it? I asked her. Long ago, she said, she realized that her happiness was her responsibility, independent of anyone else’s efforts. Her strength, she says, comes from her abiding testimony of the Savior. Her faith in him has enabled her to extract happiness from whatever life brings her.
“I know I should trust in my spouse’s abilities and judgment,” one may say, “but those feelings just aren’t there.” Another may respond, “I try to have a positive attitude about my marriage, but I can’t help resenting my spouse.” What can be done to build trust when it is lacking?
“Faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things,” said Alma. “But … if ye will awake and … exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe.” (See Alma 32:21–27; italics added.) We begin to develop trust by having the desire to trust. Then we nurture this desire by our actions and words—showing respect for each other, counseling with our spouses about decisions, speaking positively about each other, and supporting each other’s activities. Before long, the seed of trust we have planted will grow and flourish and bear the sweet fruit of a happy marriage. I know this works—I have tried it in my own marriage.
Coupled with a desire to trust is a responsibility to earn trust. If our actions and attitudes are consistently honorable, not only will our spouses be inclined to trust us, but, because of our increased self-confidence, we will feel a greater trust in our spouses.
By trusting in the Savior’s atonement, I learn to trust myself; and by trusting in my husband and in our marriage, I can come to trust in the promises the Lord has given us through his prophets. As President Spencer W. Kimball said:
“While marriage is difficult, and discordant and frustrated marriages are common, yet real, lasting happiness is possible, and marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive. This is within the reach of every couple, every person. … It is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.” (Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, p. 16.)