Making Airplanes and Marriages Fly


From the design and testing process used on aircraft, we learn valuable lessons about strengthening marriages.

What do airplanes and marriages have in common? Relatively little, except stress points. In airplanes, stress points are the parts that are vulnerable to a lot of wear and tear. How these stress points relate to marriage becomes clearer as we understand more about such points in aircraft.

One of the main centers in the United States for aircraft development has been Moffett Field Naval Air Base, near San Jose, California. The NASA base houses more than a dozen huge wind tunnels, some dating back to World War II. The largest is 40 by 120 feet and uses a fan run by six 22,000 horsepower motors. The building can test aircraft with 120-foot wingspans.

During testing, models, parts of planes, or small aircraft are suspended on tripods, and then tipped, rotated, or held steady while fierce winds from the fans buffet them. Engineers hook gauges to the models to measure pressure, function, and movement. By these means, they can determine each model’s stress points—the weak points and the points that receive the greatest pressure.

Because every model differs in design, assembly, material, function, and size of its parts, every model has its individual stress points. The engineers test the strength of these points to determine if the aircraft will survive actual operation. If some part of the design proves too vulnerable to stress, the engineers must redesign the model to strengthen it or to eliminate the weakness.

Overcoming stress points has been crucial in the development of airplanes. For instance, when engineers first dreamed of making landing gears retractable, they imagined that the gears could fold into the plane and be covered by doors that would stay flush with the body. But in dives, air pressure sometimes forced the hatches open and ripped the gears off. It took some time to perfect doors that would remain closed.

Stress points also need to be checked regularly. Aircraft inspectors making preflight checks will often check the tires first. Since the wheels don’t turn during landings until they touch the ground, the abrupt contact and the sudden acceleration wear tires down quickly. This is a stress point common to most aircraft, though this will vary somewhat depending on weight, position, and speed of the aircraft.

Many stress points are found only in certain types of aircraft. In swept-wing configurations, air tends to flow toward the wing tip. This is not true for straight-wing configurations. Generally, straight wings are more efficient for low-speed landings, but less efficient in maneuverability. Consequently, the two types experience different points of stress. Even small changes in the shape and weight of the fuselage or wings will change an aircraft’s stress points.

Like airplanes, marriages have stress points. But though marriages may be categorized to some extent (newlyweds, couples with young children, low-income families, for example), they differ enough in specifics that each marriage has its own peculiar stress points. As engineers of our own marriages, therefore, we need to be aware of the specific stress points in our marriages so that we can strengthen our vulnerabilities. We can even develop new modifications, like those that engineers designed for airplanes, to overcome these problems.

Just as wind tunnels test the strengths and weaknesses of planes, so life tests our marriages. But there are gauges that we can use to determine how our marriages are functioning. One of the best gauges we have is the Holy Ghost, which can perceive stress that might normally remain hidden or be misinterpreted. Another gauge is listening.

Sometimes we miss seeing the stress points in our marriages because we look at our marriages too generally. We may try to apply to our marriages such phrases as “Most divorces are caused by financial problems” or “The first argument is a sign that the honeymoon is over.” Sometimes we may learn of general patterns in marriage and try to fit our marriages to them, forgetting to allow for specifics. Categories can be deceptive, too. Large families, grandparents, couples still in school—all have some characteristics in common. But they also differ in many ways. Categorizing them together is as useful as putting all World War II bombers in the same category; there are vast differences, for instance, between the all-wood Mosquito, a British bomber, and the famous B-17 Flying Fortress.

The differences among marriages are even greater. Each family is its own peculiar model, unlike any other family. Nathan and Emily, for example, are similar to many young couples. They are both under thirty, have bought a new home, and have two boys, ages four and two.

A closer look at their marriage, however, reveals some differences. Nathan works as a baker from 3:00 A.M. to noon and has returned to college to earn a B.A. in business administration. To cover the expenses of education, Emily has taken on part-time work as a proof operator in the central operations division of a statewide bank. She works afternoons and early evenings three days a week.

This couple could have experienced numerous conflicts if they had not discussed the pressures they would face and made adjustments to meet the difficulties. They both felt that Nathan ought to complete a college degree and calculated how much income they would need each month. They also discussed possible schedules so that one of them could always be at home with the children. Then they fasted and prayed to have the Spirit’s help in sorting through the different plans. Nathan decided to hold off on enrolling until Emily found work that matched their schedule. Then they worked out times for sleeping, studying, and housekeeping. Although they were under a lot of pressure, they developed a structure of family life strong enough to handle it. They also had the confidence that, since the Spirit had helped them in their choice, they could follow through.

Another couple faced some different problems. Don and Verla were newlyweds, and both worked different schedules. During one extended period, both were asked to work long hours overtime. Don worked swing shift for about ten hours a day. His weekends remained free. Verla worked days and was asked to come in on Saturdays. They found that their time together was severely limited.

Rather than muddle through as best they could, they “redesigned” their marriage. They developed the practice of doing housework when only one was home. For instance, on Saturdays, Don cleaned the entire house and cooked supper so that they could spend the rest of the evening together. They made sure that this particular stress point did not keep them apart.

Gregory and Cindy are another excellent example of a couple who increased their happiness by identifying their stress points and structuring their marriage to withstand them. In fact, if they had not developed a family structure to ease their pressures, their marriage would probably have broken apart.

When they married nine years ago, Gregory had four children from his previous marriage and Cindy had four from hers. Overnight they found themselves with eight children, ages one to eight. Since then, they have had two children of their own, for a total of ten.

Cindy says that they quickly discovered a multitude of astonishing problems, many of which they had not anticipated. The first year and many occasions thereafter featured a lot of serious prayer as a couple and as individuals, and both began to study Church magazines and books for possible answers.

Getting to know each other was one of the biggest problems. The one-year-old demanded much of Cindy’s time, and the other seven seemed to need the rest of it. The couple didn’t have even brief moments together. Cindy says that she often felt smothered. After several discussions, they resolved that, no matter what, they would spend one night a week by themselves. They also scheduled time for Cindy to be by herself. Gregory developed an ability to listen and not say anything critical when Cindy felt like airing her feelings.

Achieving a sense of family unity was also challenging. Each child needed to develop a feeling that all the children were brothers and sisters—not my brother and your brother, but our brother. To create stronger bonding, they decided to buy a home rather than rent an apartment so they could put down roots. They set firm and consistent rules for acceptable behavior for all the children and tried to avoid favoritism. Gregory and Cindy slowly learned to discuss problems more dispassionately and unitedly. They made sure they developed a family, social, and religious life. They determined to attend church meetings regularly and participate in ward and stake functions. Gradually, the frequent disputes among the children lessened. Brothers and sisters started turning to their stepbrothers and stepsisters more often for help and companionship.

Gregory says that finances were more strained than he had expected. He jokes that their milk bill is more than some people’s house payments. They worked out ways for Gregory to diversify his income, improve his marketable skills, like cabinet making, and establish his own business. They plan their shopping carefully, almost always buying in bulk. As might be expected, they worked out guidelines on avoiding waste. Cindy looked up every recipe she could find that would help her cook inexpensive meals.

These are only a few of the stress points that Gregory and Cindy have faced. In each case, they tried to identify the pressures and make specific adjustments. Often, the Spirit has shown them causes and solutions they had not clearly seen before. Though their family is unlike any other, their experience demonstrates one important fact: We too can design and redesign our marriages with the hope that we can make the flight successfully through this world up to the highest heights of the next.

Let’s Talk about It

  1. 1.

    Can you identify some of the major pressures your marriage faces?

  2. 2.

    Are there any adjustments you can make to face those pressures more effectively?

  3. 3.

    Will you face any major changes in the near future? These could be job changes, children graduating to junior high or high school, additional education or training, health problems, and so on.

  4. 4.

    What do the scriptures say about stress? (See D&C 122, for example.)

[photo] Photo by Welden Andersen