My wife, Alyce, and I ignored a fierce winter storm and drove for four hours in high winds and heavy rain to reach our destination, a California coastal town, before nightfall. Once there, we decided to test our memory to see if it could lead us to the place we were seeking. We were about to give up and ask for help when we saw it in the dimming light—the Sea Breeze Motel. A flood of memories engulfed us as we tried to locate the quaint cabin where, in February 1955, we had lived the first month of our marriage. We were returning to our honeymoon place for renewal.
This year, Alyce and I will commemorate thirty-six years of continuing growth and discovery together. One of the important things we have discovered is the magic of renewing our marriage covenants on a regular basis. President David O. McKay once said, “Too many couples have come to the altar of marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship.” (Improvement Era, June 1956, p. 396.) During courtship, couples tend to focus more on attractions and appreciations than on expectations. Returning to the honeymoon place is symbolic of many ways my wife and I have found to renew our commitment to each other and to revive and relive the feelings of attraction and appreciation we felt during courtship. We have found that it is important to return frequently to the honeymoon place in our hearts.
The Importance of Renewal
After thirty-five years of marriage and thirty years as a marriage counselor, it is my strong personal and professional feeling that we should create special ways and times to renew our marriage covenants. Promises to love and cherish each other forever are beautiful and romantic, but they are much more likely to come to pass when they are renewed and revived in creative ways over the years.
The Old Testament cautions, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Prov. 29:18.) Likewise, where there is no vision, marriages perish. Each week in my marriage counseling practice, I work with couples who have lost the vision that led them to the altar. They are fighting valiantly to overcome frustration and disappointment often brought on more by default than by design. They are committed to a relationship that has failed to live up to their expectations. But a commitment to a relationship that is not growing becomes a commitment to frustration. They desperately hope it is not too late for renewal, but their faith is weak.
The best insurance against an unhappy or failed marriage is to make a commitment not only to the marriage, but, more important, to growth in the marriage. David Mace, dean of American marriage counselors, suggests that a commitment to growth should be the number-one wedding vow. (See How to Have a Happy Marriage, Nashville: Abington, 1978, p. 30.)
Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the Seventy has said: “Marriage is not an easy venture. It is largely a one-time-through, do-it-yourself project for the husband and wife. I repeatedly encounter the illusion today, especially among younger people, that perfect marriages happen simply if the right two people come together. This is untrue. Marriages don’t succeed automatically. Those who build happy, secure, successful marriages pay the price to do so. They work at it constantly.” (Ensign, March 1985, p. 20.)
There are many ways to renew covenants and keep courtship alive. The most meaningful and creative ways are personalized—invented by each couple. The following examples may help you generate your own ideas, or you can adapt these for your own use.
1. Attend the temple together. If you have been married or sealed in the temple, a return to the house of the Lord becomes a powerful way to renew your marriage covenants, in addition to serving those who have gone before you. Returning to the temple helps keep eternal vows in clear focus. Alyce and I like to go to the temple with other couples, but there are times when we choose to go by ourselves. One of these times is on or near our anniversary each year. Going alone provides prime togetherness time. We usually attend two sessions, and we often linger in the temple afterward, sitting close together and holding hands. The trip to and from the temple is also a time of togetherness and renewal.
2. Write notes and love letters to each other. For many couples, love notes and letters are a highlight of the premarriage courtship period, but they can be even more powerful communicators throughout the marriage. Over the years, Alyce has often slipped a note into my lunch sack or my suitcase. The sweet surprise of discovering such a love note has strengthened our marriage. I often write a letter to Alyce on special days, or just because I feel like it. This has been a rewarding exercise for me, and I notice that Alyce always saves them. Love notes and letters can renew relationships over and over again when they are saved and reread.
President Spencer W. Kimball once reminded us: “There must be continued courting and expressions of affection, kindness, and consideration to keep love alive and growing.” (Ensign, March 1977, p. 4.)
3. Continue to date each other throughout your marriage. I am very serious when I tell my Preparing for Marriage classes: “Dating may be more important after marriage than it is before.” A couple needs to spend time alone together on a regular basis. I was impressed with Richard and Merilynne Linford’s testimonial in the Ensign some years ago. They wrote, “Time together doesn’t have to be purely for recreation. We have read to each other from such sources as a child development book, a Church history book, the Ensign, a book on business management, and the Book of Mormon. We have also painted a room or done other odd jobs.” (Ensign, July 1976, p. 45.)
After the marriage ceremony, cultural forces in modern society work to separate husband and wife. Overcommitment outside the home can rob the marriage relationship. Children can become not only sweet and precious, but also manipulative, demanding more and more time. So most couples will need to make time to be alone.
In my counseling practice, I often tell parents, “Your kids need a break from you once in a while.” My wife often counsels couples in workshops that, “baby-sitters may be the best investment you will ever make for your relationship. Baby-sitters are much less expensive than marriage counselors.”
4. Arrange a renewal retreat periodically. One couple we know makes it a practice to go away periodically for an “overnighter.” This has become a re-covenanting time for them. It has been especially helpful to their relationship because of the heavy time commitment imposed by the husband’s job and his service first as a bishop, then later as a stake president. Even their children have sensed the value of the parents’ time together. When things become extra tense at home, the children often suggest to their mother and father: “Don’t you think it’s about time for another overnighter?”
While I was in the middle of my doctoral-degree program at the University of Florida, Alyce and I took time for a university-sponsored cruise to Nassau. We worried at first about leaving our three children behind with friends, but the children still talk about the good time they had while we were gone. My wife and I have concluded that children need an occasional break from parents as much as parents need a break from the children.
Recently, Alyce and I went camping without children or grandchildren. We paddled our canoe, fished, hiked, and looked at the moon and stars together. We will long remember this special time and the renewal of our commitment to each other that it brought.
5. Exercise together. My wife and I get a lot of “mileage” out of long walks together. We communicate a lot on our walks—even when nothing is said. Our exercise program also includes aerobic workouts on our twin mini-trampolines four or five mornings a week. We also like to go on early morning bowling dates.
Our exercise time together not only provides opportunities for communication, but it also helps clear away the cobwebs of daily cares, or puts them into perspective. When we’re feeling good physically, many problems don’t seem like the giants they can become if we devote too much attention to them.
6. Draw dividends from sharing time. Perhaps the greatest need I see in couples I counsel is that of each person to feel understood, accepted, and appreciated. A husband or wife who feels understanding, acceptance, and appreciation can cope instead of “copping out” when the challenges of life come.
Most marriage-enrichment programs suggest making time daily (at least ten minutes) for husband and wife to record what is going on in their worlds, and then to get together (for another ten minutes) and share useful, uplifting thoughts and feelings with each other. (For my wife and me, sharing time always seems to take more than the minimal twenty minutes.) This daily renewal of commitment to each other can help provide the increased understanding, acceptance, and appreciation necessary for growth in marriage.
A caution here might be helpful. This should not be a time for dumping emotional garbage on each other. If you have a conflict, it might be wise to schedule time apart from your couple-sharing time to resolve it. Your sharing time should be a time to build unity.
Elder Robert L. Simpson, an emeritus member of the Seventy, has offered the following viewpoint on the need and purpose of couple-sharing time: “Every couple, whether in the first or twenty-first year of marriage, should discover the value of pillow-talk time at the end of the day—the perfect time to take inventory, to talk about tomorrow. And best of all, it’s a time when love and appreciation for one another can be reconfirmed. The end of another day is also the perfect setting to say, ‘Sweetheart, I am sorry about what happened today. Please forgive me.’” (Ensign, May 1982, p. 21.)
The Challenge for Couples
To be happy and successful, a marriage must be built according to divine design—by a husband and wife working together over the years to follow God’s plan for an enduring partnership. With care, you can experience the needed growth along the way while blending in the variety and spice that will make your times together pleasant and memorable.
Certainly your wedding anniversary is an appropriate time to renew commitments to growth in marriage. But it is more challenging, and more rewarding, to find many times, places, and ways to renew your marriage vows. You can return frequently to the honeymoon place, at least in your hearts, to recapture and renew the feelings that led you to marry each other in the first place.
David K. Whitmer, director of the LDS institute adjacent to California State University—Sacramento, is a marriage and family counselor. He serves as Sunday School president in the Sacramento California North Stake.