Asked about his concerns regarding Church members, President Gordon B. Hinckley replied: “I am concerned about family life in the Church. We have wonderful people, but we have too many whose families are falling apart. It is a matter of serious concern. I think it is my most serious concern” (Church News, 24 June 1995, 6).
Some Latter-day Saints enjoy a close union with their spouse while others try valiantly to keep their marriage together in the face of challenges or long-lasting trials. The Ensign recently asked members who at some point in their past had contemplated divorce how they were able to reject the idea of divorce and use gospel principles to improve their marriages. Of course, knowing what to do—even in cases where divorce is the answer—is vital, and the key is to be guided by the Holy Ghost.
In the following responses, even when one spouse was in need of serious change or repentance before the marriage could be saved, his or her partner was often led on a parallel journey that also resulted in refinement of character. Thus their trials, though different, eventually led to spiritual growth and unity in their marriage. It is hoped that others will benefit from seeing the spiritual patterns that led to healing solutions for these couples. Their responses follow the text introducing each topic.
Physical abuse often is in the news today. There is very little ever said in the press about finding healing solutions, yet such solutions can occur, especially when righteous principles are applied. One husband, deeply distressed over his own behavior, wrote:
My bishop greeted me warmly. He looked deep into my eyes and asked, “How is your marriage, Brother Moore*?”
It had been almost a year since I last sat with our bishop in a temple recommend interview. On that earlier occasion I had cast off an unbearable burden: I had confessed to having been abusive to my companion. Through tears I recounted the problems in our marriage and how I had responded to them in ways that were emotionally and physically abusive to my wife. My bitterness was profound, and our marital problems left me with little hope of finding any answers.
The irony of my failing marriage was that both my wife and I had come from strong Latter-day Saint homes, had a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, and had served in ward and stake callings. Our inability to get along seemed inconsistent with all that we knew about gospel living. I wondered if my wife and I could ever live together peaceably. But with two children, how could we divorce?
The bishop had counseled me for some time. The following week my wife and I traveled several hours to attend the temple. After the session, we sat in the celestial room side by side and talked. Tears coursed down our cheeks as the sorrow, the hurts, the pain and anguish of five turbulent years of marriage weighed upon us. We realized we did love each other, but our inability to resolve conflict amicably kept us from feeling loved. Knowing that Father in Heaven wanted to help and would guide me, I wanted to try to change. I told my wife that I would give our marriage six more months and that during that time I would make every effort to better our relationship.
During the months that followed, I referred frequently to words I penned in my day-planner that helped me take a Christlike approach to solving our problems: “Do all I can possibly do to make my marriage succeed—never criticize; nurture a communicative atmosphere; pray specifically together.”
Initially these goals seemed almost impossible to meet. Yet, applying these principles day after day, week after week brought about a perceptible change in the atmosphere of our home. My focus turned from blaming my wife to applying the resources of the gospel in my own life. I awakened to the power of the Atonement—that it was very personal, very applicable to my life. I found myself becoming more tolerant, less inclined to criticize, and more willing to listen.
For the first time in our marriage I was able to pray with my wife over very specific issues we had been unable to resolve alone. By opening my heart to the influence of the Spirit, my eyes were opened to just how much I could do as a priesthood holder, father, and husband. Learning correct principles helped, but learning how to apply them has been the ongoing challenge.
Thus, a year after our experience in the temple I sat again with my bishop and responded to his query with a smile. “We’re making progress. By staying focused on what I can do, on honoring the priesthood, on improving my relationship with the Lord, I have found that I am better able to take responsibility for my own emotional and spiritual feelings in my relationship with my wife.”—From California
Finances are often listed as a leading reason for couples divorcing and can indeed place great pressures on them, as this sister explains:
I was married in the temple to the man I love. But over the years my husband’s inability to provide for our needs responsibly brought great hardship to our family. Our situation worsened until we went without many things, including running water or a phone, for long periods of time. Many good friends suggested I seek a divorce.
I had determined early in my marriage to stay spiritually in tune enough to know Heavenly Father’s will for me. I worried about our children and struggled about whether to go to work. When in private moments of sheer frustration I considered divorce, I would pray. Always the answer came. My husband needed time to grow and make his mistakes and learn from them. I was to stay home to raise the children and be patient, loving, and supportive of his efforts in spite of the hardships.
This was not easy to accept. Sometimes I would feel great anger well up inside me because of the things we had to do without and the constant broken promises and financial chaos that plagued us. On some occasions I literally felt the Holy Ghost quelling my anger and giving me great peace so that I could endure. I knew then how much Father in Heaven cared about us.
As many years passed, I learned important lessons. I realized I couldn’t do my husband’s growing for him—I had to do my own. I came to rely on spiritual blessings and to focus less on material things. I learned to get by on what my husband could provide. I became an expert gardener and cook. Because we had no running water, I learned to can garden produce and to do laundry with rainwater. Since we lived in the woods, I studied about plants and animals. In short, I learned how to survive with very little, and these experiences, though difficult, gave me a new perspective about life and an appreciation for even small blessings.
Although I considered my husband’s problems to be the source of my greatest trials, I found they also served in the end to bring both of us along separate and personal pathways to Jesus Christ. Those pathways have finally converged, and today we are stable, both financially and in our relationship as a couple. I’m thankful I relied on guidance from the Spirit and not the advice of friends. I’m humbled to realize the magnitude of Heavenly Father’s love for me.—From Missouri
Some spouses face the challenge to keep the marriage relationship intact, sometimes for years, while their spouse deals with serious weaknesses, such as alcoholism. Such problems often consume most of the resources available to the marriage, and spouses are left with heavy burdens and little help. Yet many people feel impressed to stay. The wife of an alcoholic explains:
It was obvious after just a few weeks of my marriage that it wasn’t going to be easy. Though my husband was a member of the Church, he was also a heavy drinker and smoker. But inside I said to myself that I could always divorce him if we couldn’t make it work. With his heavy alcohol consumption, I found it very hard to communicate with him in any important area. During the more difficult times I was ready to throw my hands in the air and say, “I quit!” I even went looking at apartments and talked with attorneys.
But early on I also went to my Heavenly Father. I asked repeatedly for help in getting out of this awful relationship. Each time the answer that came to me was to stick it out. Sometimes the answer came as a feeling, or from my bishop’s counsel, or by scripture study. One day’s prayer brought me to the realization that I couldn’t change this man; I could only change myself. Over the years many new insights came.
A bishop counseled me to work toward going to the temple. Line upon line I began working toward that goal. My husband had to write a letter of support so that I could go through the temple without him. He wrote a beautiful letter of love. My stake president promised me that if I would attend the temple regularly my husband would see the gospel through my eyes. Things did begin to improve, but there had been so many problems that I still considered divorce.
One day we hit a crisis. I had had it and decided the time had come to leave him. Sensing I meant it, my husband put down his can of beer and asked if we could try counseling again. I prayed quickly to know what to do and felt, once more, that we should try again. My husband committed to stop drinking if I would commit to stop considering divorce as an option.
To do this, we sold our home and moved to a new area for a new start. My husband replaced alcohol with jogging. But he still struggled to fill the void in his life. One day he heard an inner voice telling him to read the Book of Mormon. He started reading it and received a witness of the truth of it. With that, he set a goal to stop smoking too. When he had done this, he set a new goal for priesthood advancement, then for temple marriage.
On our 14th wedding anniversary we were finally married in the temple! I am so thankful my Heavenly Father has taught me patience and charity and has shown me that divorce was not the way to solve my problems. Although it took many years, we are so happy now. Our love has grown beyond what I could ever have foreseen.—From Utah
While drug and alcohol abuse severely test any marriage, so do other kinds of unexpected and unwanted problems, such as the severe health problems that nearly derailed this relationship:
My husband and I were married five years ago. He has been diabetic since the age of 11 but had few problems except when his blood sugar dropped. About six months after we were married, he was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy and had laser surgery in both eyes. During the next few months he had several episodes with low blood sugar, requiring trips to the emergency room. He was also very moody.
During that first year I was frightened and wondered what I had gotten myself into. Sometimes I felt he must be faking it, and part of me just wanted to escape. I told him I thought I needed to leave. I had many conversations with my Heavenly Father (as did my husband too), and the message came to me that we didn’t get married to get a divorce and that my husband wasn’t trying to fake anything. Through the Spirit I was reminded that I need not endure this setback alone.
Our first child was born, a strong and healthy girl. One night my husband got up to feed her, but the crying went on and on. I finally went to see what was wrong. He was holding her, but his low blood sugar prevented him from realizing he wasn’t feeding her. I took the baby and the bottle and fed her. I was very stressed and lashed out at him, “Why don’t you take care of yourself?” We constantly fought, or so it seemed.
In the next few years the pressure on our marriage increased. His name went on a kidney transplant waiting list, and he was sick so much that he lost his job. More complications developed, and he was in and out of the hospital often. We turned to Heavenly Father often in prayer. This wasn’t the kind of life I had hoped for and dreamed about. Recently he suffered a near-fatal heart attack. It was a very scary time for all of us.
We wouldn’t have chosen to endure these things, and we can’t say we have endured with flying colors. But we are still plugging along the best we can. What carried us through have been basic principles of gospel living: prayer, scripture study, and fasting. As we apply gospel principles in our lives, we are better able to cope with stress. Heavenly Father makes our challenges easier to bear. Slowly we have realized that we are committed to each other, that we love each other no matter what, and that our Heavenly Father wants us to work things out together as best we can. The teachings of the Church have given us strength and hope to keep trying.—From Arizona
Immorality is one of the most difficult transgressions for a spouse to deal with, but when repentance is part of the process, there is also hope for the marriage:
My husband seemed to lose his way and drifted into Word of Wisdom problems, then into worse things. Some 18 years ago, tired, worn out with the stress of alcohol, immorality, and other problems, I wanted to end the marriage. I went to my Heavenly Father in prayer.
Yet I felt through the Spirit that I should stay and keep our home together. The next day at church as I took the sacrament I felt a great sense of peace and love as the Spirit bore witness again that I was making the right choice.
There was no immediate reformation, but rather a gradual change took place over some 15 years. While he worked on his problems, I also had lessons to learn. I felt impressed to be humble and recognize that I too had sins. I was to express love and respect for my husband daily and concentrate on his good qualities. I was taught Christlike principles of forgiveness and prayed daily for him. Finally, I was impressed that I needed to set aside time, even if it was a sacrifice to do so, to be with him and build up the relationship. These answers always came as I earnestly sought Heavenly Father’s guidance through prayer, faith, and scripture study.
After many years, the day finally came that he went in to see the bishop and confessed his immorality and other sins. He knew I would stand behind him through whatever action needed to be taken. We would face the future together.
I shall ever treasure the time he finally stood in the bishop’s office, tears coursing down his cheeks, holding a temple recommend. We felt then the great love Heavenly Father and the Savior have for us. The sweetness of forgiveness was ours! Measured against eternity, my 18 years of waiting was but a moment.—From Alberta, Canada
Other kinds of pressures can also seriously impact marriages if those marriages are not securely rooted:
My husband and I had been married 10 months when our son was born. I thought that all of my dreams had come true, but within three months we were watching our little son have seizures. This was the start of a four-year struggle for his life that ended with his death and his newborn sister being diagnosed with the same disease. This all brought many pressures into our marriage.
During that first year we heard that 85 percent of the parents of seriously physically disabled children divorce. We made a decision not to consider that as an option. Instead we prayed and read scriptures daily. Nevertheless, the struggles we coped with were draining. Pressures stemming from our son’s illness were pulling us apart. I wanted to spend most of my time with my small son while my husband buried himself in activity—anything to keep busy. I thought he was indifferent; he thought I was hovering too much over our son. We fought almost daily. I was miserable and didn’t think our marriage could last.
Then I felt the hand of Heavenly Father guide me, through a friend, to hear a talk about charity in marriage. The speaker suggested being charitable toward your spouse for just one month. I knew it would never work with my husband! But because I wasn’t going to let it be my fault if we got a divorce, I determined to stop nagging and fighting with my husband for the next four weeks, which I did.
I turned to the scriptures and read about charity in Moroni 7. I learned that charity belongs more in marriage than anywhere else. As I changed, my husband began to change too. After the month was over, my husband was a different person!
Those weeks marked the beginning of a journey toward better times. During the months ahead we had to learn to be patient with each other. We both were grieving, and we realized we were doing so in different ways. Understanding increased as we prayed together, asking for the Spirit to guide us, and as we talked about what was happening to us individually and as a couple. We decided we both needed to be more diligent in extending kindness to each other. At last we came to understand that the challenges associated with our son’s illness should not be allowed to threaten our marriage. Our son’s illness was not the problem; our responses to it were. A gospel perspective makes all the difference. I learned that Heavenly Father, who knows us both, believes in our ability to make it together. How could I give up?—From Utah
Depression is a serious concern in some marriages. Because depression changes a person’s view of the world, communication becomes difficult and problem solving a challenge. One husband explains his journey through the ordeal:
After having been married for over 10 years, I began suffering from depression. The onset consisted of occasional depressive episodes, the total emptiness of which cannot be described. I did not know what was wrong with me and fought to maintain my equilibrium while I tried to figure it out.
My wife found me increasingly difficult to live with. I thought she lacked understanding and sympathy. Our relationship quickly deteriorated into days of not speaking to each other, an incessant chain of arguments and faultfinding, strained public performances, and a desperate clinging to anything that offered respite and solace. For me, that was prayer. Suddenly, more than ever, I needed help.
I pleaded with Father in Heaven not only for healing but also for guidance on how to show my wife the error of her ways. I was distressed that she should choose this time in life to become impossible to live with, right when I had my hands full of my own fight for sanity.
After months of struggle, I finally concluded that we should get a divorce. Because I was miserable, I sought for and expected the Lord’s approval of such a decision. Instead, I was vividly reminded that it had been revealed to me clearly and unforgettably to marry and be sealed to my wife. I had an unmistakable feeling of being loved by my Father in Heaven, and that warm feeling enabled me to carry on again.
After nearly three years of fighting the steady deterioration of my mental health, I finally realized I might have something physically wrong and sought professional help. Happily, a daily medicine has eliminated most of my depressive anxieties. As I healed, I began to experience normal moods again, and my wife and I initiated a return to creating and experiencing the loving relationship we’d had before.
Had I not considered the Lord the author and owner of my marriage covenant, I would have thrown it all away. I shudder to think how close I came to that each time I look at my wonderful wife and children and at the happiness we now enjoy.—From Washington State
Certainly one common approach of the adversary is to simply tempt people to quit. Persistent thoughts of divorce plague many people even in the absence of serious conflict:
My husband and I come from strong Latter-day Saint families. We were taught about the sacred nature of the temple and temple marriage and felt we were adequately prepared as to what those covenants meant. We prayed together as a family, studied our scriptures, attended the temple frequently, held callings, and spent as much quality time with our children as possible. It seemed we were doing everything we should be doing. Yet neither of us was truly happy.
We started talking about giving up. It was just casual nonsense at first, but soon the talk of ending our marriage became more and more frequent in our disagreements. Finally, one night we had another dispute that led to a long night of discussion. What were we doing wrong? Everything seemed in place, yet happiness eluded us. Eventually the question became What are we doing to strengthen ourselves as a couple? The answer was suddenly very clear. We had done little over the last few years to build our own personal relationship with each other. Did we want to start now?
The next morning as we looked at our three beautiful children who were entrusted to our care, who looked to us for love and stability and whose future happiness depended to a large extent on our decision, our eyes were suddenly opened. We owed it to them to make our marriage work.
We put the children to bed early that night and opened the latest conference issue of the Ensign and read, “Many church leaders and marriage counselors indicate that they have not seen one marriage in serious trouble where the couple was still praying together daily” (Joe J. Christensen, Ensign, May 1995, 64). While we had participated faithfully in family prayer, we had neglected praying together as a couple. From that night on we began praying together to seek help specifically in rebuilding our marriage.
As we did this, we became more spiritually in tune with each other and more open to the workings of the Spirit in solving our problems. Together we decided that divorce would no longer be a choice and that we wouldn’t use it as a threat when we had disagreements. Instead, we had to become serious about finding solutions to our problems. As our attitude changed, we found that hurt feelings, pride, angry voices, and other negative behaviors softened because of the increased workings of the Spirit in our home. We are so grateful for the pure and simple power of prayer that has enabled us to continue striving for an eternal marriage.—From Ontario, Canada
Because so many marital challenges involve a needed change of heart, repentance, and sometimes careful rebuilding of the relationship, partners who wait patiently through the process are a great strength and blessing to their spouses:
What helped me most was my husband’s forgiveness and kindness. Because of the gospel, the healing of repentance, and a husband who was willing to put aside his own suffering because of my sin and to show forth full forgiveness and support, and especially because of Jesus Christ atoning for me, we were able to weather this challenge together.
How I love the gospel, Heavenly Father, and our Savior! How I love my righteous husband. How I value my second chance!—From Colorado
In each of the above reports, one or both spouses prayed for spiritual guidance that they might be led to receive appropriate instruction, comfort, or guidance to carry them through difficult times. Obtaining such guidance is vital to the process of deciding how to best deal with marital problems.
President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated: “There may be now and again a legitimate cause for divorce. I am not one to say that it is never justified. But I say without hesitation that this plague among us, which seems to be growing everywhere, is not of God, but rather is the work of the adversary of righteousness and peace and truth.
“You need not be its victims” (Ensign, May 1991, 74).
Although for some couples it may take years to overcome causes of marital unhappiness while for others the challenges may tax the limits of their ability to endure and lead to divorce, the efforts to do one’s best and apply gospel principles are both required and worth the necessary sacrifices. Indeed, obedience to the principles of righteous living has its own rewards (see D&C 58:2–4), such as spiritual strength and freedom from regret. Thus fortified for having drawn closer to the Lord, he will guide us aright in our trials (see D&C 88:63–64).
This article may furnish material for a discussion between spouses or for personal consideration:
Why do thoughts of divorce sometimes present themselves as solutions?
How can we stay close to the Lord and receive inspiration to help us deal with our challenges?
What activities can we do together that will help us resist divisive pressures on our marriage?
When unhappiness or disillusionment creeps in, what can I do to strengthen my resolve not to give up but to find solutions?
How can the Lord’s Atonement help me work through problems that may be endangering my marriage?