Marriage can be challenging for anyone at any stage of the relationship. Even marriages that begin in the right place, with the right person, and at the right time require constant nourishment. It is our privilege to learn how to nurture this relationship so that it becomes one of the most enjoyable of our mortal and eternal lives.
“Love [is] the divinest attribute of the human soul,” taught President David O. McKay. “There is no difficulty, there is no sorrow, there is no success, there is no fame, there is no wealth, there is nothing in the world which can separate two hearts that are bound by the golden clasp of love” (Secrets of a Happy Life , 36–37). Such a love is built over time by those who develop an attitude of gratitude, work selflessly in service to spouse and family, laugh when it’s appropriate (particularly at themselves), and continuously feed their faith.
Attitude of Gratitude
President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, said that faced with the spiritual and emotional plagues of our day, too many of us tend “to criticize, to complain, to blame, … and adopt the negatives of life.” But, “we can lift ourselves, and others as well, when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude” (“An Attitude of Gratitude,” Ensign, May 1992, 54). This advice is vital to the well-being of an eternal marriage. Our sentiments toward our spouse—and the covenants we have made—influence how we approach and resolve differences. Ingratitude by either partner can seriously hamper the happiness of any marriage, so it is vital to develop gratitude.
This may take practice. It is easy to see others’ faults, large and small, especially the faults of those you live with. It can be more difficult to see their strengths, and that is where practice may be required. None of us are perfect, and all of us have some good qualities. If you run across a pile of dirty laundry left in the middle of the floor or that first little dent in the door of the new car, you can consciously choose to think about the tenderness with which your spouse tucked each child into bed last night, instead. If you find yourself frustrated for whatever reason, choose to think of as many of your spouse’s strengths as possible. This soothes the irritation, and the source of frustration seems insignificant compared to his or her many good qualities.
Speaking kindly is closely tied to thinking positively. I will never forget a time early in our marriage when I learned this lesson. My husband and I were having a discussion which was more emotional than it should have been, and in the heat of it I said something that hurt my sweetheart. Instead of responding with anger, the natural tendency, he simply and kindly asked, “Do you really mean that?” Of course I didn’t, and I told him so. He responded, “Then why did you say it?” I felt horrible. I learned that day to be very careful about speaking in the heat of emotion. It is much better to think through our own feelings of hurt and anger, understand them, then talk about the problem kindly, thoughtfully, and respectfully.
Be Willing to Work
When some people speak of work in marriage, they seem to want everything to be equivalent. They may feel that all work needs to be split equally for the relationship to be working properly. In a marriage intended to be celestial, however, there is no point in keeping score. Your goal as a unit is to bring yourself and your family back into the presence of God. This often requires work that cannot be split 50-50.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” outlines the responsibilities given to each spouse by the Lord. “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners” (emphasis added).
The partnership is equal; at times the work may not be. Consider, for example, the relationship when one spouse has mild or severe disabilities. In these families, the other spouse may be called on to do more than 50 percent of the housework. And there are other situations in life when one spouse would have to do more than half of the work—after the birth of a new baby, during times of illness, or when there is a special need in the extended family. Household responsibilities rarely work out equally, and there are days when either the wife or the husband might do more. Whatever the situation, we can bring both the husband’s and wife’s strengths to bear on our tasks, compensating for individual lack of experience or strength as necessary.
When we work at tasks together, there are often quiet moments to share personal thoughts or discuss family issues. It is usually during meal preparation and cleanup time that my husband and I speak of significant happenings during the day. This time is important to our relationship because he actively listens as I explain what has happened in our family while he has been at work. Likewise, I have an opportunity to learn about the work environment where he has spent most of his day. This sharing time allows each of us to strengthen emotional connections with the other.
Our willingness to sacrifice on behalf of our family includes not only the will to tackle temporal chores but also the will to continue working on ourselves. Each of us must continue striving to improve our relationships with our Father in Heaven and His Son. Praying, reading the scriptures, going to church, living the commandments, and treating those around us with charity and respect all require constant attention and our best efforts. As we continue to draw closer to our Father and our Savior, we will naturally treat those in our family circle better—especially our partners—and our relationships with them will improve.
Learn to Be Cheerful
It seems like such a simple thing, but how much time do we spend laughing with our spouses and enjoying their company? In our daily interactions, appropriate humor can defuse tense situations and counter negative reactions to some of the troubles of life. Laughter and a cheerful disposition can create a bond of friendship. They are medicine for the heart and lighten the troubled soul. My husband and I still find humor in the following incident:
One day my husband, Drew, was spinning our two-year-old Kyle, in an office chair in our living room. I said, “Don’t spin Kyle too much or you’ll make him sick.” To which my husband replied, “He loves this; he’ll be fine!” And we began a conversation.
After several minutes, I noticed Kyle was looking a little dizzy. I told Drew to stop the chair. He did. As we bent down to make sure Kyle was OK, he leaned forward and threw up all over the carpet and chair. My husband, feeling horrible for making our son nauseated, picked him up, hugged him, and apologized. Kyle responded by vomiting again, all over the front of his dad’s shirt.
After making sure Kyle was fine and viewing the task in front of us, we looked at each other and began laughing. It would have been easy for me to be angry, especially after I had warned Drew not to spin Kyle so much. Drew could have been upset that Kyle threw up on him. Instead, each of us chose to handle the situation positively by seeing its humorous side.
Of course, there are times when a problem is no laughing matter. In bringing up serious problems, couples need to be sensitive to each other’s feelings, speak kindly to one another, and be able to acknowledge when the other is right. If one of them is not able to discuss the problem in this way for the moment, then the other needs to allow time for the spouse to gain control of his or her feelings so the two of them can talk about it without anger taking over.
We can certainly benefit by learning to laugh at ourselves. In everyday interactions with our family members, we see each other’s shortcomings, differences of opinion, or practices that can cause irritation. Laughter can often help us handle these daily differences sensitively so that no one becomes defensive or hurt. In our marriage, for example, when one of my faults or peculiarities arise, I tell my husband jokingly that it could not possibly be so “because I would never do something like that.” We both understand that I am acknowledging he could be correct. Then we begin talking about how I can change. Humor also works when I need to bring up something he does. Trying to be sensitive and kind in handling these issues is helping us both become better people. We are learning to laugh at ourselves and correct some of our faults.
Surely a partnership of eternal joy and happiness will require cheerfulness, laughter, and good humor.
Feed the Faith
In an eternal marriage, nothing would seem quite as important as feeding our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel. One of the best ways to fortify a marriage against the destroyer is to continue nourishing it with the good word of God (see Moro. 6:4). Prophets have given abundant counsel on how to do this: read the scriptures regularly, both individually and as a family; pray faithfully, individually and as a family; hold family home evening regularly, even if there are only two of you; attend Church meetings and fulfill your obligations as a member; serve; and do your best to live the gospel. When we demonstrate in this way that we love the Lord and are willing to do everything we can to know Him and practice His teachings, we can be sure that we will receive His help in our marriage. Any marriage centered on and guided by the teachings of Jesus Christ has added strength and resources available, particularly in times of trial and heartache.
There are many forces arrayed against the family in our time; Satan has great hold on the hearts of so many people. It is important that we do all within our power to limit and diminish his influence, particularly among those linked to us in relationships that can be eternal. The best defense we have against Satan’s strategies is to keep our eyes on the Savior and continue to nurture our faith.
May we all resolve to strengthen our marriages by maintaining an attitude of gratitude, being willing to work, learning to be cheerful, and constantly feeding our faith in the Savior.