Toward the end of Jesus Christ’s mortal ministry, some disciples inquired about the last days and His Second Coming. The Lord spoke of some of the conditions that would exist prior to His return. Of particular interest with regard to marriage and family relationships were these words: “And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. … And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:10, 12).
The Apostle Paul taught that in the last days some would “be lovers of their own selves, … without natural affection” (2 Tim. 3:2–3) and “that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry” (1 Tim. 4:1–3).
The Lord has revealed that we are now living in the last days, even “the eleventh hour” (D&C 33:3), and we can easily see some of those prophesied conditions in our world, particularly with regard to marital relationships. A report from Rutgers University released in July 1999 summarized the current status of marriage in the United States. It seems readily apparent that many other countries are experiencing similar trends. The report said: “Key social indicators suggest a substantial weakening of the institution of marriage. Americans have become less likely to marry. When they do marry their marriages are less happy. And married couples face a high likelihood of divorce. Over the past four decades, marriage has declined as the first living together experience for couples and as a status of parenthood.” The report concluded, “Persistent long-term trends suggest a steady weakening of marriage as a lasting union, a major stage in the adult life course, and as the primary institution governing childbearing and parenthood.”1
We have been taught that “marriage is ordained of God” (D&C 49:15). Yet in the face of such reports, some Latter-day Saints might wonder, along with other people in the world, how to build marriages that can survive amid contemporary social turmoil and upheaval.
The good news is that our marriages can not only survive but thrive when we follow principles and teachings of the gospel. Revelations, both ancient and modern, provide guidelines that can help people of any age or geographical area build enduring marriages. Even when his or her spouse is not a member of the Church or is less active, a husband or wife can still seek divine guidance to build a stronger foundation for the relationship by following these principles.
In attempting to secure or stabilize our marriages, we should first look to our foundations. Architects and builders know that the stability of a building is dependent on the depth and strength of its foundation.
Those who built the Salt Lake Temple realized the truth of this statement while the temple was under construction. Work on the temple began on 14 February 1853 but was interrupted during several years of difficulty for the Saints. When the work resumed, the builders found they needed to lay a new foundation. President Brigham Young (1801–77) stated that he expected the temple to stand through the Millennium, “and this is the reason why I am having the foundation of the temple taken up.”2 The new foundation, 16 feet (4.9 m) deep and 16 feet (4.9 m) wide, was built strong enough to withstand the weight of the granite walls and roof that followed.
A solid foundation is also essential for lasting marital relationships. Husbands and wives need to plan from the beginning to give their marriages a strong foundation. Sometimes, like the builders of the Salt Lake Temple, they may need to go back and rebuild the marriage on a more stable foundation, committing anew to guide their relationship by gospel principles. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, our Savior used the analogy of foundations: “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (Matt. 7:24–25).
The prophet Helaman in the Book of Mormon spoke of the sure foundation upon which we might build our lives and relationships with spouses and family members: “And now … remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).
What would a marriage look like if it were built on the rock of Christ? The gospel offers many solid building stones. Following are a few of the principles to consider if we want to build on the sure foundation that will support not only present happiness but also lasting joy.
1. Keep the commandments Jesus Christ taught. A large number of marriages end because one or both spouses feel they are unhappy. How can people attain happiness in marriage? We are taught in “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” that “happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.”3
King Benjamin admonished, “Moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God” (Mosiah 2:41). Captain Moroni spoke “of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness” (Alma 44:5). And Mormon said of the Nephites who lived what the resurrected Christ had taught them, “Surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God” (4 Ne. 1:16). No lasting happiness is attained without obedience to the commandments of God.
Prayer is one of the building blocks that support long-term happiness and joy. Numerous scriptures encourage disciples of Christ to pray frequently. One such verse has particular relevance for husbands and wives at the present time: “Pray always, lest you enter into temptation” (D&C 31:12). By kneeling together as husband and wife to say vocal prayers, we invite the Holy Ghost to remain in or reenter our lives. Then when the times of temptation or stress occur, we can better deal with them. The Holy Ghost can offer comfort and bring to our minds inspired solutions to help us deal with challenges.
Another key building block is regular attendance at Church meetings and, where possible, at the temple. The Lord has counseled, “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9). Husbands and wives may sometimes overlook the value of attending Church meetings together. In surveying a national sample of individuals in the United States, researchers found “that those who attend church weekly, regardless of denomination, are slightly more than one-third, or 36 percent, less likely to divorce than those who never attend.”4 The many benefits of attending religious services together as husbands and wives include partaking of the sacrament “that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]” (D&C 20:77).
2. Make marriage a high priority. Many occupational pursuits, outside interests, other concerns, and occasionally even Church activities and callings can relegate a spouse or a marriage to secondary status if we are not careful to arrange our priorities according to gospel principles. In 1831 the Lord revealed that we should keep marriage a high priority in our lives. He declared, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).
Of this particular verse, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) noted: “The words none else eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes preeminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse. We sometimes find women who absorb and hover over the children at the expense of the husband, sometimes even estranging them from him. This is in direct violation of the command: None else.”5
3. Practice frequent forgiveness and resolve conflicts quickly. Some believe that marriages are made in heaven, but it should be remembered that mortals choose their partners. Married people soon learn that their spouses, like themselves, have weaknesses and imperfections. For these and other reasons we have been admonished to forgive freely: “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother [or spouse] … standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all” (D&C 64:9–10).
Since it is nearly impossible for one spouse to meet all the needs of another, we would be wise to focus on our strengths and try to forgive or pay less attention to our shortcomings. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. … I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine.”6
Another insight on building a marital relationship on the rock of Jesus Christ is found in Ephesians 4:26: “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” This particular verse has likely been the source of the advice often given to newlyweds, “Never go to bed angry.” My wife, Susan, and I were given this advice by a well-meaning relative when we were married. I joke that there was one time during our first year of marriage when we went nearly three days without sleep! Many married couples may realize, as we did early in our marriage, that late at night when they are tired is not always the best time to resolve conflicts. But undoubtedly the spirit of Paul’s counsel to the Ephesians would motivate us to resolve conflicts quickly so they do not persist and grow more intense over time. The Savior also admonished His disciples to resolve conflicts with dispatch so they could approach their God with pure hearts (see Matt. 5:23–24).
4. Enjoy wholesome recreation to reduce stress. The proclamation on the family states that successful marriages and families are built on, among other things, “wholesome recreational activities.” When the early Saints were making the 1,300-mile (2,000-km) trek westward in 1847, the Lord admonished them to “praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing” along the way (D&C 136:28). One of President Young’s daughters recalled that he had taught: “Life is best enjoyed when time periods are evenly divided between labour, sleep and recreation. All men, women and children should labour; all must sleep; and if mental and physical balance is to be maintained, all people should spend one-third of their time in recreation which is rebuilding, voluntary activity—never idleness. ‘Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, and eight hours recreation’ was Brigham Young’s motto.”7
Many of today’s marriages end at least in part because of stress, fatigue, and overcommitment. A husband and wife may try to do too much in too little time and with too little opportunity for regeneration. Consequently, spouses and family members often get only leftover time and attention. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we have been admonished not to run faster than we have strength (see Mosiah 4:27). This counsel was even given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in connection with his calling during the early part of his marriage (see D&C 10:4). Brigham Young’s eight-eight-eight formula—eight hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of recreation (alone and together)—would likely help many contemporary husbands and wives.
We have divine assistance to help us through difficult times if our lives are founded on the rock of Christ. The rains will descend, the floods will come, and the winds will blow. But if we are obedient and faithful, our house will stand. We have been promised that we will not be dragged “down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which [we] are built” (Hel. 5:12). We have also been promised that the Lord will lead us by the hand and give answers to our prayers if we seek His guidance (see D&C 112:10). Latter-day revelation gives this interesting insight: “I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise” (D&C 82:10). We, like Nephi of old, can be confident that when we make the effort to keep the Lord’s commandments, He will prepare the way that we may accomplish what He commands (see 1 Ne. 3:7).
By building on the foundation of the teachings of Jesus Christ, husbands and wives can make their marriages strong enough to withstand the trials and tribulations that come during turbulent times. We can avoid having our marriages “go on the rocks,” as so many now do, if we build on the Rock. “And now … remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; … a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall” (Hel. 5:12).
“As I have performed marriage ceremonies for young couples, I have talked with them about their future and the things that will go into building an increase of love. …
“First, I remind them to keep the covenants which they make as they are married.
“Second, addressing myself to the young man, I tell him to make her happy. If he will do all he can to make her happy, she cannot help but want to reciprocate and do everything she can for his comfort and welfare.
“Third, I stress the importance of clearing up any misunderstandings they may have. I remind them that it does not matter who is right, but what is right. …
“Fourth, and very important, I remind them to continue to love one another.”
President N. Eldon Tanner (1898–1982), First Counselor in the First Presidency, “Celestial Marriages and Eternal Families,” Ensign, May 1980, 17.