Things We Have Learned—Together

Adapted from an address given at Brigham Young University, 15 January 1985.
Thoughts on courtship, problem solving, and unity in marriage

Pat: We are going to talk about some of the “before” and “after” of marriage—our marriage. This year we reach a milestone in our lives: We will have lived as long married to each other—twenty-two years—as we did before marriage.

Jeff: I was told on that fateful day in 1963 that with marriage I had come to the end of my troubles. I just didn’t realize which end they were speaking of.

Pat: Of course, our marriage isn’t perfect. To quote my father, the rocks in Jeff’s head have not yet filled the holes in mine.

Jeff: So forgive us for using the only marriage we know, imperfect as it is, as we reflect on that half of our lives spent together and see what, if anything, it might mean to others—single or married.


Pat: We believe that romance and marriage will come a lot more naturally if you worry about them a lot less. But we know that’s easy to say and hard to do. It’s hard because so much of our young life in the Church is measured on a precise time sequence: We are baptized at eight. At twelve the young men are ordained deacons and the young women enter Mutual. Then we may date at sixteen, graduate from high school at eighteen, go on missions at nineteen or twenty-one—

Jeff: But then, suddenly, it is less structured, less certain. When do we marry? Surely in a Church manual somewhere there must be a specific year for that! Well, there isn’t. Matters of marriage are much more personal than a pre-published celestial calendar would allow. And so our anxiety level leaps.

We would encourage you not to rush things needlessly and unnaturally. Nature has its rhythms and its harmonies. We would do well to fit ourselves as best we can with those cycles rather than frantically throwing ourselves against them. Be calm, be patient, be happy with the season you are in.

Pat: As we look back on it now, twenty-two seems pretty young to be getting married, though that was the right time for us. Although we were engaged only thirty days after Jeff got home from his mission, we knew each other well for two years before we started dating, dated another two years before Jeff’s mission, and then wrote for those two years he was away. That’s six years of friendship before we were engaged. Then, not to be outdone in the waiting game, I left for New York the day after we were engaged, leaving Jeff to hammer away at school while I studied music and filled a stake mission three-fourths of a continent away from him. That added another ten months. So I think it’s fair to say we didn’t rush things.

Jeff: Quite apart from the matter of school or missions or marriage or whatever you may do, life ought to be enjoyed at every stage of experience and should not be hurried to fit an unnatural schedule which you have predetermined but which may not be the Lord’s plan for you at all. As we look back today, we realize we have probably rushed too many things and been too anxious for too much of our life, and perhaps you are already guilty of the same thing. We probably all get caught thinking real life is still ahead of us, still a little farther down the road.

Pat: Don’t wait to live. Don’t wait for life to gallop in and sweep you off your feet. Life is a quieter, more pedestrian visitor than that. In a church which understands more about time and its relationship to eternity than any other, we of all people ought to savor every moment, to enjoy that time of preparation before marriage, filling it full of the truly good things of life—one of the most valuable of which is an education.

Jeff: Let me add a related caution. In my professional and ecclesiastical life working with young adults, I have regularly run into young men and women who are looking for that idealized partner who is some perfect amalgamation of virtues and characteristics seen in parents, loved ones, Church leaders, movie stars, sports heroes, political leaders, or any other supply of wonderful men and women they may have known.

Pat: Certainly it is important to have thought through those qualities and attributes which you most admire in others, and which you yourself ought to be acquiring. But remember, when young people have visited with Sister Camilla Kimball about how wonderful it must be to be married to a prophet, she has said, “Yes, it is wonderful, but I didn’t marry a prophet. I just married a returned missionary.”

Jeff: Consider this statement from President Kimball: “Two people coming from different backgrounds soon learn after the ceremony is performed that stark reality must be faced. There is no longer a life of fantasy or of make-believe; we must come out of the clouds and put our feet firmly on the earth. …

“One comes to realize very soon after marriage that the spouse has weaknesses not previously revealed or discovered. The virtues that were constantly magnified during courtship now grow relatively smaller, and the weaknesses that seemed so small and insignificant during courtship now grow to sizeable proportions. …

“Yet real, lasting happiness is possible … [and it] is within the reach of every couple, every person. ‘Soul mates’ are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price.” (Marriage & Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976, pp. 12–17; italics added.)

Resolving Differences

Pat: On that note let us share with you a little “stark reality” of our own. Jeff and I have had conversations from time to time which bring us down “out of the clouds,” to use President Kimball’s phrase.

Do you want to know what he does that irritates me the most? He walks everywhere in a hurry—first five, then ten, then fifty feet in front of me. I have learned to call out and tell him to save me a place when he gets where he’s going.

Jeff: Well, as long as we are telling secrets, do you want to know what irritates me? She is always late, and we are therefore always running to get somewhere, with me first five, then ten, then fifty feet in front of her.

Pat: We have learned to laugh about that a little, and to compromise—I watch the time a bit better, he slows down a stride or two, and we actually touch fingertips about every other bounce.

Jeff: But we haven’t worked out everything yet. It’s hard to think two kids from St. George, Utah, could have different backgrounds. But in financial matters—

Pat: It was certainly one of those “stark realities” of marriage! To quote Elder Marvin J. Ashton:

“How important are money management and finances in marriage and family affairs? Tremendously. The American Bar Association recently indicated that 89 percent of all divorces could be traced to quarrels and accusations over money. Others have estimated that 75 percent of all divorces result from clashes over finances. Some professional counselors indicated that four out of [every] five families [wrestle] with serious money problems. …

“A prospective wife could well concern herself not with the amount her husband-to-be can earn in a month, but rather how will he manage the money that comes into his hands. … A prospective husband who is engaged to a sweetheart who has everything would do well to take yet another look and see if she has money management sense.” (Ensign, July 1975, p. 72.)

Controlling your financial circumstances is one of those “marriage skills” that obviously matters long before you enter into marriage. You can reduce your anxiety, your pain, and your early marital discord if you will learn to manage a budget now.

Jeff: As part of this general financial caution we encourage, if necessary, plastic surgery for both husband and wife. This is a very painless operation: Just cut up your credit cards. Unless you are prepared to use those cards under the strictest of conditions and restraints, you should not use them at all—at least not at high rates of interest. No convenience known to modern man has so jeopardized the financial stability of families, especially young struggling families, like the credit card.

Just as your religion should protect you against immorality and violence and other family tragedies, it will protect you against financial despair as well, if you will let it. Pay your tithes and offerings first. No greater financial protection can be offered you. Then simply budget what is left the rest of that month. Make do with what you have. Do without. Say no. You can hold your head high even if your clothing is not the most stylish nor your home the most regal. You can hold it high for the simple reason that it is not bent or bowed with the relentless burden of debt.

Intimacy in Marriage

Jeff: Much has been said to you during your dating years about the impropriety of intimacy before marriage. It is a message we hope you continue to hear often and that you honor with the integrity expected of Latter-day Saint men and women. But we wish to say something about intimacy after marriage, an intimacy that goes far beyond the physical relationship a married couple enjoys. Such an issue is at the very heart of the true meaning of marriage.

Pat: Marriage is the most sacred of human relationships. Because of that, it is the most intimate. When God brought Adam and Eve together before there was any death to separate them, he said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” (Gen. 2:24.) As husband and wife, they were to be united in every way. They were to give themselves totally to each other—to “cleave unto [each other] and none else.” (D&C 42:22.)

Jeff: To give ourselves totally to another person is the most trusting and perhaps the most fateful step we take in life. Under any other circumstance, none of us would have the confidence to reveal everything that we are—all our hopes, all our fears, all our dreams, all our weaknesses—to another person. Good sense and this world’s experience suggest that we hang back a little, that we not wear our heart on our sleeve where it can so easily be hurt by one who knows so much about us. We fear, as Zechariah prophesied of Christ, that we will be “wounded in the house of [our] friends.” (Zech. 13:6.)

But to be married in the sense that God expects us to be married, we must fully invest all that we have and all that we are in this person who has been bound to us through the power of the holy priesthood. Paul’s analogy for this complete commitment was that of Christ and the Church. Could Christ, even in his most vulnerable moments in Gethsemane or Calvary, hold back? In spite of the hurt that might be in it, could he fail to give all that he was and all that he had for the salvation of his bride—his church, his followers, those who would take upon them his name even as in a marriage vow? (See Eph. 5:23; D&C 109:72–74; D&C 133:9–10.)

Pat: And by the same token, we as his church—his followers—must not be reluctant or apprehensive or doubtful in our commitment to him. So, too, in a marriage. Christ and the Church, the groom and the bride, the man and the woman, must insist on a complete union. With no hanging back, “cleaving unto none other,” each fragile human spirit is left vulnerable in the custody of its marriage partner. Surely that is a risk. Certainly it is an act of faith. But the risk is central to the meaning of the marriage, and the faith moves mountains and calms the turbulent sea.

Jeff: Can you understand the sacred obligation a husband and wife have to each other when the fragility and vulnerability and delicacy of that partner’s life is placed in the other’s keeping? I may not know everything about Pat, but I know twenty-two years’ worth, and she knows that much of me. I know her likes and dislikes, and she knows mine. I know her tastes and interests and hopes and dreams, and she knows mine.

As our love has grown and our relationship has matured, we have been increasingly open with each other. One result is that I know much more clearly how to help her, and I know exactly how to hurt her. Surely God will hold me accountable for any pain I cause her by intentionally hurting her when she has been so trusting of me. To toy with such a sacred trust—her body, her spirit, and her eternal future—and exploit those for my gain, even if only emotional gain, should disqualify me to be her husband and ought to consign my miserable soul to hell. To be that selfish would mean that I am a legal, live-in roommate who shares her company, but I am not her husband in any Christian sense of that word. It would mean that I have not been as Christ is to the Church. We would not be bone of one bone, and flesh of one flesh.

Pat: God expects a marriage, not just a temple-sanctioned understanding or arrangement, not a live-in wage earner or housekeeper. Surely we all understand the severe judgment that comes upon such casual commitments before marriage. I believe there is an even more severe judgment upon us after marriage if all we do is share each other’s home, money, and children. It is not marriage unless we literally share each other, the good times and the bad, the sickness and the health, the life and the death.

Jeff: And we can’t wait to be a good wife or a good husband or a good Christian just when we “feel well.” A student once told Harvard dean LeBaron Russell Briggs that he hadn’t done his assignment because he hadn’t felt well. Looking the student piercingly in the eye, Dean Briggs said, “Mr. Smith, I think in time you may perhaps find that most of the work in the world is done by people who aren’t feeling very well.” (Quoted by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone, New Era, Nov. 1977, p. 9.)

Of course some days are going to be more difficult than others, but if you leave the airplane’s escape hatch open because you think even before take-off that you may want to bail out in mid-flight, then I can promise you it’s going to be a pretty chilly trip less than fifteen minutes after leaving the ground. Close the door, strap on those seat belts, and give it full throttle. That’s the only way to make a marriage fly.

Pat: And so we dress ourselves in white, go to the house of the Lord, kneel before God’s administrators, and pledge ourselves to each other with a confession of Christ’s atonement. We desire to bring the strength of Christ to our union, to bring his patience and his peace and his preparation. And we desire his permanence, his staying power. We must be bonded so tightly that nothing will separate us from the love of this man or this woman.

Jeff: In that regard, we have that most reassuring of all final promises: The power which binds us together in righteousness is greater than any force—any force—that might try to separate us. That is the power of covenant theology and the power of priesthood ordinances. That is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pat: May we share one concluding experience which, although taken from our marriage, may have broader application. Twenty-two years ago, Jeff and I made our way to Brigham Young University, marriage certificate in hand. We put all we owned into a secondhand Chevrolet and headed for Provo. We were terrified—two little hayseeds from St. George, Utah.

The housing people were very helpful to provide us lists of apartments. The registration staff helped straighten out some transfer credits. The folks in the employment center suggested where we might work. We pieced together some furniture and found some friends. Then we splurged—we left our $45-a-month, two-room apartment to have an evening meal in the Wilkinson Center cafeteria. We were impressed and exhilarated and still terrified.

Jeff: I remember one of those nights walking in a beautiful summer’s evening up from our apartment on Third North and First East to the brow of the hill where the BYU campus begins. Pat and I were arm in arm and very much in love. But school had not started, and there seemed to be so very much at stake. We were nameless, faceless, meaningless little undergraduates seeking our place in the sun. And we were newly married, each trusting our future so totally to the other, yet hardly aware of that at the time.

I remember standing about halfway between the Maeser Building and the president’s home and being suddenly overwhelmed with the challenge I felt—new family, new life, new education, no money, and no confidence. I remember turning to Pat and holding her in the beauty of that August evening and fighting back the tears. I asked, “Do you think we can do it? Do you think we can compete with all these people in all these buildings who know so much more than we do and are so able? Do you think we’ve made a mistake? Do you think we should withdraw?”

I guess that was the first time I saw what I would see again and again and again in her—the love, the confidence, the staying power, the reassurance, the careful handling of my fears and the sensitive nurturing of my faith, especially faith in myself. She (who must have been terrified herself, especially now that she was linked to me forever) set aside her doubts, slammed shut the hatch on the airplane, and grabbed me by the safety belt. “Of course we can do it,” she said. “Of course we’re not going home.” Then she gently reminded me that surely others were feeling the same thing, that what we had in our hearts was enough to get us through, that a Father in Heaven would be helping.

Pat: If you stand on the south patio of the president’s home, you can see exactly the spot two vulnerable, frightened, newly married BYU students stood that night, fighting back the tears and facing the future with all the faith they could summon. Some nights we stand and look out on that spot—usually when things have been a little challenging—and we remember those very special days.

Please don’t feel you are the only ones who have ever been fearful or vulnerable or alone—before marriage or after. Everyone has been, and from time to time perhaps everyone will yet be.

Some of the greatest blessings that come to your union will be the troubles and challenges you face. Help each other; rev up your motor and bear straight ahead through thunder and turbulence and all.

Jeff: James Thurber gave a beautiful definition of love: Love is what you go through together. That counts not only for husbands and wives, but also for brothers and sisters, roommates and friends, and every other human relationship worth enjoying.

Love, like individuals, is tested by the flame of adversity. If we are faithful and determined, it will temper and refine us, but it will not consume us. Enjoy what you now have. Be a disciple of Christ. Live worthy of marriage even if it doesn’t come soon. And cherish it when it does.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “Things We Have Learned—Together” you may wish to consider some of the following ideas and questions:

  1. 1.

    Do you find yourself trying to “rush things needlessly and unnaturally” in your life? If so, what can you do to “be happy with the season you are in”?

  2. 2.

    Do you currently have a budget that works for you? Are finances a source of contention between you and your partner? What can you do to improve your money management skills?

  3. 3.

    Do you feel that you are fully committed to your husband or wife—that you have fully invested all that you have and are to your marriage? If you feel reluctant or doubtful, why do you feel that way? What can you do to overcome those feelings?

  4. 4.

    Discuss the observation that “we can’t wait to be a good wife or a good husband or a good Christian just when we ‘feel well.’” What can you do on the difficult days to “bring the strength of Christ” to your union?

[photo] Photography by Mark Philbrick

Jeffrey R. Holland, a regional representative, is president of Brigham Young University.

Patricia T. Holland was recently released as a counselor in the Young Women general presidency.