Q. After seeing the marriage of my parents (both good, respectable people) fail, I find myself questioning my attitudes toward marriage. How can I keep faith in this most important principle?
Family Therapy Training Program, University of Southern California, and former stake president. , director of Marriage and
Many people become disillusioned and upset when they see couples they have trusted and admired get divorced. They say to themselves, “If these couples couldn’t make it, what chance do ordinary people like us have?” Often the husband and wife involved are just as disillusioned.
Several years ago a husband and wife, both active members of the Church, came to me professionally with very serious marital problems. Both said, “How could this be happening to us? We have a temple marriage. We have kept the commandments. We pay our tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom, attend the temple regularly, and serve the Lord faithfully in our Church callings. It just isn’t fair! Why aren’t we blessed with a happy marriage?”
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—
“And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
I told them that they had been blessed for keeping the laws they had obeyed but that the Lord could not bless them with a happy marriage unless they kept the laws that apply to happy marriages.
“For example,” I said, “you say you keep the law of tithing.”
“Actually,” the husband replied, “we probably pay a little extra.”
“Good. And do you receive the blessings associated with that law?”
“Yes, we have been richly blessed concerning that law.”
“You say you keep the Word of Wisdom?”
“And do you receive the blessings promised to those who are obedient to that law?”
“Yes. The Lord has blessed us each with health and enough energy to do the many things we have to do.”
“In exactly the same way, the Lord will bless you with a happy marriage if you keep the laws that govern happiness in marriage,” I told them.
They inquired what those might be, and I referred them to section 121 of Doctrine and Covenants. There the Lord provides instruction in the exercise of righteous leadership (see D&C 121:34–46) and to chapter twelve of Romans [Rom. 12] where Paul outlines the laws governing unity in any unit of the Church.
They candidly acknowledged that despite the guidance offered in Doctrine and Covenants 121, they did not in fact exercise their joint leadership responsibilities “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge … without hypocrisy and without guile.” (D&C 121:42.) Rather, they engaged in constant power struggles over who was right and who was wrong and used all kinds of strategies to “win” in the family arena.
They admitted that contrary to Paul’s counsel in Romans 12 their expectations of each other were all too “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2); that each was given to thinking of himself and his own opinions “more highly than he ought to think” (Rom. 12:3); that there was insufficient positive appreciation for the ways they were different (Rom. 12:4–6); that there was a shortage in their home of mercy, cheerfulness, love, and kindly affection, “preferring one another” (Rom. 12:8–10). They acknowledged that they had not always rejoiced when their partner rejoiced or wept when he or she wept (Rom. 12:15), that they were often not “of the same mind one toward another” (Rom. 12:16), and that they did not strive as much as they possibly could to “live peaceably” with each other (Rom. 12:18). Finally, they confessed that they had never mastered the rule to “avenge not yourselves” instead of giving “place unto wrath” (Rom. 12:19), or to “be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
In short, I told them, they were in some ways in the situation of those who “pay tithes of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought [they] to have done, and not [left] the other undone.” (Matt. 23:23.)
To answer your questions directly, then, you need to know that you can be assured of a rewarding, enduring heaven-bound marriage if you obey the laws that govern this part of life. They are among the highest and most challenging laws in all of the gospel; no other reward is so great as that promised by the Lord to those who keep them.
“For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it, … But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and where I am ye shall be also.” (D&C 132:22–23.)