Seeking the Spirit in Marriage


When we seek to be obedient to the Lord, the fellowship we seek with our marriage partners becomes easier to obtain.

“If only Dagmar weren’t so aggressive,” thought Lars. “Then I could relate to her better.” He and his wife had been feeling distant from each other, and Lars wanted to feel again the oneness he and Dagmar had felt when they were first married.

Lars felt that maintaining a close relationship with his wife would be possible only if Dagmar changed. But then it occurred to him that perhaps he needed to do some changing himself. “What could I do to be united with Dagmar?” he thought. That question led to another: “What manner of man ought I to be?” (see 3 Ne. 27:27).

The question would not leave his mind. He remembered, for instance, how concerned Dagmar had been last Saturday about preparing for a Primary meeting. He had been grumpy, thinking that she would make them late for their son’s soccer game. Throughout the afternoon, his tension had grown, and at the same time, he had been jealous of how many hours she was spending in preparation for the meeting.

But now, while he read the scriptures with the companionship of the Spirit, the event began to look different. What manner of man had he been? Had he been helpful, supportive, or willing to sustain her in her calling? The evidence was against him.

It was becoming clear to him that his accusations against his wife had been expressions of his own selfishness. He wondered how he could have been so blind. Her support and sacrifice for him condemned him even further. That same Saturday he had become upset, Dagmar had risen early to type a report for him for his office.

The scriptures describe Lars’s situation clearly: “If we say that we have fellowship with [Christ], and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” (1 Jn. 1:6.)

As Lars began to repent of fault-finding, and as he asked the Lord for help, he received further promptings from the Spirit. He saw what he had earlier refused to see: his own need for spiritual refinement. The Holy Ghost was showing him how to have fellowship with his wife rather than how to change her.

What Kind of Answers?

When we seek to be obedient to the Lord, the fellowship we seek with our marriage partners becomes easier to obtain. The spirit will teach us what manner of men and women we ought to be.

But what kind of answers, if any, can we expect to receive if we approach the Lord having already judged our spouse to be aggresive or unrighteous or insensitive? Is it possible to get clear answers when praying with such resentments? The truth is, so long as we retain jealousy or resentment or anger or any other un-Christlike feeling, we resist spiritual guidance.

But what if one spouse sincerely seeks divine guidance while the other does not? What often happens, though it need not and should not happen, is that the one seeking the Spirit becomes offended by what appears to be an indifferent attitude or “disobedience” on the part of the partner. Where there had been gentleness and meekness, there is now harshness, impatience, and perhaps even arrogance.

Some might try to justify this reaction by saying,

“Well, that just shows how frustrating a disobedient spouse can be. It’s hard to follow the Lord’s counsel when my husband doesn’t care or is fighting against me.”

This argument is false. It implies that we could draw upon the influence of the Holy Ghost to successfully meet our circumstances—if it weren’t for our circumstances. The truth is, our failure to obtain inspiration is not a result of our circumstances, but of our spiritual condition. As one saying goes, “We raise the dust and then complain that we cannot see.”

“I Think You Are Afraid”

Cinzia came home from Relief Society tearful and distraught. She had prepared diligently for her lesson and thought the class went well. Afterward, she overheard two women in the hall criticize her. That hurt.

She explained to her husband, Massimo, what had happened. If that was how the sisters felt, she told him, then it was time to ask the bishop for a release. Massimo suggested that she not be hasty. “Why not wait to see what the Spirit directs?” he asked.

Cinzia felt frustrated. “You’re just like the others,” she cried. “You can’t even understand what I’ve been through, but you tell me what to do!”

Massimo could have quarreled with her, but he didn’t. He did not even point out to Cinzia that she was treating him in the same way that she claimed the sisters had treated her. Instead, he simply said, “I do not wish to be your enemy.”

Cinzia hesitated. She wasn’t sure if he was being genuine or acting morally superior. Massimo continued, “I want to think,” and left the room.

He felt sorry both for the way his wife had been treated and for her current suffering. Her accusations hurt, but he put them aside. Massimo sensed how wrong it would be to do what she was doing—giving it back. He thought about the problem, then prayed. He realized he could not force Cinzia to soften her heart. Only the Spirit could effectively prompt her to change.

What Massimo did is only one example of what a person who is guided by the Spirit may do. The Lord gives specific, individual responses for each situation. “I think you’re afraid,” Massimo finally said to Cinzia. His heart was full of love and concern for her. “I don’t know what you’re afraid of, but I believe that perfect love casts out fear. Perhaps the solution to your hurt is to love the sisters who criticized you.”

The words “fear” and “love” began to repeat themselves in Cinzia’s mind. Her heart began to soften and she began to repent of her harsh words, recognizing her husband’s love for her. The next day, she told him, “I’m sorry for what I said to you. And I’m sorry I reacted as I did to what those sisters said. When I was set apart as a Relief Society teacher, the Lord promised me that I could ease the burdens of others. Because of my pride, I became a burden instead.” With that insight, borne to her heart by the Spirit, Cinzia began to regain her self-confidence and to exercise a more Christ-like love for the sisters she taught.

Put the Things of God First

Marital unity can be a powerful invitation for the Spirit to come into a home. Couples need not suffer division as did the two couples in the preceding examples. Those who strive to keep the covenants they made to each other and seek to do God’s will experience unity. In such a marriage, each partner invites the other to live worthy of spiritual guidance because he or she is an example of love and concern and puts the things of God first. What distinguishes such couples from other couples is the same thing that distinguishes the restored Church from other churches: the guidance and sanctifying influences of the Spirit.

In this light, what we are is more fundamental to receiving promptings than what we do. We cannot, with outward behavior that seems good to others, deceive the Lord about our real intentions. Any effort to obtain guidance from God is of no consequence to those who have not yielded their hearts to God: “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13.) To qualify for personal inspiration, we must be willing to respond to and follow the Spirit’s constant invitations to do good.

Some may think that the concept of living obediently to receive revelation is a good idea for others but not practical for them. But as Lars’s, Dagmar’s, Massimo’s, and Cinzia’s experiences demonstrate, when we pay the price in humility and diligence, we can receive the promptings of the Spirit. And as the two couples resolved their problems, so we can resolve ours.

[photos] Photography by Steve Bunderson

Terrance D. Olson is associate dean of the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. He serves in the presidency of the Brigham Young University Sixth Stake.