“How I ‘Discovered’ My Wife,” Ensign, June 1978, 9
It’s hard for me to express adequately how I feel about my marriage partner. I love her immeasurably more now than I did when we were married. I trust her, respect her, rely on her, and, on top of all else, I’m proud of her. One of the things I’m proud of is her talent as an artist, so it probably wasn’t surprising that I sneaked references to it into an evening class I was teaching in Oregon.
What surprised me was the reaction. One of the fine sisters in my class approached me afterwards. Her husband and I were both bishops and I knew them as a couple devoted to the Church and to each other. With tears in her eyes, she said, “I don’t want to complain, but I just have to talk to someone. I love my husband and support him 100 percent. He’s a good man; he loves his family and he loves the Lord. But we need him to participate more in our family. I need him. I’d give anything if I felt that he understood me the way it sounds like you understand your wife.”
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised because I’d spent years not fully understanding and not fully appreciating my wife. She was a person I rediscovered after years of marriage—and I’m still discovering more about her—but I’d thought I was the only husband in the Church who had been insensitive.
I found out that wasn’t true. I’ve had occasion to visit with a number of our good sisters. They shared some frustrations that echoed in my own marriage. These sisters were active and devoted Church members. They honored and respected the priesthood. They appreciated being mothers and homemakers and felt that they supported their husbands; but, reluctantly, feeling ashamed of what sounded like “complaints,” they confessed that they sometimes didn’t feel appreciated for their contributions to the marriage and the family. The things they personally wanted to do somehow didn’t seem to be as important as the things husbands and children wanted to do. There never seemed to be enough time for themselves. And, even though they loved their husbands very much, they still felt a lack of “oneness” in their marriages because their husbands seemingly didn’t know and understand some of their important thoughts, feelings, and concerns.
As a bishop, as a teacher, and as a friend I have heard some good women say things like this many times. But it was only after a personal experience that I felt I understood—because the same thing had happened in my marriage. There is one difference, however: I have learned and continue to relearn to appreciate my wife—not only for her wifely support, her homemaking skills, and her loving competence as a mother, but also because she is a unique daughter of God with her own abilities and talents.
When we joined the Church as a young married couple in Vermont, we were inspired by the example of our Church leaders, who had obviously committed themselves totally to serving the Lord. During the next ten years in three different states, my wife and I each held three or four callings simultaneously while two more children joined the two we already had.
We have since learned that having such heavy Church responsibilities is not the norm, but the pace didn’t seem to lessen as we moved westward, first to Utah, then to Oregon where I was institute director, seminary coordinator, bishop, college student, father, and oh-by-the-way, husband—in that order, I’m afraid. My wife was called as Primary president.
I vaguely noticed that we almost never talked about anything but family or household business. Increasingly, I left decisions about the children to her while I merely mumbled ratification or voiced an occasional objection. I even turned most of the responsibility for having family home evening over to my wife. By neglecting my responsibilities as a father, I was increasing her burden as a mother; and I was doing very little as a husband to strengthen her in her mother’s role. I used to smugly tell others what a loyal, understanding wife I had, probably thinking that I was doing fine as the head of the family since she wasn’t complaining.
What woke me up was a tape of a speech by Elder Paul H. Dunn, where he suggested, among other things, that the husband should not always be the only source of information on scriptural, ecclesiastical, or academic questions; the wife should have time and encouragement to do her own research, increase her own knowledge, and sharpen her own learning skills.
The Spirit was working hard to get through to me. I remember feeling surprised when I recalled how often I prayed that our children would reach their full potential in the gospel and in their secular pursuits, but I had never prayed for the same blessing for my wife. I was surprised again when I realized that I tended to arrange time in my schedule for my own hobbies or just-for-fun projects because it was important for me to be “well-rounded,” but I wasn’t applying the same principles and guidelines for my wife’s life.
After a lot of thought about this and related matters, I went to the Lord in prayer; that crystallized my thinking and sent me back to the scriptures with increased understanding. A deeply held part of my testimony is knowing that ultimately all problems can be solved through a spiritual approach. Part of the answer was in a new insight into Matthew 19:5–6 [Matt. 19:5–6], where it refers to the husband and wife as “no more twain, but one.” I saw the husband and wife endeavoring to achieve perfection together. If part of that body is starving, then the whole body suffers.
Humbled, I went home to share my discovery with my wife and suggest that she take time to do or study or learn or practice something she would like to do. She initially refused to consider the idea. She thought she already had so many important responsibilities that she wouldn’t have time for “outside” interests. During the week, though, she brought it up and we discussed it and prayed about it. A week later she decided with some reservations to enroll in an evening institute course on the Pearl of Great Price.
Any misgivings soon changed. Often she returned from class bubbling with excitement ,eager to share a newly learned principle or to discuss the stimulating lessons. We began to have something to talk about besides work and the children. Taking care of the children that one evening weekly for a few weeks gave me increased appreciation for her contribution in the home—and let me catch up on lost contacts with our children. They sensed the differences in her and looked forward to hearing about her class too. The happiness was contagious.
Later, from time to time, she took correspondence courses on other subjects as we moved to Oregon and finally mustered up the courage for a dream she had cherished for years—art classes. I wondered that, in over two decades of marriage, I had missed this important part of her, and was proud to see her art talent develop. She blossomed in confidence and our relationship was enriched and bettered, and our awareness of each other strengthened.
So, you can see that it was, and is, easy for me to empathize when a sister may say, “My husband expresses his concern and love for us, but besides working, he almost never does anything to translate that concern into action. Sometimes I feel taken for granted”; or “I need to talk to somebody about the way I feel—but to whom? My husband is too busy; he’s a stake leader. I’m afraid I’d embarrass him if I went to our bishop. After all, we’re the example.”
A woman I attended graduate school with chose to teach after her two children were grown. Even though she held a stake calling, she sometimes felt hurt when family and Church friends would tell her that she would receive greater blessings from teaching in Primary or Relief Society than in the public schools. Even though she felt good about her choice and her Church involvement, such comments made her feel guilty, and “I can’t help wondering if my husband feels as they do. I’d give anything if he’d tell me that he likes what I’m doing as a teacher.”
“Naturally we ask:
1. How can wives or husbands talk to their husbands or wives more effectively about how they feel?
2. How can husbands and wives appreciate each other more, or how can they more successfully tell each other and show each other their appreciation by their active support?
Now, in making this point, I wouldn’t want to exaggerate. Many couples have full and rich communication with each other and full support for each other. But there are some fine sisters who have felt and even now feel hesitant to talk to their husbands—as mine had hesitated to talk to me—because somehow they had received the message from these busy men that their needs were less important than their husband’s needs or family’s needs.
At a recent faculty convention where I conducted a seminar on husband-wife relationships, I asked two colleagues to come prepared to report their wives’ answer to one question. The question was, “What can I do to improve our relationship?” One man had been married for twenty-seven years, the other for eleven years. Neither had asked that question before, or at least very recently. Both reported, with considerable feeling, that it was a challenging and rewarding experience. Both wives had expressed their love and appreciation and support; both wives had also expressed gratitude for the opportunity to discuss some concerns that they wanted their husbands’ involvement in. It was clear that both brethren acquired a new awareness. They expressed appreciation for the assignment.
In our case, when my wife started taking classes, I noticed that we started having stimulating and insightful discussions of the scriptures and Church matters more frequently. In one particularly significant experience, we spoke quietly with each other in the temple after a session, and she shared with me an understanding she had of the endowment ceremony. The Spirit testified of the truthfulness of what she was saying. That shared moment was a precious one in our relationship.
Now, I don’t think her classes provided this new knowledge; rather, her increased self-confidence and increased range of interests sent her prayerfully thinking into an area that she had previously thought of as “beyond her.” As a result of her spiritual insights, she elevated and broadened my knowledge of an important eternal truth.
Appreciating my wife, not only for the things she does for me and the family, but as a person with unique talents and contributions, has made me more aware of the truth that each spouse must participate fully in the mutual goal of progression and perfection. Eternal marriage is, in a very real sense, a covenant of mutual growth toward our fullest mutual development.