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Marriage

Aligning Our Vision in Marriage

Yesterday I asked Nancy a question. She gave an answer that seemed quite unrelated to my question. I was baffled and annoyed. I blinked a few times to try to clear my mind. Had she heard and understood my question? Then I realized for the first time that Nancy and I experience entirely different things in our conversations.

I grew up with a philosophical, articulate, and precise Dad. He loved to reason with us. We often sat around the table to explore many subjects, mostly the gospel. He was careful about logic and grammar. I tried to learn from him.

Nancy grew up differently. Her dad was a gentle man of few words who loved finding uses for cast-off stuff. He gathered this and that from the dump and made a shed . . . or a statue. His creations were practical and imaginative. A person needed to watch him carefully to figure out what he had on his mind. Nancy was good at understanding him. She learned a lot from him.

After almost 50 years of marriage, I made a fresh discovery about my beloved Nancy. In any conversation, she notices what people are doing and feeling. So she hears the context of people’s lives and emotions more than she hears words. Those factors influence her understanding of my messages no matter what I say.

In contrast, no matter what is happening around me, I focus on the words and the logic. I love clarity and precision. I want Nancy to listen to my words and offer precise answers.

While this tendency of Nancy’s can sometimes create communication differences between us, I also view it as one of her great gifts. It makes her aware of people in gatherings who need a friend or a word of encouragement. She seems to have a sixth sense about the needs of others. I love that about her.

There are other ways that Nancy and I think differently. She is more likely to see danger and I am more likely to see adventure. She is quiet and reflective. I am enthusiastic and passionate. She values healthy food and I relish fun food. She is task-oriented and I am fun-loving. It is surprising how differently two people can see our shared world!

Maybe we could compare our different perceptions of the world to binocular vision. Humans have two eyes not only to provide a wider range of vision but also so that we can perceive depth. For this to work, the two eyes must be carefully coordinated. They must align and focus together.

Babies learn to coordinate the views coming from both their eyes within the first few months of life. Learning to coordinate our different views of the world in marriage can take decades. We come from families that are vastly different not only in the way they communicate, but the way they define closeness, express emotions, and solve problems. Typically, our spouses are more different from us than we realized!

We all have our own specific way of reacting to the world around us. Yet our personal way seems so natural—so right and sensible. We expect our spouses to be like us. When they are different, we judge them to be defective.

How do we learn to coordinate our vision with our spouse? How do we learn to make productive use of our different ways of seeing the world?

1. Humility is the recognition that we don’t see everything. In fact, we entirely miss some of the most important things. And we often don’t know it. So, when we set aside our dogmatism and take a genuine interest in our spouse’s views, we are likely to discover a lot.

2. Explore your spouse’s point of view. Ask questions—especially when something isn’t making sense to you. Your spouse has a coherent vision that you can only appreciate if you are attentive and inquisitive.

3. Work to harmonize your two views. We are all tempted to dismiss other ways of seeing the world. When we are willing to understand and incorporate the others’ view into our own, we will see more and understand better.

When we add our spouse’s perspective to our own, we see far more. Instead of judging our spouse, we are able to appreciate what our spouse values. And we are more likely to enjoy each other.

Invitation: The next time you think your spouse’s ideas are weird or illogical, pause, take a few breaths, and then try to enter their world. Don’t judge. Try to understand.

Recommendation: John Gottman’s chapter about love maps in The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work provides activities to better understand your spouse’s world.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful edits to this article.

Marriage

As a Couple Thinketh

Two amazing people were struggling in their marriage. In desperation, they went to see a therapist. He told them to go home and each spend the week until their next visit creating a list of frustrations with their partner. He promised to help them discuss those frustrations at their next appointment. All week long their lists and their irritations grew. By the time they returned to see the counselor, each had a soul-full of exasperation. And that is what they discussed during their sessions. Each accused. Both felt hurt and defensive. Any hope for their marriage disappeared. They divorced.

A different therapist took a different approach. When a couple came to see him, each partner anxious to confess the spouse’s sins, he asked if he could first get to know their history. He asked if each of them would tell what first attracted them to each other. They thought back and began telling their stories. Both softened as they recalled the good qualities that had brought them together. Good feelings returned. Problems seemed more manageable.

John Gottman, the preeminent marriage scholar, observed: “In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on their early days fondly. When they talk about the tough times they’ve had, they glorify the struggles they’ve been through, drawing strength from the adversity they weathered together. But when a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten—for the worse” (p. 42).

Our stories are not objective facts. They are personal creations. We choose to forgive or not, to appreciate or not, to work together or not.

Without realizing it, during times of marital dissatisfaction, we “re-script” our memories of our marriages. Perhaps we think: “Now that I think about it, he has always disappointed me.” Or, “As I look back, I’m not sure I ever really loved her.” We re-script the history of our relationship to align with our current unhappiness. This causes us to think our unhappiness is more “real” than earlier times when the marriage flourished. And so we justify our thoughts of abandoning the marriage.

Gottman’s research shows that couples whose marriages are less likely to survive make the assumption that their dissatisfaction is permanent. They assume that their unhappiness is the new reality that likely cannot be changed.

In contrast, couples whose marriages are more likely to survive view their dissatisfaction as temporary—they hold onto the belief that, with patience, compassion, and commitment, they can weather the current winter storm and the marriage will blossom again.

Let’s add gospel perspective to the scholarly view.

1. Don’t let pains harden your perspective. We can let pains turn into positions. We can move from frustration or hurt to resentment to recalcitrance. That is the natural course of relationships in a fallen world. Paul offers the remedy: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Rather than offer condemnation, we can offer mercy and kindness to those who hurt and frustrate us—even those who are closest to us.

2. Cherish good times. Notice, remember, and cherish your good experiences. We look at each other “with kindness and pure knowledge” (D&C 121:42). Gottman observed: “I’ve found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well. Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive. In other words, [successful couples] are constantly working it out, for the most part good-naturedly. These couples intuitively understand that problems are inevitably part of a relationship, much the way chronic physical ailments are inevitable as you get older” (pp. 64, 131).

Marriage is intended to stretch us toward being more like the Savior: gracious, forgiving, helpful, and encouraging—even redemptive. We can welcome our irritations and differences as an invitation toward godliness.

Caveat: Some marriages are too destructive to survive. To see if your is one of those, read Hawkins’ and Fackrell’s excellent article: https://ldsmag.com/should-i-keep-working-on-my-marriage-perspectives-and-tools-at-the-crossroads-of-divorce/

Invitation: Set your mind and heart to think differently about irritations. Choose to be gracious and generous. Also, track through your relationship history looking for the “glory in your marital story.” Make a record of the great moments in your marriage.

Recommendation: Gottman’s quotes in this article are drawn from The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work which is the classic marriage book. My book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, provides a gospel perspective on marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful edits to this article.

Marriage

The Secret to Showing Love Effectively

Dave Barry ironically observed that “Americans who travel abroad for the first time are often shocked to discover that, despite all the progress that has been made in the past 30 years, many foreign people still speak in foreign languages.”

It’s human nature to expect people to learn our language, to do things our way, to meet our needs. No where is that more evident than in marriage.

Despite decades of marriage, Nancy has not reorganized her life, personality, and priorities around meeting all my needs. She is amazingly considerate and accommodating. But she still has her own preferences. She has not become another Wally or a servant to Wally. She is a unique person with her own strengths and her own inclinations. She still speaks her own language.

That is exactly God’s point in marriage! We may care very much about each other, but God wants us to do more than settle comfortably into our own ways. He wants us to stretch beyond our egocentric preferences. He wants us to truly learn how to love. And as part of that assignment, He wants us to spend a lifetime learning someone else’s language. We may one day speak it naturally and fluently. But, without effort, we will hardly be able to communicate.

You have probably heard of languages of love—the idea that we all have different preferences for the ways people show us love. Gary Chapman has written a popular book in which he lists five love languages:

Words of affirmation
Quality time
Receiving gifts
Acts of service
Physical touch

His book is good. And I love the concept! Yet his system seems unnecessarily complex. I never remember all five languages. So I use a system with three love languages instead:

Show me. “I’m not convinced by words but by actions.”
Tell me. “I love words and messages of love.”
Touch me. “I love to touch and snuggle.”

I find those three love languages easy to remember and simple to classify. Of course, most of us like to be loved in some mixture of the three languages. We want to see the actions. We value the words. We like to be held. We may value all three to some extent, but each of us likely places greater importance on one or two.

To add challenge to our relationships, our preferences may change over time. For example, sometimes we most cherish what is least available. Heavenly Father wants us to learn to pay attention to our partners and their needs on a continuing basis.

In addition to the three specific languages, I sometimes add two universal languages—ways of expressing love that everyone desires:

Understand me. “Listen to my thoughts and feelings. Try to value them and make sense of them.”
Spend time with me. “Join me in doing things I love to do.”

I wish I could say that I was a quick learner. The truth is different. Because I love (LOVE!) stuff, I tended to give Nancy stuff. When I wanted to show her love, I would buy her a new dress or a lovely mixer. Yet I could tell that Nancy wasn’t excited by those gifts. She would be gracious, but I could tell that I wasn’t speaking her language.

After almost three decades of marriage (Yes. I’m a quick learner!), I decided to try a different approach. I asked myself, how does she like to receive and show love? What are the gifts Nancy has received that she most cherishes? What makes her feel loved? It was instantly clear to me that I had not been speaking her love language. She loves sincere notes. I decided to write her a note for Christmas.

Having never been knowingly guilty of moderation, I decided to review the entire year and write to her about the sweet blessings we had shared that year. It took a lot of time to review my records for the year and write a letter that covered all that time. I worked at it many hours. As Christmas approached, I printed out the 4-page letter on quality paper, put it in an envelope, and put it under our Christmas tree with her name on it.

When Christmas arrived, our youngest, Sara, handed out presents from under the tree. After a time, she got to the letter and handed it to her mother. Nancy was puzzled. But she opened it and read, “Sweetheart, I am so grateful for the joyous experience we have shared this year. . . .” Nancy had read only a few paragraphs of the letter when she began to cry. She turned to me and said, “Wally, this is what I really want for Christmas!”

I instinctively responded, “Yes, Dear. But there will be some great sales after Christmas!” Despite my natural tendency to buy Nancy stuff, I am learning to love her in her language.

Nancy also likes me to help her in the yard. Of course, that is not what I prefer to do. Showing love requires sacrifice. It will always cost us to effectively show our love to another person. But if we wish to learn God’ lessons of love, we must be willing to do be stretched.

Of course, this same principle of customizing our love applies to our relationships with our children, other relatives, and anyone to whom we would convey genuine caring. To be effective, we must notice what matters to them.

There is an exception. In new and casual relationships, we appreciate any evidence of interest. A half-can of broken Pringles may touch our hearts at the beginning. But, in a mature and committed relationship, we must care enough to notice and to act in the ways that are meaningful to our loved ones. This stretches us. It challenges us to be more like the Savior, focused on the needs of others instead of focusing on our own convenience or preferences.

Invitation: Think about your loved one. What expressions of love would be most meaningful to him/her? Are there ways you can better customize your messages of love?

Recommendation: Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages is a good book for understanding the idea of customizing our love.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her help with this article.

Marriage

Showing Understanding in Marriage

Imagine that my wife Nancy has been in hard labor for hour after long hour through an entire night and most of the next day. I am by her side trying to comfort her. She is exhausted from relentless and inexpressible pain. Image that she groans, “I just don’t know if I can keep going.”

Let’s imagine that I say, “I know just how you feel.”

Nancy would have every right to rise out of her bed and smite me.

I don’t know how she feels! My body has never experienced 14 hours of labor. And, even if it had, it would still diminish her current and painful experience if I redirected attention from the one in crisis to the experience of the one who is sitting comfortably at the side of her bed.

There is hardly a poorer way to show understanding or compassion than to say to someone in pain, “I know just how you feel.” That is equally true whether the pain is physical or emotional.

By the way, I did not say that to my wife. Unfortunately, when our firstborn was placed in my arms, I marveled! “Amazing! We need to have more children!” Those were not the words that Nancy was ready to hear immediately after hard labor. It is hard for us to think outside our own experience and fully enter someone else’s experience.

There are times when a dear one is suffering, and we want to offer words of comfort and compassion. What are the best ways of doing that?

Let’s start with INEFFECTIVE ways to show understanding. Many of our efforts to show compassion may have the opposite effect. They make a person feel mad or misunderstood. Following are some examples of things that we should not do:

• Don’t jump in and immediately give advice.
“Here are my thoughts on that…”
“What you need to do is . . ..”
“When something like that happens to me, here is what I do…”

• Don’t talk about your own feelings and experiences instead of theirs.
“I know just how you feel.”
“That same thing happened to me.”
“That’s nothing. You should hear what happened to me.”
“That just makes me so angry because…”

• Don’t make your spouse’s pain seem unimportant.
“I think you’re over-reacting.”
“Everything will seem better tomorrow.”
“That’s too bad…. Now I have something else we need to discuss.”

When people are in emotional pain, the first gift you can give them is the willingness to listen. Provide them a safe harbor in which to express whatever they want to share. Don’t interrupt with questions or opinions. Don’t immediately begin offering counsel. Avoid becoming distracted by planning what you are going to say when it is your turn to talk. Don’t become impatient and signal they are taking too long to share their experience.

While someone is struggling with emotional pain, that experience is very personal and very significant to them in that moment. They don’t feel anyone really understands. And they are right—even if you have listened carefully or been in similar circumstances, you can’t fully understand how the other person is feeling That’s why a person who is hurting would probably rather have you say, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you. I wish I could understand just how sad (or hurt or lonely) you feel.” Sometimes the best way to show understanding is to admit that you can’t understand exactly how they feel.

The key to understanding what the other person feels is identifying the person’s feeling. After we have listened and watched carefully to learn how a person is feeling, we might do and say one of the following EFFECTIVE things:

• Acknowledge or identify the person’s feeling.
“You feel strongly about this!”
“You seem to feel very (concerned, hurt, upset, confused, frustrated, lonely, sad).”

• Invite more discussion.
“I would like to understand how you are feeling. Will you tell me more?”

• Use active listening.
“Let me see if I understand. You feel like . . .? “
“It sounds like you feel (lonely, confused, sad, etc.).”
Effective compassion keeps the focus on the person in pain. It sets aside my own discomforts to minister to one who is suffering. When the good Samaritan was ministering to the wounded and half dead man, he did not say, “I know you’re in bad shape, but my bunions are killing me!” No! We set aside our discomforts to minister to those who are suffering.

All of this gets more complicated when both partners in a marriage are feeling hurt and distressed. When one person can set aside his or her pain to offer comfort, healing is advanced. But that is rare. When we feel attacked by another person, we tend to counter-attack. When a wife enumerates a husband’s faults, he is likely to respond in kind. Sometimes the best we can do when we are both in distress is to take time out. During that timeout, we are wise NOT to rehearse our own complaints but to try to understand our partner’s pain.

There are many times every day when our spouses express pain, dismay, or discouragement. When we regularly offer genuine compassion through the ordinary challenges of life and marriage, we build a bond of trust and love.

Invitation: Next time your partner expresses pain, pause your natural reactions. Turn your full attention to his or her distress. Offer words of understanding.

Recommendation: For an LDS perspective on marriage and compassion, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her excellent additions to this article.

Examples of poor and good ways to show understanding are adapted from my publication, Being Understanding, written for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Marriage

You Create the Story of Your Relationship

We can tell the story of our relationship in many ways. We can take the facts of our togetherness and form a comedy, a tragedy, a romance or a satire. We have full power to create whatever narrative we choose. And we can make it fully convincing.

Let’s take an example. A family needed a new refrigerator. The husband consulted reviews and settled on a good choice. He presented the data to his wife. She shook her head. Nope. She wanted one specific brand. He showed her data that favored other brands. She was undeterred; she knew what she wanted. He was frustrated.

When faced with experiences like this, we can form biased perceptions of our spouse: “She is irrational!” “He doesn’t care what I think!”

With that perception in place, we find plenty of evidence to confirm anything we want to believe. The next time he disagrees with or neglects her request, her hypothesis is supported. The next time she says something he doesn’t understand, his view of her is solidified. We continue to look for evidence and continue to find it.

Natural spouses are enemies to their partners. Unless. Unless, instead of looking for evidence to convict, we look for reasons to appreciate. The condition of our hearts determines what we see in people—especially those we are close to. When our hearts are self-focused, irritated, and resentful, we will see lots of offenses. When we are gracious, generous, and compassionate, we see very different people and tell very different stories.

You may recognize the story about the refrigerator as one that Steve Covey told. He and his wife Sandra could not see eye-to-eye on refrigerators. Some months later they were relaxing together when Sandra told Steve an important story from her childhood. During the depression, their family struggled. Her dad worked two jobs including running an appliance business. Only one appliance company had been willing to front her dad needed inventory in those tough times. He often expressed appreciation for that company to his family. Because of her deep love for her father, she had an enduring devotion to that company.

We never know enough to condemn another person. Only God knows that much. (And He uses His knowledge to redeem.)

So, when we’re frustrated with the actions or positions taken by our partners, our best bet is to become detectives. Why does that behavior make sense to my spouse? Why is that position so important to my spouse?

For example, in one couple the wife loves tidiness and order. It is hard for her to feel peaceful without neatness. For her, tidiness is a sacred duty. Her husband loves to hang onto old clothes, household items she believes have out-lived their usefulness, and all kinds of random “stuff” in the garage. He doesn’t like to throw out things that might still be useful. For him, frugality is a heavenly mandate. When she is irritated by all of what she views as “junk”, she faces a choice. She can see him as a slob who doesn’t care about tidiness or her preferences and probably would annoy all heaven’s inhabitants (if he had any chance of being admitted). Or, she can try to understand his mindset. “Why is his desire to hang onto things so important to him?” It may be difficult to understand, but, until she sees why it makes sense to him, she has not arrived.

In addition, she can also make requests that would help resolve the situation while trying to honor what is important to him. “Sweetheart, could we pack up some of the clothes you haven’t worn in a long time and store them in the attic so our closet is less cluttered?” “Would you consider organizing what’s in the garage as a birthday present to me?”

Understanding our spouse doesn’t mean we can’t make our own needs known. But when we truly gain understanding and compassion, we are more likely to tackle issues with kindness and creativity rather than blame, threats, or withdrawal. We are more likely to discover solutions that are agreeable to both partners.

In a marriage there are unnumbered opportunities for irritation. Intimacy. Finances. Priorities. Communication styles. Household chores. Children. If you didn’t know better, you might think that God was trying to stretch us towards greater godliness through our marriages. I often say: Irritation is an invitation. When we are irritated we should imagine it as an invitation from God to display greater understanding and compassion—what we call Christ-like charity. We can also pray to be given that divine gift of charity.

Please note that none of this discussion excuses destructive, abusive, or immoral behavior. In extreme cases we may need to leave a relationship. However, in most relationships we need to stop any narratives that condemn our spouses without any understanding or compassion. Instead, we need to soften our hearts and seek to comprehend the other side of the story.

Look for the good. Seek to understand the irritating. Be ready to forgive. Be wise in making requests.

If you want a vibrant relationship, one of the best things you can do is to collect memories of your best times. “Find the glory in your marital story,” Gottman advises. Make a habit of noticing and cherishing good experiences in your marriage. And elevate the ordinary experiences by the way you interpret them.

Marriage is God’s training ground for godliness. He invites us to bring compassion, patience, and kindness to those flawed and fallen humans to whom we are married.

Application: Watch carefully for irritation with your spouse. Next time you spot irritation welling up, take a deep breath. Try seeing the world through your spouse’s eyes. Pray for heavenly kindness.

Recommendation: The classic secular book on marriage is Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. For an LDS perspective, see my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful comments on this article.

Marriage

Discoveries: Fitting the Parts Together to Make a Marriage

Marriage is like combining two halves of a house to make one home.

Imagine that a person has many friends in the construction industry. When it comes time to make a new home, he calls a couple of his buddies who make prefabricated homes. He asks each of them to send him their best half-home. They ask for specs but he says: “Just send me your favorite half.” He doesn’t specify size, style, or layout.

So one builder sends a sleek, modern half that is intended to be part of a contemporary structure. The other sends half of a geodesic home that is efficient and practical.

When the two halves arrived at the site, the halls do not line up. The roofs do not match. There are two kitchens and two living rooms but no bedrooms. The electrical, plumbing, and heating are not compatible. The styles are jarringly different.

Marriage is much like that construction challenge. Two people are built in different “factories” (or families) with different tastes, traditions, styles, preferences, and experiences. Neither family coordinates with the other in the creation of their half of a family-to-be. They just build things their way.

One family is loud, exuberant, and expressive. The other is quiet and avoidant. One family is relaxed, the other is exacting. One family is rigorous in their religious practices, the other is more casual. One loves sports and informality. The other is more serious and task-oriented.

When two people come together from two very different backgrounds, the challenges in connecting the two halves into a functioning whole are immense and continuing. We do not create a well-connected home overnight.

The challenges are also often unexpected. We imagine that, coming from two good LDS families, we have almost everything in common. Yet one partner thinks that a rousing political argument at the dinner table counts as family home evening while the other wants hymns, quiet reflection, and healthy snacks. The different perspectives on holidays, affection, food, time-use, chores, money, and communication seem quite insurmountable. Further, the differences between marriage partners are not due simply to their different families of origin. They also have different personalities, different values, and different sets of experience.

Nothing in the dating experience prepares us for the vast surprises in combining two people from different traditions into one cohesive, functioning family. The only solution is to activate powerful gospel processes. Only then can we hope to create a successful family.

The first key to combining the two halves is humility—the openness to other people’s ways of doing things. There is a tendency to believe that our way of doing things is the best way or the right way. I recommend that we become good private investigators. When our spouses do something that does not make a bit of sense to us, we might ask ourselves, “I wonder what that means to my spouse?”

Here is a great truth: People do what they do for reasons that make sense to them. When their actions do not make sense to us, it is because we don’t understand them. We can judge them or we can seek to understand. The spouse who takes time to understand the partner’s logic has a good start for connecting the two sides of the house.

A person who loves tidiness believes that cleanliness is next to godliness. The person who creates a junkyard wherever they are may see themselves as creators or savers. Each preference has its logic. And, if we are humble, we will be able to discern and honor our differences rather than condemn them.

Of course, we can, as Gottman recommended, start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. We can make good-natured jokes about her love of order or his passion for tools. We laugh about the ways our different styles create surprises in our lives. This is compassion—the willingness to look kindly on someone who—like us—is afflicted with quirky fallenness.

The other key to managing our persistent differences is positivity—the willingness to keep our focus on what is good, admirable, and loveable. Van Wyck Brooks issued the invitation: “How delightful is the company of generous people, who overlook trifles and keep their minds instinctively fixed on whatever is good and positive in the world about them. People of small caliber are always carping. They are bent on showing their own superiority, their knowledge or prowess or good breeding. But magnanimous people have no vanity, they have no jealousy, and they feed on the true and the solid wherever they find it. And, what is more, they find it everywhere.” (Brooks, V. W. (1948). A Chilmark Miscellany. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., p. 6)

So the jarring differences between the two halves of our marriage can lead to frustration, contention, and discord. Or they can lead to amusement, patience, and charity. Every time we choose to use humility, compassion, and positivity, we choose to create a strong home.

Application:

We all feel irritation in marriage. The difference between successful and unsuccessful relationships depends on what we do with that irritation. Notice your irritation with your spouse. Become a private investigator; see if you can figure out the logic behind your spouse’s choices. Then apply compassion; find appreciation for that point of view. Then keep your focus on the many things you love about your partner. Try it. It will make a difference.

Invitation:

The perspective of marriage as a God-given and character-building enterprise is the focus of my book, Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage. It recommends gospel thinking and covenants as the path to relationship success.

Marriage

Discoveries: Essential Truths for Relationships Making Each Other Crazy

Top view of different tapas food recipes. Delicious table of foods.

People are as different as foods on a buffet. For example, I am an extrovert. I do my thinking on the outside. I think out loud. Nancy is an introvert. She likes to think before she talks (in spite of my consistent example to the contrary).

Sometimes it makes me crazy when I ask Nancy a question and she goes into a trance. I want to know what she’s thinking; I want to participate in the process. She, however, likes to mull ideas over before she offers a considered opinion—after several minutes. In the meantime, I tap my toe impatiently.

Of course, I have a talent for making her crazy (thankfully she is amazingly patient and forgiving!). When I am playing with an idea, I talk about it from different angles. Each time I talk about it, I make small refinements. But, to the untrained ear, it sounds like I’m saying the same thing over and over. It could make anyone crazy!

That is an enduring difference between us. Unfortunately there have been times when I have gotten impatient and pushed her to talk. I’m sure there are times when she wondered if I would quit talking.

Differences can irritate and grow. They can become defining issues. After all, the natural man is an enemy to his spouse. And always has been. And always will be.

There simply is no hope we will get along unless we can change the way we feel about our differences—“unless [we] yield to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord” (Mosiah 3:19). Even then we will still be different. But the differences won’t bother us like they do when our fallenness is talking.

Daniel B. Wile, the insightful marriage therapist, observed:

There is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years. (p. 13, After the Honeymoon)

Wile notes that we can get disgusted and leave our marriages. We can find new partners. And it will take a few years before we discover our unresolvable differences with our new partners. At that point we can leave those marriages and find new partners again. And thus we have the great American marriage pattern, serial monogamy. We stay frustrated and keep looking for the partner who is the perfect match, the one who completes us.

Or we can subscribe to God’s purposes in marriage. We can turn our discontents into humility and openness. We can try to understand and appreciate someone else’s perspective. We can seek to learn from each other.

If you have been paying attention, you have discovered the unresolvable differences in your relationship. You may have also discovered that they are not resolved as the result of candid discussion. Nope. Often they get worse. We get entrenched in our way of thinking and feeling.

There really is only one solution: heart-changing humility. When we become truly humble, we seek to understand our partners. We appreciate their uniqueness. We adapt to their ways. We even learn to appreciate them.

After all, God does not intend that we spend our lives coasting along in easy happiness. He intends to provoke us toward charity. Sure, God intends that we have times of peace and contentment. He also intends that we ascend the mountains of godliness. That will require real climbing—spiritual transformation. We “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love . . . that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:47).

Of course we must cooperate with God. When we feel ourselves getting irritated we must do more than wait for Him to patch our souls. We must actively call on Him as Alma did: “O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.”

Will the differences go away? Nope. God wants us to get disgusted enough with our grumbling and complaining that we beg Him for the mighty change that brings us charity.

The leading relationship scholar, John Gottman, has recommended that we start a dialogue with our unresolvable differences. Whether our differences are about relatives, money, sexuality, housework, or parenting, we can set aside our demands and seek to truly understand what matters to our partners.

We can stop thinking of differences as problems to be fixed and embrace them as opportunities for appreciation. We can stop holding up our own preferences as the standard of rightness. We can become “as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).

As we learn to appreciate our differences, we become more like our perfect Father.

Invitation:

Think about the things that irritate you most often in your marriage. How would you feel about those things if/when you were filled with the Spirit of God? How can you turn irritations into appreciations?

Recommendations:

For more about coping with our differences, read Gottman’s The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work.

For more about cultivating charity in marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Marriage

The Blessings of Sacrifice in Family Life

I love cheese. Big piles of melted cheese. Cheese enchiladas. Covered nachos. Omelets oozing cheese. Almost any form of cheddar. But my affection is unrequited. Cheese is not good for me.

Most the time I avoid cheese because of what it costs me. I feel much better when I do. So, is it a sacrifice for me to give up cheese? Yes and no. It may seem painful to choose a chicken tostada at El Sol rather than the cheese enchilada special. But it saves me days of suffering.

When in a gracious mood, many of us gladly make adjustments for the people we love. But family life inevitably entails sacrifices that are hard to make. We lose sleep to care for a sick one. We attend school programs that we would never attend without coercion. We get irritated with our spouse’s decisions. There are so many preferences we forfeit in service of family life. We are tempted to become resentful that we surrender so much for our families.

Brigham Young gave us a fresh perspective on sacrifice:

I have heard a great many tell about what they have suffered for Christ’s sake. I am happy to say I never had occasion to. I have enjoyed a great deal, but so far as suffering goes I have compared it a great many times . . . to a man wearing an old, worn out, tattered and dirty coat, and somebody comes along and gives him one that is new, whole and beautiful. This is the comparison I draw when I think of what I have suffered for the Gospel’s sake—I have thrown away an old coat and have put on a new one. No man or woman ever heard me tell about suffering. “Did you not leave a handsome property in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois?” Yes. “And have you not suffered through that?” No, I have been growing better and better all the time, and so have this people. (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 348)

Maybe the difference between purposeful, meaningful sacrifice and begrudging and constrained sacrifice is some combination of love and faith. Do we (to paraphrase Fosdick) face suffering hopefully as a school of moral growth in a world presided over by a Father, or grimly as a hardship in which there is no meaning? (See Meaning of Faith, 1918, p. 24)

I suspect that God’s commandments are a little like my avoiding cheese. Commandments seem to deny us many forms of satisfaction. They seem costly. But they are really God’s guides to greater peace and well-being. They are not arbitrary tests of our obedience. They are wise counsel from the one Person who is most committed to our happiness. He knows the surest path to joy and He is giving us universal and specific counsel to get us there.

When we see our sacrifices as a necessary part of our moral education sent by a perfect Teacher, we welcome them.

Nancy is the kindest, finest person I know. Yet there is inevitable sacrifice and adjustment in sharing life—even with a saint. I sometimes chafe because Nancy didn’t wash the dishes the right way, or because she is flummoxed by her phone, or because she wants me to eat vegetables. But God did not create Nancy as a convenience for me. He created her as a miraculous expression of Himself. My calling is to cherish her, show compassion for her, learn from her, and be changed by her.

Can our sacrifices for our families sanctify our souls? Is it possible that we cannot become good people without making the sacrifice of our petty preferences?

Dennis B. Neuenschwander taught: “One may not have the sacred without first sacrificing something for it. There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice” (Holy Place, Sacred Space, April 2003).

Remember that Adam and Eve offered precious sacrifices to the Lord without understanding their purpose (Moses 5:6). When the angel asked why they would risk starvation to make such sacrifices, Adam’s reply was simple: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.”

After Adam affirmed his commitment to making the required sacrifices, the angel taught him:

“This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth. Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.”

That is good counsel for family relationships. When we make our puny sacrifices for each other, we may come to understand the One who has sacrificed infinitely for us. As we understand His great love and commitment, we are more likely to do everything we do in His name, to repent gladly, and to love redemptively.

Sacrifice can sanctify us and our relationships. “May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong” (Thomas S. Monson).

Invitation:

What sacrifice are you holding back from your family? What specifically do you feel called to do differently? Forego the caustic remark? Apologize? Jump in to help with disagreeable tasks? Make a gift of that “sacrifice.”

Recommendations:

For more ideas about sacrifice in healthy relationships, read Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Marriage

The Importance of Service and Sacrifice

Here’s a great idea …

In his book, The Heart of Commitment, Scott Stanley says, “Sacrifice [and service are] the highest expressions of dedicated, loving action because it asks you to show by your actions that you really mean it when you say you are committed.” (p. 193)

In other words …

The old saying “actions speak louder than words” is especially true when it comes to our relationships. Our words of love and commitment mean little if our partners don’t feel they are sincere. Acts of service are one of the best ways we can show our sincerity. By putting our partner’s needs and wants in front of our own, we can show them how much they matter to us.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

This week, actively look for ways to serve your partner. Maybe you can do a chore that is normally their responsibility.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Stanley’s The Heart of Commitment.

Marriage

How Can I Get My Partner to Change?

Here’s a great idea …

In her book, Why Talking is Not Enough, Susan Page says, “Of course, most of us want certain changes in our partners. The way to create these changes is to begin with what is actually the case and to accept it. Change happens when you stop trying to control everything yourself.” (p. 167)

In other words …

Sometimes we think our partners would be better human beings if we could only get them to change in this way or that. We then spend countless hours working on our latest “spousal improvement” projects. Then we are frustrated when things don’t turn out as we had envisioned them. Trying to get our partners to change in order to make us happy rarely ever works. While the need for our partners to change may be genuine, they will probably be unwilling to do so until they know that they are loved and accepted exactly as they are.

Here’s how you can use this idea to have a better life …

Let go of those endless pursuits to change your partner. The only person you can change is yourself. The next time you are tempted to try and change your partner, try instead to change the way you are seeing him or her. Some of the things that bug you about your partner might actually be his or her greatest strengths. Rather than looking for and dwelling on irritations, look for the good in your partner. Your positivity may transform your relationship.

To find out more…

about couple relationships, check out The Marriage Garden program at arfamilies.org, follow us at facebook.com/navigatinglife or contact your local county Extension agent. You can also read Why Talking is Not Enough.