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Marriage, Parenting, Self Development

RECREATIONAL REPENTING OF OTHERS

I was walking along Canal Street in New Orleans with Bob, a friend, colleague, and a good Catholic man. He described his continuing challenge to be the man he wants to be. Often he falls short in one area or another. He told me that God occasionally taps him on the forehead with a twig—inviting him to overcome a fault. If he doesn’t respond, God starts tapping him with a stick. When that doesn’t stir him to repentance, God uses a railroad tie. Then he described a specific kind of challenge that often gets to him. “When people are overbearing, it gets me every time.”

I’m not sure if God uses railroad ties as one of His teaching methods. I’m not sure He even uses sticks. But I think that Bob was right about the central idea. When there is a flaw in our characters, God patiently provides opportunities for us to trade in the faults for a little more divine nature. The irritation we feel is an invitation to change the way we think and feel. Unfortunately, human nature commonly prefers our faults to His mighty change.

This provides an expansive opportunity for Satan. The prince of darkness tries to convince us that our faults are actually virtues. He laughs when we sin and feel noble about it.

You make me so mad!

Being angry is a prime example. We regularly get indignant when someone does something rude and thoughtless. Each of us has different triggers. But almost all of us have some predictable trigger that ignites our irritation. If we dwell on it, our irritation grows into anger and wrath. Someone is being wicked and we see our wrath as the instinctive (and righteous) response to badness. We put on the prophetic mantle and call them to repentance.

We only rarely sense that we add our own sin to the offender’s sin when we respond to badness with judgment and anger. Then the offender gets upset and defensive. He and I work furiously to justify ourselves and nobody repents. Satan laughs. We have been sucked into the vortex of judgment by our stubborn self-righteousness.

The call to repentance

Let me express the idea more baldly. When I am irritated, it is my fault. The irritation I feel is an invitation for me to repent.

Let me give examples. I try hard to be a positive guy. Sure, I have all the natural man scripts running like Muzak in the background of my mind. But I try to choose to see the good and dwell on it.

I have had amazing friends, teachers, and bosses who are wonderfully positive. Phil Ellis is one of those. His encouragement years ago still blesses my life. But I have also had bosses who are negative, critical, and seem to never see any good in my work.

My instinctive response to such bosses is to be defensive. I look for faults in the boss. I brood. Then my brooding spills into discussions with others. Pretty soon I have created a battleground on which truth and goodness are the inevitable casualties. I have responded to negativity with negativity. I am guilty of the very sin that offended me.

If confronted with my misdeeds, I might protest: “What was I to do in the face of such corrosive negativity?” Eternity whispers the reply: “You might have been a Christian.”

Ouch. That hurts.

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” (Matt. 5:44).

In every experience of irritation, Jesus invites me to become more like Him. I can see the offender with compassion and I can act with charity. To be specific, I can see a boss who is stressed and overwhelmed. I can see jibes as an attempt to connect and communicate. And, if I call on the Fount of goodness, I can respond redemptively.

A parenting example

We have a grandson whose boundless energy regularly gets him crosswise with the world. The doctor says he has ADHD. His teacher says he is careless. His parents are overwhelmed with the unique challenges provided by him and his three siblings. One day, playing ball with me and his sister, he knocked her down in his drive for the ball. I am tempted to be angry with a boy who seems to always be hurting people around him. The natural man is inclined to lecture and punish him. But, if I apply compassion and charity—as God is inviting me to do, I respond differently.

Compassion calls me to realize how often this goodhearted little boy gets in trouble. I realize that he doesn’t get much kindness and appreciation to soothe his soul. Such compassionate thoughts soften me. With compassion in my heart, my mind is energized to think redemptively.

I put my arm around the boy. “Oops. You knocked your sister down. Let’s sit and think for a moment.” The boy sits while his sister and I continue to play. He knows that his job is to take a few deep breaths and prepare to do some repenting. After he has a few minutes to self-soothe, I sit by him. “Can you tell me what went wrong?” He starts to tell me what his sister did wrong. But I figure that each of us should repent only ourselves. “Take a couple more minutes and see if you can figure out where you went wrong.”

His sister and I play a couple more minutes and I sit with him again. I put my arm around him. “Can you tell me where you went wrong?” He is softer now. “I pushed my sister in order to get the ball.” “Yeah,” I reply. It hurt her, didn’t it?” He nods. “What do you think you could do differently?” He sighs. “I could play gentler.” “I think that would make you a better ball player and a better brother.” I squeeze him. “Are you ready to try again?”

If we play very long, there is a good chance that his energy will again bump into some else’s well-being. We will have another chat. It takes a long time to learn to manage all these human impulses–especially when we have so much energy. But we who love these little people must be prepared to provide healing love and patient teaching for a lifetime.

A marital example

In parenting, irritation comes and goes. Marriage is the perfect arena for steady irritation. In fact, if we practice our irritation faithfully, we can learn to think of our partner as “a teeming flaw colony,” as Dave Barry described the attitude.

At the beginning of most relationships, things were different. We dwelt on the good and minimized the bad. Over time some of the shine wore off. We became less willing to focus on the good. We let the irritations bother us more. Eventually irritation can become the theme of the relationship. We’ve all seen it, couples who have been together forever but argue about everything. They live what the song title describes: “I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Almost Like Having You Here.”

Let me give you an example of a newlywed couple we love dearly. The husband is an easy-going and funny guy from a small town. The wife comes from the city, works in the fashion industry, and is wound tighter than her husband. You can see the battle coming, can’t you! He is heedless of appearance and says things she considers goofy. She appreciates his kindness but gets irritated by some of his actions.

Being in the early years of marriage, they are laying a foundation for what is to come. She can pester him about his shortcomings. He will become more distant and sullen. Or maybe he will deliberately annoy her. The years will pass and the bad feelings will accumulate. They will be one of those couples that can’t stand to be together and can’t stand to be apart.

Or there is another choice. Each partner can see his or her own irritation as an invitation to repent. Irritation is not so much about what my partner is doing wrong but how I am thinking wrong. I can repent. I can choose to see the good. I can see the differences as a blessing. I can allow my partner to be different from me. I can choose to learn from my partner and to feel blessed by my partner.

Fixing people is really God’s prerogative. Only as we become more godly should we presume to change another person. And here’s the great irony: As we become more godly, we enjoy people more and more just as they are. I don’t care if they change.

Let’s all repent.

Marriage

GOD’S UNEXPECTED (AND UNDER-APPRECIATED) PURPOSE IN MARRIAGE

The requirements for a successful date include having bathed within the previous 24 hours and being agreeable (naturally or artificially). Usually some amount of cash is also required. It’s really not too hard. When two freshly-washed and agreeable people spend a few hours together in some recreational activity, they will probably have fun. Dating is a nice way to pass time.

Marriage requires more. A successful companionship requires not only patience, hard work, commitment, compassion, and unselfishness but continued stretching. So when Father says that “marriage is ordained of God,” He has something loftier in mind than a pleasant evening or even a lifetime of pleasant evenings.

God has never varied in His commitment to the development of our character. He wants to stretch us toward godliness and that will often require discomfort and inconvenience. It is not enough to take a shower and put on a smile. We must be patient in affliction. We must be willing to grow. We must be willing to put aside our preferences and enter our partners’ worlds.

The problem is that most of us like the fun of dating far more than we like having our characters developed. We chafe when our spouses favor different foods and activities. We get defensive when our partners accuse us of selfishness. We feel indignant when they tell us we are wrong. We become insulting when they don’t meet our needs. We are filled with resentment when they expect us to set aside our priorities in order to meet the family’s needs.

The problem isn’t that marriage is challenging. God always intended it that way. The problem is that we expected it to be like those vacuous dates that began our relationships. We can become quite indignant when our expectations are upended.

President Hinckley quoted Jenkin Lloyd Jones: “There seems to be a superstition among many thousands of our young [men and women] who hold hands and smooch in the drive-ins that marriage is a cottage surrounded by perpetual hollyhocks to which a perpetually young and handsome husband comes home to a perpetually young and [beautiful] wife. When the hollyhocks wither and boredom and bills appear the divorce courts are jammed. . . .
“Anyone who imagines that bliss [in marriage] is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.
[The fact is] “most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. . . .
“Life is like an old time rail journey–delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.
“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride”
(“A Conversation with Single Adults,” Ensign, Mar. 1997, 60)

Of course Jones is right that marriage is challenging. But why is it so? Does God merely want to annoy us? Does He want to test us? Or is He providing us a gym in which to stretch and enlarge our Christian goodness?

That great marital therapist, King Benjamin, counseled us: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to [their partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever . . .”

Forever and ever. That is pretty definitive. Fortunately, there is an escape close for those of us who are fallen partners:

“unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh 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).

When we understand God’s purposes for marriage, we cherish every moment of connection and joy. We also recognize irritation as an invitation to grow in our discipleship.

C. S. Lewis provided a glorious metaphor: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.” (Mere Christianity [New York: Macmillan, 1960], p. 174.)

Yes. Marriage is ordained of God because He is quite determined to teach us to get beyond our petty preferences and on to greater goodness. He wants to make us into Kings and Queens.

Invitation: Think about some of the things that currently irritate you in your marriage. Now, rather than find fault with your partner, consider what holy purpose God may have in that irritation. Is He trying to help you develop humility, compassion, patience, or kindness? If Heavenly Father sat down with you right now to guide you, how do you think He would counsel you to respond to those irritations?

Recommendation: For a spiritual perspective on marriage, read my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Marriage, Parenting, Self Development

Newton’s Third Law

Newton’s third law of motion teaches us that every action has an opposite and equal reaction. I suspect that his law applies to human relationships just as much as rolling rocks. Every action evokes a reaction. When we attack someone, they counterattack. When we send love, love is returned. Clearly this law does not operate on a simple level. Past attacks can cancel out today’s loving words.

 

Do any of you have experiences that illustrate this law of relationships?

Marriage

When Being Right Isn’t Good Enough

Almost twenty years ago Nancy and I were planning the landscaping around our new house. A landscape architect had recommended a cluster of three fruit trees at the corner of our property. We wondered if that was too many trees too close together. We talked about it. We stepped out the area. We looked up the mature size of the specified trees. Finally, the day before the trees were to be delivered, we decided to follow the landscaper’s suggestions and plant all three trees.
When I arrived home from work the next day I went to inspect our new trees and found that we had just one tree where I expected three. I asked Nancy about it. She responded, “Well, three trees just seemed like too many. I told the men that we wanted just one.”

I wish I could say that my response was, “Well, it was a hard decision. We have vacillated back and forth. It is probably just as well that we have one tree there.” Unfortunately I did not say that. I was mystified and indignant: “Why did we spend hours researching and discussing the question to have you change it on a whim? When we have decided something together, we should stand together by our decision!” I was angry. And the more I talked and thought about it, the angrier I got. (Anger requires very little encouragement to grow.)

In some technical sense I was right. A couple should stand by their joint decisions. Before those decisions are modified, they should be discussed together if possible. I was “right.” Nancy had upended our decision process. But a feeling deep in my conscience haunted me.

To justify my stern reaction, I might have hunted for the beatitudes that say, “Blessed are the right, for they shall be top dogs. Blessed are the logical for they shall inherit the computers.” Of course I would have hunted in vain for such beatitudes. The real beatitudes would only have made me uncomfortable: “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

It is worth switching perspectives on the fruit tree fracas from our provincial, earthly one to a heavenly one. I feel sure that the heavenly hosts were not nodding assent to my lectures. There were no immortals joining in the finger wagging. I rather suspect that heaven wept. Why should a priesthood-bearing son belittle and berate his covenant companion whose greatest fault is gentleness? Is her vacillation a greater sin than my acrid accusation?

It all seems clear in retrospect. The Lord’s new command is that we love one another as he has loved us. He, with his infinite patience and perfect goodness, is our model. The command to love as he loves must have special application (and particular challenges) in marriage. In fact, scriptures offer a remarkably challenging standard for husbands:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).

That is a high standard! We are to be guardians, protectors, and defenders of our wives in the same spirit that Christ loves and sustains the church. Petty differences, so common in marriage, should never eclipse that guardian role. Irritations over toothpaste, vacation spots, and fruit trees must be seen merely as distractions. We express our preferences and even make requests. But we never burn the family home just to make our point.

There is a vital line in a modest little film, Martin the Cobbler. A hungry little boy has stolen an apple. When the boy is caught, the owner of the apple threatened to beat him within an inch of his life. She was interrupted by Martin, the cobbler, who asked:

If he should be whipped for an apple, what should be done with us?

The question haunts me. If Nancy should be whipped for an apple tree, what should be done with me? Are my many offences to be dismissed? When we become executors for the law of justice, we invite sterile judgments for our acts. If we live by the sword, we will surely die by the sword.

God recommends that humans cultivate mercy and leave judgment with One who knows everything and loves perfectly (see Mormon 8:20). When we will not forgive each other our pocket-change debts, how can we hope to be forgiven our staggering debts against heaven? God’s counsel to the unforgiving debtor challenges us:

Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?

And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.

So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matthew 18:33–35).

We must keep the bridge of mercy in good repair. Each of us will surely need to cross it.

Apparently our human obsession with being right often obscures his command. He asks that we focus on being good and worry less about being right. How many wars might be averted, how many lives spared, how many estrangements might be avoided, and how many misunderstandings renounced if we let goodness govern over rightness?

The intimacy of marriage is ideal soil for cultivating charity. We may be irritated and annoyed by mannerisms and limitations. Or we may wisely surrender selected judgments, preferences, conveniences, and even our advanced knowledge in order to prosper a relationship. I can value an activity or perspective because my spouse values it. I can adjust my schedule to accommodate her. I can modify expectations to celebrate the patches of sunshine in our lives.

Redemption can be a very demanding business, as Jesus can attest. Sometimes being right just isn’t good enough.

Marriage

Taking Your Marriage From Misery to Joy

Mom says I was a pleasant baby. As I grew, I must have become less pleasant. I remember spending a lot of my growing-up years annoying and battling my siblings. I suppose that struggles with life and siblings teach all of us many maladaptive lessons, as they did me.

We’re probably not deliberately malicious. In fact our official theology tells us that children are born innocent (see D&C 93:39). But innocent isn’t the same as charitable, and as we struggle to secure a place in the life and love of the family, we frequently develop some uncharitable and ungenerous characteristics.

When I attempted to inventory some of the maladaptive skills I developed in my youth, I came up with the following list. Consider whether you developed some of these attitudes and abilities in your childhood.

  • Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
  • Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
  • See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
  • Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them when necessary.)
  • Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
  • Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my siblings guilty.)
  • Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
  • Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
  • Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)

It’s amazing what awful things we can learn in the course of growing up. I think these tendencies underscore the literal truth of the Lord’s message to Adam: “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55, emphasis added). This world teaches us to look after ourselves at all costs. Truly, the natural child—the one who attends only to his own needs—is an enemy to siblings (see Mosiah 3:19).

Carrying the lessons into marriage

As we grow up and enter adult relationships, consider how maladaptive such oft-practiced thoughts and behaviors can be. Consider each item on my list once more—this time in the context of marriage.

  • Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
  • Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
  • See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
  • Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them.)
  • Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
  • Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my sibling guilty.)
  • Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
  • Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
  • Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)

These lessons for childhood survival do not contribute to healthy marital functioning. Their awfulness is reminiscent of the mother who overheard her little girl and a neighbor child playing house. They decided to get married and the little girl began the vows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You may now kiss the bride.” If we are to have a strong marriage, we must put off the natural man and learn better ways.

A painful and realistic portrayal of marriage was provided by a man who submitted this question to an online family service.

“After 13 years of marriage, I’ve come to realize that I really don’t like my wife. She is everything that I despise in a wife and a person. I’m a religious man, have tried everything the books say, and have taken direct orders from our pastor to implement actions all in an effort to cause a positive change in the marriage. The bottom line is, I see no positive aspects to my wife’s personality, and it taints all of her relationships, especially ours. I really dislike being around her and I’ve run out of solutions. Just short of divorce, is there anything that can be done as a final effort to salvage this marriage? BC in NM”

Is the major problem in this marriage the wife’s shortcomings? Probably not. Later in this book I quote a colleague who says, “When people are upset and angry, they are blind to any position but their own.”

Can anything be done?

The Lord has provided the cure for the childhood lessons we learned in self-defense. Perhaps He intended that we learn these higher lessons in our growing-up years—though most of us learn them imperfectly if at all.

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment [A commandment!], to teach these things freely unto your children, [Note what is to be taught!] saying: “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:58-59, emphasis added).

Without a new birth, we will never be what we should be in marriage. We will drag our sick, troubled, tortured ways into every encounter and every relationship. God invites us to bury the diseased natural man and be born again as new creatures in Christ.

But, can the gospel of Jesus Christ really help us function better in the day-to-day challenges of marriage?

Surprised by the Doctrine

On one occasion an earnest, intelligent, LDS mother sought me out for advice. “My husband is a good man, but I no longer find him attractive. I am thinking about leaving him. But I am not sure if it is right.”

I really wanted to help this good woman find answers to her dilemma. I hoped my training in relationships and my years of marriage would help. I prayed for guidance.

Much to my surprise I found myself talking to her about the Atonement of Christ. All my training in family life protested: “What does that have to do with her dilemma?” But my spirit would not be deterred. An hour of testifying of His inestimable goodness, mercy, and love spilled out. Phrases from the great Atonement chapters in the Book of Mormon came to life. The cup of testimony was brim with joy.

After it all spilled out, I paused, wondering how to apply the doctrine of the Atonement to her dilemma. But her face told me that nothing more needed to be said. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was the answer. Because of His goodness, we are reconciled to God. When we are reconciled to God, we are reconciled to each other. His goodness makes us one.

Filled with charity—that sweet and divine gift of heavenly love—she felt a renewed bond with her husband. She chose to stay with him. Gladly. Joyously. Lovingly. Their marriage is strong today.

The answers are in the Principles

The Gospel of Jesus Christ—that great plan of happiness—provides the solutions for our humanness. Having suffered the bitter fruits of badness, it invites us to prize the good fruits of gospel-anchored relationships (see Moses 6:55).

Most marriage programs emphasize a set of skills to help partners express discontents in fair, non-attacking ways. The assumption is that every marriage has its discontents and that those must be processed in non-destructive ways in order for the relationship to function well.

My assumption is very different. I believe that the key to a healthy relationship is being a healthy, saintly, God-seeking person—to be born again—to be a new creature in Christ. When we are more godly, fewer things bother us. And when we run into problems, we are more likely to process them in helpful ways.

Notice that God offers just one single escape clause from our desperate mortal, fallen situation: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to God [and his or her partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless [Here comes the escape clause!] he yields 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, emphasis added).

In the upcoming articles, I will discuss the core gospel principles and describe the ways they can take us from our self-serving and self-centered traditions of the natural spouse—the spouse unchanged by the Spirit of God—toward the good and gracious ways of godliness. These are the First Principles of Eternal Marriage. These are the principles that will enable us to draw heaven into our marriages. These powerful principles can have eternal results.

If you would like to buy a copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, click here

Marriage

I’m Just Being Honest

by H. Wallace Goddard

Perhaps the most pernicious sins are those that make us feel virtuous.

Perhaps the most pernicious sins are those that make us feel virtuous while we devastate our fundamental Christian professions. For instance, the Pharisees were famous for painstakingly observing the law while failing at basic compassion.

There is a modern and proximate sequel to that hypocrisy. It is very common for a marriage partner to vent his or her spleen at the spouse’s expense and justify it under the banner of honesty. “I have to be honest, dear. I just don’t find you to be attractive as a woman or a human.”

That particular cruelty has a close cousin: “If I can clearly paint a picture of my partner’s faults for her, then she can overcome them.” The idea that we continue to be foolish and sinful because no one has systematically portrayed our faults for us has been discredited by thousands of years of sad, mortal history. Cool, scornful objectivity is not the world’s greatest need.

There is still another relative in that dismal family. “My anger is a special kind of indignation. It signals when someone has done something wrong and needs to be chastened.”

One last relative. “Lately I have noticed that you seem to be very self-centered. In fact, now that I think about it, it seems that you have always been very self-serving.” It is common to let today’s discontent eclipse years, even decades, of struggling together.

As always, the perfect example of the right attitude toward fellow travelers (especially our spouses and children) is provided by Jesus. There may be no more poignant, elegant, and dramatic contrast between the condescension of the natural man and the compassion of God than in the encounter between Jesus and Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50).

Simon invited Jesus to dine with him apparently for no other reason than because Jesus was the talk of the town. He did not show Jesus the minimal gestures of hospitality. He treated him with cool disdain. As they sat on couches at a low table in the open courtyard, a woman of the city who was well-known to be a sinner brought an alabaster box of ointment and began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. She then wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil.

The Pharisee acted even worse than an uncivilized natural man who might have considered the woman a temporary annoyance. He judged both the woman and Jesus, saying within himself: “This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” In one condescending swoop he condemned the woman as unworthy of contact with civilized humans and Jesus as uninspired for failing to discern her loathsome sinfulness.

Jesus, ever gracious, invites Simon to think differently by telling him a story. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?” Simon acknowledged that the one who had been forgiven the greater debt would probably be more grateful.

Then Jesus did something wholly unexpected: He held up the sin-burdened woman as a moral model for Simon. “And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little” (verses 44-47, emphasis added).

For all the inhabitants of the eternal worlds, Jesus set the example of graciousness. “And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. . . . Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.”

As if the contrast were not already perfectly clear for us mortals, there is one concluding irony. “And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?” Even in the face of perfect graciousness, they did not recognize it. They judged it as foolish and presumptuous.

What a great message for marriage! By nature we follow the lead of the Pharisee. We hoard our goodwill and measure each person by the measuring rod of our own remarkable rightness.

In marriage we may make our expectations and needs into the standard of judgment. Being “honest” with our partner always presumes that our version of reality is the right one, best one, true one. It does not show the humility to honor our partner’s unique view and experience of the world. Our anger and indignation spill out as a rebuke to those who are not as committed or fine as we.

Jesus is different. He knows that the injuries of mortality are healed by love rather than diagnosis. He knows that the weaknesses of the flesh are strengthened by compassion and mercy rather than by autopsy. The only person in the universe who has the right to judge us and condemn us chooses instead to redeem us and justify us. He who might be our accuser chooses to be our Advocate (D&C 45:3-5).

John Gottman has done revolutionary research on marriage. Based on his work in Seattle, Washington, he recommends that couples find the glory in their marital story. He observes that:

In a stable marriage . . . the partners tend to view each other through “rose-colored” glasses. They assume that each other’s positive, admirable characteristics are an intrinsic part of their personality rather than occasional flukes. . . . The good things about their relationship are considered stable and far-reaching while the bad patches or areas of tension are considered to be fleeting and situational. (pp.118-9)

A successful marriage is based on the choice to see a partner with love and compassion. The Lord gives very clear instructions to govern our relationships:

No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood [or, presumably, by virtue of parenthood or husbandhood or wifehood], only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

By kindness, and pure knowledge [A very special kind of knowledge: Pure knowledge! “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” perhaps even in their marriage partners!], which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile — (D&C 121:41-42, emphasis and comments added)

When I was teaching a marriage class for Utah State University, a young woman in the class asked, “My husband had a very painful childhood. Whenever I try to bring up any problems in our relationship, he retreats. He won’t talk. What can I do?” What she might not have known was that she was already doing the most important thing: She was seeing him with compassion and love.

Of course compassion, by itself, does not solve all problems. It is worth remembering as Daniel B. Wile, a wise marriage counselor, observes, that every marriage has unresolvable differences. Some of our differences simply will not be set right in mortality. That is not cause for alarm. It may be cause for amusement or patience or charity, but not alarm. Fortunately many of the irritations in relationships are not so hard to bear when we are peaceful and loving.

There will also be times when that sweet young woman can gently invite counsel from her husband. In a time when things are peaceful, she can ask, “Sweetheart, will you teach me how to get your input when I am perplexed. I want your counsel. Yet I’m not sure how to bring up my problems. Will you teach me how to do it?”

The greatest revolution in research on marriage may have been the movement from communication and problem-solving orientations to a kindness orientation. As Gottman observes:

Even in strong relationships, too often people focus on the negatives in an effort to make the relationship all the better. But by dwelling on what is wrong in your marriage, it’s easy to lose sight of what is right. This is a primary reason that admiration is often the first thing to go . . . Nor do bad times wipe out all the good times . . . look through picture albums from past vacations, or reread some old love letters . . . you need to become the architect of your thoughts. It’s up to you to decide what your inner script will contain. You can habitually look at what is not there in your relationship, at your disappointments, and fill your mind with thoughts of irritation, hurt, and contempt. Or you can do the opposite . . . If you can learn to think empathetically rather than negatively about what your spouse is going through, and maintain your admiration for your spouse’s good qualities, you will not be plagued with overwhelming distress-maintaining thoughts that trigger defensiveness and harm your marriage . . . Make a list of your partner’s positive qualities . . . Memorize this list and think about how much harder life would be without these positives. When you find yourself following a critical train of thought about your mate, use elements from the list to interrupt your thinking. Make a habit of this process and the change can be [a] dramatic . . . “rethinking” [of] your marriage. (Gottman, p.183)

Good marriages are not built so much on “honesty,” disclosure, and frankness as they are built on kindness, patience, and love — just as the Lord has always said:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35, emphasis added)

When we have learned to love as Jesus loves, we are likely to rejoice in our marriage partner.

Marriage

Conflict Resolution and the Creation of Peace

Conflict Resolution and the Creation of Peace
by H. Wallace Goddard

“You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.”

Nancy and I have some friends who have been married for a few years longer than we have been. They are earnest, good people. But they are human. A few years ago the husband was dragging home from work every day at dinner time. He was ready for peace and order. But things were not always in order at home. He nagged his wife. “Why can’t you have dinner ready when I get home? Why can’t you have the kids do their chores? Why can’t you have the place straightened up?” The day came when his good wife had had enough. “You know you have some faults, too.” He pondered that. “Yes, but they don’t bother me like yours do.”

The trouble with most conflict resolution is that it starts in the wrong place. It takes us when we are tired and irritated and puts us toe-to-toe with the enemy. But by the time that irritation and judgment have filled my mind, I am not in a good place to solve our problems. I am not even in a good place to know what the problems are. And I am not in a good place to show the respect that you deserve.

I have a friend who likes to say that “You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake.” That idea can be extended. You can no more win a fist fight than win an automobile accident. You can no more win a family argument than win a house fire. When we choose to fight, we all lose. That is why Satan recommends fighting so highly.

So, what is the gospel remedy for conflict? “Blessed [are] the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). God recommends that we be messengers of peace. Three steps to being agents of peace come to mind.

We can see each other with charity.
Irving Becker has said that “If you don’t like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over into your lap and you won’t mind.”(1)

Often we allow a combination of irritations to fester. Judgment and discontent infect the injuries. Poison fills the system. Disease is a normal part of a telestial world, yet we are all choosing to be something more than telestial.

We cannot overcome irritation by ourselves. That is why Mormon encourages us to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). Divine love springs only from Divine wells. We may love as He loves only when we are filled with Him, when we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16).

I don’t have the right to correct anyone I do not love. When I love them with Christ-like love, I feel inclined to bless, help, encourage, and support them.

We can take responsibility for our own feelings of irritation.
Elder Christensen has recounted a powerful story about irritation. As a newlywed, Sister Lola Walters read in a magazine that in order to strengthen a marriage a couple should have regular, candid sharing sessions in which they would list any mannerisms they found annoying. She wrote: “We were to name five things we found annoying, and I started off…I told him I didn’t like the way he ate grapefruit. He peeled it and ate it like an orange! Nobody else I knew ate grapefruit like that. Could a girl be expected to spend a lifetime, even eternity, watching her husband eat grapefruit like an orange! After I finished, it was his turn to tell the things he disliked about me…He said, ‘Well, to tell the truth, I can’t think of anything I don’t like about you, Honey.’ Gasp. I quickly turned my back because I didn’t know how to explain the tears that had filled my eyes and were running down my face…Whenever I hear of married couples being incompatible, I always wonder if they are suffering from what I now call the Grapefruit Syndrome.”(2)

I used to invest a fair amount of energy encouraging Nancy to keep our kitchen counters clear and clean. As the years passed, it gradually occurred to me that my obsession with tidy counters is not her problem. It is mine. If something is irritating me, I can take care of it. I do not have to make my preferences into universal commandments.

I have noticed that I am far more likely to be irritated by other people’s faults when I am tired, frustrated, or lonely. I can become, as George Bernard Shaw says, “a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making [me] happy.” If I am humble enough to accept my own contribution to the storm, I can take action to minimize it. I can ask for heavenly help. I can slow down and breathe deeply. I can isolate myself if I am unusually antagonistic.

One trap that prevents peace is the need to be right. We condemn others for their ignorance. But any divine mandate to be smart is superceded by the command to be loving. It is better to be good than to be right. “Often the difference between a successful marriage and a mediocre one consists of leaving about three or four things a day unsaid” (Harlan Miller).

We can act in ways that encourage growth.
Many psychologists have observed that Americans express many kinds of irritation in one way: anger. “Why can’t you ever think of anyone else?!” “What is wrong with you?!” “Why are you so selfish?!” Such statements do not invite peaceful sharing.

Rather than complain, “You are so wrapped up in your life that you never make time for anyone else!” I can invite, “I feel lonely. I miss doing things with you. Could we do something together this week?”

Love also sets people up for success. If I know that Nancy likes time to think about decisions, rather than stand tapping my toe, pressing her for decisions and wondering why she doesn’t learn how to make decisions, I will anticipate the need and will provide her time to reflect.

While it is true that people must bear the painful consequences of unwise decisions, we need never rejoice at another’s suffering. We can always offer the healing balm of understanding. A misbehaving family member may have sorrowful encounters with the law. Yet our charity “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).

When an elderly woman was asked at her fiftieth wedding anniversary what the secret of her long and happy marriage was, she responded that she had decided at their marriage to forgive her husband ten faults for the sake of their marriage. “I never got around to listing the ten but every time he did something that made me mad I thought, ‘It’s a good thing for him that that is one of the ten.’”

Love, forgiveness, and wisdom bring peace to our families. Indeed, blessed are the peacemakers. They shall be called the children of God.

Marriage

Taking Your Marriage From Misery to Joy

Mom says I was a pleasant baby. As I grew, I must have become less pleasant. I remember spending a lot of my growing-up years annoying and battling my siblings. I suppose that struggles with life and siblings teach all of us many maladaptive lessons, as they did me.

We’re probably not deliberately malicious. In fact our official theology tells us that children are born innocent (see D&C 93:39). But innocent isn’t the same as charitable, and as we struggle to secure a place in the life and love of the family, we frequently develop some uncharitable and ungenerous characteristics.

When I attempted to inventory some of the maladaptive skills I developed in my youth, I came up with the following list. Consider whether you developed some of these attitudes and abilities in your childhood.

Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them when necessary.)
Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my siblings guilty.)
Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)
It’s amazing what awful things we can learn in the course of growing up. I think these tendencies underscore the literal truth of the Lord’s message to Adam: “Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in [a world of] sin, even so when they begin to grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts” (Moses 6:55, emphasis added). This world teaches us to look after ourselves at all costs. Truly, the natural child—the one who attends only to his own needs—is an enemy to siblings (see Mosiah 3:19).

Carrying the lessons into marriage

As we grow up and enter adult relationships, consider how maladaptive such oft-practiced thoughts and behaviors can be. Consider each item on my list once more—this time in the context of marriage.

Put my own needs first lest my needs go unmet. (Go for the biggest piece of cake.)
Defend myself. (Don’t show weakness. Return fire for fire.)
See the other person as guilty. (Consider even innocent behavior as aggressive or selfish.)
Zero in on weaknesses in others. (Notice what makes others crazy and be prepared to bombard them.)
Make fun of and minimize the other person. (Treat others with disdain.)
Color the truth. (Tell stories in ways that make me look innocent, my sibling guilty.)
Argue their wickedness persuasively. (Describe their faults derisively.)
Be aware of the audience. (Take advantage of Mom and Dad’s irritations with the enemy sibling.)
Hurt them and keep them afraid. (Learn the tools of terrorism.)
These lessons for childhood survival do not contribute to healthy marital functioning. Their awfulness is reminiscent of the mother who overheard her little girl and a neighbor child playing house. They decided to get married and the little girl began the vows: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You may now kiss the bride.” If we are to have a strong marriage, we must put off the natural man and learn better ways.

A painful and realistic portrayal of marriage was provided by a man who submitted this question to an online family service.

“After 13 years of marriage, I’ve come to realize that I really don’t like my wife. She is everything that I despise in a wife and a person. I’m a religious man, have tried everything the books say, and have taken direct orders from our pastor to implement actions all in an effort to cause a positive change in the marriage. The bottom line is, I see no positive aspects to my wife’s personality, and it taints all of her relationships, especially ours. I really dislike being around her and I’ve run out of solutions. Just short of divorce, is there anything that can be done as a final effort to salvage this marriage? BC in NM”

Is the major problem in this marriage the wife’s shortcomings? Probably not. Later in this book I quote a colleague who says, “When people are upset and angry, they are blind to any position but their own.”

Can anything be done?

The Lord has provided the cure for the childhood lessons we learned in self-defense. Perhaps He intended that we learn these higher lessons in our growing-up years—though most of us learn them imperfectly if at all.

“Therefore I give unto you a commandment [A commandment!], to teach these things freely unto your children, [Note what is to be taught!] saying: “That by reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory” (Moses 6:58-59, emphasis added).

Without a new birth, we will never be what we should be in marriage. We will drag our sick, troubled, tortured ways into every encounter and every relationship. God invites us to bury the diseased natural man and be born again as new creatures in Christ.

But, can the gospel of Jesus Christ really help us function better in the day-to-day challenges of marriage?

Surprised by the Doctrine

On one occasion an earnest, intelligent, LDS mother sought me out for advice. “My husband is a good man, but I no longer find him attractive. I am thinking about leaving him. But I am not sure if it is right.”

I really wanted to help this good woman find answers to her dilemma. I hoped my training in relationships and my years of marriage would help. I prayed for guidance.

Much to my surprise I found myself talking to her about the Atonement of Christ. All my training in family life protested: “What does that have to do with her dilemma?” But my spirit would not be deterred. An hour of testifying of His inestimable goodness, mercy, and love spilled out. Phrases from the great Atonement chapters in the Book of Mormon came to life. The cup of testimony was brim with joy.

After it all spilled out, I paused, wondering how to apply the doctrine of the Atonement to her dilemma. But her face told me that nothing more needed to be said. The Atonement of Jesus Christ was the answer. Because of His goodness, we are reconciled to God. When we are reconciled to God, we are reconciled to each other. His goodness makes us one.

Filled with charity—that sweet and divine gift of heavenly love—she felt a renewed bond with her husband. She chose to stay with him. Gladly. Joyously. Lovingly. Their marriage is strong today.

The answers are in the Principles

The Gospel of Jesus Christ—that great plan of happiness—provides the solutions for our humanness. Having suffered the bitter fruits of badness, it invites us to prize the good fruits of gospel-anchored relationships (see Moses 6:55).

Most marriage programs emphasize a set of skills to help partners express discontents in fair, non-attacking ways. The assumption is that every marriage has its discontents and that those must be processed in non-destructive ways in order for the relationship to function well.

My assumption is very different. I believe that the key to a healthy relationship is being a healthy, saintly, God-seeking person—to be born again—to be a new creature in Christ. When we are more godly, fewer things bother us. And when we run into problems, we are more likely to process them in helpful ways.

Notice that God offers just one single escape clause from our desperate mortal, fallen situation: “For the natural [spouse] is an enemy to God [and his or her partner], and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless [Here comes the escape clause!] he yields 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, emphasis added).

In the upcoming articles, I will discuss the core gospel principles and describe the ways they can take us from our self-serving and self-centered traditions of the natural spouse—the spouse unchanged by the Spirit of God—toward the good and gracious ways of godliness. These are the First Principles of Eternal Marriage. These are the principles that will enable us to draw heaven into our marriages. These powerful principles can have eternal results.

If you would like to buy a copy of Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, click here

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Marriage

The Road to Marital Misery is Paved with Good Intentions

Often, we think we are acting nobly when we are actually being destructive.

Some examples:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “We need to talk.”

Hoping to state the problem, she describes the husband’s faults. “You don’t communicate effectively.”

Feeling overwhelmed, the husband resorts to contempt: “Well at least when I say something I don’t go on and on without getting to the point!”

Feeling attacked, the wife gets defensive: “Well, that’s typical! I’m the only one who cares about our relationship!”

Hoping to restore peace and end contention, the husband walks away from his wife. “I’m not going to fight.” And the wife feels abandoned.

In every case, the person may have a perfectly noble intent. He or she hopes to strengthen the relationship. Yet noble intentions are not enough. The road to marital misery is paved with good intentions. Just like when we try to remove a speck from a person’s eye when our own eyes are filled with sand. My presumption will leave us both blind.

Maybe we shouldn’t judge the nobility of our actions by our own intentions but by its sensitivity to our spouses. God wants us to apply a higher standard than “my good intentions” to our actions.

“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:19)

So, God’s principle is that we not act simply out of our objectives but out of the likely impact on our partners. In every decision, we also ask how our action will advance God’s work of redemption. When we use God’s principles to guide our relationships, we think and act differently.

We might argue: “But I am trying to improve our relationship!” Yes. But the path to a stronger relationship travels through your spouse’s heart. We cannot get to closeness without walking in our spouse’s shoes, thinking and feeling in his or her soul.

Does this mean that we must all be mind-readers? No. It means that we draw on our knowledge of our spouse. It will often mean that we ask questions and invite input rather than push in our preferred direction. It means that we take the long view of relationships.

First, enter their world.

Rather than take our irritation as the ultimate truth and guiding principle, we consider “the interest of [our] neighbor”—our spouse. We try to enter our spouse’s world and understand what he or she may be feeling.

Maybe she has had a terrible day.
I was thoughtless. I need to consider his feelings.
Maybe he is worried that I will put him down.
Maybe she feels lonely and powerless.
Maybe he feels like he is in trouble for everything he does and says.

When we understand how our spouse is feeling, we can be more helpful.

Second, we ask questions.

For example, “I would love your thoughts on our vacation plans [parenting, housing, employment, meals]. Is this a good time to talk about this? How are you feeling about our plans?”

When our spouse responds, we will be tempted to become defensive: “Yeah, but you just don’t understand that . . ..” The key to a good discussion is being a good listener and investigator.

Third, we present our ideas as opportunities for discussion. “I like your ideas about our vacation. My concern is that the kids might be overscheduled this summer. What do you think we can do about that?”

Often, we meet resistance (a partner who sees things differently), we push harder for our own beliefs. A shoving match ensues. If we want both harmony and growth, we will resist the urge to push back. We will open our minds and hearts.

Returning to the examples at the beginning of this article, consider the following:

Hoping to strengthen their marriage, a wife approaches her husband: “I would get your input. Would now be a good time for you?”

Hoping to approach the issue, she describes her needs in a way that invites understanding and input. “I know your communication style is different from mine. Sometimes I wish I knew more about what you are thinking. Is there a way you would be comfortable sharing more of your thoughts with me?”

To avoid feeling overwhelmed, the husband chooses humility. “I’m sure I’m missing important things here. I am accustomed to the way my family did things. Will you tell me more about how you like to communicate?

To avoid feeling attacked, the wife remains patient. “I want to make sure I understand you. Can you tell me more about your needs?”

Hoping to avoid contention, a husband leans into their relationship. “I think I need some time to sort out your request. Could we plan to go to dinner and talk some more one night this week?”

There is a particular difficulty in offering gentle responses: When we feel attacked, we react. We run away. We strike back. We get angry. And, once we are upset, it is natural for the conflict to cascade. If we want discussions to be productive, we should catch ourselves before we become roused. When we see that we are entering the war zone, we can take deep breaths, we can use gentle humor, we can declare a timeout.

One source of mischief in relationships is our expectation that we will magically be synced. If our relationship is a good one, we will naturally understand each other and gladly work together. Nope. God intended that we stretch ourselves. We are more different than we realize. Our job is to learn kindness, compassion, and generosity. God wants us to learn other people’s points of view.

The Lord directs: “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (D&C 81:5). God wants us to learn to lift each other just as He lifts us.

Invitation: Notice your irritation. Challenge it. Check the assumptions that generate your irritation. Try to understand why your spouse does as he or she does. Ask kind questions to help you understand.

Recommendation: The leading scholar on these marital processes is John Gottman. His book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, describes the ways we react to each other and ways to do better. For a gospel perspective on marriage, see my Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage.

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful editing of this article.

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.