Happiest Marriages

Anonymous Question Series:

Q: What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest? Give some examples of how they work through times of disagreement or misunderstanding.

See also:

How to Train Your Spouse

Marital Myth of Communication

Book: "Real Love"

After I complete my book on sexuality in the Latter-day Saint faith, I will complete the writing of my "marriage" book in which I address this and other questions more thoroughly. Much like our Latter-day Saint cultural approach to sexuality, our couples approach needs a revamping. 

A:

The quick answer: Couples who know how to adore versus accept. These couples learn how to be okay with the "messy" of each other. Those who value and encourage individuality and those who see each other as truly equal, regardless of perceived differences or shortcomings.

Marriage books don't work. Marriage communication skills don't work. No amount of techniques, skills or dating will improve a relationship if the fundamental understanding of love (Atonement) and agency is flawed. The problem is most don't recognize their understanding of love is flawed.

The concept that most of us have a flawed understanding of love is a complex one. However, it's rooted in how we view our relationship with God/Christ and our spouse. For example, you most likely have seen a diagram similar to the following:

Preparing for an Eternal Marriage Teacher Manual, (2003), 51–53 "True Love" 

You'll find a similar diagram in almost every lesson in the church-provided manuals regarding marriage. Its focus seems to be heavily on what marriage is NOT: "infatuation, selfish desire, transitory, domineering, and lust." Although those are important to know, those same lessons tend not to provide good examples of what love IS — that is, other than providing the marriage triangle and sharing some stories about "cleaving" to your spouse. 

Despite teaching the marriage triangle in its traditional context, what I've noticed is couples' emotional understanding of the triangle is actually as depicted below:

Logically, the couple knows that they are two separate people with their own agency. They know each person in the relationship is an individual, but they cannot reconcile the paradox of being "one" in the marriage. Emotionally, they believe "cleaving" means oneness in everything. In some marriages, individuals may even believe oneness is supporting and sustaining the "priesthood" in all things — no matter what. This idea creates a dangerous and toxic environment of dominance and unrighteous dominion, which leads to eliminating individuality in the marriage. This is a deeper concept few seriously weigh out and will need to be explored in depth at another time. But as a result, this is why many wait so long to address their pain, depression, anxiety and the eventual resentment in their marriage.

The concise answer to the question, "What kind of marriage partnerships have you seen are the the happiest?" is those who can truly value each other as equals in their individuality. Those who put aside every survey, research article and pop psychology piece that defines the "perfect couples." Those who understand whether their differences or similarities improve the relationship or how to "compromise," and use good communication. These are all required in a happy marriage, but these ALL pale in significance to one's own ability to adore their partner in ALL their strengths and perceived weaknesses. 

You should never compromise who you are.

That is putting your spouse before your relationship with God. Compromise is a ridiculous pop psychology/business approach that results in resentment and prevents couples from seeing any other option than sucky choice A and sucky choice B. Compromise puts couples at odds with each other; it assumes one is right and the other is wrong. It creates a "balance sheet" type marriage, void of revelation. It's the epitome of what the marriage triangle is not. It also assumes our spouse has perceived weaknesses that we should avoid and makes them inferior to us.

"As a way of honoring my marriage, I try to make sure I don’t ever compromise about anything I really care about. “Compromising” means doing something other than what I know is best, not saying or doing what I really think I should say or do — not, in essence, being who I am. How could doing that be helpful to either my wife or me? About anything before us — any subject we’re discussing, I mean — I’m either right, or I’m wrong. If I’m right, or at least really think I’m right, then it’s my job to (politely, carefully, kindly—which is everything) say why I think I’m right; it’s important that I not compromise my convictions about that matter. It’s then my wife’s job to listen and carefully consider what I’ve said. If, having done that, she concludes that in some relevant way the position I’ve taken is wrong or mistaken, it’s her job to (politely, carefully, kindly) tell me why she thinks that. Then it’s my job to truly listen to her (as opposed to, say, pouting and walking out of the room)."—John Shore, A Great Marriage is About NOT Compromising

Let's consider, for example, an individual who is skilled at budgeting and compare him/her to their spouse who has never taken budgeting seriously. Who is better? Who should take the lead? Does this perceived weakness or difference become a source of contention? Compromise would suggest that one of the two must be less skilled while the other is more skilled and the better one is to take over the budgeting completely and view the other as incapable. Compromise fosters resentment. Compromise is a version of acceptance in a relationship, and acceptance is a form of judgement.

Where judgement exists, love and the atonement cannot flourish.

Do not compromise, rather adore. Adore and value your spouse’s differences. See them truly as an equal. When you can learn to fully adore/love your spouse in their differences, you provide a safe and vulnerable love that is only known through the atonement. This type of love can be experienced in the proper marriage triangle. 

Unfortunately, because this concept is unfamiliar to many, some assume that this type of "love" is a justification for abuse to exist in a relationship. Some see that adoring a spouse is equivalent to being blind to harmful behaviors, but it is quite the opposite. When we allow compromise into our relationship, we lose who we are (relationship with self) and our connection with the Lord. In the absence of those two relationships, feelings of insecurity and anxiety develop, causing individuals to feel trapped. They feel they can never "give up" on their spouse or that they just can't abandon the family and leave them like this. This is dangerous thinking. When we don't compromise, we improve our relationship and confidence in our Father above. We allow Him to clearly communicate to us how to proceed in a relationship or to end it.

Here’s an example or something I see frequently. This example is of a wife discovering a husband's porn usage. There is no abuse or adultery in their marriage; the behavior is limited to the husband viewing porn. This couple has a loving relationship and is doing well until one finds out that the other is engaged in pornography.

There are usually two types of responses in these types of situations.

One response is a wife who no longer sees her spouse as an equal, but sees his behavior as a betrayal of adulteress level. She disengages and dictates to him how he is to behave, usually withdrawing sex and other intimate connections during this time. These are those wives who often become anti-porn advocates and use their spouse’s struggles as a soapbox for the dangers of porn. They express they have been traumatized by their spouse’s behavior and have to recover from this betrayal.

In no way am I minimizing or mocking wives (or husbands) who have truly been traumatized. Neither am I condoning pornography. What is important to see in this example is how we view the perceived weakness of our spouse.

A second response is a wife who, rightfully so, is overwhelmed and hurt that he could not divulge his struggles. She decides to continue to view him as an equal in the atonement and joins him emotionally where he is at, without compromising who she is.

Imagine the Savior kneeling down to bring himself eye level with the woman caught in adultery. His thoughts and words are of safety, peace and comfort. He adores her. As the Christ, he does request that she not sin anymore, but that is not our role as the spouse. Those who can join, love and adore in their spouse’s struggles will find profound fulfillment and comfort — even in these difficult issues. Wives (or husbands) who can embrace their spouse in these types of moments are the happiest. However, with the previous example, the couple usually spirals downward and resentment increases.

The natural question is, isn't the wife "compromising" her standards by adoring her spouse? NO. Think back to the example of Christ comforting the woman found in adultry. The Pharisees are more like the first wife, holding to an expectation that was anything but adoring. Meanwhile, Christ did not compromise his standards by adoring and joining the woman, but merely loved her. It is unloving to cast stones and punish our spouse. If the situation becomes abusive, or to a degree that is toxic, the wife's confidence in the Lord will guide her to the best choices. This may mean leaving the relationship before it becomes toxic and dangerous.

This example is a sensitive and difficult issue because of the intimate nature of the struggle. The first woman's response is usually how husbands and wives show "love" to each other. A husband who is skilled at budgeting now becoming annoyed at the wife. So he begins managing every penny and taking her to every Dave Ramsey course available to improve her. He continues by controlling her through apps that notify him of every penny spent and "holding her accountable" for her behavior. You see, this behavior seems acceptable in cases of pornography but outrageous for the case of finances. The truth is that they are the same in level of destructive consequences.

The most successful marriages are those that honor and thrive in individuality, agency and love (Atonement). Without the ability to truly adore your spouse, without losing yourself, no amount of "I statements," communication skills, or improved sex will ever heal and improve the relationship. When adoration exists, communication skills enhance an already loving relationship.

Keep a look out for my book that will include more on this topic and others:

Chapters in forthcoming book:

  1. Not Another Marriage Book

  2. Avoidance and Courage

  3. Embracing our Fears

  4. The Importance of You – Order of Importance

  5. Assuming the Best

  6. The Divorce Equation

  7. It’s Never About Communication

  8. 30 Minutes

  9. Don’t and Be

  10. The Most Important Thing

  11. Daily Adore

  12. Trust Partners Needs

  13. Foster Independence and Individuality

  14. Be Messy, Not Hurtful

  15. No Divorce Equation

  16. No More Parenting Books

  17. Sex is communicating not a reward or punishment