Joy

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

An Unspoken Struggle: Things As They Really Are

“Behold, my brethren, he that prophesieth, let him prophesy to the understanding of men; for the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be; wherefore, these things are manifested unto us plainly, for the salvation of our souls. But behold, we are not witnesses alone in these things; for God also spake them unto prophets of old.” (Jacob 4:13)

One of the biggest hurdles in working through our weaknesses is overcoming disabling and destructive thought patterns, especially when working with those who struggle with sexual-related issues. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and private. Unfortunately, almost all embrace thoughts and emotions they believe are appropriate in these struggles but are actually preventing them from progressing and finding hope and joy in the moment. These thoughts and emotions sway from pessimism to optimism. But neither are helpful in healing, self-mastery and embracing the atonement.

Optimism can be as dangerous and destructive as pessimism; it can prevent spiritual growth and self-mastery. Optimism and pessimism are two emotional sides of the same coin. There doesn't appear to be any doctrinal basis for optimism in the gospel. The Lord never chastised Job for complaining or needing to be more happy in his trial, or Joseph Smith for complaining there were too many churches. But you might say, “Job’s proving and Joseph Smith restoring the Gospel were a part of God's plan. Like Laman and Lemuel, we are rebelling and sinning against God.”

I assure you most, if not all those I see, are no Laman and Lemuel. The moment we sin or transgress, we see ourselves as Laman and Lemuel, and the moment we repent we are Nephi. This is the dichotomy we unfairly place ourselves into and is harmful to our progression. Those who approach sin and self-mastery with optimism and pessimism are slowly losing hope. Our weaknesses don't make us like Laman and Lemuel; our lack of desire to love and trust God and refuse the atonement make us more like Laman and Lemuel. This idea was captured perfectly in a meme I found recently:

I understand this can slide easily into a topic of semantics. You might be recalling talks over the years that you've heard or read encouraging optimism. President Gordon B. Hinckley gave a talk in General Conference in 2001, "Words of the Prophet: The Spirit of Optimism." More recently, T. Jeffrey Wilks of the Marriott School of Management at BYU gave a devotional "Optimism and Joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Both messages are spot on and insightful. I am confident that you can think of many other messages that encourage optimism. 

However, what I have found is that these talks use the words "optimism" and "positive thinking" interchangeably with hope and happiness. Technically, this is not what optimism means and is not how most interpret its meaning. 

The Webster dictionary defines optimism as "an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome."

I believe that this is the definition used by most people and those with whom I have worked. It is the inclination to expect the most favorable outcome as opposed to seeing things as they really are, the "positive" approach to life. 

What if Joseph Smith was an optimist? How different do you think his prayer would have been? "Father there are so many churches; it's confusing but thank you for blessing us with so many options to worship thee." He would have missed out on the First Vision experience, lessons of eternity, and the building up of an individual courageous enough to lead the Restored Church into a new dispensation.

Where in scripture does it tell us to be optimistic? It doesn't. But rather, the scriptures teach us to see things as they really are: "Wherefore, it [the spirit] speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be." The scriptures also teach us to take our concerns — even complaints — to the Lord.

In an often misread scripture, Sariah provided an excellent lesson in the need to complain:

"For she had supposed that we had perished in the wilderness; and she also had complained against my father, telling him that he was a visionary man; saying: Behold thou hast led us forth from the land of our inheritance, and my sons are no more, and we perish in the wilderness. And after this manner of language had my mother complained against my father." (1 Nephi 5:2-3)

I have attended many meetings where individuals interpret Sariah's murmuring and complaining as an issue with her faith and use it as a cautionary tale. However, I see Sariah's actions as an example of faith, authenticity and seeing things as they really are.

Camille Fronk Olsen, professor of ancient scripture, offers additional insight to Sariah's experience:

"I suggest a different explanation. To establish Lehi and his family in a new land where they would inspire and instruct later generations to come unto Christ, God needed more than a father and a son (as successor) to possess a testimony tried in the fire of affliction. God also needed a matriarch, weathered by her own trials of faith and armed with her own unwavering witness, to stand steadfast with her prophet-husband.

When her sons failed to return, Sariah feared, giving evidence that her present faith, though admirably strong, was not yet strong enough to continue the difficult journey, let alone to establish a God-fearing family in a new land. The content of 1 Nephi 5 is therefore especially significant because it shows how crucial a mother's preparation is to the Lord. God desired not only that the family possess the brass plates for the journey, but also that both the mother and the father have unshakable faith before they continued.

... Sariah's reunion with her sons was additionally charged with the spiritual witness and stronger faith she received as a result of her trial. At that moment Sariah gained a deeper testimony than she had previously known. Notice the power and assurance in Sariah as she bore witness to her reunited family: "Now I know of a surety that the Lord hath commanded my husband to flee into the wilderness; yea, and I also know of a surety that the Lord hath protected my sons, and delivered them out of the hands of Laban, and given them power whereby they could accomplish the thing which the Lord hath commanded them." (1 Nephi 5:8)" —Camille Fronk, Desert Epiphany: Sariah and the Women in 1 Nephi

Sariah is a wonderful example of how voicing concern or complaint can strength faith and even be a form of expressing faith.

Consider Joseph Smith's complaint and concern while locked away in Liberty Jail:

"O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?" (D&C 121: 1-2)

What followed was a powerful and calming revelation that would not have occurred if his fears and concerns were glazed over with optimism. Like Sariah's complaining, he expresses faith in a loving Father in Heaven who answers prayers. To some degree, each prayer we offer is a complaint to God and should be. It is important to offer gratitude and recognize His hand in our lives. But it is equally important to see things as they are, recognize our weakness and, well, complain. Complain with hope and faith in the atonement.

Those who struggle with sin, especially sexual issues, often take a pessimistic or optimistic approach to healing. When they give into their weakness, they often shame themselves, which is not sorrow but guilt and negative self-talk and thinking. For some reason, they feel the ease and power of the atonement are not enough. Also, they fear that if there is not enough self-punishment and shame, they will repeat the undesired behavior, a form of scaring themselves out of the behavior. Others, on the other hand, will over-compensate and take on an optimistic or positive thinking approach. The pain, shame and embarrassment are too much to deal with, and feelings that they are not worthy of the atonement are too overwhelming. Therefore, to avoid or cope with that pain, they put on a smile and repeat gospel positive phrases such as, "I know God loves me," "If I fast and pray more, I will overcome this," and "All I need is more faith," or some other form of positive gospel affirmation. These are those whom we sometimes see as dedicated example Saints who seem to never have a negative thought and all the right answers.

One such client came into session each week and after briefly sharing their status immediately engaged in positive gospel self-talk. "I know I failed this week because I didn't read 30 mins each day. If I increase my scripture studies, I will not repeat the sin." They were very literally not seeing things as they really were. They jumped immediately into supposed solutions to their failure. They thought that if they dwelt on it too long or "complained," they would be lacking faith in the process. But what they are doing is denying themselves insights specific to their needs and self-mastery. What eventually happens is that the gospel positive self-talk runs out. Doubt takes over and faith is diminished. No matter how much they pray, read and do good works, they repeat the undesired behavior. As a result, they question their faith and experience a spiritual fatigue. Many give up after years of repeated visits to their bishop and prayers of repentance. They begin to no longer believe that the Lord doesn't give temptations and struggles greater then we can bear (1 Corn 10:13), or if it were true, it must be they are too sinful to be blessed.

Hogwash! It's because we glossed over the atonement with pessimism and optimism. It's not always about more prayer or scriptures but rather a need to see things as they really are. Although our struggles are in no way easy, it is easier to focus on more scriptures, more prayer, and more faith. If Sariah or Joseph Smith glossed over with optimism, would they have expressed their hard concerns and complaints? Would they have learned and been prepared to bring forth greater faith and revelation by laying their fears on the altar?

Even with those who have struggled with their sins for 40 years, I have seen almost immediate success when we begin to voice their complaint to the Lord. It's scary to be accepting of your weaknesses and discuss them with the lord.

But as Kathryn Kirk as pointed out in her struggles, the gospel is a place of healing, not hiding.

I have even heard many say, "Before I see the bishop or a therapist, I want to work through this to a certain point." Sometimes, we in the faith put too much emphasis on our own works and not enough on trusting the atonement. You no longer have to be afraid of your struggles, but embrace them and see them as they really are without guilt or shame. Eliminating shame and seeing things as they really are is essential to self-mastery and to making your weaknesses strong before the Lord.

When we can stop treating our undesired behaviors with optimism or pessimism and face them with courage, we can bravely lay them on the altar to have our weaknesses made strong. Let's replace the optimism, gospel self-talk and pessimism with hope! I love the words of Pope Francis in making this very same point:

“I do not like to use the word optimism because that is about a psychological attitude,” the pope says. “I like to use the word hope instead, according to what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 11, that I mentioned before. The fathers of the faith kept walking, facing difficulties. And hope does not disappoint, as we read in the Letter to the Romans. Think instead of the first riddle of Puccini’s opera ‘Turandot,’” the pope suggests.

At that moment I recalled more or less by heart the verses of the riddle of the princess in that opera, to which the solution is hope: “In the gloomy night flies an iridescent ghost./ It rises and opens its wings/ on the infinite black humanity./ The whole world invokes it/ and the whole world implores it./ But the ghost disappears with the dawn/ to be reborn in the heart./ And every night it is born/ and every day it dies!” These are verses that reveal the desire for a hope. Yet here that hope is an iridescent ghost that disappears with the dawn.

“See,” says Pope Francis, “Christian hope is not a ghost and it does not deceive. It is a theological virtue and therefore, ultimately, a gift from God that cannot be reduced to optimism, which is only human. God does not mislead hope; God cannot deny himself. God is all promise.” —Pope Francis, A Big Heart Open to God

It is tempting to run from our undesired behaviors, to hide them, or to — in some form of karma — do more good to prevent the bad. Recognize your weaknesses courageously, learn from them, and make them strong.

Because She Is A Mother

“You can’t possibly do this alone, but you do have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you — He who resolutely goes after the lost sheep, sweeps thoroughly to find the lost coin, waits everlastingly for the return of the prodigal son. Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.

Remember, remember all the days of your motherhood: ‘Ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.’

Rely on Him. Rely on Him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And ‘press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.’ You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you, and He will bless you, even — no, especially — when your days and your nights may be the most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and sometimes weep over their responsibility as mothers, ‘Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.’ And it will make your children whole as well.” —Elder Jeffery R. Holland

A light in Darkness

"The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give' are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us." —Neal A. Maxwell

One evening after attending the temple, I looked back and saw what I was feeling: a light in an hour of darkness. What great joy and gratitude I have for such a wonderful blessing of the temple. It has brought so much peace, confidence and clarity in my life. It is that tree of life I look toward as I travel this path of life. It is the place I am reminded of how to turn my will over to Him.