“Is it true that each of us contracted with someone during our premortal lives to find and marry that person here?” Ensign, June 1977, 39–41
Steve F. Gilliland, director, institute of religion, Cambridge, Massachusetts As I understand it, we do not know the answer to this question. It is a question that has often been raised by Latter-day Saints, particularly as we contemplate the nature of our premortal experience. The issue captures our fancy, and as a consequence, we have found this idea popularized through romantic novels, plays, and movies written by Latter-day Saints. Thus, because members of the Church have raised the issue, the leaders of the Church have occasionally made some observations on the subject. Let me identify some of the observations that I am aware of, observations that give some orientation that I have found to be helpful.
First, we know from the writings of the prophets that many of us made covenants with the Lord prior to mortality. (See History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6:364; Alma 13:3–9.) How general or how specific these were, I do not know. I have heard of occasional Latter-day Saints whose patriarchal blessings have stated that they made premortal covenants with their spouses.
However, concerning a universal application or general principle, the First Presidency in 1971 stated that “we have no revealed word to the effect that when we were in the preexistent state we chose our parents and our husbands and wives.” (Letter to Joe J. Christensen, Associate Commissioner for Seminaries and Institutes, June 14, 1971.)
Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, in 1931, wrote on this issue: “It is possible that in some instances it is true, but it would require too great a stretch of the imagination to believe it to be so in all, or even in the majority of cases.” (The Way to Perfection, Genealogical Society, p. 44.)
Concerning one of these specific cases some members of the Church like to quote an article by Elder John Taylor in 1857, in which he suggests that, at least in one case, he felt that a premortal agreement had been made. (See “The Mormon,” August 29, 1857.)
But the answer we have been given by the Brethren is that “we have no revealed word” on this matter. And in this and many similar matters Church leaders have counseled us to avoid teaching doctrines that are not clearly defined in the scriptures or by current prophets. (Elder Harold B. Lee, address to seminary and institute personnel, July 8, 1966, pp. 6–7.) This is good advice, even for members who feel that they have had personal revelation on this subject.
Realizing that we do not have a universal, revealed answer on this question, I think it could be helpful to examine some of the problems people may get themselves into when they build on the idea of premortal marriage commitments.
This idea seems to assume that prior to mortality we knew everyone we would meet on earth well enough to make that kind of decision. Some of us made promises as childhood sweethearts that in maturity were wisely never kept. The same may be true for premortal sweethearts, if there are such. One young lady, when informed by a returned missionary that she made a premortal covenant to marry him, replied, “Even if I made that mistake there, I am not going to make it here.” Since we should be making spiritual progress here, and since covenants only have eternal validity if sealed by the Spirit (D&C 132:7), perhaps some of us can make better marriage choices in mortality. Another young lady I know received two proposals in the same week. Each suitor told her that he had a revelation that she had promised in heaven to marry him. She informed each that he had no priesthood stewardship over her and that he must wait until she received her own spiritual confirmation. Thus far it looks as though she will marry neither person.
A general belief in this idea may cause some problems for those seeking a future companion. It tends to emphasize premortal preparation for marriage. The challenge we face in mortal preparation is to develop qualities of spirit and personality that enhance meaningful relationships. I have seen many young adults who totally immerse themselves in academic and other pursuits and seldom date or seek other kinds of social experiences that may be challenging and developing. They justify this by saying, “When the right one comes along, I will know and I will marry him/her.” They neglect the wise counsel that young adults should be involved in dating and other activities together. This is not just for the purpose of finding a mate, but also to develop qualities such as the capacity to listen and respond, the ability to handle conflicts, the skill of helping others, a greater understanding of the opposite sex, etc. These essential qualities are not developed by one who seeks only selfish pursuits while waiting for the “one and only” to arrive on the scene. While developing these capacities and living in tune with the Spirit, one will come in contact with many potential eternal companions.
A belief in this concept may even tempt one to rationalize inappropriate sexual experiences prior to marriage. “This is my one and only. This is a special situation. We will be married anyway.” Immorality usually leads to a disintegration of the relationship. (See “The Psychological Case for Chastity,” Ensign, July 1975, pp. 54–58.) Can you imagine the disillusionment and fear that can come if your “one and only” decides to end the relationship? It can be even more overwhelming if the couple have become too intimate.
Individuals who believe that marriages are made in heaven may focus on finding “the one” and not prepare for the work required after the wedding. Premortal associations may enhance the attraction between two people, but they do not resolve current conflicts. A man may feel secure with his “one and only” and complacently ignore her needs. Security in a relationship is important, but complacency can be detrimental. Relationships will wither if not nourished, no matter how long they have existed.
Certainly the wisest course for any of us to take is to build a relationship on its own merits, rather than on any premortal contracts we suppose have taken place.