Changing Me Changed Our Marriage

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“Changing Me Changed Our Marriage,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 8

Changing Me Changed Our Marriage

I’m married to a non-Mormon. Though I sincerely want my husband to join the Church, I’ve found that I need not wait until then to have a marriage that is a bit of heaven on earth. I’m happy at home, and so is my husband. But it certainly didn’t start that way.

For the first seven years Brent and I were married, I nagged. Not a lot, mind you, but my husband certainly knew that he smoked too much, went out with the boys too often, didn’t spend enough time with me and the children, didn’t handle money very well, drank too much, and didn’t do enough chores around the house.

I had two things going for me though. An earlier divorce had made me vow that I would never leave Brent and that he would never leave without knowing I loved him and wanted him to stay. Consequently, although he packed his bags a couple of times, he never walked out with them.

The other point was that we both had loving natures and a deep regard for each other. Sometimes it got hidden by the anger, but it was always there. Still, his life-style created frustrations for me. I realized that Brent wasn’t changing, and my frustrations were making home life unpleasant.

One day in Relief Society we were told that the woman sets the tone of the home. That made me think, and I began looking for articles and books to help me. I sat down with myself and analyzed what I was doing.

The first thing I saw was that seven years of nagging had produced no results; Brent knew by now what I didn’t like, so I might as well stop repeating myself.

Second, if I couldn’t change him I would have to change me and find ways to live cheerfully with what he was. I needed to work on my perfection, not his.

Third, I could never love him as I should if I was constantly thinking I might someday have to choose between him and the Church.

Fourth, I must let him take his rightful place as head of the family in all things, even decisions involving the Church.

From Relief Society lessons, Sunday School classes, personal scripture study, BYU Education Weeks, various books, and much prayer, I developed a plan.

I decided to begin by remaining cheerful when Brent stayed out late. Prayer was the key to this change. The first time Brent came home late to find me in a good mood, his reaction was, “What’s going on here?”

I told him I was wasting too much energy worrying about him and so was asking our Heavenly Father to take care of him because he had more influence on circumstances than I had. I also said that Brent had enough sense to keep himself out of trouble. He laughed, and within two months was phoning me if he planned on being late. He was also coming home consistently earlier since he had a pleasant wife to come home to. It was hard. I had to discipline myself; when I couldn’t contain myself after he arrived home from drinking late, I learned to leave the house. But the results were worth it: our quarrels over Brent’s drinking were drastically reduced.

Buoyed by that good experience, I sought new ways to eliminate other points of contention.

I quit nagging Brent to take us places. Instead, I planned outings and family home evenings for us, then invited him to come with us. Sometimes he did; sometimes he didn’t. We were glad to have him with us, but went ahead without him if he was busy. I also invited myself along if he was going somewhere we would enjoy. If he said no, I didn’t let it bother me.

Even more important, I began finding ways to communicate my love. I began thanking him for every chore done and every compliment, gift, good turn, considerate action, and show of affection he gave me. I also started complimenting him on the way he dressed, on his sense of humor—on every good point I noticed. Needless to say, I began seeing more and more good things about him. The more I saw, the more my respect grew, and the more I loved him.

Slowly I learned to really think of him as the head of the house. I learned to go to him and ask for his help when I had a problem instead of accusing and blaming whenever I made a mistake. Doors of communication that had been shut for years began opening.

Then, carefully, I started asking his permission to go to church functions or take the children somewhere. At first he said, “Go ahead. You’ll do it anyway.” But by not doing things I knew he objected to, he eventually learned I honored his wishes and he took more interest in what we were doing.

And I worked on me. Brent disliked to come home to unwashed dishes, so I resolved to have the dishes done no matter what else was left. I also resolved to get more sleep so I’d be more pleasant to come home to. That would take more efficiency than I had. I studied, planned my schedule, and then replanned it. My children helped more willingly after I told them I needed their help in making our home a happy place. I lost some weight, dressed more neatly, and let my hair grow a little longer because Brent likes it better that way. I especially worked on forgetting what I wanted Brent to do for me and concentrated on what I could do to make him feel more loved.

It is now four years later and I am still working on all of these areas, but the blessings can’t be counted. Months ago Brent paid me the supreme compliment of saying he would never have had the confidence to recently start his own business without my support. Daily I feel loved and cherished.

A smile over the heads of our children, holding my hand as we walk down the street, his teasing to make me laugh, telephone calls to let me know he misses me, small gifts that say “I love you,” a lunch date without the children—all these things show me he loves me. And when he tells me he wants us to be married forever, I am completely happy.

He has changed greatly. He has quit smoking, cut his drinking down, enjoys spending time with us, and takes one child at a time on a special outing every few weeks. He is a kind, loving husband and father, interested in what we do and think and feel.

Our love for him is possibly helping him move toward baptism. But if he chooses not to join the Church, the love and peace in our home and the growth and development I’ve experienced through trying to apply gospel principles is reward enough.

Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten