Brethren, Love Your Wives
July 1981

“Brethren, Love Your Wives,” Ensign, July 1981, 34

“Brethren, Love Your Wives”

From an address presented at an Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists convention, 2 October 1980.

What should a wife mean to her husband? And how does she deserve to be treated?

No man can become completely adequate or function responsibly without help from others. Of course too much help or the wrong kind of help stifles and is counterproductive. But at the heart of human adequacy is self-esteem, which is fed by rich, life-giving love, confidence, and caring of others. This support can come richly from family and friends. But for men it comes mostly from their wives.

Consequently, there is no higher commitment for any man than to be loyal to his commitment to his God and faith, to his wife and family. The reciprocating fruits from keeping that commitment will usually give him boundless sustaining love and the challenge to reach deep down inside himself and call forth the seeds of the finest of his gifts for their full flowering. He will enjoy a place of honor, dignity, and respect.

Most men worry about succeeding in their life’s work and spend much time and effort at their profession. But I’ve learned that the way to put one’s professional life in order is to put one’s personal life in order. How can we be adequate at anything professionally without being adequate as men, husbands, and fathers first? And yet, we often shortchange those who mean most to us, thinking that because of our special training and special knowledge, others have a greater claim on our time and concern than our own families. I fully recognize that the work my wife did in my home was more important to me than any work I did.

The relationship between husband and wife is the linchpin in the whole family relationship. I am sorry that I have come so late to a fuller appreciation of the extent of the needs of our wives and womenfolk for love, appreciation, companionship, and recognition. These needs are great, they are constant, and they need to be frequently met. Kindness and courtesy do not begin in the professional office—they begin at home.

I am also sorry that I have not sooner appreciated the great sublime, unique gifts which our wives inherit from divinity. I speak of their womanly intuitions and their steadfast faith and capacity to love. Properly nurtured, the eternal relationship of a husband and wife flowers into a love of consummate beauty.

It is an unrighteous exercise of priesthood authority for a man, as a conduit through his priesthood office, to withhold or limit blessings which should flow through the priesthood to his wife and family. The priesthood blessings are not just male- or husband- limited, but reach their potential flowering in the eternal relationship of the husband and the wife sharing and administering these great blessings to the family. Our wives have priesthood blessings, though not priesthood offices. These blessings are the keys to eternal life, salvation, and exaltation through obedience.

Elder Boyd K. Packer recently asked me a very penetrating question: “What would you have been without your wife, Ruth?” I could have answered immediately, “Not much,” but he already knew that. I took him seriously and spent the next twenty-four hours thinking about what I would have been without the loving, sweet support and the discipline of Ruth Wright in my life. It shocked me a little to even think about what life would be and would have been without her. I would have to answer honestly that without my wife I would have been pretty much of a failure. I do not claim to be an expert in marriage: I have only been married once. But, thanks to my good wife, it took. I do not claim to have a better marriage than anyone, but I do claim to be married to a great companion.

I am still moved by what President Marion G. Romney said to the Twelve in a meeting in the temple a few days after the death of his wife, Sister Ida Romney, which with his permission I share. Said President Romney, “When Ida died, something went out of me. The holding force was gone.” At the graveside, President Romney said to me, “Be good to your wife. Take her with you everywhere you can. The time will come when you will not be able to be together.”

The most sacred, intimate, and blessed relationship of life is between husband and wife. I do not love anybody like I love my wife. My mother has father, and my children have their companions, but Ruth is me. Our wives become part of us, and they become like our own flesh—and as Paul counseled, we should love them as such. (See Eph. 5:28–33.) The simple truth is that it is not good for man to be alone. The greatest sustaining influence in my mature life has been the constant supporting, unqualified, unreserved love I have felt for my wife. The sacred relationship with my wife has been the supreme benediction of my life. I just can’t imagine what my life would have been like without having had that blessing.

Without our wives we would never be privileged to be fathers and grandfathers, and enjoy all the blessings that that entails. This relation has to come first in all of our relationships with other people. It is the glue that brings together all of the parts of the jigsaw puzzle of eternal joy and fulfillment and happiness.

One of the greatest blessings of having a good wife is that she can be the source of the most basic of all human needs—love. The greatest unreserved love that I have received in my life has been from the good women in my family: my wife, my mother, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers, my daughters, and my sweet granddaughters.

The example of how to be a man came from others: my father, my grandfather, my uncles, my older brother Gus, and many Church leaders—bishops, stake presidents, and the General Authorities.

If I hadn’t married Ruth I would not have known her mother, Elizabeth Hamilton Wright. She was one of the twenty-two children of James C. Hamilton, bishop of the Millcreek Ward in Salt Lake City for over twenty-five years. She went only as far as the third grade. Because she had a special gift for teaching children, she was taken out of school to tend and teach the younger children in the family. It used to break my heart to see her struggle to write a simple note, but she had spiritual maturity, wisdom, insight, and faith like my own mother. She understood things completely by the Holy Spirit. I loved her for her greatness and goodness and because she taught my wife so well. And my wife in turn has taught our children and grandchildren.

One of the areas in which our wives perform a very great service is in their loving discipline of us. In their discipline they keep us closer to what we ought to be in our holy callings. In their discipline they teach us. It is part of the polishing we need to fill in the holes in our character and smooth the rough edges and make us more adequate. Together we are a team—we are one.

President N. Eldon Tanner’s daughter, Isabel, says about her father, which with his knowledge I share, “When Mother married Daddy he was just a farm boy.” But she went on to say that when Sister Tanner would give him a loving suggestion, unlike many men who bridle or argue when their wives tell them something that is good for them, he would simply say, “If you think that’s what I should do, I’ll do it.” Listening to Sister Tanner and listening to the Lord has made a very great man out of President Tanner.

I am grateful to many of the Brethren for their examples of kindness and thoughtfulness and solicitude to their wives. When I was in a stake presidency, Elder S. Dilworth Young came to our stake conference. At that time his wife, Gladys, was an invalid, having suffered from a cruel stroke. She remained that way for years. Brother Young made the extra effort to dress her, feed her, and care for her. In all my life I have not seen a greater example of gentleness, kindness, and solicitude than Brother Young showed to Gladys. It was an example of perfect love. When I obtained his permission to tell of this, he said, “It was the worst thing in the world that could have happened to Gladys and the best thing for me. It made me decent. I learned what love really should be.”

Perhaps in these times of great stress we can become what we ought to be in our relationships with our wives. Perhaps the eternal “every day” causes some of us to be more casual than we ought to be. Of course, we love our wives, but perhaps we take them for granted too much of the time. Perhaps too often we fail to express our appreciation to them in little ways. I know I do. We could certainly show more affection and always look upon our companions with love and respect. We can surely be polite and courteous if we try. We can nourish and cherish them.

The simple fact is that few of us could function nearly as well without the support of our gracious and loving wives. They make our homes the heaven on earth which they are. How can I expect God to honor me and be pleased with my service if I do not honor and cherish my very own companion?

In the scriptures we are told that we should not be unequally yoked together. (See 2 Cor. 6:14.) I fear that in terms of our total person, our wives maybe do a better job than we do in being Christlike, thoughtful, kind, gracious, and loving. I feel that Ruth deserves a better me. As members of the Church, we all have the responsibility to be instruments to impart righteousness to the world. Unless we impart a full measure of righteousness to our wives and families, we will be blunted instruments to the rest of the world.

We must strive for greater spirituality in our relationships, and especially in our homes. Literally taking the Lord into partnership with us will bring us a full measure of peace, happiness, unity, and contentment. We need these blessings in our lives to be what we ought to be—more adequate vessels for the work which we have been commissioned to do. We have the responsibility to bless the lives of others. If our own lives and spiritual batteries are not full and complete, how can we expect to touch the world and bless others?

I know the gospel is true, and I know a substantial part of that gospel is how I treat my Ruth on an hour-to-hour, day-by-day, ongoing basis. I believe that none of us can come into full possession of all of our powers without an eternal companion. I suggest that the ultimate judgment will come to us in terms of what kind of person we have been, what kind of husband we have been, what kind of father we have been, and what kind of family we have raised. Indeed, the Lord has commanded: “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.” (D&C 42:22.) That we may do so, I humbly pray.

Let’s Talk about It

After reading “‘Brethren, Love Your Wives’” you may wish to discuss some of the following questions during a husband/wife study period:

1. How important is it to you to receive love, confidence, appreciation, and support from your spouse? In what ways do you freely share these things with each other?

2. The article says that “the way to put our professional lives in order is to put our personal lives in order.” Why is it important to establish this priority?

3. “Taking the Lord into partnership with us,” says the article, “will bring us a full measure of peace, happiness, unity, and contentment.” How can a husband and wife include the Lord as a partner in their marriage?

4. Individually make lists of the things you appreciate about each other. Discuss what you have written.

Photography by Gerald Bybee