“Building a Successful Marriage,” Ensign, Mar. 1998, 27–31
Every marriage experiences trials and challenges, but as couples keep the commandments and seek the Spirit of the Lord to guide them, they are able to build strong unions that withstand life’s storms. The Ensign asked readers to share ways the gospel has helped them make their marriages better. Following is a cross-section of responses.
Build on a temple marriage. My husband, John, substitute taught in high school. One day in school the subject of marriage came up, and the students said at his age he should be divorced, married to his second wife, and preparing to leave for a third. They spoke of his depriving his children of learning to live with stepsiblings and insisted that he was leaving them unprepared for their own divorces!
John replied that marriage can last even in today’s world and explained to the students that neither our parents nor grandparents had ever divorced. They had set a good example for him, he said, and we planned to set the same example for our children.
Later, we talked about what kept us together. Foremost, we married in the temple, and we try to go back to the temple regularly, at least once a year participating in sealing ordinances just to remember the covenants we made at the altar. Also, we discussed that there are no “escape clauses” in our marriage. We work through our problems together instead of running away, and we include the Lord in our decisions.
There are little things we do to remind ourselves of the promises we have made in the temple. We don’t find fault with each other: plenty of others in society do that for us. And we let little things go. A hundred years from now, who will care that the dishes weren’t done every evening? Best of all, we always look forward to coming home to each other. Our goal as a couple is to reach our heavenly home so we can always come home to each other.—Maria and John Bates, Sandy, Utah
Study the scriptures. One spring day I came home in a cheerful mood, only to be met by my tearful wife. I quickly asked her what had happened. She replied that my father had called. This alarmed me because my father had disowned me some years earlier as a result of my activity in the Church. Feelings of anger stirred in my heart that he would call and upset my wife to the point of tears.
My wife informed me that my father had tried to convince her of my inadequacies as a husband. Now I wanted to call my father to retaliate. However, I decided to wait and calm down first. For the next two days I remained angry and bitter. At the end of the second day, my wife and I knelt to pray. Since I did not feel in the right frame of mind to pray, I asked her if she would offer the prayer.
She took my arm and said, “Before we pray, I want you to read a scripture.” She turned to 3 Nephi and read: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you” (3 Ne. 12:44).
My heart began to pound. I felt suddenly as if the Savior were speaking directly to me because his words penetrated the deepest portion of my heart. Then I began to cry and felt my angry heart soften.
When I looked at my wife, she said something I will never forget: “Do you know why I gave you that scripture? I just want you to be the best person you can be.”
I was overwhelmed. My sweet wife had opened a scriptural door that let the light of gospel principles shine through to my heart, and I was able to forgive my father. I came to appreciate my good wife even more. The gospel has given us a solid foundation in our marriage as we continue to help each other be the best we can be.—Name withheld, Las Vegas, Nevada
Seek spiritual gifts. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been a great instrument in our marriage in many ways. I went to Heavenly Father in prayer for help to resolve problems my husband and I were facing. I was led to visit with my bishop, who through the power of the priesthood bestowed upon me the gift of communicating clearly with my husband. This blessing has been of great value in our marriage.
We also each prayed that the Lord would soften our own heart as well as our spouse’s heart and that we would each be shown the error of our ways when it is necessary. Only the Lord’s Spirit can change our hearts and open our understanding beyond that which we currently comprehend.—Name withheld, Los Lunas, New Mexico
Trust in the Lord. I still remember the feelings that flowed through my heart while I sat next to my bride in the sealing room in the temple: feelings of excitement, joy, and anxiety. Before we knelt at the altar, the temple president counseled us regarding the importance of what we were about to do. He explained that “trials will come into your marriage.” At the time his words held little import to me.
Now, years later, as my wife and I struggle with raising our teenage children, those words from the temple president have new meaning. One night I recall walking around our home, turning off lights, and sitting in an easy chair waiting for the last of our children to come home. The hands of the clock over the television set showed me that our son would not be honoring his curfew. As the minutes passed, dozing in my chair was out of the question.
At one point my wife called from the bedroom, “Is he home yet?”
“No,” I answered.
The hands of the clock moved past 2:45 A.M. Was my son hurt? Was he lying in the street someplace? Then at last I heard him come in. What was I to say? The confrontation lasted only a few minutes but seemed like an eternity. Later, both my wife and I began to think more deeply about our role in our children’s lives.
Out of that night’s fear, and in other times of conflict with our teenage children, we grew and changed in our approach toward child rearing. As we dealt with these trials, my wife and I realized that we needed to shift our attitude from worry that a child’s conduct might reflect poorly on us to one of deep and profound concern for a son’s eternal welfare. We changed from parents who tried to sweep family problems under the rug to avoid our embarrassment to parents who exercised faith as we weathered through comments of unsupportive family members and neighbors and turned instead to the Lord for direction.
Through the turmoil of these trials we have found our marriage has grown stronger. We have learned that there is a step-by-step process established by a kind and loving Heavenly Father who said, “He that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (D&C 50:24).
Through placing our trust in the Lord, we have seen this process of growth pull us to higher levels of gospel understanding and forge a deeper commitment to applying the teachings of the Savior in our lives.—Ron Hansen, Riverside, California
Build on the gospel. Perhaps few marriages are sheltered from the winds of tests and trials, the floods of consequences from disastrous decisions, or the “why-on-earth-did-we-marry” days. While each of these has the power to destroy our relationship, we’ve found that keeping the commandments and making marriage a priority has given us a foundation on which to build.
Nothing in life comes easy. We have put “work on our marriage” on our daily to-do list. Just as our testimonies must be maintained on a daily basis, so must our marriage be fed loving words, quick forgiveness, and thoughtful expressions. We also make it a point to be where we should be, doing what we should be doing. If it’s Sunday, we go to church. If it’s morning, we read scriptures and say prayers. Another thing that has helped is to remind ourselves that our goal is not to think alike, but to think together. My husband and I realize how different we are, and we work at understanding each other’s point of view. Our goal is to fall in love with each other over and over again throughout life.
By basing our relationship on the example and teachings of the gospel, we have an anchor that holds the foundation of our “marriage house” to the rock the Savior spoke of: “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock” (3 Ne. 14:25).—Shondra Imler Yeager, Idaho Falls, Idaho
Study true principles. Both of us began marriage with very low self-esteem, and we both tended to be loners. One night my wife let in two elders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because there was a blizzard outside and she felt sorry for them. I gained a testimony that the Church was true—despite my initial reluctance—and we eventually joined. Since joining, we learned that each of us is a child of God and that it is possible to improve ourselves. We accepted the fact that we were given weaknesses to learn humility and that our weaknesses could become our strengths (see Ether 12:27). This fact gave us courage to continue on together and to learn and study about correct principles that have helped us make needed changes.
When, much later, I was called to serve as a bishop, I had an opportunity to share with many people some of the things my wife and I had studied: principles from the scriptures, articles from the Ensign, books I had read, and stories I had heard that showed how gospel principles could improve marriage. Every story was beneficial because each was based upon a gospel truth. These practical helps, experiences, and accumulated stories—added to scriptural insights—have enabled not only my wife and me, but also many others, to keep improving our relationship and to enjoy being together. So much in the gospel is designed to improve our relationship with our spouse.—Robert N. Allen, Windermere, Florida
Cleave to your spouse. In our case, one of the best things that happened to my husband and me was to move halfway across the country from our parents just months after we were married. We couldn’t turn to our parents for help with every little thing. The Lord counsels us to “cleave” to our spouse and “none else” (see D&C 42:22). To “cleave” means to be steadfast, to adhere, and to hold fast.
In those early years of marriage we struggled to get used to military life, to each other, to long separations, and in time to a baby. But over time we weathered those storms and held tighter to each other, and our love grew strong despite the storms.
Since everything else should support our marriage and our desired goal of exaltation, we do not cleave to material things, careers, or volunteer work, although each needs our attention occasionally. Sometimes we have even temporarily put aside the tasks associated with a Church calling because the marriage needed our attention.
Our moments of cleaving are sometimes brief. They are often combined with other tasks like driving to and from a leadership meeting or the adult session of stake conference, or doing grocery shopping together without children. Just as we look for opportunities to be with our children, we also look for opportunities to be without them.
Other moments of cleaving are planned. The advice to have a weekly date is inspired. It doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t even have to be out of the home. It does need to be without children. It is our time to nourish our relationship to keep our love healthy and alive.
With all the many voices that come to us in an attempt to thwart our efforts to gain exaltation, we have to recognize anything that tries to break apart the marriage is not of God. Our marriage has survived because we have tried to follow the counsel to cleave to each other and to serve God.—Becky E. Ludlow, Derby, Kansas
Pray. When Chad, our newborn baby, started taking more and more of my wife’s time, I sensed a feeling of resentment. With Chad came new financial responsibilities, and the pressures on me mounted. Often I felt my wife did not understand me. The need to feel understood left me wanting to look outside our marriage for friendship and emotional support. Then I remembered the feeling I had when I took my sweet wife by the hand in the sealing room of the Boise Idaho Temple. There the Spirit of the Lord bore pure testimony to me of the sanctity of our marriage. I will never forget that moment.
I was asked once if we pray for a successful marriage. We do now. At the end of each day we kneel with our son and have family prayer. The gospel is full of tools to help a marriage. Having a strong relationship with our Heavenly Father has become the backbone of our marriage.—Scott A. Carlson, Boise, Idaho
Be grateful and forgive. It was late. My husband and I were both exhausted, the house was a mess, and our toddler was teasing the baby. Then suddenly my husband and I had words that quickly escalated into an argument. Feelings were hurt. I soon found myself with the children in one room of the house and my husband in another room. Silence stretched across the house.
I put the children to bed, and still no words had been spoken. Our home had become simply a house: empty, cold, and silent. I tried lying down but couldn’t sleep. My pillow became wet with tears, and my thoughts kept turning to my wonderful husband of six years who was sitting alone in the living room.
I began praying for guidance. I wanted him to make the first move and say he was sorry, yet I wanted the loving atmosphere of our home back even more. As I prayed, my mind filled with beautiful memories of my husband, our marriage, our promises made in the house of the Lord, and all my blessings. A thought came to me—what would the Lord have me do? My tears increased, and before I knew it I was kneeling beside my husband, gently waking him with my tears and my hugs.
Hugging me back, he said, “Please don’t cry.” We were both saying we were sorry over and over and telling each other how much we loved each other. Immediately a sweet spirit filled our home again.
In my mind I kept thanking Heavenly Father for the gospel, which led me to pray, to listen with my heart, to be humble, and to count the ways my husband blesses our lives together. Since that night my husband and I try to be more careful when exhaustion sets in, and we try to count our blessings and be more patient.—Kelly Smith, Balch Springs, Texas