The Marriage Balancing Act

“The Marriage Balancing Act,” Ensign, Jan. 2000, 54

The Marriage Balancing Act

We often juggle many roles in life, but to build an eternal marriage we must make sure the husband-wife relationship comes first.

“Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured.” This counsel from President Gordon B. Hinckley, originally given to young women of the Church (“Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign, May 1996, 94), is valuable for each individual and also has significant application to the marriage relationship. Husbands and wives were meant to be happy as they face life’s challenges together.

After speaking of the creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve, Nephi wrote, “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). We know the Lord wants us to find happiness with our spouses. This achievement is one of life’s greatest blessings and noblest goals.

The blessing comes when we live according to the principles governing it. President Hinckley has given this clear direction: “If there is forbearance, if there is forgiveness, if there is an anxious looking after the happiness of one’s companion, then love will flourish and blossom.

“… The prescription is simple and wonderfully effective. It is love. It is plain, simple, everyday love and respect” (“Look to the Future,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 69).

At times, it may seem that the responsibilities of life are overwhelming and that balancing our roles as husband or wife, parent, provider, and Church worker is simply impossible. It can be done, however, and love and respect can continue to grow, if both husband and wife are willing to make adjustments as life brings change. Challenges can be effectively dealt with and our marital relationships enhanced when we respectfully and prayerfully plan together, keeping our spouse’s happiness, our family’s needs, and our eternal goals before us. As we do this, our lives will stay in balance.

Keeping Career in Perspective

During the early years of marriage when career preparations are being made, or even later when career changes are necessary or desired, extra pressure may be put on the marriage. These challenges can be damaging to the individuals and to the relationship if they are not carefully and prayerfully handled.

During his medical internship, Jason’s* intense schedule did not allow him to attend Church meetings except on rare occasions. He sensed his feelings for the gospel slipping and realized that he was also losing touch with his wife, Sherri, and their three small children. Overwhelmed with career responsibilities, he wondered how he could possibly keep his marriage strong and his life in balance.

There wasn’t anything he could do to change his schedule, but he could see that Sherri knew how much he loved her. In addition to telling her often, he sent flowers on special occasions to express his love and appreciation. Many times he asked her to meet him in the hospital cafeteria for lunch, which she gladly did, though it was no small task to bundle up three small children and bring them to see their daddy.

Jason looked for ways to strengthen his testimony, too. “At one point when I began to see what I might lose, I promised the Savior I would do all I could to stay close to Him and my family. That promise has helped me keep focused on what matters most.”

It was a difficult period, but Sherri and Jason were determined to make it through. “At times when I felt overwhelmed I could pour my heart out to Jason and he would listen and validate my feelings,” Sherri says. His caring response made her feel good and took some of the pressure off.

Seven years later, they still make sure they spend uninterrupted time together, an accomplishment that takes regular planning to handle on a doctor’s schedule.

James and Jodi face similar challenges as he is establishing his own business. “My work could easily take over all my time,” he says. The two of them are determined to keep their marriage strong. James has told his secretary that no matter what meeting he may be in, when his wife calls he wants to talk to her. “She’s first on my list.”

One of the things he and Jodi decided to do to keep life in perspective is to read the scriptures together every day. Ordinarily, mornings work best, but when he has to leave too early, they keep their eyes on the goal and read together at night.

Dealing with Finances

Financial stress can be a serious foe to marriage relationships unless couples work together as did Kevin and Cheryl, parents of four young children.

Having been careless in their spending, they found themselves in financial trouble. At first they became upset with each other, which often happens when money problems arise, but they quickly realized that accusations can do damage and don’t solve anything. “We decided we could let this ruin our marriage and destroy our family, or we could remember our goal to have an eternal family and work this out together,” Cheryl says.

They had earlier ruled out having Cheryl take outside employment. It seemed the only answer was for Kevin to get a second job, but then he would rarely have any time with his wife and family. Realizing that the children needed the constant influence of both father and mother, Kevin and Cheryl prayed for guidance, then set a course of action. She drew on her special training and set up tutoring classes in reading on certain days when her husband could be at home to take care of their three youngest children. Their oldest child benefits from being in the class. “It’s helping us work our way out of debt without sacrificing our family, and we have grown closer together,” Cheryl says.

Every couple must decide together how to handle particular financial needs. But it is a true principle that arguing about any financial problem only makes it worse; solutions are found through extending love and respect. Sometimes this can be done with a simple validating statement. For instance, a frustrated wife may say as she’s paying the bills: “I don’t know what I’m going to do. There just isn’t enough money.” Her equally frustrated husband may curtly respond: “So what am I supposed to do? I’m already working my head off!” He could instead have considered her feelings and said: “It must be tough to make the money stretch. I really do appreciate how hard you work at it.” Or, trying to defuse the situation, she might answer to his angry retort: “You really do work hard, sweetheart. Thank you for all you do.” Then perhaps they could calmly and respectfully plan together how to handle some of those bills. Kindness and “looking after the happiness of one’s companion” help keep the balance.

Serving the Extended Family

Sometimes marriages are stressed and perspective is lost when the needs of extended family members enter into the relationship. Henry and Phyllis, for example, faced the dilemma of having to care for his elderly father. It seemed right to move his father into their home, but eventually the arrangement became more and more stressful for Phyllis. When she talked about difficulties, Henry felt she was complaining and told her to stop because there was no other solution. Hurt, Phyllis responded later that she was not complaining; she was very willing to help care for his father, and all she needed from her husband was “a listening ear, a hug, and a thank you.” Once Henry realized this, he stopped criticizing and began trying to meet Phyllis’s needs as well as his father’s.

Listening to your spouse without being judgmental or critical can be one of the most effective ways to look after his or her happiness. Remember, too, the power of a tender, reassuring hug. We all need them.

Sometimes the needs of a spouse must outweigh the needs of another loved one. Rachael and Tom had to deal with the need to help his widowed mother. Because of loneliness, she called Tom daily to ask for little favors: Could he stop at the store and pick up some milk? Could he come and look at an ailing appliance? Rachael began to resent it and felt that his mother mattered more to Tom than she did.

When a wife or husband feels like someone else is more important to the spouse, then the relationship is out of balance. It is a time to talk about current needs without accusations or justifications. Rachael discovered that Tom also had concern about his mother’s demands but felt he had to meet them to be a good son. Together, Tom and Rachael made a plan that gave his mother a schedule of times when he would visit to help her or simply talk. Tom realized that his wife was the most important person in his life and that she needed to know it. Helping her feel that love made it easier for Rachael to share Tom’s time with his mother.

Challenges with Children

At one point in his marriage, Fred felt left out and unimportant. It seemed that all of his wife Janine’s time and energy were consumed in serving their young children. “I didn’t know where I fit,” Fred says. “It felt like I was only good for a paycheck.”

Janine found that it took some planning to help her husband feel loved and valued. She decided that instead of a quick “Hi, gotta run Molly to piano, bye,” when Fred came home from work, she would greet him with a smile, a tender kiss, and a comment like “Now my day has started again. I’m so glad you’re home.” Taking time away from other chores to lovingly greet her husband worked. Soon Janine found that sometimes Fred would see her at the stove, kiss her, and say, “Now my day has started again.” Expressions of love like these help bring order to chaos and balance into life.

Janet and Phil faced a different problem. Their children were grown, married, and out on their own, but each one seemed to be having his or her own set of problems. Phil was concerned about them, but worries about their children seemed to overwhelm Janet. This kind of pressure can come between a husband and wife if there is a lack of understanding from either of them.

Early one morning after privately praying for her children, Janet picked up her scriptures and began to read: “I speak unto you these things that ye may rejoice, and lift up your heads forever, because of the blessings which the Lord God shall bestow on your children” (2 Ne. 9:3). She knew this was the Lord’s way of letting her know that their prayers were being heard. Finally she felt peace.

Parents cannot solve their grown children’s problems, but they can listen to the children, love them, and turn them over to the Lord. This allows the couple to enjoy each other and the time they have together in the later years of marriage without feeling burdened with endless or needless worry over challenges that rightfully belong to others.

Support in Church Service

Supporting each other in Church callings strengthens a loving relationship and helps us keep balance in our lives. However, some callings require sacrifice on the part of other family members as well as the one called to serve, and if certain challenges are not addressed, it can be a lonely time for a spouse when a partner holds such a calling.

When Greg served as bishop, he consciously worked at talking with his wife, Mary, about things that were not confidential, things he could share, so that she would not feel left out. Mary, in turn, was wise and considerate enough not to seek for information that should not be shared. When meetings were lengthy or late, Greg would take a minute to call so Mary would know he was all right. Every night they would kneel together, hold hands, and pray for each other’s needs as well as their own. They felt each other’s love strongly. A few years after Greg’s release, Mary was called to be Relief Society president. He now had the opportunity to support Mary in her calling, and he did.

It is important that Church service never put a strain on the marriage relationship. In most cases this will not happen where loving support is given by a spouse. Church leaders, for their part, have been counseled to be aware of a family’s needs when callings are given. President Boyd K. Packer, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has encouraged leaders to “carefully consider the home lest they issue calls or schedule activities which place an unnecessary burden on parents and families” (“Parents in Zion,” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 23).

There are undoubtedly other issues that put pressure on marriages and families, but their solutions will be much the same. Couples need to talk freely about each other’s needs, sharing hopes, dreams, and stumbling blocks without criticism. It is essential that they pray together and remember President Hinckley’s counsel to anxiously look after the happiness of one’s companion. He said: “A good marriage requires time. It requires effort. You have to work at it” (“Life’s Obligations,” Ensign, Feb. 1999, 4).

But this is the kind of work that offers both immediate and long-term rewards. When the two of you are willing to work together in resolving difficulties that may have tilted your marriage out of balance, you will quickly find increased peace and joy in your daily lives. And eventually, through blessings that come from honoring everlasting covenants established by our Heavenly Father, you will see your goal of an eternal family become a reality.

  • Names have been changed.

  • Gary Lundberg, a marriage therapist and author, is a high councilor in the Provo Utah Edgemont Stake.

  • Joy Lundberg, a lyricist and author, is a counselor in the Relief Society presidency of the Edgemont stake.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Cary Henrie