3 Insights into Building a Firm Foundation in Marriage
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Digital Only: Young Adults

3 Insights into Building a Firm Foundation in Marriage

The author lives in Utah, USA.

The challenges we face in marriage can refine our relationships.

Courtship and marriage

Marriage isn’t always easy.

But many of us—in our heart of hearts—believe that it should be.

It’s not difficult to understand why. Entire genres of popular books and movies teach us that the real challenge in life is finding and wooing our true love—but after we marry, it is all happily ever after. And the carefully curated social media posts of our married friends can seem to reinforce this inaccurate belief!

So what do we do when we feel like our marriage is different from what we expected?

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are blessed to understand that mortality was designed to include challenges. We can achieve great happiness in marriage as we embrace it as an opportunity to grow, rely on Jesus Christ, and allow Him to refine us.

If you are having a hard time seeing the challenges in marriage as a blessing, consider the following insights.

1. Unfulfilled Expectations Can Be an Opportunity for Increased Unity

Many of us expect a lot from marriage—self-fulfillment or some magical happiness we didn’t find while we were single. But if we’re not careful, we can develop expectations around what we think marriage should be instead of seeking to understand what the Lord has determined marriage is.

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated: “Marriage as a holy order based on enduring covenants, duties, and lifelong sacrifice stands in stark contrast to a modern secular concept of marriage. That worldly formulation has virtually nothing to do with losing your life in service to family or in self-sacrifice for spouse and children.”1

Fortunately, marriages can be a work-in-progress! What if, instead of expecting marriage to automatically bring us more happiness, we viewed it as an opportunity to sacrifice and serve each other—for two flawed people to be more humble, to grow, and to become more Christlike?

It might feel scary to get rid of the expectation that marriage should be perpetual bliss. But as we replace this with a commitment to sacrifice for one another—as Elder Bednar described—we better align our lives with Christ. The beauty of this approach is that the Lord will strengthen our marriage and help us achieve the happiness we desired all along!

2. Disagreements Can Lead to a Deepened Relationship

When two people join their lives together, they won’t always agree:

Where will we live? How will we spend our money? How much time are we going to spend with the in-laws? How often will the house be cleaned?

But disagreement about such matters doesn’t have to be bad. In fact, learning to disagree with kindness and consideration is an excellent way to build humility and compassion. And as you seek to understand your spouse’s point of view, your love can deepen as you truly come to know him or her better.

President Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President, taught how we can do that. She said: “Unity is essential to the divine work we are privileged and called to do, but it doesn’t just happen. It takes effort and time to really counsel together—to listen to one another, understand others’ viewpoints, and share experiences—but the process results in more inspired decisions.”2

When disagreements arise, conflict can often be avoided simply by keeping the larger goal in mind instead of focusing on the specific disagreement. This works for aspects of marriage both small and large.

For example, maybe your spouse loads the dishwasher in a way that drives you crazy: Cups are supposed to go there, not the bowls!

What’s the larger goal? To have clean dishes. Do your individual methods get the dishwasher loaded? Great! Then there’s no problem or reason for conflict.

Let’s look at a more serious marriage issue—raising children. Maybe one of you believes in a system of structured discipline while the other believes that there should be flexibility and allowances made. How on earth can those two opinions coexist? By focusing on the larger goal.

The larger goal you share is raising children who are happy, responsible, and immersed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. You are already aligned on the most critical things!

Enjoy the journey of learning how you work together to accomplish that goal. If you embrace your own differences and approaches to life, your children—each of whom has their own unique personality—will have different ways to engage impactfully with both of you.

Two heads, two worldviews, two different sets of opinions are always better than one!

President Henry B. Eyring, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, beautifully taught us how differences allow us to become complements to each other in marriage:

“I have become a better person as I have loved and lived with [my wife]. We have been complementary beyond anything I could have imagined. Her capacity to nurture others grew in me as we became one. My capacity to plan, direct, and lead in our family grew in her as we became united in marriage. I realize now that we grew together into one—slowly lifting and shaping each other, year by year. As we absorbed strength from each other, it did not diminish our personal gifts.

“Our differences combined as if they were designed to create a better whole. Rather than dividing us, our differences bound us together.”3

3. We Are Responsible for Our Individual Happiness

Too often we place expectations on our spouse to make us feel confident, loved, and secure when we don’t even know how to do those things for ourselves! Expecting your spouse to fulfill all these wants and needs can lead to disappointment and resentment in marriage.

You are responsible for your individual happiness. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once shared this insight:

“The older we get, the more we look back and realize that external circumstances don’t really matter or determine our happiness.

“… We determine our happiness.”4

Learn what you need to manage your own emotional health. Your spouse can’t manage your emotions for you—he or she is there to manage their own emotions alongside you.

One of the most liberating truths about marriage is knowing that our emotions are not dictated by our spouse’s words or actions. In other words, we can act and not be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:26; Doctrine and Covenants 58:27–28). We have power over how we will think and, therefore, how we will feel in our marriage.

When my husband fails to take out the trash, I can choose to believe it’s because he doesn’t appreciate me. After all, he knows that I hate when the trash in the kitchen gets too full.

But what is the result of that thought? I feel bad. And maybe it even makes me feel disconnected from him. What if, instead, my thought was that he simply forgot? Or even better, what if I chose to believe that his failure to take out the trash had nothing to do with his appreciation for me at all? It’s more likely that the trash wasn’t bothering him, and that’s why he forgot to take it out. If it’s bothering me, I’m the best one for the job!

Changing your thoughts to change your marriage experience might not be easy work, but it is worth it. And it is certainly easier than trying to change your spouse’s behavior!

Marriage Is a Journey of Growth

Marriage will always have its ups and downs, but the journey through those ups and downs can be one of joy and adventure when we remember that marriage is a stretching opportunity. This life is a time to prepare to become more like our heavenly parents, and marriage helps us do that!

President Russell M. Nelson taught: “We need not be dismayed if our earnest efforts toward perfection now seem so arduous and endless. Perfection is pending. It can come in full only after the Resurrection and only through the Lord.”5

How grateful I am for the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which makes it possible for my marriage to improve and become ever happier as time goes on. I am eternally grateful for a Savior who, in spite of the weaknesses my husband and I continue to work on together, can help us become more like Him, and who can make our marriage something that can truly be called “celestial.”