In my last post, I wrote a letter to my kiddos explaining to them why dating is important and what they can do to prepare themselves for when they are faced with "the big decision" (AKA- who they are going to marry).
For this post, I would like to focus on what happens after you've chosen your eternal companion, planned the wedding, made it through the wedding, and now you're in the stage after the honeymoon period where you are wondering..."What did I get myself into?"
It is extremely important for a husband and wife to become one--to be united and to love and support each other in all that they do. This is especially important as you begin to welcome children into the home. But we'll add the children later. :) For now, let's focus on how you can become one as a husband and wife.
"Oneness in Marriage"
Spencer W, Kimball (1895-1985) gave an address at BYU entitled "Oneness in Marriage". In this address, President Kimball shared some insights on not only how, but why it is important to become one.
"In true marriage there must be a union of minds as well as of hearts" (para 2).
President Kimball is not saying that a husband and wife must lose their identities and not have their own thoughts. What he is saying is that a couple must be unified and willing to work together.
He goes on to explain how to achieve this oneness which leads to the optimal opportunity of marital happiness.
"Emotions must not wholly determine decisions, but the mind and the heart, strengthened by fasting and prayer and serious consideration, will give one a maximum chance of marital happiness. It brings with it sacrifice, sharing, and a demand for great selflessness" (para 2).
My take away from that statement? Maximum happiness in a marriage is achieved by being strengthened through the Lord and having a willingness to sacrifice and be selfless.
Foundational Processes for Achieving Oneness
Process #1: Personal Commitment to the Marriage Covenant
Social science scholars have discovered the importance of commitment in marriage. Marriage scholar Scott Stanley has identified two kinds of commitment: constraint commitment and personal dedication (Hawkins 29).
"Constraint commitment comprises a sense of obligation [to the relationship]. ...Personal dedication...is an intentional decision and desire to stay in a marriage for mutual benefit" (Hawkins 29).
Each of these types of commitment are important factors in creating a bond between the couple. "Constraint commitment is helpful for the stability of the relationship, and couples can lean on it to weather the storms that are a part of every marriage. ...Personal dedication is essential for fulfillment in marriage" (Hawkins 29).
I love that it takes commitment and personal dedication from each partner to achieve success in the marriage covenant. It's not a one-sided relationship. It takes two people, committed to each other and their marriage, selflessly working together to achieve fulfillment in that marriage relationship.
I want to focus on personal dedication for a moment because, I feel, that this is the starting point. As marriage scholar, Blaine Fowers has observed, "one of the basic ways for a person to have a good marriage is to be a good person" (Hawkins 29). That seems easy enough, doesn't it? What do you think some of the qualities of a "good person" are?
Process #2: Love and Friendship
Maybe this seems like an obvious foundation for a good marriage, but I am not talking about just "regular" love here. We're talking about Christlike love...charity...pure love.
"Christlike love is the lodestar virtue in marriage--it lights the way and draws attention to other virtues couples may wish to foster in their marriage" (Hawkins 30).
This type of love is more than just a feeling. Christlike love includes the use of ones agency, or personal choice (Hawkins 30). Author C.S. Lewis described it perfectly when he said,
"Love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit. . . . They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other. . . . It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it."
I love that he pointed out that this type of love is present even in the "moments when they do not like each other". Let's face it. Things happen, feelings get hurt, and sometimes you may feel that you don't like your spouse very much. But that doesn't mean that you don't love your spouse. It's just part of the stretching and growing aspect of the marriage relationship.
Let's move on to the friendship aspect of this process. Dr. John Gottman, a marriage and family scholar and scientist has been studying marriages for over 25 years. After the extensive research
1. Respond to bids for attention, affection, humor, or support. An announcement of “I’ve had a rotten day” can be met with an acknowledgement of feelings (“I’m sorry to hear that”), a hug, and an invitation to talk more about it.
2. Make an effort to do everyday activities together, such as reading the mail or making the bed.
3. Have a stress-reducing conversation at the end of the day. This involves reuniting at the end of a busy day to see how things went, and listening to and validating one another.
4. Do something special every day to communicate affection and appreciation.
5. Keep track of how well you are connecting emotionally with each other, and make enhancements when necessary. (Hawkins 31)
Process #3: Positive Interaction
Positive interactions are essential to achieving a oneness in your marriage. That doesn't mean that you won't have some negative interactions sprinkled in there as well, the key, however, is to have more positive ones than negative ones.
A good ratio of positive to negative interactions as noted by Dr. John Gottman is 5 to 1 (Hawkins 32). If you are having at least 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction, you will still be headed in the right direction.
One of the best ways to have positive interactions is to focus on your spouse's positive qualities. In 2003, Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) taught a similar principle:
"I have witnessed much of the best and much of the worst in marriage. ...Faultfinding replaces praise. When we look for the worst in anyone, we will find it. But if we will concentrate on the best, that element will grow until it sparkles" (Hawkins 32).
I love this idea of making your partner's positive qualities sparkle. It's so easy to see find the bad qualities. Why do we want to focus on those and make them sparkle? That's no good for anyone. If you are having a hard time finding positive qualities in your spouse, start writing them down when you do see them and look at that list often. As you do this, you will begin to notice more and more positive qualities which will help you have more positive interactions.
Process #4: Accepting Influence from One's Spouse
"Accepting influence refers to counseling with and listening to one's spouse, respecting and considering his or her opinions as valid as one's own, and compromising when making decisions together" (Hawkins 32).
Process #5: Respectfully Handle Differences and Solve Problems
Maybe you've been surprised to see that marriage is not all wedded bliss all the time. Hopefully, however, you are not surprised. There must be opposition in all things (2 Nephi 2:11), even marriage. "Disagreements crop up even in the best of marriages. How differences are handled is an important key to marital success or failure" (Hawkins 33).
There are some skills that, if used wisely, will be able to help you in this foundational process of respectfully handling differences and solving problems (Hawkins 33-34).
1. Prevention: This is where exercising charity (the pure love of Christ) comes in handy to prevent things from becoming an issue.
6. Soothe yourself and each other: Take a break. Practice some relaxation techniques. Don't continue until you have both calmed down.
7. Reach a consensus about a solution: Sometimes the problem only needs a discussion, not necessarily a solution. However, if a solution is needed, both parties need to come to a consensus.
Process #6: Continuing Courtship Through the Years
David O. McKay (1873-1970) expressed a concern for the lack of courtship after the honeymoon phase of the marriage relationship is over.
I should like to urge continued courtship, and apply this to grown people. Too many couples have come to the altar of marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship" (Hawkins 35).
What are some things a couple can do to continue to court each other once they are married?
1. Attend to the little things.
These three things are not hard, but they will make a huge difference in your marriage. Most days Mark and I are good about doing these things. But we are not perfect, and neither is our marriage. It's a process of learning and growth for both of us.
I do notice a difference in our marriage relationship when we are focusing on caring for each other, respecting one another, and spending time together.
Whew! You Made It!
Hawkins, A. J., Dollahite, D. C., & Draper, T. (2012). Successful marriages and families: Proclamation principles and research perspectives. Provo, UT: BYU Studies and School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
Kimball, S. W., "Oneness in Marriage" (1977, March). Ensign, 7, p. 2