The words of President Gordon B. Hinckley ring in our ears and tug at our hearts as we contemplate the battle the adversary is waging against married couples today. He said, “The family is falling apart all over the world. The old ties that bound together father and mother and children are breaking everywhere. We must face this in our own midst. There are too many broken homes among our own. . . . Can we not do better? Of course we can” (“Look to the Future,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 69).
The world today is accepting—even promoting—behaviors we know are wrong. But even then we often don’t fully realize the devastation these incorrect behaviors can cause. Here are five ways we can better safeguard our eternal relationships.
Safeguard 1: Be more devoted to your spouse than to the internet.
In spite of its amazing ability to help us in appropriate ways, the internet is fast becoming an intruder into the lives of married people. Its allure takes over the lives of far too many spouses, pushing their wives or husbands out of any meaningful marital relationship. We can learn from Elder Russell M. Nelson’s observations in his general conference address in April 2006:
“On a recent flight, I sat behind a husband and wife. She obviously loved her husband. As she stroked the back of his neck I could see her wedding ring. She would nestle close to him and rest her head upon his shoulder, seeking his companionship.
“In contrast, he seemed totally oblivious to her presence. He was focused solely upon an electronic game player. During the entire flight, his attention was riveted upon that device. Not once did he look at her, speak to her, or acknowledge her yearning for affection.
“His inattention made me feel like shouting: ‘Open your eyes, man! Can’t you see? Pay attention! Your wife loves you! She needs you!’”
It’s sad neglect when husbands or wives let electronic devices take precedence over their spouses. Far too often a consuming internet focus in one spouse’s life has led to divorce. This type of unfaithfulness comes in many forms. A few of the ones that rise to the top in stealing attention away from a spouse are: emailing and texting, chat rooms, Facebook, and online gaming. When these take precedence over spending time with your spouse, your marriage is in trouble. Spend your time and energy finding ways to please your spouse. Have fun together. Share meaningful conversations together. Pray together. Be together.
Safeguard 2: Put your spouse before your children.
Putting children before a spouse may be one of the most ignored temptations. Caring about loved ones is a good thing. Nonetheless, however much we love our children, they must not take precedence over our spouse. Elder Russell M. Nelson made that clear when he said, “Let nothing in life take priority over your wife [or husband]. . .” (“Our Sacred Duty to Honor Women,” Ensign, May 1999, 39).
The place of children on your priority list can be a hot-button topic because it’s so easily misunderstood. Before you stand up and scream, “No one comes before my children!” take a minute and fully understand what is meant by putting your spouse before your children and why it matters. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your children. Most parents cherish their children and would literally give their lives for them. Each child is vitally important to both parents and should be shown love unconditionally all his or her life. This isn’t about not loving your children. It’s about loving them enough to put your marriage—your spouse—first. When your marriage is strong, you have more energy and emotional strength together to give to your children. As your children see this togetherness they have greater peace and security at home.
Safeguard 3: Flirt only with your spouse.
You probably did a fair amount of flirting before you were married. That’s the perfect time for those playful, appropriate signals that show you’re interested. However, we must be aware that there is a time to flirt with others and a time not to.
President Ezra Taft Benson counseled: “If you are married, avoid flirtations of any kind. . . . What may appear to be harmless teasing or simply having a little fun with someone of the opposite sex can easily lead to more serious involvement and eventual infidelity. A good question to ask ourselves is this: Would my spouse be pleased if he or she knew I was doing this?” (Ezra Taft Benson, “The Law of Chastity,” in BYU 1987–88 Devotional and Fireside Speeches , 52).
A writer in a national newspaper put it this way, “if you're married or flirting with a married man [or woman], the sexual tension, while exciting, is still like a fault line running underneath your feet. You don't know when it's going to erupt, but when it does—watch out—because everything will crumble” (Emily Bennington, “Flirting with Danger: The Lesson of Paula Broadwell,” Huffington Post, 01/16/2013).
To be clear, flirting isn’t the normal fun of bantering back and forth with colleagues of either sex. Good humor in good taste keeps the work place and other gatherings alive and enjoyable. Flirting leads you in an entirely different direction.
Flirting is looking coyly at another person—such as a sideways glance with a little smile that says “I’m noticing you.” A flip of your hair, a slight touch as you pass. It’s leaning in a little closer than normal as you look at a report or something he or she is showing you. It’s any action that denotes even the slightest bit of sexual attraction. Realize that this type of behavior is a blatant hint that you want more. It’s the gateway to a full-on affair and sometimes a tragic loss of your marriage.
Safeguard 4: Keep romantic thoughts on your spouse.
It’s a well-known fact that thoughts precede actions. The key, then, is to keep your thoughts focused on your eternal goals and your eternal companion. The world has no parameters on thoughts. Its philosophy seems to be, “Think and do what you want without any thought of consequences.” This is dangerous territory because there will always be consequences.
For example, let’s say you are noticing how attractive a fellow employee is. Or maybe you have become attracted to your friend’s wife or husband, whichever the case may be. Or it may even be someone you serve with in your ward or stake.
You are in control of what you allow your mind to dwell on. If the idea of being romantically involved with someone other than your spouse enters your head, keep in mind this counsel from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland: “Like thieves in the night, unwelcome thoughts can and do seek entrance to our minds. But we don’t have to throw open the door, serve them tea and crumpets, and then tell them where the silverware is kept! (You shouldn’t be serving tea anyway.) Throw the rascals out! Replace lewd thoughts with hopeful images and joyful memories; picture the faces of those who love you and would be shattered if you let them down. More than one man has been saved from sin or stupidity by remembering the face of his mother, his wife, or his child waiting somewhere for him at home” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Place No More for the Enemy to My Soul,” general conference April 2010). You may consider keeping a picture of your spouse on your desk to look at often, remembering happy times you’ve had together, letting the words of a hymn or favorite scripture pass through your mind, or thinking about your temple covenants. Whatever you can do to kick out the unworthy thoughts, do it immediately.
Safeguard 5: Be willing to forgive your spouse.
Forgiving someone, especially your spouse, is a Christlike attribute necessary for a happy marriage. Satan encourages the opposite—he rejoices when we refuse to forgive.
We all make mistakes that need our spouse’s forgiveness. Some mistakes are small and insignificant, while others are serious with eternal consequences. All need to be dealt with. Amends need to be made.
President Hinckley said, “There are so many in our day who are unwilling to forgive and forget. Children cry and wives weep because fathers and husbands continue to bring up little shortcomings that are really of no importance. And there also are many women who would make a mountain out of every little offending molehill of word or deed” (“Forgiveness,” Ensign, Nov. 2006).
Offenses usually fall into three categories of seriousness. The first, the minor ones, we’ll call molehill-size offenses. They include things like forgetting a birthday or giving an angry response in the heat of the moment. A sincere apology and pledge to do better can usually take care of these kinds of offenses.
The second, a bit more serious and in need of attention, we’ll call foothill-size offenses. These include things like not appreciating how hard your spouse works, speaking unkindly about your in-laws, or discounting a heartache or disappointment of your mate. These offenses need to be calmly discussed and apologized for and include a reaching out that shows a willingness to change on the part of the offending spouse and a willingness to forgive on the part of the offended spouse.
The last, which are of major importance, we’ll call mountain-size offenses. These include infidelity, addiction, and other major breaking of God’s laws. If your spouse has broken marital covenants and is sincerely repentant, he or she deserves the opportunity to receive forgiveness, not only the Lord’s, but yours as well. This takes time as the offender expresses deep sorrow—not just once but many times—to his or her spouse. The spouse needs to see evidence that this repentance is genuine and that trust can be restored. This evidence comes in the form of humble listening to a spouse as she or he expresses heartfelt disappointment without the offender giving excuses for what was done. It means both parties seeking the Lord in daily prayer, fasting, attending church meetings, and working with their bishop to become temple worthy again for the one who has lost that privilege.
Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that “Under the law of the Lord, a marriage, like a human life, is a precious, living thing. If our bodies are sick, we seek to heal them. We do not give up. While there is any prospect of life, we seek healing again and again. The same should be true of our marriages, and if we seek Him, the Lord will help us and heal us” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Divorce,” Ensign, May 2007). That goes for both the offender and the offended. Both need healing. That’s what accessing the Atonement is all about.
These are only a few of the safeguards that can protect your marriage (for more, check out Because We Love Our Marriage). One of the great blessings we have as members of the Church is the gift of the Holy Ghost. We must pray to hear that still small voice, then listen for the whisperings of the Spirit and heed the warnings. This is our most important marriage protector.
Lead photo from Getty Images.
In an age of “anything goes,” it’s more important than ever to safeguard our marriages from Satan’s troubling influence. In Because We Love Our Marriage, best-selling relationship experts Gary and Joy Lundberg present 12 crucial practices that have the power to fortify your marriage as you develop an honest, open, and intimate relationship with your spouse. With topics ranging from prioritizing your marriage and practicing forgiveness to extramarital interactions and the dangers of pornography, this collection of practical advice and doctrinal discussion will resonate with couples of every age and stage of life. Trials are sure to come—prepare now to navigate your most precious relationship through life’s unique challenges. Available at Deseret Book stores and on deseretbook.com.