As a young couple struggling to establish a spiritual foundation in a temporal world, my husband and I have often found it challenging to reconcile demands of our educational pursuits, jobs, church callings, and other activities with the commandment to “cleave unto” one another (D&C 42:22). Preoccupations from daily responsibilities make it difficult to disconnect from the world and be present for each other.
President Spencer W. Kimball said, “A husband or wife who places children, friends, careers, hobbies, or church callings before the marital relationship is in direct violation of the commandment [to cleave unto one another and none else] . . . We must therefore take special care to build, nurture, and deepen the marriage relationship” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 311.)
Like many Latter-day Saints, we want to work toward a Celestial marriage, and we recognize that when it comes to fortifying our marriage, there's a difference between spending time in the same room and spending time together. How can we use our time to strengthen our marital bonds? Here are some tips we’ve discovered.
Set Goals Together
For one of our first family home evenings as a married couple, my husband, Mike, suggested creating a goal poster. We discussed specific things we wanted to accomplish together (like graduate college, have children, and travel through Europe), then printed pictures that represented those goals and glued them to a poster board that we've hung in our room ever since. We’re always adding new goals, and we try to take time regularly to plan and discuss our progress. When we reach one, we stick a gold star on its picture to symbolize the accomplishment.
Prayerfully working toward clearly defined joint goals has helped us align our values and develop unified direction. Just as the prophet Alma commanded his people to eliminate contention among themselves by ‘looking forward with one eye…having their hearts knit together in unity and love one towards another’ (Mosiah 18:21), as husbands and wives become unified in purpose, the joy of cooperative effort displaces contention, and we become of ‘one heart and one mind’ in all areas of our marriage.
Ask Each Other Questions
Questions are valuable for maintaining daily connection. Mike and I try to ask each other about three positive things and one difficult thing that we each encountered throughout the day. These simple, open-ended inquiries allow us to touch base, celebrate victories together, and keep a positive perspective.
Margaret Thompson, MSW, LCSW from Salt Lake Marital and Family Therapy Clinic, says that couples generally enjoy happier marriages when each partner regularly asks, “Is there anything I’ve done lately that upset you?” and “What do you need from me?” It’s important to devote time to listening carefully and sensitively to your spouse’s feelings. Thompson says trust can be built by maintaining eye contact and restraining your own emotional response as you tune in to your partner. As you establish a pattern of open communication, you become better equipped to handle difficult problems together.
Learn Something New Together
Mike and I have both always struggled with math. When he had to pass an upper-level statistics class to get his degree, we used time in the car, in line at the store, and before bed to help him learn and memorize formulas and definitions. He aced the class, and I learned many things that helped me in classes I took later. Mike easily could have studied alone or with a classmate, but including me was an opportunity to strengthen our teamwork, and we treasure those memories.
Learning with your spouse provides accountability, so you’re both likely to stay motivated throughout the process. Since we were both involved, when either of us lost steam, the other could offer encouragement. It also allowed us to combine our aptitudes and think more effectively. Because we’re generally attracted to people whose strengths differ from our own, chances are your spouse can offer insights you may not readily see.
Several universities, including BYU and MIT, have many course materials available online at no cost through OpenCourseWare. Although you won’t receive college credit, taking courses together is a great way to bond while establishing a habit of lifelong learning.
Solve a Problem Together
I used to believe that strong marriages had minimal conflict, and I felt tremendously guilty whenever Mike and I had a disagreement. Five years and countless arguments later, I’m learning that conflict is inevitable while developing meaningful relationships.
Thompson assures her clients that conflict is a normal sign of growth, not a sign of betrayal or dysfunction. She cautions that conflict can turn to contention, but we can prevent anger and hurt feelings by focusing on hearing rather than being heard. Successfully repairing hurt feelings strengthens the relationship. The bottom line in a healthy marriage, she says, is that your partner knows that you’re there for them no matter what.
As you both adjust your mindset to see conflict as a potential factor for growth, your communication improves and it’s easier to solve problems together. Overcoming minor disagreements makes it easier to successfully work through more difficult problems as they come.
Take a Walk
Several studies show strong links between shared participation in recreational activities and high levels of satisfaction, stability, and attraction in relationships. Walking and hiking are conducive to conversation and require less concentration than running or other more intense activities, freeing your mental energy to focus on your partner.
Mike and I try to take a walk or hike once a week. Getting away together gives us a way to enjoy each other’s company free from distractions.
Heavenly Father wants us to have happy, successful marriages and has promised that as we humbly seek his help, He’ll guide us continually and bless us with the personal help we need.