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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 16: "Marriage—An Eternal Partnership"

Of all the combinations of human relationships possible, the only one that can result in exaltation and eternal progression is the relationship found in the eternal marriage of a man and a woman. The Lord set the example for eternal marriage when he married Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden while they were still immortal. Marriage was never intended to be a temporary contract. It has always been intended to be eternally binding.

The Eternal Nature of Marriage

All marriages have challenges. Every couple has their own individual sets of baggage they bring to the marriage relationship. How do you think having a temple marriage might change how you approach challenges in a marriage relationship? Do you think having a temple marriage should provide you with any tools or advantages that those who marry civilly would not have? How might our perspective on having a temple marriage help us in solving problems and conflicts in a marriage?

Adam and Eve were married while they were still immortal beings. Do you think the Lord has any expectations of our marriages that He did not have of Adam and Eve’s marriage? In what essential ways is our relationship as a couple like the relationship of Adam and Eve?

To be fully exalted requires a couple made up of a man and a woman. Individuals do not become Gods, only couples can do that. Men and women are not complete without each other. That is the natural order of things. We each have traits that must be honed and developed the only way they can be, and that is a person of the opposite gender. Women need men, and men need women in order to become perfect.

The definition of the word perfect means to be complete, whole, lacking nothing. This is why President Hunter said, “It is not good for man nor for woman to be alone. Man is not complete without woman. Neither can fill the measure of their creation without the other (see 1 Cor. 11:11; Moses 3:18).”

In Moses 1:39 the Lord said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” Without eternal marriage between a man and a woman, there is no exaltation for us, and no more glory for Him. Eternal marriage is one of the keys to our exaltation.

With that said, how should we feel about accepting civil marriage as a suitable replacement for a temple marriage, even if it is assumed to be a temporary replacement? If we knowingly choose civil marriage over temple marriage, how will we convince our children of the importance of marrying in the temple the first time?

Deciding Whom to Marry

While it is true that President Hunter thinks your decision to get married is “the greatest decision you must make ... is the decision that’s going to shape your life for eternity,” there is more to getting married than just making that decision.

In the world of human relations, we often hear the phrase that opposites attract. This may be true when you are thinking about parts of a personality like being organized or disorganized. Those who like math often end up with someone who can’t do math and those who are socially outgoing may marry an introvert.

But when it comes to spiritual things, like attracts like. Have you noticed that those who tend to be rebellious in spiritual things are uncomfortable being around those who are strictly faithful? Those who like to bend the rules go nuts being around those who adhere to the rules faithfully.

The key here is that while you are looking for the “one” you want to spend eternity with, you have a lot of work to do on yourself. If you want to attract a spiritually minded mate then you must become spiritually minded. If you want to marry someone who will make a great parent to your future children, what are you personally doing now to become the kind of person your future mate will want to help them raise their children?

Remember that you will fall in love with people you date. If you think you are safe dating someone who lives on the fringes of purity or who flirts with the dark side of life, you will be sadly mistaken. If you don’t date them you won’t fall in love with them. We don’t always have a choice when it comes to who we fall in love with, but you can be certain that who you fall in love with will be someone with whom you associate. When it comes to dating, you need to be as careful as you will be when making the decision to propose or accept a proposal. Be wise.

For the men, it is important to note that President Hunter states emphatically that searching for a wife is a priesthood responsibility. He says, “As a priesthood bearer you have the obligation to take the lead in seeking eternal companionship.”

For everyone, the counsel is, “Fill your lives with worthwhile, meaningful activities.” Whether the marriage comes in this life or the next, it will surely come to all those who are worthy of it and have kept the commandments in the meantime. That is a real test of faith, but the faith required to live according to that belief will lead you in only good directions. You will fill your life with meaningful and worthwhile activities that will bless you and all those within the sphere of your influence. God will send you special blessings for such faithful service as you exercise faith in the promise of His servants that you will never be deprived of marriage in the eternities if you are faithful to all your covenants here in mortality.

Building a Successful Marriage

Having a great marriage does not happen by accident. Accidents happen without any forethought or control on your part. Marriage is all about forethought and planning on your part. This is why marrying in the temple, the first time if possible, is so important. Having the commitment to make it last well beyond this short span of mortality will help you hang in there when life becomes difficult and the relationship requires extra care.

Remember that your spouse is your complement, not your play thing. That means that your spouse will not think or act like you. By definition, your spouse has what you lack, just as you have what your spouse is lacking. In order to become, “one” you will have to learn to negotiate and concede, give and sacrifice, love unconditionally, and accept love when you feel very unlovable.

The couples you will admire the most are those who have learned to work together, who support each other, who defend each other, and who adore and admire each other. Does that mean these couples are blind to each other’s faults? Certainly not. But it does mean they have learned to look past each other’s faults and not make their spouse’s lack of perfection a deal breaker in their relationship.

When I first got married my wife, I settled into a few routines. One of them is how we do the laundry. She washes and I fold and put away. For the longest time, I would become so put out and angry that all of her clothing was inside out. My clothes are hardly ever inside out. I just knew she either did it on purpose or because she was just too inconsiderate to learn to remove her clothing “properly.” I actually had to make this a matter of prayer for a long period of time. One day when I was folding the laundry I noticed that, as usual, all her clothes were inside out. But now it didn’t bother me. Instead, it was almost an endearing trait. I felt it a privilege to be able to fold her clothing and put them away so she would have nice, neat piles of clothing in her drawers and neatly hung clothing in her closet.

Sometimes we require a change of heart. Prayer and the ability to identify where we need to personally change is an important part of a happy marriage. I cannot change my wife. I can, however, change me. Actually, I can’t change me, but the Lord can. So I take my complaints to Him and ask for His help in giving me a change of heart. Little by little I am deliberately building a happier marriage.

Because marriage is the most intimate of relationships, it is also the most vulnerable of relationships. We can experience more pain where we also have the capability of experiencing the most joy. One of our personal decisions in our marriage is that we will never deliberately cause our spouse pain or shame. We must safeguard their heart at all costs.

Our personal exaltation depends on our relationship with our spouse. True, both the husband and wife have to each be personally worthy of exaltation. But if we haven’t also learned to become one as a couple then we will never be truly happy in an eternal marriage. This makes our spouse the most important person in our life, more important than any other family member, more important than any activity, job, hobby, or love of our life. Our spouse is the most important human to us because our eternal relationship is the most important relationship to us outside of our relationship with our God.

Final Thoughts

Marriage really is an eternal partnership. I am always pleased when I am in someone’s office and their spouse calls them. Everything stops while they deal with whatever the spouse needs. When they hang up then it is back to business, but the spouse’s call is always answered and always trumps anything else in the office.

When I served on the high council a while back, I was impressed that the Stake President always made the point when setting apart a leader in a ward or in the stake to tell them that the most important person and responsibility in their life is their spouse. He never failed to state this at the beginning of the blessing portion of the setting apart.

Civil marriage may be a reward for keeping our first estate, but that is only good for our time in mortality. A temple marriage for eternity worthily worked on as we endure to the end of our time in mortality, is how we will keep our second estate and make ourselves worthy of exaltation.

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