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The Secret to Making Any Marriage Not Only Work, but Thrive

The  following is an excerpt from Elder Lynn G. Robbins's Love Is a Choice.

Look at the cartoon of this couple in a bookstore. It is a powerful, five-second sermon. The spouse improvement section is sold out, but the self-improvement section has scarcely sold a book. Does it remind you of any of the Savior’s teachings, perhaps dealing with “motes” and “beams” in eyes?

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Your success in marriage will largely depend on your ability to reverse the trend shown in this cartoon and focus on taking responsibility for improving yourself rather than trying to reshape your spouse.

Your marriage will be improved if you focus on strengthening your own weaknesses and making your spouse happy rather than expecting your spouse to make you happy. There is greater power in giving than in getting. This is counsel that comes from the wisest of all marriage counselors. . . .

Seeing Another Perspective

The brain’s imaging system creates our dreams by night and interprets what we see by day. Because everyone’s brain is different, people simply do not always see eye to eye. Each person sees and interprets the world differently. That is why opposing fans at a sporting event can have two totally different opinions regarding a call made by the referee. It isn’t that one side is lying; it’s just that people’s desires can easily become their perception and reality, or what many psychologists call confirmation bias or myside bias. . . .

It is because of this human frailty that when relationships are stressed or fail there is a tendency for each person to believe the other is at fault. Logically, every problem can’t always be the other person’s fault. The reason political parties exist, courts convene, and marital misunderstandings occur is that there always seem to be two sides to a story.

None of us are exempt.

We have all had disagreements with others; most likely with loved ones more than anyone else, since that is with whom most of our time is spent and where we tend to let our guard down. . . . Without love in the home, Satan can easily turn tension into contention, resulting in destructive finger-pointing, hurt feelings, and estrangement.

Eliminating Contention by Taking Responsibility

We can increase love in our relationships, especially in the home, by better understanding what causes contention and how to use our agency to eliminate it. . . .

The gift of agency is the ability and privilege to make our own choices—to be in control of our lives. The battle in premortality was not for “partial agency” but total, complete—100% agency. . . . One gospel principle to keep in mind is that we have zero control over other people’s agency. We do, however, have 100% control over the way we respond to them.

A loving mother once gave some wise counsel to her daughter, who was upset and unhappy with a struggling marriage. She had her daughter draw a vertical line down the middle of a sheet of paper and write down on the left side all the things her husband did that bothered her. Then on the right side of the paper, the daughter was to write down her usual response to each offense. The mother then had her daughter cut the paper in half, separating the two lists. “Now throw the paper with your husband’s faults in the garbage,” she instructed.

“If you want to be happy and achieve marital success, stop focusing on your husband’s faults and focus instead on your own behavior and reaction. Examine the way you are responding to the things your husband does that bother you, and see if you can respond in a different, more positive way.” This mother understood the power and wisdom of 100% responsibility. (A different approach is needed in cases of abuse.) . . .

Empowering principle: It is self-defeating to blame, make excuses, or justify mistakes or failure, even when you are right! This is worth repeating—even when you are right! The moment you do any of these self-defeating things, you lose control of the positive outcomes you are seeking. You surrender your power and influence . . .

Putting Marriage Before Pride

“Like any couple, my husband and I have had disagreements during our marriage. But one incident stands out in my mind. I no longer recall the reason for our disagreement, but we ended up not speaking at all, and I remember feeling that it was all my husband’s fault. I felt I had done absolutely nothing for which I needed to apologize.

“As the day went by, I waited for my husband to say he was sorry. Surely he could see how wrong he was. It must be obvious how much he had hurt my feelings. I felt I had to stand up for myself; it was the principle that mattered.

“As the day was drawing to a close, I started to realize that I was waiting in vain, so I went to the Lord in prayer. I prayed that my husband would realize what he had done and how it was hurting our marriage. I prayed that he would be inspired to apologize so we could end our disagreement.

“As I was praying, I felt a strong impression that I should go to my husband and apologize. I was a bit shocked by this impression and immediately pointed out in my prayer that I had done nothing wrong and therefore should not have to say I was sorry. A thought came strongly to my mind: ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?'" . . .

Empowering principle: In a marriage or companionship, a 50% attitude on both parts may seem logical, but only a 100% attitude will [work].

In this story, the sister learned that even if she may have been right, blaming was counterproductive, causing her to lose control over positive outcomes. Insisting on being right is prideful and often the roadblock to peace. . . .

In being the first to forgive, this sister followed the incomparable example of the Savior in being the first to love. . .

Gaining Control of Your Marriage and Life

Even if your spouse is not as romantic as he or she used to be, or is a poor communicator, or seems more interested in business, hobbies, sports, or socializing than the family, you lose control over possible happy outcomes when you think your spouse is the only one that needs to change. There may be many creative solutions to these challenges when you begin to ponder on things you can do to improve the situation rather than hoping all positive change must come from the other person. . . .

If others are at fault and have to change before further progress is made, then you are at their mercy and they are in control of the outcomes in your life. Agency and responsibility are inseparably connected. You cannot avoid one without also losing or negatively impacting the other. . . .

We should be of the attitude, “I’m in charge of my life [and marriage] and I wouldn’t have it any other way!” 


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For more marriage and family-strengthening advice, check out Elder Lynn G. Robbins's Love Is a Choice.