Our Heavenly Father and his son, Jesus Christ, are both childlike, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, and willing to submit to all things (Mosiah 3:19). However, the natural man is the opposite of these qualities.
Unfortunately, natural man tendencies can bubble to the surface quickly in many marriage and family relationships. A successful marriage and family life requires just the opposite of what the natural man offers—humility, meekness, kindness, and consideration. Each day we must battle the natural man in all of us.
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The Doctrine of the Natural Man
President David O. McKay taught that “Man’s earthly existence is but a test as to whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul, upon things which contribute to the comfort and gratification of his physical nature, or whether he will make as his life’s pursuit the acquisition of spiritual qualities.”1 We become “natural” men and women when we yield to our earthly appetites, desires, and passions. The natural man within us seeks to become carnal, sensual, and devilish (Alma 42:10). Moreover, the natural man always seeks the path of least resistance; hence, the natural man shies away from work and effort. Not only is the natural man an enemy to God, but the natural man is the antithesis of God.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once explained, “A prominent feature of the natural man is selfishness—the inordinate and excessive concern with self… Myopic selfishness magnifies a mess of pottage and makes 30 pieces of silver look like a treasure trove...Thus, in all its various expressions, selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion”.2 Unfortunately, not only does selfness destroy our own souls, but also it erodes the quality of life for those who live with us.
Traits of the Natural Man
It would be impossible to list every natural man tendency. However, perhaps the most common natural man traits in marriage and family life include selfishness, pride, anger, and incivility. Let us consider how these traits affect family life and the antidote for each.
Often, our greatest desires are to please ourselves and gratify our own personal desires. Therefore, it is often difficult for some men and women to place Christ at the center of their lives and put their spouse above everything else. Yet, many major sins, transgressions, and significant marriage problems are rooted in selfishness.
Most unhappy people are selfish people. Being constantly absorbed with self is counterproductive to happy relationships. Selfishness can destroy a marriage more rapidly than any other problem. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught that “It is selfishness which is the cause of most of our misery.”4 The Spirit of the Lord will not dwell in a marriage where there is selfishness, ego, and greed. When we engage in selfish behavior, the Spirit of the Lord withdraws from us. Selfishness in marriage can be demonstrated, for example, by the spouse who leaves their clothes, food, and shoes all over the house; spouses who ignore their family members because of their own interests; individuals who watch television instead of engaging in conversation; and a host of many other behaviors.
Successful marriages require a high degree of selflessness. To be happily married, men and women should strive to identify their spouse’s needs, and then strive to meet them. President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “If each spouse is forever seeking the interests, comforts, and happiness of the other, the love …will grow.”5
We have learned from modern prophets that pride is a universal sin. Pride is also a form of selfishness that destroys marriage and family relationships. Pride is what inhibits us from changing or improving, or thinking that we are wrong. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explained, “Pride is a deadly cancer. It is a gateway sin that leads to a host of other human weaknesses. In fact, it could be said that every other sin is, in essence, a manifestation of pride…”6
The antidote for pride is humility. In Doctrine and Covenants 56:8, the Lord declared, “Repent of [your] pride and of [your] selfishness.” Marriage quality can be significantly impeded by pride. The Lord taught, “And no one can assist in this work except he shall be humble and full of love, having faith, hope, and charity, being temperate in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 12:8). In addition, no one can succeed in marriage unless they are humble, full of love; have faith, hope, and charity, and who are temperate in all things.
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Simply put, the expression of anger is one of the surest ways to destroy any relationship. When anger is directed towards a spouse or children, it becomes like a cancer that eats away the very foundation the relationship has been built upon. Anger is not a primary feeling, but a secondary emotion. It is bred by fear, frustration, hurt, and unfulfilled expectations. Most people get angry when their expectations about what others should do are not met. Those unmet expectations and unfulfilled needs cause resentment, frustration, and ultimately—anger.
Couples should realize that it is normal to feel anger. Even the Savior Himself became angry when His Father’s house, the temple, was desecrated. But the scriptures are clear—undisciplined anger is always, 100 percent of the time, cankerous, destructive, and wrong. President Wilford Woodruff once declared, “The moment a man or a woman becomes angry they show a great weakness.”7
Although there are many possible antidotes to managing anger, perhaps seeking for the Spirit in our lives trumps all others. The goal of every Latter-day Saint should be to seek the Spirit each day. When Jesus appeared to the Nephites, they “prayed for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Nephi 19:9). Likewise, each of us should pray for the Holy Ghost and seek for its direction daily. We should also strive to be worthy and pure so that the Holy Ghost will dwell with us. Individuals will discover that they can control their tempers with the Lord’s spirit and guidance. President Ezra Taft Benson explained it this way:
“The Holy Ghost causes our feelings to be more tender. We feel more charitable and compassionate with each other. We are more calm in our relationships. We have a greater capacity to love each other. People want to be around us because our very countenances radiate the influence of the Spirit. We are more godly in our character. As a result, we become increasingly more sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and thus able to comprehend spiritual things more clearly.”8
Not only is there a lack of civility in our culture, but certainly in our homes. Too often, family members call each other names, use coarse language, tell crude jokes, lack manners, criticize or belittle others, are late to family functions, and spend too much time on social media. When it comes to relationships, the mark of incivility is being unaware or oblivious to the needs of our spouse or children.
Several years ago, President Russell M. Nelson reported that on an airplane fight, he sat behind a husband and wife. President Nelson recognized that the wife was in love with her husband. During the course of the flight, she nestled up close to her husband, placed her head on his shoulder, and stroked the back of his neck. Meanwhile, the husband was completely oblivious (our key word) to her presence. He was solely focused on his electronic video game. During the entire flight, the man was completely engrossed in his handheld device. Not once did the man look at his wife or even acknowledge her presence. Since this experience may have occurred shortly after President Nelson’s wife, Dantzel, passed away, this inattentive husband may have struck a nerve with our prophet. President Nelson said he almost felt like shouting, “Open your eyes, man! Can’t you see? Pay attention! You wife loves you! She needs you!”9
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that civility “carries with it the essence of courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others. All of the … accomplishments in the world will not count for much unless they are accompanied by marks of gentility, of respect for others, of going the extra mile.”10
One of the most potent dangers in any marriage is apathy, or taking each other for granted. Soon, a husband or wife can begin treating their spouse more like a sibling than an eternal companion. Courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others should have a high place in Latter-day Saint marriages. The golden rule is the optimum definition of respect in marriage: “whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.” (Matthew 7:12). According to Christ’s teachings, we should treat our spouses the way that we would like to be treated.
The antidote for incivility is charity. This gift implies that we must seek to change first before our spouse ever will. True charity also “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8), especially in marriage. President Gordon B. Hinckley expanded this idea when he taught, “I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.”11 The Prophet, Joseph Smith declared, “It is the duty of a husband to love, cherish, and nourish his wife, and cleave unto her and none else; he ought to honor her as himself, and he ought to regard her feelings with tenderness.”12 Joseph further taught the women of the Church, “When you go home, never give a cross or unkind word to your husbands, but let kindness, charity and love crown your works henceforward.”13
Alma counseled us to be “humble, submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandants of God at all times . . .” (Alma 7:23). As we follow these directives in the scriptures and from our Prophets, we can have harmony and peace in our homes.
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1. President David O. McKay, Conference Report, October 1963, 89.
2. Neal A. Maxwell, Men and Women of Christ, 8-13; emphasis added.
3. Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce, 148-149.
4. President Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, November 1988, 54.
5. President Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976], 23.
6. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Pride and the Priesthood,” Ensign, November 2010, 56.
7. Wilford Woodruff, Journal of Discourses, 4:98.
8. President Ezra Taft Benson, “Seek the Spirit of the Lord,” Ensign, April 1988, 2-4.
9. Elder Russell M. Nelson, “Nurturing Marriage,” Ensign, May 2006.
10. President Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something, 47.
11. President Gordon B. Hinckley, “What God Hath Joined Together,” Ensign, May 1991, 73.
12. Joseph Smith, Elders’ Journal 1:61-62.
13. Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 227.
For more from Mark Ogletree, check out Just Married, available on deseretbook.com.