The prophet Joseph Smith taught, "In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase" (D&C 131 1-4).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that in order for anyone to reach the highest degree of heaven, known as exaltation, they must be sealed in marriage for time and for all eternity. What that means is a husband and wife are not only married during this time here on earth but upon death and after the resurrection, they will remain as husband and wife throughout all eternity.
However, in order for a marriage to last forever it must first last through our time of probation here on earth. Unfortunately, even among those who have been sealed together in the temples of the Lord, there have been many who have made the decision to end their marriage through divorce long before death separates them and when that happens, the seal is broken and there is no marriage left to continue on for eternity.
Although there are many reasons why people divorce, one in particular seems to be a common problem.
During courtship, the love felt between two people is exciting. More than that, no matter how much time they spend together there are still long periods of time when they're apart. This creates a sense of eager anticipation and a thrill when the two lovers manage to finally get back together again. But once they become married, they are together nearly most of the time and certainly during their non-working hours. Under this arrangement it doesn't take long before the eager anticipation and thrill of being together turns into a common-place, ordinary, and mundane event. When that happens, being together is often taken for granted and, very often, so is the love they have for one another.
To combat this effect, Church leaders have counseled that husbands and wives should constantly be courting one another as a way to help keep their marriage vibrant and their love for each other alive and strong. Yet, while this is wise advice, it still is all too easy for husbands and wives to slip into an attitude of taking one another for granted. And it is at this point that a common problem of marriages begins to develop - they begin to focus on one another's faults.
The wife starts to complain -- at first just to herself -- that her husband isn't as appreciative of all she does as she thinks he should be. The husband starts to complain -- at first, just to himself -- that his wife isn't as attractive as he once thought she was. Soon, the wife begins to notice other faults about her husband that bother her - he doesn't pick up his clothes, he makes disparaging jokes about her in public, he doesn't listen to her or pay her much attention to what she thinks, he ridicules her concerns, he doesn't talk with her about things that are important to her. Before long, the husband begins to become irritated by some of the things his wife does - she's always complaining, she doesn't understand him, she's not interested in the things he is, she treats him like a child instead of like a man.
As time goes by each one tends to focuses more and more on what is wrong with their partner and, as they do, resentment begins to build.
Since each of us are unique, we all have feelings, attitudes, and ideas that are different from others. Therefore, whenever two or more people live together, it is inevitable that there will be disagreement on various issues. This is normal and is to be expected. However, learning how to resolve these differences in a productive way is not something that comes naturally. Often, it takes great skill that has been developed through years of trial and error. When a young couple first marries, they are just beginning to learn the art of negotiating with each other while lacking the maturity that comes with age and experience. Therefore they make many errors as they learn how to properly resolve their differences.
However, when there are complaints about their spouse that have been quietly festering inside of them, the discussion of something they disagree on then provides the perfect opportunity for them to air those silent grievances, even if it has nothing to do with the topic they're discussing.
As they discuss something they disagree on and the tone of the conversation begins to become a little argumentative, seemingly, out of nowhere, the wife complains to her husband that he never appreciates anything she does. Surprised by such a remark, and feeling that she's trying to change the subject, the husband responds defensively, often laced with a tinge of anger. Since the wife was hoping for an apology from her husband for his lack of appreciation, when he defends himself, this feels like an emotional slap in the face, which then angers her and feeds into her resentment of the way she thinks he's already been poorly treating her.
Predictably, she hurls another accusation at him, this time with a little more anger than she used before, usually with the intent to cause some emotional pain. Under this kind of circumstance, it isn't long before both sides are yelling at one another, with neither side looking to find a way to resolve the original disagreement. Instead, they become like two fighters in a ring, each one trying to inflict as much hurt on the other as they can and each looking to come up with a remark that will be the knock-out blow. But very rarely does that happen so the fight keeps going. When the argument finally breaks off, both combatants retire to the safety of their private thoughts to lick their wounds and to add another complaint or two, or three, to the list of complaints they've been secretly compiling.
If something isn't done to resolve this situation, these complaints will continue to fester and be expressed more frequently and with greater passion. And with each successive argument, the tone of their disagreements will become more bitter and will drive them farther apart until one day neither one can stand to be in the presence of the other. When that happens, thoughts of divorce are inevitable.
In such circumstances, it is obvious that something has to be done to not only stop this cycle of marital destruction but to reverse it and strengthen the relationship between husband and wife.
The counsel has often been given that instead of focusing on a person's faults we should look for the good in them. While such advice has some value, it's not the solution to the problem. In fact, there are times when it's not even helpful. For example, a husband's good point may be that he's an excellent fisherman but that fact doesn't erase the hurt of him belittling his wife in public. A wife's good point may be that she's a terrific cook but that doesn't mean much if she's constantly nagging her husband and treating him like a child.
A husband may be a great home teacher but that only increases the hurt if he's never home to minister to the needs of his own wife and family. A wife may have great compassion for others but that provides little solace if she's ruining the family budget by spending too much. It's hard for a spouse to look at any good qualities in their partner once it's been discovered they've had an affair with another person and there certainly aren't enough good qualities that can compensate for someone who verbally or physically abuses their spouse.
Yet, having said that, many of the complaints that people have about their partner are generally self-serving. That is to say, their grievances are more often centered on what their partner is not doing for them which then causes a feeling of frustration from not having their own needs met.
That doesn't mean we should ignore our own needs. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (see Mark 12:31) but if we don't care about meeting our own needs, and we love our neighbor the same way we care about ourselves, then obviously our neighbor's needs aren't going to be met either. Yet, while it is important for us to have our needs met, all too often the problem of marital discord doesn't arise because we have an attitude of loving others the way we love ourselves but rather it's complaining because the other person isn't loving us the way we love themselves.
Obviously, not all complaints fall into this category but a great many of them do and the way we can tell the difference is when our attitude is more focused on examining what the other person is doing wrong or are more interested in how to get them to correct their behavior than in changing our own. This kind of complaining doesn't seek to do what is best for the other person but rather is more interested in what is best for us. But what makes these kinds of bad thoughts so hard to recognize is that we rationalize that what we're thinking is fair and right. Therefore, we justify our grievances, which only encourages us to feed them and helps make them grow.
The solution to this problem is not so much to look for the good in others as it should be to improve ourselves.
When speaking about our planet earth the Lord revealed, "Therefore, it must needs be sanctified from all unrighteousness, that it may be prepared for the celestial glory" (D&C 88:18). This principle is just as true for us. We need to prepare ourselves to enter into a celestial glory and the way we do that is by being sanctified from all unrighteousness. The Lord has explained how this happens when He said, "For if you will that I give unto you a place in the celestial world, [then] you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you" (D&C 78:7). "For he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory … [therefore he] must inherit another kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom" (D&C 88:22, 21).
It doesn't matter what our spouse does or doesn't do. Only those who have prepared themselves by living the law of Christ can enter into the celestial kingdom and if we haven't prepared ourselves sufficiently then we must inherit another kingdom. Therefore, the most important thing we can do to strengthen our marriage is to make sure we're preparing ourselves to be worthy of living in a celestial world.
But the mistake many people make is trying to turn their marriage partner into a celestial being while, at the same time, neglecting to prepare themselves for a celestial glory. The fallacy in this kind of thinking is that we can't change anyone but ourselves. We can encourage, persuade, and direct aright, we can exhort, plead, and pray, we can reason, demand and threaten but the truth is that every time anyone has changed their mind it's because they wanted to, rather than because they had to. Whenever anyone has become converted to the gospel it has always been a personal decision to do so. Therefore, to think that the answer to correcting the ill-treatment we receive from our spouse is to change their behavior is a sure path to disappointment and frustration.
Instead, when we focus on living the principles of the gospel, even when we may be the only person doing so, our light will shine and have an effect on others. And even if our partner doesn't change, if they don't make it into the celestial kingdom because they didn't sufficiently prepare themselves, there's nothing to be gained by following them into a lower kingdom.
However, such advice is easy to give but not always so easy to apply. After all, we are human. When we feel slighted, it hurts and when that happens it's only natural to feel sorry for ourselves. To desire to have our basic needs taken care of doesn't necessarily mean we're being selfish. It's a reasonable yearning of the human spirit and when those needs go unfulfilled, there is a sense of sadness that fills the void.
But there is a positive way to cope with this kind of situation and that is to look at our problems from a different perspective.
A wife may lament that her husband doesn't communicate his feelings and desperately desires the closeness that comes when two hearts and two minds becomes one. A husband may long for quiet romantic times with his wife that never seems to happen because she's too busy taking care of the children, the house or even her church callings. A wife may wish that her husband was more responsible with their money and a husband may wish that his wife was less critical of his decisions. All of these are reasonable and righteous feelings but things could be worse.
A husband who spends too much time at work and too little time with the family is better than a husband who is no longer around because of being killed in an automobile accident or who is home all day long as an invalid. A wife who isn't supportive of her husband's interest in sports is better than having a wife who is manipulative and domineering. No matter what our situation may be, people have endured worse things. Having a husband or wife kidnapped in a foreign country by ruthless rebels, being separated in war and not knowing if your spouse is alive or dead, living in fear that the military police will break into your home and have your loved one taken away to a place notorious for its inhumane treatment of prisoners are things that some husbands and wives have had to face. When compare to such hardships, many of our complaints today are actually very petty and childish.
The apostle Paul endured being whipped, stoned, thrown into prison, having members of the church accuse him of unchristian conduct and even had some who challenged his priesthood authority as they sought to turn others in the church against him. Yet he wrote, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content" (Philippians 4:11). "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. [Therefore] having food and raiment let us be therewith content" (I Timothy 6:7,8).
Another way of expressing the point that Paul was trying to make is to be grateful for what we have rather than complaining about what we don't have. And the same principle applies to marriage. It's important for us to learn how to be content with our partner, in spite of their perceived weaknesses because, generally speaking, those who are not content with what they have, are never content regardless of what they have. For example, a young man just starting out in his career says that if he could make $20,000 a year he'd be happy but when he finally makes that much money he isn't satisfied. Then he says that if he could make $50,000 a year he'd be happy but when he has reached that point he complains that he needs $100,000 a year. Such a person is never really happy because they never learned how to be satisfied with what they already have.
That doesn't mean to imply that a spouse should remain silent and never let their feelings be known. Quite the opposite is true. The apostle Paul certainly let people know where he stood but there's a Christ-like way to express our feelings to the person we pledged to honor and love for all eternity. Being content with what we have means accepting those things we can't change rather than being upset because things aren't the way we want them to be. When we have an attitude of contentment and there is a change for the better in our life it comes as a welcomed and pleasing surprise. On the other hand, when a person expects their partner to change and it eventually happens there's no real joy because they feel it's expected and then they often complain about why it took so long.
Sometimes we think that what our spouse is doing is so unbearable that it is impossible to accept it but there are stories told of people who lived in Nazi concentration camps who survived, in part, because they learned to make the best of even the worst situation. Those who couldn't do that had their spirits die long before their physical bodies were put in the grave. A husband or wife who can learn to be content with what they have under far less trying conditions will help their marriage remain alive where other marriages have withered and died for a lack of trying.
Like anything else that is worthwhile, to turn a marriage into something that will be fit for eternal glory will take great effort on the part of both the husband and the wife. It will require an unwavering willingness to love our spouse as much as we love ourselves, it will take a significant sacrifice of attitude to focus on our own spiritual growth rather than focusing on correcting the faults of our partner, and it will take a continual commitment to keeping things in proper perspective while learning to appreciate what we have.
Although these things are admittedly not always easy to accomplish, if the marriage survives its time of preparation here on earth it will come forth in the resurrection as something far more glorious and infinitely more important than what we can presently comprehend. At that point, men and women will not only live with God in heaven as husband and wife but will be as God, to rule and reign together over their own kingdom that will increase forever and have no end. This is the real purpose for strengthening marriages.
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