The Lord has revealed that "Unto every kingdom is given a law; and unto every law there are certain bounds also and conditions" (D&C 88:38). "And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated" (D&C 130:20:21).
The greatest blessing God has to offer us is eternal life, which is defined as exaltation, which is the kind of life that God lives. But, as with all blessings, there are certain laws that must be obeyed in order to receive such a blessing. These laws were not invented by God but are eternal, meaning they are forever fixed and unchangeable. Furthermore, these laws have certain bound or limitation, as well as certain conditions attached to them. When we go beyond the bounds of those laws or exceed the conditions set forth in them, we place ourselves outside the blessing associated with them. That is why Jesus said, "He who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory" (D&C 88:22).
One of the laws governing exaltation is referred to as celestial marriage. The Lord explained it this way, "And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law … and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise . . . Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection . . . and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths" (D&C 132:19). But then He added, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory" (verse 21).
Just like baptism is the entrance ceremony into the celestial kingdom so also the sealing of a man and a woman as eternal marriage partners is the entrance ceremony to exaltation. But, just as baptism is only one law of many we need to obey in order to inherit the celestial kingdom, so also is being sealed as husband and wife just one of many other laws that must be obeyed in order to inherit exaltation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that God literally begat us as spirit children before we were ever born here on earth. But we also believe that we not only have a Father in heaven but a Mother in heaven as well. What that means is that the institution of marriage itself is eternal. As such, there are eternal laws that govern the institution of marriage. Therefore, before anyone can inherit the blessing of exaltation - which is the blessing of being married eternally - there are certain laws of marriage that must be obeyed.
Marriage is more than just two people living together as husband and wife. It is a close, personal relationship where two people act as one. Since there are eternal laws that apply to marriage, and marriage is about relationships, then it is clear that there must also be eternal laws that apply to the way people relate to one another because that is a critical element of marriage. Although these laws work equally well for any kind of relationship, the potential for both positive and adverse consequences are much greater in a marriage than anywhere else.
The reason why two people get married is because they love each other. In the courting stage leading up to marriage, this kind of love is usually demonstrated with a high degree of selflessness, where both people go to great lengths to please the other, often sacrificing much of themselves for the benefit of the other. In the early part of marriage, this attitude usually continues to linger for awhile, but as the months and years go by and the reality of living with life's challenges presses against the marriage, differences of opinion between husbands and wives begin to surface. And this is natural because men tend to see things differently than do women, and women tend to have different priorities than men. As these differences are applied to the various situations husbands and wives find themselves in, it is only natural there will be disagreements between them, and there is nothing wrong with this. The problem arises when one or both partners in the marriage begin to violate the laws that govern good relationships. Therefore, in order to reap the blessings of exaltation, it becomes important to understand what those laws are and how to apply them in a marriage.
King Benjamin taught his people, "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit" (Mosiah 3:19). The apostle Paul explained that the natural man is one who is inclined to hatred, anger, contention, adultery, drunkenness and wild partying, among other things (see Gal. 5:19-21). All of these things are rooted in selfishness. Thus, the natural man thinks more of himself than he does of others. Since the law of God is based on love, and selfishness is the opposite of love, that is why "the natural man is an enemy to God."
When two people disagree on something, it is only "natural" for each of them to want to be "right," and that's because the natural man doesn't like admitting when they're wrong. As such, they have the tendency to defend their position, even if they know they're in the wrong. When this happens, rather than being concerned about the welfare of the person they are disagreeing with, they become more interested in protecting their own self interest. Therefore, when disagreements occur between marriage partners, the natural tendency is to forget about putting the welfare of their spouse ahead of their own.
And Satan takes advantage of this weakness, and encourages such an attitude. That is why "contention is of the devil" (3 Nephi 11:29). Satan has an everlasting hatred towards God and all that He stands for. Therefore, he rages in the hearts of men, seeking to destroy love, because love is the very essence of godhood. And if he can destroy the love between a husband and a wife, he can then destroy their marriage, which then takes away their blessing of exaltation because they are no longer living the law upon which the blessing of exaltation is predicated.
However, Satan doesn't do this all at once. The way the devil cheats their souls is by leading them away carefully down to hell (2 Nephi 28:21). A little here, and a little there, through one small, almost insignificant argument now and then, he seeks to wear away the love that binds two people together, like dripping water wearing away a rock. And when that love has been removed and selfishness, hurt, and anger have been put in its place, then these same two people, who once gazed so admiringly at each other, no longer can stand the sight of one another.
Marriage is our path to becoming like God because godhood is about eternal family relationships. Therefore, if we want to learn how to create the kind of relationships that will endure throughout eternity, the best "how to" books on the subject are found in the scriptures because they contain the answer to every conceivable relationship question. Therefore, let's take a look at what it teaches us about relationships.
There is an eternal law that is known by many different names. Some call it "The Law of Return," others call it "The Law of the Boomerang," or "The Law of Restoration," or "The Law of the Harvest." But regardless of what name we give, it, this law states that whatever we give out to others comes back to us. The apostle Paul described this law when he said, "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." (Gal. 6:7). Jesus explained it this way: "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. 7:1-2). That is an eternal law, and we cannot violate it without suffering the consequences. That is why Jesus warned us, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." (Matt. 7:12). We refer to this as the Golden Rule.
The process by which Satan tears marriages apart is by getting each partner to critically judge the other. When this happens, it doesn't take much for them to clearly see the faults of their partner, which then leads to condemnation of their behavior. But when couples do this they are violating the Law of Return, for when someone condemns another for their imperfections, then, eventually, they too will receive judgment for their own imperfections. That is the law. What we give out to others comes back to us. If we plant seeds of love, we harvest love. If we plant seeds of caring, compassion, and concern for others, that's what will be returned to us. But, if couples plant seeds of selfishness, discord, contention, judgment, and condemnation in their marriage, they cannot expect to reap the blessings of a loving relationship.
Since the natural man tends to justify all he does, when people disagree with one another they each naturally makes two assumptions, which they consider to be true. The first assumption is that it is always the other person who is at fault. And the second assumption is that it is most generally the other person who needs to change. It is hard for the natural man to look at their own behavior and admit that they are the problem. Instead, what usually happens is that the natural man comes to view himself as being the solution to the problem, not the cause of it. When this attitude is applied in a marriage, each side sees the solution as being that they have an obligation to change the behavior of their spouse.
The natural man has a tendency to do this by belittling their wives, insulting their intelligence, or making them feel inferior in one way or another. The natural woman tends to nag, criticize, complain, or find fault with what their husbands do or say. In most cases the motive for engaging in this kind of conduct is a desire to change the behavior of the other person. However, such methods have just the opposite effect.
Dwelling on the negative doesn't produce positive results because that violates the Law of Return. People respond negatively to being pressured or nagged into doing something. Instead, it drives people away and kills affection. The spouse who is negatively judged feels offended and often reacts either by emotionally lashing out or withdrawing their affection, or both. When that happens, feelings of resentment and hostility begin to replace feelings of love. That's how the Law of Return works.
If we apply what Jesus taught in the sermon on the mount to the marriage relationship, we could render His words this way: "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy [spouse's] eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy [spouse,] Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy [spouse's] eye." (Matt. 7:1-5)
President Spencer W. Kimball has advised couples how to remain within the bounds of this law when he said, "If each spouse submits to frequent self-analysis and measures his own imperfections by the yardstick of perfection and the Golden Rule, and if each spouse sets about to correct [them] self in every deviation found by such analysis rather than to set about to correct the deviations in the other party, then transformation comes and happiness is the result." (Marriage and Divorce, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1976, p. 19.)
The secret for improving a marriage is for each spouse to improve themselves rather than seeking to improve their partner. On the last day, when we stand before the judgment bar of Christ, none of us will be judged by what our marriage partner did or didn't do. Instead, each of us will be judged for what we ourselves did or didn't do. Therefore, the question that each partner should ask themselves is, "Am I treating my spouse the way Christ wants me to?" And to answer that question, all they have to do is ask themselves, "What if my spouse treated me exactly the same way I treat them? Would I feel uplifted and grateful, or would I feel degraded and resentful?" The answer to that question will also answer what they can expect to have returned to them.
Alma taught his son Corianton the law of Return when he explained the meaning of the word "restore." He said, "I say unto thee, my son, that the plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. . . And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judge according to their works; and if the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good. And if their works are evil they shall be restored unto them for evil. Therefore, all things shall be restored to their proper order" (Alma 41:2-4).
The word "requisite" means "required, essential, critical, and necessary." Alma explained that the law of restoration is an essential, critical and necessary part of the justice of God. Therefore, it is absolutely required that all things be restored, good being returned for good and evil being returned for evil. That's why it is called the law of restoration. And this law applies just as much in a marriage relationship as anywhere else.
Like the flowers and vegetables we grow in our gardens, the fruit of marriage reflects the nature of the seeds that have been planted. In order for a marriage relationship to be full of love and harmony, seeds of love and harmony must be sown first and then carefully watered and constantly cultivated. When weeds of selfishness, discontent and disagreement spring up, they need to be rooted out and removed before they take over the marital garden. If, through negligence, a spirit of contention is permitted to grow, it will eventually over power and choke off the sweet fruit of love.
Marriages improve through building on the positive, rather than dwelling on the negative. A negative attitude breeds a negative atmosphere in the home, which, in turn, produces negative attitudes in others, thereby creating a continuing negative cycle. In order to break that cycle, each partner needs to do all they can to create a positive atmosphere in their marriage, and that can only happen when they strive to project an uplifting and loving attitude. If both partners wait for the other one to do that, it will never happen.
When a person says, "I wish my spouse was more like this or that," what they are really saying is, "I want my spouse to live according to my rules of behavior." Such an attitude is self-centered rather than others-centered, Bickering, belittling, criticizing or finding fault with others expresses the same kind of attitude. Rather than being concerned for the welfare of others, such behavior is an expression of the concern for one's own personal need for self-satisfaction. It is rooted in the need to take care of one's own desires at the expense of another.
Contention springs from having a hard heart and an arrogant spirit. Therefore, to eliminate dissention in a marriage both partners must learn to develop a humble heart and a contrite spirit toward each other. A Christ-like atmosphere in marriage is an environment that's conducive to the spiritual growth and progress of both partners. Jesus counseled His disciples to, "Love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Nowhere is this more important than in a marriage. The word "love" is a verb, not a noun. It's something we do, rather than words we utter. True, genuine love is a feeling of compassion and caring for others that compels us to action on their behalf. When someone says to another, "I love you" it should reflect an attitude of service, not just the expression of a feeling. Love in marriage should signify that one partner is sincerely concerned and committed to the welfare of their spouse.
Both husband and wife should have a desire to preserve, protect, and perfect their marriage. This means they continually need to be aware of things that could damage their relationship. Satan is real and he has considerable power that he brings to bear upon the institution of marriage. As such, we are in a battle and the home is our fortress. The enemy seeks to attack the fortress with all the power at his disposal because he knows if he can breach the walls of marriage he has easy access to victory over those who dwell within it. The only way for marriages to defend themselves against such an attack is for husbands and wives to do battle with the enemy of righteousness instead of with themselves. Both partners need to be on the same side. If they aren't then individual victories over each other will inevitably lead to both partners being defeated.
One of the strongest tools Satan has, that he uses like a wedge, is fostering the attitude of dissatisfaction. If he can make husbands dissatisfied with the way their wife treats them, or make the wife dissatisfied with the way their husband behaves, then he can separate and isolate them from one another, thereby using the strategy of "divide and conquer." To overcome this temptation, couples need to remember that there is no such thing as the perfect marriage, at least not on earth. When partners fail to understand that important fact, they become easy prey to thoughts of dissatisfaction with the marriage. And as they dwell on what they think is missing in their marriage they miss out on all the good that their marriage has to offer them. To counteract this tendency, we need to follow the counsel of the scripture that teaches us to "be content with such things as ye have" (Heb. 13:5).
Since Satan's attacks come mostly in the form of thoughts, we need to be on guard concerning what we allow ourselves to think, because it is our thoughts, perceptions, and attitudes that determine how we feel. And the way we feel about things is what motivates us to behave the way we do. When people allow themselves to dwell on negative thoughts, it increases the negative feelings within them, which then leads them to act in negative ways. And when we act in negative ways, the Law of the Boomerang decrees that negative things will come back to us
Therefore, to keep the marriage relationship strong, each partner needs to guard against negative thoughts and instead dwell on the positive. They should continually seek to build up their partner rather than tearing them down with criticism, complaining, and condemnation. Instead of seeking to change their partner, each spouse should consider what they can do to foster an atmosphere of love in the home that will help their partner grow in positive ways. Instead of focusing on what is wrong with the marriage, each partner should seek to promote, cultivate and increase things that will help set the marriage right. Even if one partner behaves negatively, the other partner still has the duty to respond as Christ would want them to in that situation. In that way, they are becoming Christ-like, even if their partner isn't. And if they do that, then, in time, the Law of Return will restore to them all the good they have done. But, if a person succumbs to the negative, all they are doing is inviting even more negative consequences to be returned to them.
Once we understand how the Law of the Harvest operates, we can use it to our advantage to receive the blessings of exaltation. If we know that everything we do - both the good, the bad, and the indifferent - will be restored to us, then all we have to remember is to do no other thing than that which we want returned to us.
The scriptures tell us that "Unto every kingdom is given a law. . . And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." And the greatest blessing God has to offer us comes only to those who are able to remain married eternally. To have all that God has, including an eternal marriage, we must obey the same laws He does. And what law does He obey? The scriptures tell us that "love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10). Nowhere is this law more important than in a marriage. That's why it is crucial for both marriage partners to do all they can to foster love at home.
Several weeks ago, I decided to write a column about Dr. Laura's book, "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands" because I deeply value her wonderful work on behalf of families…. My original thought was to read Dr. Laura's book, pen a simple, impersonal review and then move on to another topic. But that was before I ended up in tears on an airplane as I turned the pages and read letter after heart-breaking letter from real husbands who are berated, relentlessly criticized and often ignored by the wives that had once loved them with all their hearts.
A letter from "Roy" expresses the sentiments of most of the letters: The world is full of messages to men that there are standards we don't meet. There is always another man who is more handsome, more virile and more athletic than we are. None of that matters if the most important person in our life looks up to us, accepts us as we are, and loves us even though we aren't perfect. Maybe there is a part of the small boy that never leaves the grown man, I don't know. All I know is that the husband who has a wife who supports him and praises him for the positive things he does is the envy of all the other men who have to live with criticism, sarcasm and constant reminders of their failures.
["Chris" had this to say about his constantly critical wife: "I want to be admired. I want to be acknowledged for being the breadwinner and making sure that we are all well taken care of. My greatest pleasure is when I feel like her hero. Like her 'man.' Not her boy."]
I must admit that in reading the book, I felt a few pangs over the many times when I've served my husband a little too much whine with his dinner. Or when I've been too busy, or too tired, or too (wince) selfish to let him know how much I appreciate him. Don't get me wrong, I'm head-over-heels in love with Andy, and this year we celebrate the blessing of 20 years as husband and wife. But reading the words of men desperate, not for fame or fortune - but merely the affection of their wives - has caused me. . . to face the ugly truth that the majority of the conflicts in my own marriage over the years have occurred because of my failure to follow the Golden Rule with this man who captured my heart two decades ago.
That is not to say that there aren't some really lousy husbands out there. We all know that there are. . [But] "The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands" is [a book] for wives who have lost their way. Its purpose is to illustrate for women the tremendous power we have on our husbands and our marriages. It's to show us that even the smallest of gestures and words can impact our happiness and lives far more deeply than we have ever realized.
As Dr. Laura says, it's easy to have a great marriage with a decent man. Just provide him with an ample supply of the three A's - acceptance, approval and affection - and most men will do anything to keep it coming. . . [Men] want a wife who not only loves but also appreciates them. They want to be the hero, to rescue the damsel in distress and keep her and their children safe and secure and happy.
Yet, . . wives often prevent their husbands from becoming the heroes they so desperately want to be and unwittingly relegate them to the status of water boy. The result is profound sadness and disappointment for both parties, as well as for the children they share.