Marriage and the Atonement

If you are a perfect spouse, and if you have a perfect spouse, feel free to disregard this post.

Marriage seems to be the best opportunity we have to practice forgiveness and repentance.  It’s like a crash course in why we need the Savior.  Is anyone else as surprised as I am how easy it is to hurt or be hurt by the person you love the most?  Sometimes our list of demands is great, and we pay more attention to it than we do our list of goals and self-improvement or our list of blessings.

I have a husband who is very patient with my frequent bouts of grievances.  He rarely returns the “favor.”  He far surpasses me in patience and long-suffering.

I’ve seen a lot of marital discord among family, friends and neighbors.  Every time it pops up, I feel so sad and I realize that none of us is immune to Satan’s attacks on marriage and family.  I hold on to my own marriage a little tighter and open my eyes a little wider.

And, surprise, surprise, I start studying what the prophets and apostles have said because I’m a firm believer that whatever seems to be plaguing society at the time has probably been addressed very carefully recently by living prophets.  So far, that’s always been true for me; I find answers for whatever is heavy on my heart and mind.  Anyway, here are few great talks and thoughts I came across after I did a search for “marriage and the atonement” . . . .

From Celestial Marriage by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

Meanwhile, mortal misunderstandings can make mischief in a marriage. In fact, each marriage starts with two built-in handicaps. It involves two imperfect people. Happiness can come to them only through their earnest effort. Just as harmony comes from an orchestra only when its members make a concerted effort, so harmony in marriage also requires a concerted effort. That effort will succeed if each partner will minimize personal demands and maximize actions of loving selflessness.

President Thomas S. Monson has said: “To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty—the fulfillment of which brings true joy.” 34

Harmony in marriage comes only when one esteems the welfare of his or her spouse among the highest of priorities. When that really happens, a celestial marriage becomes a reality, bringing great joy in this life and in the life to come.

From Divorce by Elder Dallin H. Oaks Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:

I strongly urge you and those who advise you to face up to the reality that for most marriage problems, the remedy is not divorce but repentance. Often the cause is not incompatibility but selfishness. The first step is not separation but reformation. Divorce is not an all-purpose solution, and it often creates long-term heartache. A broad-based international study of the levels of happiness before and after “major life events” found that, on average, persons are far more successful in recovering their level of happiness after the death of a spouse than after a divorce. 3 Spouses who hope that divorce will resolve conflicts often find that it aggravates them, since the complexities that follow divorce—especially where there are children—generate new conflicts. . . .

Of course, there can be times when one spouse falls short and the other is wounded and feels pain. When that happens, the one who is wronged should balance current disappointments against the good of the past and the brighter prospects of the future.

Don’t treasure up past wrongs, reprocessing them again and again. In a marriage relationship, festering is destructive; forgiving is divine (see D&C 64:9–10). Plead for the guidance of the Spirit of the Lord to forgive wrongs (as President Faust has just taught us so beautifully –see that talk here), to overcome faults, and to strengthen relationships.

If you are already descending into the low state of marriage-in-name-only, please join hands, kneel together, and prayerfully plead for help and the healing power of the Atonement. Your humble and united pleadings will bring you closer to the Lord and to each other and will help you in the hard climb back to marital harmony.

From Covenant Marriage by Elder Bruce C. Hafen Of the First Quorum of the Seventy:

Our deepest God-given instinct is to run to the arms of those who need us and sustain us. But [Satan] drives us away from each other today with wedges of distrust and suspicion. He exaggerates the need for having space, getting out, and being left alone. Some people believe him—and then they wonder why they feel left alone. . . . .

May we restore the concept of marriage as a covenant, even the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. 14 And when the wolf comes, may we be as shepherds, not hirelings, willing to lay down our lives, a day at a time, for the sheep of our covenant. Then, like Adam and Eve, we will have joy.

I need to do a better job of expressing appreciation and love.

What do you do to protect yourself against the “wolves” that attack marriage?  How do your covenants bless your marriage?

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18 thoughts on “Marriage and the Atonement

  1. Love this one today. One thing that I have learned is that kindness can never hurt, and often helps nearly any situation. Also, let the spouse have their different opinions and ideas. Understand that we don’t have to be exactly alike to be happy and fulfilled. It also helps to remember the reasons why you fell in love in the first place. sometimes we forget those in the day to do hassle of just getting by. I also try every single day to find something that I like about him and that he does well and compliment him on it. I think sometimes our spouses end up hearing too many complaints and not enough compliments.

  2. I’ve realized that I need to put my dh first. Which sounds so easy and simple, but with kids and work and a messy house.. it sometimes gets pushed to the very back. So I’m trying hard to spend at least 15 minutes each day just talking without interruption. I find when we don’t have that time to connect, then hurt and miscommunication happens. Also, I’m trying to do something each day to show my love for him. I’m still working on figuring out what he needs to feel that. Because I think cooking a meal shows love.. and he may see things differently. It’s tricky.
    I love Elder Oaks talk and I always try to remember that what I’m feeling and what’s happening “now” is not how it will always be. Things can and will and do get better. But it sure stinks at the “now” time.

  3. When my honey and I were engaged, my brother (who was already married) referred me to a talk by President Hinckley where he said that we should be “fiercely loyal” to our spouses. One context for this phrase is that you should never ever ever say anything derogatory, even when kidding, about your spouse to anyone else. It seems to be fairly common when a bunch of women get together, that they sometimes gripe about what their husbands have done “wrong” or annoying or whatever. Ever since reading that talk, I’ve never been comfortable when I’m around that kind of conversation.

    Trashing your husband to your friends, even when it’s supposed to be “funny” = wolf attacking marriage. Talking your husband up to your friends = fiercely loyal.

  4. When my husband and I were married we received some very good advice from the sealer….who also happened to be President Hinckley. :) He told us three things to always remember and do: 1) Put your spouse before yourself by serving them unselfishly without expecting anything in return and never speak ill of them in public 2) Never go to bed at night with unresolved problems between the two of you. 3) Tell your spouse you love them every single day. Look in their eyes when you say it.

    It has worked so far! Today I’ve officially been married half my life – 17 years 23 days!

  5. I totally agree. It is alarming how easy it is to hurt and be hurt by the person you know best and care about most. And it’s also quite dumb. Seriously. Why does it happen!?!

    I just love the advice to minimize personal demands and maximize actions of loving selflessness. Yes. That’s the ticket.

  6. I dont rmemeber if I told you about the paper I had to write about Paul’s teachings on marriage. He talked about how marriage partners actually sanictify each other in marriage. Even when one spouse is struggling, the other can assist in the healing process- through the power of covenants made with the Savior. Its amazing what I have been learning, and how significant temple covennats are and how much having those covenants changes the playing field. You literally become one person through Jesus Christ. It is the atonement.

  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage/divorce lately (not because I am contemplating it–some of my friends and family are or have just divorced, however, and I mourn for what is lost) and this was a good read. Thanks Steph.

  8. Around the three-year mark, my husband and I hit an impasse. For various reasons, things were not good between us. Those reasons were not major incidents or faults, but a huge pile of little teeny grievances, and we spent our time either squaring off or guarding ourselves against each other and any perceived hurt we felt the other threw at us. It was a bad place, and we seriously wondered if we were going to make it, but we got through it. Here’s how:

    I decided to solve this huge problem by working on myself only. This was the perfect solution because, when I I tried to find the root cause of his actions I took offense at, to my surprise, I was the cause 90% of the time. I had no idea how critical and judgmental I had become about everything. I was devastated to realize that I had been so overbearing and unkind to the person I loved most.

    I set about reversing that, which involved getting to know my husband better and giving him the opportunity to share himself with me in a non-threatening way—meaning, I would harbor no judgments or criticisms, only give encouragement and react with curiosity to know more. (This meant, for one, not rolling my eyes when he talked about Xbox or Fantasy Football, but instead asking how he was doing in his games and asking if his players were looking good that week.) This made a HUGE difference I cannot overestimate!

    Next, I wouldn’t allow myself see any of my husband’s faults and, instead, worked diligently to see only the positive. I worked to forgive constantly, which led to the ability to not get offended in the first place. I can now react that way not just to my husband, but to just about anyone. What a gift!

    This rough patch turned out to be the biggest blessing for our marriage. I was able to see my faults and, through repentance and forgiveness, change my behavior for the better. I am able to truly appreciate my husband for who he is, not who I think he should be. For that, he has grown to appreciate me. We have cultivated a mutual respect that is at the core of our marriage, and we are infinitely stronger and happier. If we had called it quits instead of working through it, not only would we not have this joy (and our son!), I would still be that selfish, judgmental person I was. Instead, I was able to become humble and, ultimately, a more Christlike person. I am so grateful for the challenge, and the diligence to find a resolution.

    My advice to anyone facing difficulties in marriage is to do what I did: Swallow your pride, forget yourself, and seek the good. You WILL find it, and in the process you will cultivate more of it.

  9. Great insight. I too hate it when the rush of life causes us to “disconnect.” What a great idea to make that 15 minutes stick. I also like how you said to find out how he likes to be loved. I’m working on that one too. It’s like double love: First the desire to show it, then the effort to find out what makes him feel loved. The added bonus is, you may discover you don’t have to try so hard in other areas. If you’re killing yourself to do something that isn’t very important to him, then you’re both off the hook :)

  10. Love this. I’m an LCSW and work mostly with couples, children, and families. I see people in all stages of relationship concern, some even minimal, just wanting things to be better. No one comes in wanting to divorce, and most people working together see progress. I’m honest with people that it’s easier to talk about change in sessions than to make it work at home…and I always tell them I know because I’m married. : ) In our own marriage, I know forgiveness and repentance are key. Expressing gratitude is a close second. Like Elder Nelson said, we’re imperfect beings trying to make it work, and we’re bound to make mistakes in the process. I always talk to couples about trying to see intentions. None of us wake up that morning thinking, “How can I hurt my spouse today?” But sometimes we do. If we view hurt as intentional, we miss the opportunity to see the intention behind what happens, which is usually some act of caring and love. Even at the root of something as heartbreaking as an addiction can be an act of good intention–frequently to cover pain or just handle pain without burdening a spouse (which turns into an addiction). I’m always amazed at what couples work through. I love Elder Bruce Hafen’s idea of being shepherds, not hirelings. Sometimes we do have to literally walk through the valley of death for a spouse…physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or otherwise. I’m sure thankful forgiveness and repentance in my own marriage. I think I need a lot of it. : )

  11. one of the key’s in our marriage is unmasking the temptation. when we feel tempted to be angry, annoyed, unhappy with each other we take a step back ask could this be temptation, and then say it out loud, “honey I am sorry, I am being tempted to be bothered with_________ right now, and it seems like once you unmask the devils plan of attack he quickly leaves (usually) and if the temptations do not leave right away then I know where the bad feelings are coming from and more easily dismiss them. This has really fight off the wolves in our marriage.

  12. i didn’t read this post when it was posted….and I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t read it at all. My own marriage of 20 years ended last year in divorce, so hearing/reading about how to make one’s marriage last and the associated topics are very hard for me.

    While I appreciate what the prophets and apostles have to say, I think some emphasis needs to be made on the fact that BOTH partners MUST put into practice what is required to make *their* marriage successful. No marriage will survive based on the work of only one of the partners. You can put your spouse first and forgive every day and night of the week…but if you are the only one doing so, you send a message that it’s ok for the ‘non-marriage building behaviors’ to continue by the other partner.

    I don’t mean to be a negative voice in light of all the wonderful comments, but the reality is there are times where divorce is necessary.

    • Your points are all valid, Michelle, and I’m sorry if the post made you feel bad. If you read the full talk by Elder Oaks, he addressed what you have mentioned, and directs himself to those who are already divorced also. For the purposes of my own post, I just chose the portions that most applied to me and felt like things I myself could work on, and it was not meant to pass judgment on anyone who has already been through the gauntlet of divorce.

      Stephanie at Diapers and Divinity http://www.diapersanddivinity.com

  13. Thanks Stephanie. I probably should have read the full talk before posting….sorry. I didn’t feel like you were passing judgment….and your post didn’t make me feel bad…just sad. It’s still relatively new territory for me…and while I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was necessary, this is not where I imagined my life would be.

    Ignore my pity party…I love your blog!

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