Diana and I spent a weekend recently with our 8-year-old granddaughter. Her parents are recently divorced, and this was the first time we had really had any alone time with her. She has 5 siblings, so “alone time” is rare under any circumstances. This is a delightful child – so full of energy and optimism and – well, happiness. Several times during the weekend, I would tell her, “Settle down, kid – you make me tired”. Then we would all laugh. I was so pleased at the time we all had together. It was free and joyful the whole time. She was bouncy and smiley and cute – 100% of the time.
Saturday night, I took an opportunity to talk with her. I was amazed at how forthcoming and trusting and candid she was. I asked her how her parents’ divorce made her feel. She just said, “Sad.” I said, “Do you ever think it’s your fault?” She said, “Sometimes”. Somehow, even as we were talking about things that made her sad, she never lost her brightness. She still looked like a little angel, with the Lord’s goodness still shining through her. I don’t think this little girl was capable of sin yet.
Of course, I told her that it was absolutely NOT her fault, even though for the first time in my life I think I had some insight into exactly why a child might think that – how they might think that caring for them was just so stressful that the parents couldn’t handle it together (so they ironically chose to try to handle it alone – figure that one out). Even though she looked innocently at me and nodded, “Yes, I understand”, I had the feeling that she probably didn’t, and that my grandfatherly assurance was going to be enough to save her from asking that painful question of herself again.
After a little more discussion, she looked at me and asked, “What if I get divorced? I don’t want to get divorced, but everybody I know is divorced!” (Did I mention that she’s a very bright child – just this side of precocious?) I felt helpless – helpless and very sad. Her parents, both grandparents, even her aunts and uncles are all divorced – at least the ones who got married. In all fairness, she does have Great-Grandparents and 2 aunt/uncle couples who are not divorced, but that was quite irrelevant given the earnestness of her question. I answered with the most hopeful and positive response I could think of: “Well, sweetie, your Grandma and I are never going to get divorced!” I knew that to be true, and I said it with great conviction; I desperately wanted to give her a different example than those that had arrayed themselves before her during her 8 tender years. This child needed a reason to hope, a reason to work at preparing herself over the next 10-15 years to marry with resolve, commitment and eternal hope, and I wanted so badly to give her that reason.
Next came what I think was a stroke of inspiration – it was the Lord responding to the urgency of this child’s need. I said, “I want you to promise me something. Will you do that?” Of course, she said, “Sure, Grandpa.” I said, “I want you to promise that, when you get engaged – when you have found your husband – but before you get married, I want the two of you to come visit us. You see, your Grandma and I have learned many of the secrets to a happy marriage. I want to share them with you, but it wouldn’t do any good to share them with you now – you wouldn’t understand – but by that time, you will understand, and we will share them with you then. Promise me?” Then I asked her to repeat her promise to me. I asked her on two other occasions during the weekend to tell me exactly what she had promised. She nailed it every time.
So, I would like now to share a few of these “secrets” that Diana and I have learned. Before doing so, I want to make it clear that I, at least, learned these things the honest way – I made mistakes and felt the pain of those mistakes. I was divorced from my first wife after 17 years. I also want to make it clear that Diana is the sweetest, most precious woman in the world, and she makes it remarkably easy to learn these “secrets”. If it weren’t for her, it would have been much more difficult, and I personally might not have been up to the task. Now – the secrets:
SPIRITUAL AND EMOTIONAL FIDELITY
I vowed after a few years of marriage that I would never speak to anyone else about something that I would not speak to Diana about. This is a very powerful covenant! If I maintain this covenant, I will never speak negatively about her except to her face. I will never share a “secret” with someone else – keeping it from her. I can never form intimacy with another person that is greater than the intimacy I have with Diana. This forms a spiritual and emotional bond between us that has no room for another person’s interference. By keeping this simple covenant, our hearts become one – we become one.
This “secret” is very simple, and I am going to very direct in explaining it. I avoid any actions or thoughts that are sexually stimulating that do not involve my wife and her alone. This eliminates porn, sexual movies, books, magazines, even thoughts about other women. Indulging any of these things invites “comparison”, and these comparisons drive a wedge between the spouses – a private, insidious wedge that destroys not only physical intimacy but also spiritual intimacy.
If one is sexually pure at the time of the marriage, this is even more powerful. The spouse becomes the only image of sexuality in one’s mind; the only experience of sexuality; the ONLY source of sexual satisfaction. One doesn’t know any different. It is much easier to avoid the comparison syndrome. Then, because the desire for sex is so powerful, especially among men, we develop a fierce physical bond to our wives.
Among people who have had sexual experiences before marriage, it can be very difficult to avoid these comparisons. If this is the case, you must somehow root those things out of your mind. One must NEVER fantasize about someone else under ANY circumstances. All that does is perpetuate comparisons. Also – as the two of you age, any “fantasies” that you carried with you do not age. Again, intimacy, both spiritual and physical, is compromised. I testify, though, from my own experience, that with your commitment and the atonement of Jesus Christ, these fantasies can be eliminated from your life, enabling you to have a purely intimate physical relationship with your spouse.
Both spouses have their agency – their free will. It is a gift of God and is held sacred by him. It must therefore be honored as sacred by both spouses. This is obvious to most of us, but let’s look at some less obvious implications of this:
1) Exercising our agency, making choices, and learning from them is how we grow. It is part of the process of fulfilling our Godhood. Neither spouse has the right to impede that process in their partner. Observation of D&C 121: 34-46 is vital, not only for men, but for women, too.
2) The act of working together to arrive at common goals, while respecting individual agency, results in even greater intimacy. Learning to understand each other’s means of expression and learning; learning to communicate effectively with each other; tolerating another’s mistakes while maintaining faith in their sincerity; developing values together, or at least learning to respect and adapt to your spouse’s values; and especially refraining from criticism when the other makes an honest mistake – all of these things promote intimacy and bring the couple together as one.
3) One must learn that you cannot change another. You must love someone for who they are, then grow and “become” together. I have learned to trust that a good person, when faced with difficult choices, will learn to choose the right. Ours is the challenge to be patient, to have faith, and to love them as they go through the process that they need in order to change. Let us not forget – we are going through the same process. Of course, by doing this, we are hopefully afforded the same consideration by our spouse. Even if we are not – even if our spouse is impatient and controlling – the Lord will extend us the same mercies that we extend to others.
Trust is absolutely essential. Complete trust. I’ve known people who sneak onto their spouse’s e-mail account, or read their diaries, or “check-up” on them when they’re not at home. A marriage cannot thrive under these conditions – it’s that simple. Trust should be given, but it has to be maintained. I have a very simple solution – I never do anything that I would not tell Diana about. If I am completely trustworthy, it is much easier to believe that she is trustworthy. I suspect that if I were not trustworthy, I would probably have a difficult time trusting her. I might even find myself looking for things so I, myself, won’t feel so slimy. Diana and I have no secrets – except once in a while I might keep a “surprise” secret for a few days. If we make mistakes, we confess, and we forgive. That repentance and forgiveness process is also easier because we know that any “transgression” that occurs was an honest mistake. We are confident in that precisely because we are both scrupulously honest, and we have complete trust in each other.
Diana cries easily. She has taught me kindness. I’ve been very fortunate in that way – and I thank her for that. However, even if one’s spouse does not cry easily, it is critically important to always be kind. Just because someone has learned to protect themselves emotionally doesn’t mean we have the right to test their armor. Arguments are never ok. Raising one’s voice is never ok. Criticism is never ok. Manipulation of any kind is NEVER ok! It undermines trust, it poisons the unkind individual and it poisons the marriage:
No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy and without guile- (D&C 121: 41-42)
“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”. Elder Gordon B. Hinkley, Conference Address, April, 1991
This is the culminating secret. Spiritual intimacy, physical intimacy, trust, kindness – all point to this goal. Oneness cannot be achieved without these things, and I believe that, in the majority of cases, it can be achieved if these are observed with the integrity they deserve. To trust someone else as you trust yourself; to be as kind to someone else as you are to yourself; to share with someone else, and only that single someone, your most intimate spiritual, emotional, and physical experiences, needs, and fulfillments; to judge someone else with more kindness, mercy and forgiveness than you would even grant yourself – this is what it means to become one. This is charity. This is the gospel. Becoming one in marriage is a trial – a test – it is in marriage that we prove that we are capable of becoming one with Christ, and one with all of His children.
These, then, are the secrets I hope to share with my granddaughter as she prepares to marry. There are many other “secrets”, such as cultivating common interests, attending church together, date nights, etc., that are very important, but I think they largely result from doing the things above. I do not share these things to elevate myself in any way, but rather as an act of charity – to offer hope to others who may not yet have experienced the tender mercies of the atonement as I have. Oh – yeah, and the tender mercies of an angelic woman who, for reasons beyond my comprehension, condescended to make an eternal covenant of love and companionship with me. Go figure! Guess is doesn’t hurt at all to worship the ground your spouse walks on.