Monday, October 31, 2016

Week 7: Staying Emotionally Connected


The thing that impacted me the most from this week's reading was a concept from Drawing Heaven Into Your Marriage. Author H. Wallace Goddard introduces a mind-blowing idea that I've never even considered, but now seems so obvious to me. Goddard says that ". . . anytime we feel irritated with each other it is an opportunity to grow. Irritation is an invitation to better thinking and acting. Since, in most cases, we are perfectly designed for each other, staying engaged with each other is vital . . . God . . . has hooked us up with partners and life experiences that are perfectly suited to grow us toward Godhood."

We always hear about how perfectly suited marriage partners are for each other because of their strengths, but we rarely hear that their weaknesses make them just as well-matched - possibly even more so!  Think about what this means! My husband's extroversion is completely matched with my introversion, especially when I am socially exhausted one hour into the ward party, and he is just getting started. His need for physical affection is the missing piece to my need for personal space, because conflicts over getting our own needs met versus meeting each other's needs force us to compromise and sacrifice to make our relationship work.

What a wonderful way to view our weaknesses! Without a doubt, I know that we are in God's hands. He has tailored our lives with the challenges that will make us into who He wants us to become. Now it appears that He has done the same with both the good and not-so-good, in both our partners and ourselves!

Monday, October 24, 2016

Week 6: Cherishing Your Spouse

I didn’t realize what a selfish person I was until I got married. Even after that, I couldn’t really understand the depth of my need for ‘me time’ until I had children. As the only child of parents who were in and out of the picture, I never really had to worry about anyone but myself. I didn’t have to battle anyone for the last brownie or compete for my mother’s attention. But it was extremely lonely, and I often found myself wishing I had a long-long twin somewhere!

About ten years into my marriage, I remember a certain conflict my husband and I had that taught me the principle of sacrifice. We had three kids ages two to eight. I stayed home with our kids while my husband worked and attended school, both full-time. It was an exhausting time for all of us, and yet now I find myself looking back on that time with longing. My children were all still babies, really—small and squishy and in constant need of something. Attending to their needs was physically draining, and I found that I couldn’t wait for them to become just a little more self-sufficient. Escape was my method of coping at that time: girls’ night out, book clubs, Relief Society activities, writing group, even drink-runs with friends. Anything to get me out of the house. What I couldn’t see was that my escape was leaving the one person who should have been top priority out in the cold.

My husband and I were in the car when I mentioned that I had just joined a new book club that would be meeting that week. He didn’t react well to this additional time out of the house, and I immediately became upset. My verbal defense was something along the lines of, “I need to get out of the house! What do you want me to do, never experience anything but you and the kids? I need more than that!” He then calmly brought to my attention the fact that I would be gone every night that week with all of my activities, and he wondered where he fit into things. While it took me a while to simmer down from this confrontation, I soon saw that I hadn’t been making our relationship a priority. So, I decided not to join that book club, which I resented at first. Once I did readjust my focus to my husband, I saw how very much I had neglected him. It is a lesson I will never forget.

It’s tough, putting your partner first—particularly when you have a small army of little people whose needs are so immediate. But, feedings and changings aside, no earthly thing should come before your marriage. Nothing. If any other relationship does so, then there is a problem. This is a lesson I’ve had several times, and I don’t expect it’s over just yet, either. Something I’ve come to see over the years (some of which I’ve prayed to know why life has to be tipped quite so far on the opposition side of the scale) is that marriage and parenthood (family life) is Celestial boot camp. In this stew, all the imperfect ingredients are boiled together, simmering until our reduction is the consistency God wants it to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Week 5: Behaviors that Negatively Affect Marriage

Myth Busted: Falling Out of Love 

I believe that ‘falling out of love’ is a myth. When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember learning a profound truth. My husband and I had been married about a year and a half, and the rose colored glasses were getting a bit thin. One day while riding to work, the Spirit taught me something profound: true love isn’t about butterflies or the attraction that brought you and your spouse together. True love is staying with that person when you aren’t feeling those things. True love is made up of sacrifice and compromise and hard work. I used to look at Hollywood couples and marvel at their short shelf life. In the past, I found myself thinking, if a couple who looks like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Anniston can ‘fall out of love’, then what hope do the rest of us ordinary folk have? But herein lies the key. Obviously these beautiful celebrities lose their rosy goggles just like the rest of us. Attraction may be the magnet that draws us together, but it certainly isn’t the glue that holds us together. So if these perfect tens can lose ‘that loving feeling’ as easily as the rest of us, then clearly the secret to a successful marriage has nothing to do with looks or twitterpation. Sorry, Bambi. 

I believe there are several factors to a maintaining a successful and fulfilling marriage. Like so many things in life, it is the Sunday school answers, the little things that we have to constantly work at, that make or break this union that is ordained of God.

First, marriage is not just a promise between two people; it is a covenant each partner makes with God. It is a commitment that we need to follow through on, not an optional situation that we can brush aside as soon as the irreconcilable differences rear their ugly heads.

Second, the way to your sweetheart’s heart is his or her love language: touch, quality time, gifts, words of affirmation, or acts of service. Learn which it is, and become fluent in it. My husband used to bring me flowers for every birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, mother’s day, etc., like clockwork. While the roses were beautiful, the gift became a bit predictable, and I also found myself fussing over the cost each time. My husband has learned that the way to my heart is much simpler and cost effective: peanut butter Snickers, Kit-Kat, and Crispy M&Ms to name a few. I still love flowers when they are unexpected or when I am feeling down about something. And I have learned that reaching out to hold his hand while we are grocery shopping, or simply scooting closer to him on the couch make him feel loved.

Third, make time for each other. Go on dates, even if it is a date to the grocery store or a trip to Lowe’s to get something for his latest project. Remember that you came together in the temple, and make the temple a regular part of your dating regimen.

Fourth, always, always put each other first. No other person (friends, siblings, parents, even your own kids) should be above your spouse in priority. Obviously when we are in the child-bearing years, the physical demands of our children tend to take up that first slot and putting each other first is more difficult, but this too shall pass! I have found that my kids love seeing their parents put each other first. After the kids go to bed on Friday nights we usually watch a movie. My middle child will often ask, ‘What are you and dad watching for movie night?’ If we say we’re not watching a movie she gets a little scowl and argues, ‘But it’s Friday, and Friday is movie night!”

Fifth, take care of each other. A few months ago I had a procedure that left me tired, weak, and stressed. At the end of the day I just broke down crying, and my sweet husband held me while I cried. That is the face of true love, in my opinion, the color of what marriage is all about. Not to mention, it brought us closer together and I felt so loved that I could have drowned in it. So, when I hear couples say ‘we just fell out of love’, what I am hearing each time is, ‘we stopped working on our relationship; we stopped communicating; we stopped putting each other first and making time for each other’.

Like our testimonies, our relationships are not self-sustaining. Remember that we aren’t in the Garden of Eden, where lush greenery and perfumed blossoms are growing wild all around us. We are in the lone and dreary world, where thistles, thorns, briars, and noxious weeds are allowed to afflict and torment us. We have to earn our bread, or in this case, our happy marriages, by the sweat of our brows.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Week 4: Doctrine of Eternal Marriage

As a child, I was terrified of wolves. I used to dream that they were chasing me, biting me, or chowing down on my loved ones. I'm not sure where this fear came from, but seeing as I repeatedly watched The Never Ending Story, I have my suspicions about Gmork - the fearsome creature that dwelt in a darkened cave. This foundationless fear stayed with me, even as an adult, until some combination of Twilight and Shiver cured me of my aversion to wolves. But still, I find that one wolf continues to torment me. Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy described this wolf as "excessive individualism that has spawned today’s contractual attitudes." Until I got married and had children, I had no idea what a truly self-absorbed person I was. Having been raised as an only child (though 'raised' is perhaps a strong word for parents who were in and out of the picture), there was nothing for me to be but selfish. I didn't have to share my toys or make sure I got first dibs on dinner. Whatever parental attention my parents did bestow was given exclusively to me. Sibling rivalry was a completely alien concept to me until my second child was born. Suddenly, "me time" was one of the most precious things I had. With this background, family life has been extremely difficult for me. You might have guessed that I'm an introvert, which makes my flight instinct that much stronger in noisy, chaotic, or overcrowded situations. It doesn't help that the world tells me I should 'look out for number one', 'make sure to get yours', and 'put yourself first'. There is some basis for these theories; after all, if I'm not whole myself how can I take care of my family? It's the airplane scenario of first-attach-your-own-mask-and-then-help-others. But the world takes this so much further. As Elder Hafen says, "The adversary has long cultivated this overemphasis on personal autonomy, and now he feverishly exploits it . . . He exaggerates the need for having space, getting out, and being left alone." This is a struggle I deal with almost daily. But it helps to know that Satan is exploiting my personality and history, and that I can defeat him in the end. Once again, I am grateful for the pure doctrine we are taught in The Family: A Proclamation to the World: "The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave . . . Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ."

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Week 3 - Threats to Marriage

I am not a person who generally follows politics, or even watches the news for that matter. If something big happens in the world, I am likely to know about it only if someone posts about it on Facebook, if it comes up on the Yahoo home page, or if my husband comes home and says "Well, there's been another terrorist attack." I know my lack of attention to world events is pathetic, but I only have so much room in my head. So, when I read the assignment for this week (all 98 pages of it) I was baffled. I had no idea that four of the nine members of the Supreme Court dissented from the majority ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide. I couldn't help hearing lines from the Book of Mormon in my head, about wicked versus righteous judges: "And now behold, I say unto you, that the foundation of the destruction of this people is beginning to be laid by the unrighteousness of your lawyers and your judges" (Alma 10:27). On a lighter note, I kept thinking about Star Wars III - Revenge of the Sith as well, when Palpatine takes emergency powers to start his war, effectively tramping out any vestiges of democracy. However, I was thrilled with the four judges who dissented, who had the courage to raise their voices in favor of democracy, traditional marriage, and religious liberty. My favorite quote was from Chief Justice Roberts: "Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty . . . Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples . . . Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today." (Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. (2015). Supreme Court of the United States) What the Supreme Court's majority ruling did for this country was not granting liberty to a minority. It was taking liberties from the rest of us. Bakeries who refuse to make wedding cakes for a same-sex weddings are fined. Therapists are now, by law, unable to give counseling to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. Think about what that means for a second! The government is telling individuals that they are not allowed to address something they see as an issue. One could say that they are not only encouraging but forcing people to be gay. One school district in Washington introduces same-sex lifestyles to their Kindergarten students as part of the curriculum. And that same school district, in fourth grade, has students "choose" which sexual orientation they are. Fourth grade - long before any child has any sort of sexual tendency unless it has been introduced to them. If I opt my children out of their family life unit because same-sex lifestyles are being taught as normal and completely acceptable, then I am a religious fanatic, or worse, a "bigot". There is no question in my mind that religious liberty will continue to be restricted by our government. A line is being drawn, and we must decide which side of the question we are on. How grateful I am to have The Family Proclamation! How blessed we are as a church to have a quorum of prophets, seers, and revelators up in the tower, watching the horizon for danger.