I promise you that if you apply all the principles described here, your relationship will dramatically improve.
I like something Elder Russell M. Nelson said in a recent conference talk he gave on celestial marriage. “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.”
It’s important to be humble, to realize that in marriage, both husband and wife are imperfect, with “built-in handicaps.”
When a truce is called, both sides recognize their weaknesses, decide that they need to work on change and are willing to do so, for their own good and for the good of those around them. If you think your spouse is the only one that needs to change, your mirror is probably steamed over. If you are not willing to take an honest look at yourself in that mirror, it will be difficult for you to maintain a healthy relationship with anyone for a sustained period.
Remember this verse from the Book of Mormon:
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. —Ether 12:27
You have to be humble to be happily married. Only then can you find the grace you need to knit your heart together with the heart of your spouse. You have to be able to recognize and admit your weaknesses in order to find your way out of them. You also have an obligation to make it safe for your spouse to expose and own up to his or her weaknesses. This is essential to the truce.
It is inevitable that misunderstandings and irritations will arise between any two people, not just spouses. Think about all your relationships—between parents and children, siblings, close friends, and even your bishop and other leaders. Petty differences have occurred and caused you grief. It’s just part of mortal life. Even Marjorie Hinckley would get irritated with President Hinckley when he would leave his ties draped over the back of the couch.
How many times in your own life have you witnessed a couple break up because of these irritations, only to find a different set of irritations (or worse) with their new companions? Wouldn’t it be far better to work out differences than to make a mad dash for a new wife or husband—and a whole new set of problems?
Now, I know that some problems arise that are too painful, too monumental to reconcile between two people, because one or both parties will not make the changes necessary to hold the marriage together. If you are doing all you can to follow your Heavenly Father under such circumstances, none of His blessings will be withheld from you.
When we learn to recognize that our weaknesses are a big part of the problem in our marriages, we should also recognize how important it is to apologize to one another, on a regular basis. What is sweeter than being taken up in the arms of your husband or wife and hearing the words, “I’m sorry. I love you. I’m trying to do better. Please help me.”? Go and do likewise.
In spite of our differences and difficulties, it is essential that we completely respect each other as husband and wife, in the same way our Heavenly Father respects us. He gave us our agency and allows us the freedom to exercise that agency, even when He sees that we are doing wrong. Likewise, we need to respect our spouse’s freedom of choice, even when we disagree with their choices. Certainly, we have a right to speak up and express our views, especially if our spouse is in transgression or headed in that direction. But we can never control or force our wives or husbands to do and see things our way.
There is a sacred boundary that we must not cross. If we begin “to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness,” Amen to the sanctity and security of that marriage (see D&C 121:37). It is “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned [and] by kindness” (see D&C 121:41-42) that we can hope to win the trust and respect of loved ones, friends, and family members. Any other method or effort will not be sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and if that Spirit is absent, we are in enemy territory.
In the same vein, seek to fully understand your spouse. Instead of being quick to judge and grudge, learn to ask the important questions, the ones that take some courage. You can never effectively impose your opinions or views on another, but you can understand another by asking sensitive questions and listening patiently to the answers.
No, I don’t mean questions like “Where have you been and when are you coming home?” or “Haven’t you paid the cell phone bill yet?” or “Why don’t you call me when you are going to be late?” Can you hear and feel the accusing edge, the irritation?
Not those questions, but important ones like these:
“How do you really feel about that?”
“Is there anything I can do for you right now?”
“Can I take you out to dinner tonight? I’ll get a sitter.”
“I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
Questions like these, sincerely asked and patiently offered, are what make a marriage.
Finally, show enough evidence of your love that you could be convicted in court. This is especially for the men. Your wife needs your affection like a flower needs sunlight and water and air. She needs you to hold her hand, to put your arm around her, to hold her close. She needs to hear you say “I love you” and to see it in your eyes. If you cannot learn to give her that part of you—the part that you gave so freely when you were dating and courting—she will dry up and wilt. You owe it to her, to win her love again and again, day by day. If you refuse to do this, she may honor her covenant with you in this life, but God will not obligate her to a doltish man forever. Charm her. Keep courting her. Pursue her—she wants to be caught. Be her hero.
- Be humble
- Recognize that there will be irritations between any two people, so work them out patiently
- Learn to apologize and mean it
- Completely respect each other
- Exercise no control or force in your relationship
- Feed your wife every day with the love and affection she needs and wants
As your bishop, I promise you that if you follow these principles honestly and earnestly, God will bless you with a happier, more peaceful, more fulfilling marriage. Trust will grow, love and affection will blossom, and old differences will become completely irrelevant. God bless you all with the happiness you long for and deserve. It will be yours, if you follow Him.