What is marriage’s worst enemy, if you could name just one thing? I’ve been thinking about this for several years. I am offering my opinion here, but I think it is the natural man, the proud, lazy, self-enamored, stubborn man or woman.
When you were courting your spouse, didn’t you put on your best self to win him or her over? Weren’t you kind, patient, vulnerable, fun, and full of love? Didn’t you care a little more about your appearance, your manners, your vocabulary? Weren’t you more ready with an apology, more appreciative of the little things, more selective in your activities, more willing to submit to the plans and wishes of your beloved? (That’s not the natural man.)
When did courting start to fade and, in some cases, disappear? When did you let the natural man out of his little cage? When did you start to blame, to harbor resentment, to fail to express genuine gratitude, to hurl invectives, to follow your darker impulses? You know what I am talking about, don’t you? Complaining, grousing, mocking, yelling, belittling, lying—the list is long and tiresome.
The natural, grumpy, defensive, self-centered, Gollum-esque attributes don’t belong in your marriage nor in mine. Yes, I know you’re tired, stressed, disappointed, and confused. So am I. Maybe you’re depressed, let down, disillusioned? I’ve been there. Does it give you a logical reason, a right, to lash out and go on the attack? I submit that it does not.
What price will you pay to keep your spouse forever? There is only one price. Everything.
If you are not willing to give everything in that holy exchange, including your natural, indulgent self, for your spouse, do you have the power to keep him or her? I really don’t think so.
The fulfillment of sacred promises made in a marriage ceremony will come after we live those promises, or after we give our very best efforts trying to live them. We all need grace to live them. It takes many tries.
I am not saying you have to endure control or manipulation, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse or criminal behavior or repeated infidelity or decades of relapses to hold your marriage together. You may feel inspired to make great personal sacrifices to keep your relationship intact, but it can’t all be one sided. It takes a partnership.
You can’t save someone who doesn’t want to be saved. We can, like Christ, be judged and attacked emotionally, spiritually, or physically, and suffer it because of our love and longsuffering (see 1 Nephi 19:9). But there is a limit to what you can do for another person. No one on earth can tell you exactly where that limit is. You have to rely on divine guidance to know that.
Keep courting. Be respectful. Be honest but kind. Stop being so defensive. Don’t waste energy defending your opinions. Be open to ways you can be a better wife or husband. Be willing to improve. Recognize sooner when you are wrong. Be supportive of each other. Believe in each other.
You are a partner with God and your spouse. When you are married, you hold a key for your wife or husband that no one else can hold. That key can unlock a happy, rich, sanctified life for a loved one, or it can lock someone out of the life we were all intended to live. You can’t really turn that key and open the door to mutual happiness unless you are willing to subject your natural man to constant discipline and correction.
What price are you willing to pay to keep your spouse? What’s one thing, one habit, one behavior, you can set aside this week to make your marriage a happier one? (I already know what I need to work on this week.)