Finding Faith When an Eternal Marriage Ends

Eternal marriage in the temple is the ideal. What happens when temple covenants are broken?

Marriage and families are central doctrines in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As Elder Boyd K. Packer taught,

The ultimate purpose of every teaching, every activity in the Church is that parents and their children are happy at home, sealed in an eternal marriage, and linked to their generations.

But for some people, this is not their present reality. Maybe a spouse has broken his or her temple covenants in some way. What now? What happens to the spouse who is remaining faithful? And what happens to their children? These situations can be confusing or heartbreaking for those involved. Especially because church leaders often speak in terms of the ideal. 

But Heavenly Father knew that mortal life would provide many challenges—including those relating to marriage. God knows and loves each one of us and sees our potential. He knows that each of us makes mistakes and falls short of the ideal. He knows that we will be impacted, sometimes negatively, by the choices of others. And His plan has taken all of these factors into account. While a temple sealing with partners faithful to their covenants is the ideal, we need not worry that all is lost if we don’t have the ideal right now. We just need to have faith in our Heavenly Father and His plan for us. Let me explain.

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Marriage and Why It’s Important

A bride and groom stand in front of the temple.The marriage covenant is, in the simplest terms, the union of a man and a woman in partnership with God, according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The man and the woman covenant with each other and with God. In a temple sealing, if both the husband and wife are faithful and true to their covenants and the commandments of God, they will be able to live together as husband and wife with their children in the presence of God. This is exaltation. Elder L. Tom Perry taught,

The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage.

We believe that each one of us is a literal spirit son or daughter of our Heavenly Father, and that we lived with Him before we came to earth. We believe that marriage and family ties can continue beyond the grave, if performed under proper authority in His temples. In short, Elder Perry said,

“We … believe that strong traditional families are not only the basic units of a stable society, a stable economy, and a stable culture of values—but that they are also the basic units of eternity and of the kingdom and government of God.

“We believe that the organization and government of heaven will be built around families and extended families.”

The family is the fundamental unit of the Church and of society. And the foundation of a strong family is a strong marriage. 

The Blessings of Being Sealed in the Temple

The blessings associated with temple marriage are outlined in Doctrine & Covenants 132:19-20, which says,

“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection…and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…..”

Children who are born to a couple who has been sealed in the temple are born in the covenant. Parents whose children were born before their sealing in the temple can have their children sealed to them. The children and the parents have all of the blessings and privileges of the temple sealing. President Russell M. Nelson taught,

While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter. Only those who are married in the temple and whose marriage is sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise will continue as spouses after death and receive the highest degree of celestial glory, or exaltation.

When a husband and wife are sealed in the temple, their covenants not only bind them to each other but also to their children. So our temple covenants enable us to be bound to our ancestors as well as to our descendants in a great human chain.  

Related: Mormons Believe in a Loving God

Broken Covenants

We live in a fallen world with imperfect people who will make mistakes. Because of the Savior’s Atonement, we can repent and be forgiven. We also can be healed when we are hurt by the mistakes of others. Even the mistakes that adversely affect marriages and temple covenants. Sometimes, however, the marriage can’t survive when one spouse is unfaithful to his or her covenants. What does that mean for the spouse who has remained faithful? President Nelson explained,

If you are married to a companion who has broken his or her covenants, your willingness to let God prevail in your life will allow your covenants with God to remain intact. The Savior will heal your broken heart. The heavens will open as you seek to know how to move forward. You do not need to wander or wonder.

Those who remain faithful to their covenants will receive the promised blessings. The Church Handbook states,

“Members who are divorced but still sealed to the former spouse are often troubled by the thought of that sealing. The sealing will not be compulsory in the postmortal life for either a man or a woman. If temple covenants are broken and no repentance is made, the sealing between the husband and wife is revoked. However, those who keep their covenants will retain the individual blessings provided by the sealing. This is the case even if the spouse has broken the covenants or withdrawn from the marriage.”

However, this is only the case if the sealing has not been canceled. Once the First Presidency approves the cancellation of a sealing, individual blessings pertaining to that sealing are no longer in force. 

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Cancellation of Sealings

A couple who is divorced civilly does not automatically receive a temple divorce, or a cancellation of a sealing. A cancellation of a sealing must be requested and can only be approved by the First Presidency. President Gordon B. Hinckley said,

The most burdensome responsibility I have is to make judgments on applications for cancellation of temple sealings following civil divorce. Each case is considered on its individual merits. I pray for wisdom, for the direction of the Lord in dealing with sacred covenants made in the most hallowed surroundings and of an eternal nature.

A woman who has previously been sealed must receive a cancellation of that sealing before she can be sealed to another man in this life. A man who is divorced from a woman to whom he was sealed must receive a sealing clearance from the First Presidency before he can be sealed to another woman. However, he does not need to request a cancellation of his previous sealing. Children who were born in the covenant or sealed to their parents remain so even if their parents’ sealing is later canceled. 

Faith in God’s Plan

Our Heavenly Father is loving and just. He knew that we would all make mistakes, and He knew that some mistakes would hurt the innocent. Some mistakes would lead to divorce and the separation of families. But the promise of the gospel is that all will be made right in the end. President Nelson taught,

Be we all reminded that, in the Lord’s own way and time, no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed.

We just need to have faith in His promises. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said,

“Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven. But for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

Related: 9 Additional Blessings One Latter-day Saint Learned from Losing and Regaining His Faith

Lisa Montague is a staff writer for the More Good Foundation. She graduated from Brigham Young University. And is currently raising four great kids with her husband in the mountains of Idaho. She loves spending time with her family, writing, skiing, and making quilts.