I am frequently looking for ways to understand my spouse and find happiness in marriage. While searching, I discovered something interesting. Happiness in marriage comes from loving our spouse.
The other day my husband and I had a disagreement about the definition of parenting styles. I always get the two confused, but this time I was sure he was wrong. We had to figure out that our discussion wasn’t about the definition it was about discovering that we both agree on how we want to raise our children. We were learning about each other and learning how to be happy with each other and our different opinions.
I decided to learn more about what I can do to strengthen my marriage. I learned, happiness is tied in to one principle: Charity. Increasing charity for my spouse will reinvigorate my marriage and bring true happiness in marriage!
I contacted Dr. Matt Brown who is the Program Director of the Family Therapy Program at the University of Houston Clear Lake and Clinical Manager at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families. He shared with me ways that Charity can bring happiness to marriage.
I have compiled several tips for strengthening your marriage. Look at this as your own personal recipe for a happy marriage.
1. Charity Rejoices in Learning Truth Together
Learning together can be accomplished in many different ways, specifically with quality time.
Focus on intentionally spending time together learning good things. Dr. Brown explains, “Couples who make intentional, daily efforts to connect with each other in small yet meaningful ways generally report happier marriages.” There are lots of ways that we can intentionally learn together.
Learning together on a daily basis leads to a happy marriage. Brown reminds us to do things intentionally because “marriage takes work and small interactions are really the threads in the tapestry of a marriage.”
- Read something fun and read something deep. The scriptures are always great. Try The Way of Kings for something fun
- Attend Lectures: There are always various conferences and lectures going on at the college or community center. Those of you in school can take a class together
- Google something: My husband and I talk about everything. We have found that searching for information on the internet can give us a new angle on our discussion
- Share experiences: Coming together at the end of the day and sharing our different experiences is a wonderful way to catch up and learn from each other
- Nature walks: Go learn about nature together!
2. Charity is Kind
Kindness is not only saying a nice word or smiling at someone.
In our marriages we need to do more than say nice things. We need to adore, honor, revere, and appreciate our spouse. There are many ways to show how we really feel about our spouse.
It can be a special treat whipped up in the kitchen. It can be a simple waltz around the room. Sometimes an extra kiss when least expected is just what your spouse needs. You know your companion and you know how something small can make the difference between a good day and a great day.
These little acts of kindness will increase your love for your spouse. Your increased love will strengthen your relationship and bring overall happiness in marriage.
- Let your love show through your eyes. Think of that cute old couple. The one where they hold hands and tenderly kiss and you can tell that through all the wrinkles they love each other more than they day they married
- Let your spouse know that you appreciate all the things he or she does for you. You appreciate that he plays with the kids. You appreciate that she makes the bed
- Flirt with your spouse. Especially in public!
3. Charity is One Who Thinks of Their Spouse First
Similarly, we can put our companion’s needs above our own. I once heard a story about a husband and a wife who were both having difficult days.
The wife had been busy all day with kids running around and ward members asking for help. By the time her husband came home, dinner was partially done, the house was a mess, and the kids still needed help on their homework.
The husband had been at work all day. Business deals had fallen through, extra paperwork was assigned him, and traffic was horrible. He simply wanted to come home, eat dinner, and relax.
He was expecting dinner and relaxation; she needed help in the kitchen.
When he walked through the door and saw the house in disarray and dinner undone, he had a choice to make. This wonderful husband put aside his needs and focused on his wife and family. He knew caring for her would result in greater happiness and a deeper love for his spouse.
- Leave a memo to yourself at your office with a short summary of the day and what you need to accomplish tomorrow. Then forget all about it on your way home. It’ll be there for you in the morning.
- For one week, give a back or foot massage to your spouse. Next week plan a special date. Continue doing something for your spouse each week
- Think about what you can do to make life easier for your spouse, then do it!
4. Charity is not Easily Provoked by Little Irritations
Another thing that we can do is to work on ignoring the things our spouse does that irritate us. Some couples disagree on the best route to the store and others like different brands of chocolate chips. These things can cause us to become irritated and nagging. Constant nagging does not result in our spouse changing their ways.
H. Wallace Goddard, Ph. D., a professor and Family Life Specialist at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service talks about nagging:
“This is precisely the wrong strategy for strengthening a relationship. It assumes that my needs are to be met–and my spouse must do whatever is necessary to to assure they are met.”
This is not the way a marriage is supposed to work. When you choose to give your all to someone, you can’t change your mind because things aren’t perfect. Instead choose to continue to give your all. Instead of focusing on failings, focus on strengths. Instead of trying to change them, work to change ourselves. When you start thinking negatively about your spouse choose to evaluate what you can work on instead.
Matt Brown shared with me how his wife expresses her concerns:
“She will often start stating her concern with something like, ‘I know you probably didn’t mean for it to come across this way, but…’ This immediately tells me that she knows I have no intention of hurting her; I just made a mistake.”
Choosing to see the good in our spouse instead of the bad will strengthen our love for them. As we focus on improving our imperfections we will draw nearer to God and his plan for us. His plan is eternal happiness.
- When your spouse makes a mistake, deliberately choose to think of one of their better qualities
- Take time to reminisce about when you were dating and how you first knew you loved your spouse. Share your thoughts with each other
- Hang pictures of the temple, Christ, and your family around the house
- Intentionally touch your spouse. Hugs, cuddles, hand holdings, caresses, all are good forms of simple touch
5. Charity does not Think Evil of His/Her Spouse
On a similar note, charity thinketh no evil. I can think of one really good way that this applies to marriage. I often find that I am interpreting the things that my husband does as intentionally irritating.
This failing leads to nitpicking, because we want to change our spouse. Dr. Brown talks about how nitpicking is usually a sign of “feeling emotionally distant and alone in a relationship.” We nitpick, because we want our partner to not be so distant.
Dr. Brown shares, unfortunately nitpicking “pushes [our] partner away” and leads to “distance and resentment.”:
“Ultimately, couples who continue down this path long enough can end up completely emotionally disengaged from each other.”
I don’t want to be “emotionally disengaged” from my spouse. I will never know what goes on inside his head so I assume the worst. This can be likened to thinking evil of my spouse. Now, I don’t think that he is evil in the sense that he is lying. Sometimes I simply think that he does things intentionally to hurt me.
Those thoughts are not healthy to my marriage. I do things that irritate him sometimes, and I don’t do them intentionally. So why is it any different for him? Well, It’s not. We all can take the time to realize that our spouse is not trying to hurt us.
They don’t think, “How can I irritate my spouse today?” Therefore, when they do irritate us, we can give them the benefit of doubt and realize that they aren’t perfect. They are trying, just like us. Together we can forgive the little things and work together to achieve eternal happiness in marriage.
- Defend your spouse’s shortcomings to yourself
- Let your spouse know when you are confused by what they are saying
- Work to truly understand your partner
- Thank Heavenly Father for the wonderful gift of your spouse
6. Charity is One Who Believes in the Divine Potential of Their Spouse
Charity is the pure love of Christ, and Christ sees us all perfectly. He sees our divine potential. If we are focused on the faults of our spouse, then it will be impossible to see them as they could be.
Matt Brown shared with me why trying to change our spouse is not a good thing:
“Generally speaking, trying to change your spouse sends a message that there is something about them that is not acceptable and usually evokes a defensive response.”
This response drives away the potential for you to see your spouse as God does. It also makes it more difficult for your spouse to see their own divine potential. Instead of trying to change their flaws we should focus on trying to see them as Christ would see them. Loving them for who they are and what they can become will bring about the change that really matters.
- Read your patriarchal blessings together
- Pray to understand your spouse and pray to see what they could become
- Envision your spouse in his or her temple clothes
7. Charity Submits to the Will of the Lord
As Latter-Day Saints we are taught that the Lord has a plan for us. He knows what is best for us. We, on the other hand, cannot see how a choice will affect us in the future. Choosing to place our trust in God and step blindly forward can be difficult.
Have you seen the triangle before? It has God, the husband, and the wife at each corner. As the husband and wife move towards God they also become closer to each other.
Dr Brown explains, “when a couple “triangulates” God into their relationship[…] they inevitably move closer to each other.” The best way to work towards God is to do his will. Thus the best way to move towards your spouse is by doing God’s will.
- Once again prayer! Pray for the strength to follow His will, especially when you don’t know where it will take you
- Love your family more then your work, bowling team, or household chores
- Read The Family: A Proclamation to the World and do your best to pattern your family after its counsel
- Apply the principles taught in General Conference to your daily experiences
- Attend General Conference as a family, then discuss it with your spouse and with the whole family
8. Charity Prays for His/Her Spouse
Dr. Brown shared with me an interesting concept about conflict and prayer:
“Many couples report that turning to God through prayer facilitates quicker and more meaningful conflict resolution. These couples were able to see their own contributions to the conflict and were more likely to apologize.”
Praying for someone first draws us nearer to God and second draws us nearer to that person. Allowing God to be part of your relationship, gives Him the chance to bless the marriage.
Prayer is a very personal experience. Intentionally praying for your spouse allows you to feel for them in a way that is unique. It helps you feel Christ-like love for your spouse.
- Pray for Christ-like love towards your spouse
- Pray for them to be strengthened in their role as a parent
- Pray for them in their trials and in their joys
- Pray together every day
9. Charity Suffereth Long
What does suffering mean in regards to charity? Generally we see suffering as a negative thing. It is something to be avoided at all costs. Yet the scriptures says we need charity and that suffering is a part of charity.
This is one aspect of charity that I really had to study and learn about. I was unsure how to convey that suffering leads to happiness. This seems backwards and very confusing. So I looked up its original translation.
This translation focuses on enduring things in patience. Suffering long is really patiently enduring trials and misfortunes. There will always be trials in our marriages. So someone who is long suffering is willing to endure the tough times and never give up on the marriage.
This aspect of charity also means being patient with our spouse. We already know that our spouse isn’t perfect; practice patience with your spouse when they make mistakes.
To truly experience happiness in marriage we must also experience sorrow and suffering. As we love our spouse we will also suffer for them. When they come upon hard times, when they stray or make a mistake, we suffer too. Not because they hurt us but because they are hurting.
So we see that true suffering is directly related to true love.
- Give yourself a moment to think. When disagreements arise, sometimes it is ok to not talk about it right away. Give yourself time to think it over and calm down, then talk about it
- Focus your scripture study on patience and long suffering
- Pray for patience, but be careful. The Lord will give you what you ask for
- Learn what makes you angry and how you can calm yourself down
10. Charity is Love
Basically this all boils down to truly loving your spouse. As we work to show our love for them, our love will increase for them. I think it is so great that by trying to show our love for someone our love for them increases! That is wonderful.
The love we have for our companions can be unconditional. As we work for that love we will draw nearer to our loved ones and to our Heavenly Father. All you need is love and then your life will be on the path to eternal happiness.
We can gain the same love that Christ has for our spouse by working on all of the aspects of charity. Only through Christ can we truly see our spouse as He does and love them as He does.
- Say “I love you!” Turn to your spouse and say it. Say it every day and mean it
- Read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
- Date your spouse. Dr. Brown tells us that “continuing to date your spouse communicates an investment in the health of the relationship[…] Couples need to continually get to know each other”
- Be creative in dating your spouse. Dinner and a movie gets boring eventually
11. Charity has Constant Hope
Everything is not going to be perfect overnight. Gaining charity for your spouse takes conscious and continuous effort. Continue to hope for the future. One day you will realize that your love for your spouse has increased ten fold and that it has been that way for some time.
If you have come to a point that Dr. Brown describes as you and your spouse “not liking the way [you] feel around each other and about your relationship” then seek help. Keep hoping for the future and choose to fight for your marriage. Once upon a time you and your spouse loved each other.
That love is worth fighting for!
If you are in the Texas Houston area, then Matt Brown is there for you. If not, find an LDS therapist near you. With God in your relationship and constant hope and faith you can get back on track to a healthy and happy marriage.