The following article was written by Robert Walz and is shared here with his permission.
Put in simple terms a marriage is a three-way covenant between a man, a woman and God. In that covenant, the man and woman promise to obey God’s laws, stay married and not get divorced. They promise to create children and teach their children to obey God’s laws. Every religion on earth believes and supports this covenant. But instead of writing about getting married, I want to jump ahead in time and give some observations about staying married. My hope is that you might avoid heartache and sadness, and instead enjoy a lifelong loving relationship that will endure the trials we all face in our lives, and perhaps give you a better list of what to look for when choosing a husband or wife.
During the ten years that I served as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I met with a lot of married couples, old, young and in between. They had one thing in common, they all had problems at some point: health issues, death, financial concerns, trust issues, wayward children, infidelity. Some of the couples I met with got divorced thinking it would solve their problem, only to find that the problems get worse AFTER the divorce. Divorce damages children, creates long lasting scars and splits up family and friends. Certainly there are valid reasons for divorce as physical and emotional abuses are not acceptable, but I don’t want to write about them. I want to tell you about the couples who stayed together because they had a formula that works. I think if you adopt this formula you will also stay married and enjoy a lifelong loving relationship.
The first trait I call selflessness, meaning putting the needs of others ahead of your own needs. This starts by putting God first in your life. “Love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind, might and strength,” the first and greatest commandment. People who put God first in their lives willing obey Him. They pay their tithing, attend their meetings, keep the Sabbath day holy, serve in their callings and keep all His commandments as best they can. A person who does not put God first in their life is not likely put you first in your marriage. Let me say that again. A person who does not put God first in their life is not likely put you first in your marriage.
Unselfish people put the needs of their spouse, their children, friends and even strangers ahead of their own. They work hard everyday to protect and provide. Unselfish people say things like, “Oh no, you go first,” “Let me get that for you,” “You are so smart,” “I’ll do that,” “No, really it’s fine,” “Let’s do it your way” and “How do you feel about that?” They cook and clean and make beds and sew buttons, they mow lawns and rake leaves and clean toilets, take out the trash. They read stories at bedtime, pick up stuff you need, make you feel like you are the most important person in the room, and they help you solve your problems, seeking nothing in return. This is the opposite of what pop culture tells us today. “You need to find your own happiness,” “You deserve more,” and other lies. We live in the culture of the selfie. People are more worried about how they look than how they act. Society even rewards selfishness, viewing it as an attribute in business and sports. Winning at all costs has become the common standard. But that standard does not produce life long, loving relationships. Selflessness does.
2. Forgive and Seek Forgiveness
The next trait is the ability to forgive and seek forgiveness. This comes from the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That is easy to say but difficult to do. It is always easier to blame others for what happens and to hold a grudge against those who have wronged us.
A father I knew made a big mistake, he betrayed his wife and family, lost his job and was facing criminal charges. His wife was so angry that she kicked him out of the house and started divorce proceedings. He was very contrite and I felt the Holy Ghost very strongly during our weekly meetings. He took responsibility for his actions and embraced the atonement. He feared he had lost his wife and family forever. We spent a lot of time crying together, but during one meeting we had a revelatory experience as we realized that while he could not change his wife’s heart, God could. We fasted together and petitioned the Lord. He excitedly called me from the courthouse, with tears in his voice, he said his wife was willing to forgive him and try to work things out. She did and they continue to raise their family together. What was broken became whole again.
A woman I knew could not forgive her husband after he had an affair. Everyone, even me her bishop, understood her pain and anger. They separated and then divorced. No one wins in a divorce, especially the children. I stayed in touch with them and now years later they have both remarried other people. But, I can tell they still love each other. I can tell they wish they had found a way to work it out. But now they can only look from a distance and regret their selfish actions and inability to forgive.
In your heart, don’t you want to spend your life with someone who is selfless and forgiving? But the better question is, in your heart, don’t you want to become someone who is selfless and forgiving? The good news is that developing these two important traits costs you nothing; you don’t have to sign up for a class, buy a textbook or go to the testing center. You just do it, and you can start today.
You just have to learn to love others more than you love yourself, which should be easy because you’re really not that great anyway, are you? Try it for a week and see how much better you feel. Couples who are selfless and forgiving find that problems can bend but not break a marriage and they can learn to love again.
The third trait is the ability to communicate. It seems so simple but can be so difficult. Couples communicate in many ways, in what they say and what they don’t say to each other. Silence can communicate a lot, so can touch. Kissing is a form of talking, just really close.
I am afraid many young people are looking for the wrong things in a potential spouse. A lot of my female students at Brigham Young University tell me that as a youth activity they made a list of what they want in their husband, and not to settle for anything less. This list often includes things like college graduate, makes lots of money, athletic, handsome, superhuman and drives a nice car.
Some men do the same thing. My brother-in-law’s list included blond hair, brown eyes, enjoys French cooking and looks good in a bathing suit. But while those traits are all good they are not indicators of a lifelong, loving relationship. If you marry a rich person who is selfish and unwilling to forgive, you will not likely be happy. Plus, looks fade with time.
So here is what I want you to do: throw out the list! Those are all good things but that person doesn’t really exist. It is a fantasy and marriage is a reality. Instead, replace your list with the one I just gave you. Just three things: selfless, forgives easily and can communicate. I promise you that if you find someone who is selfless and forgiving, and you can communicate, you will fall deeply in love. It won’t matter if they are tall or short, rich or poor, educated or not. So just remember, the car they drive or how they look in leg warmers will not get you through the difficult times in your marriage. Selflessness, forgiveness and communication will. Become that person and then look deeply for someone with those traits. Look beyond what will impress others in a Facebook post and instead look for traits that will create a loving, trusting relationship.