It’s that time of year. Wedding invitations from roommates, friends, family and old mission companions flood our mail boxes.
Marriage and the creation of families plays a central role in LDS culture. In The Proclamation on the Family, the First Presidency declared, “Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. … Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.”
The marriage focus at BYU is something both loved and mocked among the student population. Hardly a Divine Comedy or HumorU passes without at least one joke about marriage. We joke about DTR’s, Mrs. Degrees, Ward Stare — the list goes on. At the same time, unlike most universities, dating culture at BYU is alive and well. Often, BYU students can go on more dates in a semester than other university students attend during their four years of school.
In 2007, BYU Studies published a study by several university professors, cataloging a survey of dating and marriage views on BYU campus. Of the students surveyed, 95 percent ranked “marrying in the temple” as a “very important” goal, second only to “a close personal relationship with God.” As of last fall, 25 percent of BYU students were married.
I’m one of those students. Tuesday, my husband and I celebrate our two-year anniversary. As the date approached, I began to think more about what we have learned in our two year crash course in marriage. We have by no means made it. Our marriage, like every marriage, isn’t perfect. We have quirks and disagreements. But the experience has taught me much about what marriage means, and particularly what it does not mean.
In the LDS culture, we claim to support traditional marriage. However, in my opinion, we do not spend enough time focusing on preparing individuals before marriage and strengthening couples already in marriage. With a national divorce rate at around 50 percent, part of supporting marriage means creating, maintaining and encouraging healthy marriages.
A joke floats around of a bride turning to her mother on her wedding day and exclaiming “Mom, I’m at the end of all my troubles.” The mother quickly responds, “Yes, my dear, but at what end.”
If there is anything I’ve learned in two years of marriage, it is that marriage is hard — wonderful, but hard. When dating and engaged, everything is exciting, new and full of possiblity. Marriage becomes the end goal — the “happily ever after” dreamed of. But when happily ever after comes, some couples can be left asking “now what?”
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other human relationship. Yet some married couples fall short of their full potential. They let their romance become rusty, take each other for granted, allow other interests or clouds of neglect to obscure the vision of what their marriage really could be.”
Marriage, even more than courtship, takes daily effort. It’s not enough simply to show occasional, elaborate displays of affection (Though flowers or a romantic dinner never hurts). A strong marriage, instead, is based on small, daily moments of love and compassion. It’s learning to focus on the positive and not letting small moments of irritation consume a marriage.
John M. Gottman, relationship researcher and author of “Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” wrote, “Most marriage start off with such a high, positive set point that it’s hard for either partner to imagine their relationship derailing. But far too often this blissful state doesn’t last. Overtime anger, irritation and resentment can build to the point that the friendship becomes more and more of an abstraction. The couple may pay lip service to it, but it’s no longer part of their daily routine.”
A successful marriage is a remarkable feat of human nature. It requires two independent individuals to work as a cohesive pair. Each must be willing to be stretched and changed as individual natures are molded into complimentary dispositions. It means becoming incredibly vunerable to another human being. Their words and actions offer you the greatest happiness but also expose you to the greatest heartbreak. But despite the work and rick, marriage can also bring some of life’s greatest joys.
My grandparents have been married for nearly 60 years. I’ll never forget sitting in their kitchen on their 50th anniversary. My grandmother looked at her husband and said, “there hasn’t be a day in 50 years that this man hasn’t told me he loves me.” At that moment, the love they had shared, nurtured and built a family with seemed almost tangible.
I hope in 48 years my husband and I will have nurtured our marriage enough to have that level of love.
Katie Harmer is the issues and ideas editor at The Universe. This viewpoint represents her opinions and not necessarily those of BYU, its administration or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.