Relief Society Lesson 18: Honorable, Happy, Successful Marriage

First, I want to acknowledge that this is a sensitive topic. This recent discussion at FMH attests to that. For those who aren’t married and want to be, these types of discussions may be difficult. For those who are divorced or experiencing marital difficulties, this may bring up tender feelings as well. I’d like to be mindful of that, and perhaps expand the discussion to include how we can be better people in all of our relationships, and to take particular care to withhold judgment of those in less than ideal situations.

In the last two (inner city) units I’ve been in, a large number of the women were not in traditional family situations. In addition, there were many more women than men in my units, so the odds of finding a man to marry within the faith in many areas are not good. With those things in mind, I’m going to put forth some ideas that I would use were I actually teaching the lesson in my current locale.

It would also be easy for certain parts of this lesson to go down the road of “what’s wrong with the world today.” I personally would want to steer clear of that and focus more on what’s useful and helpful as we move forward with our lives.

I might start with the lesson title and ask people to define characteristics of an honorable marriage, a happy marriage, and a successful marriage, and write them on the board. What personal attributes can we develop that lend themselves to potential for marriage to be this way? Are these characteristics specific to marriage, or can they be beneficial to develop individually or in all types of relationships regardless of whether or not we are married?

(My thoughts are in italics; the rest is quoted from the manual)

Eternal marriage requires careful preparation.

Marriage is perhaps the most vital of all the decisions and has the most far-reaching effects, for it has to do not only with immediate happiness, but also with eternal joys. It affects not only the two people involved, but also their families and particularly their children and their children’s children down through the many generations.

In selecting a companion for life and for eternity, certainly the most careful planning and thinking and praying and fasting should be done to be sure that of all the decisions, this one must not be wrong. In true marriage there must be a union of minds as well as of hearts. Emotions must not wholly determine decisions, but the mind and the heart, strengthened by fasting and prayer and serious consideration, will give one a maximum chance of marital happiness. It brings with it sacrifice, sharing, and a demand for great selflessness. …

Ask women who are married to share how they came to that decision. Was it similar to other big decisions in life? What helps with making life-changing decisions in general?

… “Soul mates” are fiction and an illusion; and while every young man and young woman will seek with all diligence and prayerfulness to find a mate with whom life can be most compatible and beautiful, yet it is certain that almost any good man and any good woman can have happiness and a successful marriage if both are willing to pay the price. …

What price might that be? What can we expect from a marriage partner? Do you think one person can satisfy all of your needs? What roles might good friends play?

Two individuals approaching the marriage altar must realize that to attain the happy marriage which they hope for they must know that marriage is not a legal coverall, but it means sacrifice, sharing, and even a reduction of some personal liberties. It means long, hard economizing. It means children who bring with them financial burdens, service burdens, care and worry burdens; but also it means the deepest and sweetest emotions of all.

Ask people to share personal anecdotes about how they relate to this.

Married couples can follow a never-failing formula to find happiness together.
Almost all marriages could be beautiful, harmonious, happy, and eternal ones, if the two people primarily involved would determine that it should be, that it must be, that it will be.

The mere performance of a ceremony does not bring happiness and a successful marriage. Happiness does not come by pressing a button, as does the electric light; happiness is a state of mind and comes from within. It must be earned. It cannot be purchased with money; it cannot be taken for nothing.

Some think of happiness as a glamorous life of ease, luxury, and constant thrills; but true marriage is based on a happiness which is more than that, one which comes from giving, serving, sharing, sacrificing, and selflessness.

Does a happy marriage take something different than what it takes for someone to find personal happiness? Could acts of giving, serving, sharing, etc. developed as personal characteristics add to happiness whether one is married or not?

In a marriage commenced and based upon reasonable standards … , there are not combinations of power which can destroy it except the power within either or both of the spouses themselves; and they must assume the responsibility generally. Other people and agencies may influence for good or bad. Financial, social, political, and other situations may seem to have a bearing; but the marriage depends first and always on the two spouses who can always make their marriage successful and happy if they are determined, unselfish, and righteous.

I agree with this statement in many ways, but I also know that life can be immensely complicated and difficult, and that things may fall apart despite our best efforts. Sometimes we have deep-seated issues from childhood that surface in marriage, unforeseen tragedies, or other compatibility issues. Sometimes one spouse loses faith in the church and the other doesn’t know how to cope. How have you dealt with some of these realities? Are you any less worthy or worthwhile if it just doesn’t work out?

There is a never-failing formula which will guarantee to every couple a happy and eternal marriage; but like all formulas, the principal ingredients must not be left out, reduced, or limited. The selection before courting and then the continued courting after the marriage process are equally important, but not more important than the marriage itself, the success of which depends upon the two individuals—not upon one, but upon two.

First, there must be the proper approach toward marriage, which contemplates the selection of a spouse who reaches as nearly as possible the pinnacle of perfection in all the matters which are of importance to the individuals. And then those two parties must come to the altar in the temple realizing that they must work hard toward this successful joint living.

Second, there must be a great unselfishness, forgetting self and directing all of the family life and all pertaining thereunto to the good of the family, subjugating self.

This one can be paradoxical and difficult for many women. So many women are good at giving of themselves, to the point that there is almost no self left. One must keep one’s own cup filled in order to fill others. How do we find that balance of caring for ourselves so that we are more able to care for others?

Third, there must be continued courting and expressions of affection, kindness, and consideration to keep love alive and growing.

Fourth, there must be a complete living of the commandments of the Lord as defined in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

With these ingredients properly mixed and continually kept functioning, it is quite impossible for unhappiness to come, misun
derstandings to continue, or breaks to occur. Divorce attorneys would need to transfer to other fields and divorce courts would be padlocked.

In a perfect world, perhaps there would be no divorce attorneys. But we live in a world of complications, polarities, problems, and suffering. We are human beings each trying our best. I would hope that the final message we leave this lesson with is that we can work hard to make our marriages and all relationships happy, fulfilling, and beautiful, and be forgiving and gentle with others and especially ourselves when, in all of our glorious humanity, we fall short of the ideal.

And a closing quote, which applies wonderfully to marriage, but hopefully also to our regard for ourselves and all of our loved ones:

Love is like a flower, and, like the body, it needs constant feeding. The mortal body would soon be emaciated and die if there were not frequent feedings. The tender flower would wither and die without food and water. And so love, also, cannot be expected to last forever unless it is continually fed with portions of love, the manifestation of esteem and admiration, the expressions of gratitude, and the consideration of unselfishness.

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10 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful lesson. I’ve been wondering how to present this lesson in order to not make the divorced sisters, or un-married sisters feel uncomfortable. You nailed it! I feel a huge weight lifted. Thank you, for your thoughts.

  2. stacer says:

    “the selection of a spouse who reaches as nearly as possible the pinnacle of perfection in all the matters which are of importance to the individuals”

    This is a little problematic for me, because in our search for perfection we sometimes forget that we’re also human and therefore just plain imperfect. Yes, “as nearly as possible,” but sometimes that turns into the constant seeking for the Bigger Better Deal–rejection of the good person in front of you in hopes of finding someone better, because of course don’t you deserve perfection?

    I much prefer Elder Scott’s way of phrasing it–“I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife.”

    I think they mean to express the same idea, but Elder Scott resonates with me more, with the idea that not only do I not have to find the perfect person, I don’t have to BE the perfect person. Every time someone rejects me, I wonder what’s wrong with me, what sin am I overlooking, how am I not measuring up, etc., and this reminds me that as long as I’m doing my best and being myself, the guy who is worth anything will SEE me, in all my imperfection.

  3. AmyB says:

    anon, so glad I could help!

    stacer, I hear you. I found the language in a large portion of the lesson to be extremely strong and extremely black and white. I don’t think the current church leaders would speak in the same way, as you showed with the quote from Elder Scott.

  4. BJohnson says:

    “I much prefer Elder Scott’s way of phrasing it–‘I suggest that you not ignore many possible candidates who are still developing these attributes, seeking the one who is perfected in them. You will likely not find that perfect person, and if you did, there would certainly be no interest in you. These attributes are best polished together as husband and wife.'”

    I love that quote as well. It’s very similar to something Garrison Keillor said in his Thanksgiving 2006 show of “News from Lake Wobegon” featuring a story about a woman who had ultimately become disappointed with what she got for a husband.

    His advice to married couples?
    “Go for the bronze!”

    Yes, sometimes, tolerable is sufficient. And that can be true of marriage as well.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I’ve just read over the lesson and you make it sound so easy. I’ve just been called as our ward relief society teacher, which came as a real shock. Im a 25 year old wife and mother and feel totally incapable of teaching much older and more knowledgable sisters lessons once a month. My first lesson isn’t for another few weeks, lesson 20 “The Women of the Church”, so Im starting already to gather ideas for it, I’m feeling totally intimidated. If you have any idea’s I would love to hear them, just to give me a few tips or pointers for that lesson. Thanks heaps

  6. Anonymous says:

    Amen! I am so dreading this lesson for the same reasons. I think married or not married we all find ourselves coming up short at different stages. I really want the women to leave feeling uplifted and not over whelmed. Recently in YW’s the Bishop asked why do we go to the temple? Of course the answer was to be married eternally. But I think the better answer is because taking on those endowments is the happiest way to live. I’m afraid we need to be more aware that not every girl will marry and quit setting her up.The statics are rapidly growing and we need to be a church for everyone, not just the happily married.

  7. Carol says:

    I shudder to imagine teachers all over the church addressing the question about the threat to marriage and responses being, “It’s the gay community that are ruining marriage.” I hear this too often from church members! Avoid negativism and remember we are told to love one another, not blame, call names, and shun one another.

  8. Kiri Close says:

    I think earth life–with or without marriage—is hard, threatening, trashy, and biological. Birth is a dire facticity and a trauma mothers cannot escape. I never presumed that I could personally bear the weight of being born into this world and then try to make the most of it all by myself. I need help always.

    The multiple and terrific complexities and despair of my frail, human existence appears to have been allowed some ease with another always with me spiritually, physically, intellectually, aesthetically, or just always there like a piece of furniture. I’m not exactly sure why it feels better for me this way—it just does. This sidekick of mine happens to have a penis.

    Kindly, neither one of us is an encapsulation of perfection (oh, MAN! we’ve got the ‘goods’ and ‘dirt’ on each other!!). But i like that someone knows my dirty, stinkin’ little secrets, and vice versa. Days come & go when I don’t trust a thing about him! (’cause I’m naturally suspicious and eagerly scrutinizing of every damn thing).

    And then…something nice surfaces, things are dealt with (most of it over extensions of time–forget any ‘overnight changes’ myths), we’re actually listening to each other’s crap mixed with sincere talking, and physically canoodling sweetly is the best way our animal selves show a rekindling of commitment to each other.

    So, yeah, marriage both happily sucks for me and I can’t put a finger on why I’m okay about being married. It just feels really good.

    Maybe it’s my dependency for my own miserable self to love company?

  9. Kiri Close says:

    PS–And I really detest that pop culture has sucked us into thinking THAT is perfection. LDS culture is so not immune to freakin’ media corporations and their popular libidinal, superficial, limiting media images of beauty and beast.

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