An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Modern Mormon Marriage

A couple in our ward with a 20-year temple marriage and six kids recently divorced. If a husband and wife can’t get along, the place in which their marriage was performed doesn’t seem to matter. In the case of the couple in our ward, I wonder if the wife’s expectations of marriage were unrealistic. Comments she’s made indicate that she wanted a husband with a high income who helps with the kids and household chores, does all the yard work, and takes care of all household repairs and service problems. No, I don’t know what her husband expected.

Possibly a couple with a temple marriage will try longer and harder to save their marriage, but that may not always be a plus. Polly, a young relative, was widely criticized for ending her three-month temple marriage 20 years ago. She never remarried and is, as far as I can see, a happy career woman. Polly’s marriage, I suspect, was motivated more by social pressure than by love. Should she have endured a loveless marriage of friction and borne and raised children in that environment? Contrary to what we hear at Church, marriage isn’t for everyone. Neither is parenthood.

In the past, people married for financial benefit and probably had low expectations for love and companionship as part of the deal. The wife went along with the husband’s decisions. A roof over her head and food on the table was all she could reasonably expect.

Modern marriage, however, is expected to supply emotional fulfillment as well as financial stability, sex, and children. Modern wives expect a say in where and how the family lives—even how many children will be produced.

What does a couple do when the wife is desperately unhappy living where the husband’s job is located—or the husband’s income doesn’t provide what the wife considers reasonable necessities for the family—or if one spouse decides to quit attending church? These are not moral issues, but they are differences that can create daily stress in a marriage.

Couples deal with strained relations in different ways. Unhappy spouses often look beyond the boundaries of matrimony to find love and understanding. Smaller, seemingly unrelated  issues often provoke public needling and subtle belittling—little jabs about weight, earnings, even snoring. Looking at some older Mormon couples, I wonder if they really want to be together for eternity or if that’s just another sacrifice they expect to make for their family.

Obviously, it would help for people to know themselves and what they want from life and then seek a mate with compatible goals and values before making eternal vows—but how likely is that for people in their 20s? Pre-marital counseling, such as my son’s church requires before a church wedding, probably helps. Honest information and counsel from trained clergy about sex, money, and other areas of potential conflict—and learning the rules of fair fighting to resolve disputes—are practical. Unfortunately, the only premarital counseling most Mormon couples receive is to practice chastity before marriage.

Lolly recently expressed gratitude that her dad and I stayed together through difficult times. Our secret of success was less spiritual than a temple sealing or commitment to our kids. George and I are realists. We looked at ourselves and realized no one else would put up with either of us. Our choices were: a) Learn to get along with each other or: b) Go it alone. Maybe realistic expectations rather than temple ceremonies are the key to marital success.

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Comments on: "Modern Mormon Marriage" (4)

  1. It is Mormon ad counter-intuitive. But I think you’re right about the power of realism and reality-based decision making. Somehow this even seems more romantic than the weight of god alternative to marriage fidelity.

  2. I love the part about no one else being willing to put up with you- I often feel the same way.

    When I was first married, one of the hardest things was handling both my own flaws and someone else’s. Now that I’m ten years in, and we’ve had our share of ups and down, the thing I love most is that even though we are both very flawed, we accept that and love each other in spite of it. There is such security in that type of love. Marriage is hard work, and I think a lot of people don’t understand that you need to make efforts to grow together and not apart. And that there will be periods where everything will be wrong, you won’t like each other, and your marriage will be WORK. I don’t think you get where my spouse and I are until you’ve weathered a few rough patches in life and realize that there really isn’t anyone else who knows you and still loves you that much. It isn’t settling- it is realizing how blessed you are.

    I try not to make statements like, ‘too young” or “too old”- because quantifying statements leave no room for the spirit to work, but I totally agree that you need to know what you want from someone else before you get married. If you can’t get your basics to line up, it will make it much harder.

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