An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Posts tagged ‘Temple marriage’

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.

Marriage–As Is

Used car lots have signs on some of the models, “As Is,” meaning you have no guarantee that the thing is going to work. Marriage is really the same way. Three of my longtime friends were divorced in their 60s—two were devout Mormons with temple marriages. People change over the course of a lifetime and no church ceremony can guarantee that the participants will change in the same or even a compatible direction.

Loss of faith by one spouse possibly affects Mormon marriages more than those of other denominations because Mormon life is so heavily family oriented. If one spouse begins staying home from church, the whole ward asks about it. Women express sympathy to a sister whose husband ceases church activity, but a man whose wife drops from the fold receives subtle criticism. He is the head of the family. His priesthood responsibility includes seeing that gospel principles are taught and lived within his home.

A good marriage invites the sharing of one’s deepest thoughts. If one spouse shares religious doubts, the other may feel her testimony is being threatened. Unlike couples of differing faiths who work these problems out before marriage, if one partner in a marriage changes faith midstream,  the couple must deal with an unexpected situation after the romantic bloom has faded and while grappling with financial pressures, career choices, child rearing, and other problems.

Hanging together for the sake of the kids and hating it is no one’s idea of bliss. Everybody knows couples who stay together in an armed truce—each sniping at the other’s self-esteem with every opportunity. But breaking up a family with divorce is also painful. Sometimes divorce leads to a happier second marriage with a more compatible person, but often it doesn’t. Living alone may be better than wishing you were alone.

Expecting a spouse not to change or to change only in ways that suit us is like chasing a mirage.  Maybe we need more teachings on accepting change, dealing with it constructively, and being less attached to outcomes we can’t control.

Tag Cloud