Helping newlyweds navigate life's `rapids'

Marriage is like a 60-mile canoe trip.

Sometimes the scenery is beautiful, other times bland. Sometimes canoers can just drift and still make progress in the river. And then there are times they face white-water rapids that can overturn the canoe.Brent A. Barlow, an associate professor of Family Science at BYU, uses this metaphor in seminars and marriage preparation classes.

He wants young couples to understand that while the rapids in the river of married life never go away, they do get easier for experienced canoers to navigate.

"Most divorces occur within the first five years of marriage," said Brother Barlow. "Seven percent of marriages don't make it through the first year," he added.

Jason and Ginger Porter have read these statistics. The BYU students, who were married a month and a half ago in the Los Angeles Temple, want to get their marriage off to a good start. They just completed a three-session class taught at the Marriage Resource Center at BYU (please see related article on this page) and hope that together they can take on the white-water rapids of life.

Brother Barlow said one way they and other couples can get off to a good start is to make each other a priority. "Do not become so committed to so many things in life that you don't have time for loving, caring relationships," he counseled.

Quoting Deut. 24:5, "When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken," Brother Barlow noted that clear back then people understood the importance of newlyweds.

Brother Barlow said young married couples will also benefit as they follow the counsel of President Spencer W. Kimball:

"The Lord says in definite terms: Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave unto her and none else.' The words,none else,' eliminate everyone and everything. The spouse then becomes pre-eminent in the life of the husband or wife, and neither social life nor occupational life nor political life nor any other interest nor person nor thing shall ever take precedence over the companion spouse." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 310-311.)

Brother Barlow noted that marriage is more complicated today than in any other time in history. Young couples have financial pressures that generations before them did not have.

Money, he said, is the No. 1 one source of conflict for couples today. "It is deciding, `Who is going to earn it, how are we going to spend it and who is going to do the bookkeeping.' "

The answer to these questions is not always solved as couples earn more, he added. They need to "budget more, save for the future, and decide who pays the bills."

And what often works for one couple doesn't always work for another.

So young people need to learn communication, conflict resolution and caring skills. However, communicating, resolving problems and caring for one another aren't skills that are learned over night, Brother Barlow said. And once those skills are mastered there are dozens of other variables that can affect marriage relationships.

Troy Faddis can attest to that. As an undergraduate in family science at BYU, he has studied communication and conflict resolution. He and his wife still struggled, however, when they had twins not long into their young marriage. "Early on," he explained, "we had to learn to be flexible. That changed a whole lot of things for both of us. Being flexible helped us deal with the conflict and the stress."

Now married for almost four years, Brother Faddis is teaching classes to help others prepare for marriage.

Brother Barlow said preparation is an important factor in any good marriage. "Naturally, if you are going to strengthen marriages, you first have to help people make wise choices. Wise choices stop bad marriages before they start."

Thomas B. Holman and Jeffry Larson of the BYU Family Science Department have designed a premarital assessment for engaged couples. The relationship evaluation helps couples identify areas that may cause conflict in their marriage so they can talk about them before the wedding.

Research indicates, Brother Holman said, that the better prepared a couple is for marriage the more successful they will be.

He encourages young couples to see each other in a variety of circumstances and conditions before marriage. They should see each other under stress.

Brother Holman said couples will also find that following the counsel of Church leaders after marriage will strengthen their relationships. "Have family prayer, attend Church, and hold family home evening," he said. "Start off right from the front. You can't beat the counsel of the brethren."

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