Asuccessful marriage is a lifelong, perhaps eternal, process, said Gary L. Steggell, a marriage counselor and manager of administration and special services for LDS Social Services. He and his wife, Michele, have been married 15 years. They are members of the Cherry Hill Ward, Layton Utah East Stake.
Brother Steggell commented on various subjects concerning the process of succeeding in marriage.Living the gospel: In the Church spouses usually have similar goals, continued Brother Stegell. "That's a real plus if we are willing to work toward those goals. As simple as this sounds, reading the scriptures together is one of the most effective ways to work toward these goals. Reading the truth gives us a chance to talk about that truth, and what we want to do to make this truth part of our lives. It gives us an opportunity to discuss differences. And because we are reading scriptures, we invite the Spirit to help us find that truth together. Couples should also pray together. The result of this opportunity to tie directly into truth will be strength."
Problem solving: Two important things many people don't learn before marriage are the ability to negotiate for change and to solve problems for the mutual benefit of each other and their family.
"A lot of times we as couples want change, but don't know how to negotiate in a way conducive for change. We know how to yell or nag or complain, or be silent, and a whole lot of other things. But we don't always know how to talk or how to do things differently."
People, he continued, are creatures of pattern. Bringing about change is a two-step process. First, interrupt the old pattern and second, set up a new pattern. "If we can identify what we want, we can determine what steps it takes to get there.
"Most people are overwhelmed at where they are. But I feel the Lord is not as concerned with where we are on the path as He is concerned with which direction we are facing, and if we are moving."
Overcoming difficulties: Most laws of physics also apply to relationships. An object in motion tends to remain in motion and an object at rest tends to remain at rest, he said. "So, applying those laws, there is never an instance in which change couldn't happen; it's just that in some cases more energy is needed to bring about the change." Some have suffered for a long time in relationships, and repairing the relationships would take a whole lot of effort - maybe more effort than the couple is willing to make. "But I believe there is hardly a case that wouldn't make it with the Lord's help. People lose hope; they lose love. Love is a feeling that we foster through our behavior toward each other. We will have loving feelings after we have loving behavior."
Cases in which divorce is the only solution are few and far between, he asserted. Most people can make a marriage work if they choose to make it work. "Marriage is a couple's thing, not an individual thing. Although one person can make changes that will affect that relationship, if both are not willing to work at it, that makes it very difficult to continue working in that marriage.
"Divorce is always a conscious decision by at least one partner. I don't believe it is ever something that has to happen or ultimately will happen. In our society we have gotten to where divorce is seen as a viable solution to marriage problems.
"This is one of the most serious decisions a person will ever make, and if it has been a temple marriage, it may be the most critical because the person has made covenants, not just with his or her spouse but with the Lord. Unless you get the Lord's approval, you are setting yourself up for consequences you probably don't want. If not, then it is probably not the right decision, no matter how hard the marriage relationship is," he said.
Making marriage happy: "Notice and pay attention to your spouse. As human beings, we tend to do things much more often when we receive appreciation. So if I as a marriage partner show appreciation for the things my wife does, then she is much more likely to do those things. Showing appreciation is one of the most important things that we can do in a marriage relationship. Often when couples start to have problems, showing appreciation is one of the first things eliminated.
"I see the marriage relationship as one in which the partners provide a lot of encouragement and invitation. The Lord intends us to have relationships. We have to forgive. I don't know of any marriage where the partners haven't hurt each other. But happy couples are those who are able to recognize their problems and work to resolve them, even if they argue about them.
"Successful marriages have partners who keep their strength up. In successful marriages, partners recognize when their partner needs some help and lends some of his or her own strength to the partner.
"Give gifts of love. Do things together, even under the stress of work. We need to take care of each other."
- Define and list the problems in your marriage.
- What do you want your marriage to be like? What are your goals?
- Brainstorm ideas on how to achieve these goals. Eliminate previous efforts that haven't succeeded.
- Evaluate ideas, crossing off some, highlighting others. Pick one or two to try this week. Look at the short term. Commit to really try the new ideas.