Some time ago, a young woman came into my office and made a rather unusual announcement; “I have decided to get married.” That was followed-up by an equally strange explanation; “I don’t really want to, but I know it is a commandment from God, so I’ll do it.” I was pleased that she had decided in favor of marriage, but saddened that it had taken a command from God. We talked for some time about her negative feelings regarding marriage. Her view of marriage had been tainted by bad experiences. She told me that her parents had been unhappily married all of her life and were now considering divorce. Some of her friends had married in their early 20s, and they too were contemplating divorce. She concluded by saying, “Why would I want to get married? I don’t want to become someone’s ball and chain.”
After hearing her story, I had a better understanding of her anxiety towards marriage. After living with miserably married people for a lifetime, the promise that “all of that could one day be hers,” seemed less than appealing. It was obvious that she needed to see marriage differently, perhaps to even see a different marriage. I spent about 30 minutes describing the incomparable happiness I had personally found being married. I explained how much I enjoy always having a true-friend, a cheerleader, a counselor, a lover, and a confidant. I reminisced about my favorite vacations, the births of our children, my favorite undersized apartments, and a half-dozen other fond memories
At the conclusion of our discussion, an hour or so later, she stood up to leave and said, “Thank you so much. Never in my life have I heard someone talk about marriage in such a positive way. You’ve got me believing that being married might actually be a good thing.”
As I sat in my office contemplating our conversation, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What have we done to marriage?!” James Faust once commented that “Happiness in marriage and family life can exceed a thousand times any other happiness.”¹ If that is true, why are so many marriages making people miserable?
Countless studies, reports, and opinions regarding failed marriages report finances, infidelity, growing apart, and sheer boredom as leading causes of marital trouble. But what makes a good marriage? What can make marriage the ecstasy its proponents promise? Better yet, for one who is planning on getting married, or if we want to improve our marriages, what can we do? Although there are many “pieces” to marriage success, let me describe one piece that I have found common among most happy marriages.
The bliss that can be found in marriage, has its foundations in the spouse selection process and our behavior patterns thereafter. As I have mentioned elsewhere, my favorite advice on finding a spouse was given by Thomas Monson. He said, “Find someone with whom you can be compatible. Realize that you will not be able to anticipate every challenge which may arise, but be assured that almost anything can be worked out if you are resourceful and if you are committed to making your marriage work.”² For me, the key to this statement is in three words; compatible, resourceful, and committed.
In my mind, compatibility looks like two gears coming together. In engineering, two gears are compatible when each tooth and gap align, allowing the gears to work together. But even the most perfectly molded gears, the proverbial “match made in heaven,” will quickly wear down as they grind together. What can you do? Add oil! Keeping fresh oil on the gears reduces the friction between them and can extend their life by many hundreds of times. Fresh oil is particularly important when the gears are first applied to each other. Sharp edges are knocked off and become harmful shavings. When the gears are new, fresh oil must be applied and changed more frequently.
Let’s apply this idea to marriage. My wife and I are very compatible gears. But we have found that for our marriage to run smoothly, it takes small amounts of fresh oil applied daily. It also takes larger amounts of oil every week or so, and complete oil changes every couple of months. From the time we were newlyweds we have tried to add oil daily. This usually involves prolonged evening discussions, movie watching, and a late-night treat. These daily doses of oil have helped us to look forward to seeing each other. We have some time each day to talk about ourselves, our family, and our marriage. And more importantly, we do something enjoyable together each day. Of course, we try to extend that “oiling” to something like a full-blown date at least weekly, and an overnight getaway every quarter or so, as our finances have permitted.
In addition to the daily oiling we apply to our marriages, we can add random drops of oil whenever possible. A few drops in the form of flowers, a drip for a special meal, a teaspoon from a backrub, and half a cup from doing the dishes. Once you start, it becomes easy to continually be thinking of ways to add oil to your marriage. It is also wise to remember that when life’s conditions get extreme, more frequent oil changes are recommended.
My wife’s thinking:
I’ve learned that my wife doesn’t think in terms of gears. Her thinking often involves shopping, lotions, foot scrubs, and groceries. To her, compatibility looks like her two hands coming together. The hands are similar but not exactly the same. In some ways they are exact opposites but remain amazingly complimentary. If she were to rub her hands together for any extended period of time they would heat up and begin to damage the skin. To protect her hands, she adds a little lotion. The friction is replaced with pleasantness and a wonderful smell. Interestingly, higher quality lotion lasts longer. And as she points out, a single hand cannot apply lotion to itself very effectively–one hand must apply the lotion to the other. Thus, each hand enjoys the benefits that come with giving and receiving.While regular application of lotion is important, it is also important to note the condition of the hands and the surrounding environment. When the skin is unusually dry or the weather is harsh, it is advisable to add more lotion than normal. Although her analogy is not very manly, it works wonderfully in terms of marriage.
I will finish this article with one of my favorite marriage stories. We have tried over the years to help our children have a positive view of marriage. I wasn’t sure how well we were doing, but my experience one evening gave me some measure of hope. As our youngest son, Joseph, was getting ready for bed, I was preparing the evening treat for our “daily oil” time. I had spread out small plates of items to dip in a chocolate fondue that was heating at the center of the bed (I must confess the treat this night was much more elaborate than most). Joseph came in and saw the array of bananas, apples,
cinnamon bears, and strawberries surrounding the bubbling chocolate. With excitement he jumped up on the bed. I quickly reminded him that this was “Mom and Dad’s time” and that he needed to hurry off to bed. After some effortful pleading, He realizing that although his cause was just, he was doomed to fail and he stomped off down the hallway. Just as I was reconsidering my decision, he turned around and shouted out in his 8 year old fury, “Oh Yah, I can’t wait until I’m married someday!” Ah, the sweet sound of success!