One of the truly great marriages of the 20th century was that of David O. and Emma Ray McKay. Their marriage has served as an inspiration to many couples. Their son, David, reported that it was not entirely unusual for young couples to get engaged on their front lawn because they “wanted to have a marriage like the McKay’s.”
My favorite lesson from the McKays comes from their days of courtship. Emma Ray had gone to school in Utah where she met and fell in love with David. Her father, Dr. Riggs, was working in California and had never met David McKay. To explain their marriage plans, and to seek his blessing, Emma and David each wrote to Dr. Riggs. From their letters, and Dr. Riggs reply, we can gain some insight into what made the McKay’s marriage worthy of emulation. David wrote, ““Her sweetness of disposition, her virtue, her intelligence, her unselfish nature, in short, her perfect qualities, won my love…” Through the process of dating, David had recognized in Emma the qualities he desired in a spouse. Her qualities, and his recognition of them, played a very important part in the happiness of their marriage. He continued, “I have asked your daughter to be mine in marriage, and now I ask you, Dr. Riggs, her father, if you will give your consent. She has given hers. . . . In return for this I can give her nothing but a true love and a heart and mind whose one desire is to make her happy.”
David’s final line, “… a true love and a heart and mind whose one desire is to make her happy,” is worth all the studies, writings, and speeches ever given on the subject of marriage. If every husband and wife could have that feeling and live by it, marriage problems would be solved. What husband or wife would have reason to complain if their spouse’s one desire was to make them happy? Arguments would end, bitterness would be abolished, contention would cease, and families would flourish! From everything I have ever read or heard, David McKay was true to his word.
In response to their letters Dr. Riggs gave what some today would consider “shocking advice.” He replied, “Now my darling daughter, I want to
impress upon you the fact that it is not any more difficult to get a man’s love than it is to hold it after you have it. There are so many little things that a man appreciates in a woman, that some women never think of. A woman wants to study the likes and dislikes of her husband and try hard to do everything to accord with his likes. Some may say that is not possible. I think it is right and possible. It will pay a wife to do it all along the line. When a true man sees his wife doing everything she can for his pleasure will he not do likewise for his wife? Surely he will, then there is mutual compensation and mutual happiness.”
I know there will be some who read his advice and say that it sounds terribly outdated, chauvinistic, or subservient. To the contrary, I believe Dr. Riggs was simply stating that when you really love someone, you want them to be happy. When those we love are happy, we too are happy. Therefore, we should study the likes and dislikes of our spouses and try to do the things they like. The real “kicker” for me is the next line, “when a true man see his wife doing everything she can for his pleasure will he not do likewise for his wife?” What wisdom! Just think of it: The husband focuses his efforts on the wife, she focuses her efforts on him, and they both receive “mutual compensation and mutual happiness.”
I once did a small, informal survey where I asked 20 or so married individuals to complete this statement: “My spouse really loves it when I …” Some could answer right away, others took a little more time, but eventually each spouse could think of something they did that their spouse really appreciated. The responses to my follow-up question, “How often do you do that?” were also informative. Some reported trying to do it all the time, while others gave often lengthy explanations of why they didn’t. Studying the likes and the dislikes of our spouses, and trying to “do the things they like,” may not be an easy task, but I believe the benefits that will come from it are worthy of our best efforts.
For some people, focusing their best efforts on another is not only difficult but downright scary. Perhaps past traumatic experiences or low self-esteem cause some individuals to question whether they will actually receive their spouse’s “best-efforts” in return. In addition to our personal fears, we are bombarded by today’s philosophy that “I have to take care of myself, because no one else is going to do it!” Ours has become a “me first” society that believes we must look out for “number one.” This mentality, however, seems to be driving couples apart and decreasing individual happiness amidst promises of fulfillment, validation, and greater self-wroth.
For example, some time ago I was approached by a frustrated young wife who complained to me about her husband and marriage. She had been married for 10 years or so, and as I remember, had 3 small children. After bemoaning her fate as an exhausted housewife she said, “I am at home with the kids all day. I clean the house, do the dishes, cook the meals, and do the laundry. When he comes home from work, I need some time to myself. But when he walks in the door the first thing he says is ‘I need a break’ and he refuses to help with the kids. I am left watching the kids while he relaxes.” I felt great sympathy for her plight and wondered why her husband could not see that clearly his duty was to “take the kids” when he came home from work to give his poor wife a break.
Unexpectedly, the husband of that woman also came to talk to me. He had been trying to start a small business and it was consuming not only all of his time, but all of his energy, and nearly every waking thought. He said, “I come home from work so stressed, tired, and nearly broken that I just need some time to relax. But as soon as I walk in the door my wife is handing me the children and claiming that she needs some time to herself.” I felt great sympathy for his plight and wondered why his wife could not see that he clearly needed to “relax” after a hard day’s work.
After these two informative encounters, I could see that even though their complaints were both valid, the real problem in their marriage was a “me first” mentality. How can a couple break this cycle of selfishness? There is, of course, no easy solution, but the following two experiences might help.
First, when I was a new teacher and a young father, a colleague said to me, “When I pull in to my driveway after a hard day of teaching, I stay in my car for an extra couple of minutes and say a prayer. I know inside my house is a tired wife. She’s been home with the kids all day and needs a break. I also
know that the kids need a dad who is full of energy and fun and willing to listen to their stories and answer their questions. I also know that I am really tired. I ask for Heaven’s help to make me into the Dad that my family needs. It has never let me down.” This advice is more than a “technique.” It is a way of thinking—a way of living. It is a commitment to put your spouse and children first in your life and trust in the happiness it will bring.
Second, I remember one in-service meeting where we were shown some counsel to housewives from a very old newspaper. A few of the lines read something like, “when it is time for your husband to come home, try and give the house one last little tidy, and greet him with a kiss and smile.” Of course everyone had a good time laughing at this antiquated advice. But I couldn’t help wonder if perhaps our Mothers knew something that we have forgotten. I imagined in my mind’s eye a mother telling her children to pick up their toys because father is almost home. Meanwhile, his car sits in the driveway as he offers a little prayer for strength and then he comes bounding through the door. I know it all sounds a little “Leave It To Beaver,” but it also sounds a little bit wonderful!
Finally I conclude with my favorite story on this subject. Because my wife and I work with so many young married couples, young wives often come to my wife for advice. One day a newly married young woman was sitting in our kitchen talking with my wife. I was in another room where they believed I was out of earshot. The new bride was describing to my wife some of the adjustments that every young couple face. “He always leaves the toilet seat up,” she said. My wife offered some sympathy and then the following story, which I had never heard. “In the middle of the night I had gotten up to use the restroom. I didn’t want to wake my husband so I didn’t even turn on the light. I went to sit down and fell right into the toilet. He had left the toilet seat up! I was soaking wet. I considered getting mad, and then decided to laugh instead. I asked myself, ‘Why should he always have to put the toilet seat down? Why shouldn’t I put it up for him?’ I decided that night I would always leave the toilet seat up.” Well, I never thought I could get emotional over something like a toilet seat, but I was awfully glad they couldn’t see me. My love for her swelled like an ocean that day. I decided I would never leave the toilet seat up again! So for several years now we have gone on that way: She puts the seat up when she’s done, and I put it down. An unusual but wonderful symbol of a happy marriage.
• (My Father, David O McKay; David L. McKay; Deseret Book Co., pg 7)