A few weeks ago a student came to my office with the happy news that she was engaged. We had visited many times about the challenges of the dating game, but now it was different. She had come to talk about the crucial details of “A Marriage Merger.” We spent some very important moments discussing what she could do to ensure a successful marriage. Over the years I have seen many types of “marriage mergers,” some that led to great happiness and joy and others that resulted in heartache and disappointment. Her question was, “What will give me the best chance of a happy marriage?” My answer, “Make the right kind of merger and commit your whole self to making it work.”
Merging takes time, caution, patience, and careful consideration
Most of us are very familiar with traffic mergers and the fact that they just about always require a slow-down, if not an outright traffic jam. We’ve all said in the heat of a traffic tantrum, “Why can’t people just keep going the same speed and move over a lane?” If only it was that easy. Even in free flowing traffic, there are many things to consider when combining two lanes. For the safest merger, slowing down is necessary.
If the merging of traffic requires a slowing-down and caution, then we should expect that the merging of two lives will require the same. During the engagement period and for the first several years of marriage, there is a lot to consider and a lot of changing required. Give yourself, your spouse, and your relationship time. Do not become overly frustrated, or display marital “road rage,” when the marriage merger takes time and you experience some traffic build-ups as you learn to blend two lives into one.
Getting it Right! Not All Mergers are Equally Beneficial
There are different types of mergers and different types of marriages. Not all types, however, will bring equal amounts of happiness.
Merger Type 1: One lane has the “right-of-way;” the other lane is expected to yield and merge into the dominant lane.
We have all seen marriages like this. The dominant spouse continues with the life they were leading, making little or no adjustments or compromises. Meanwhile, the other spouse “yields” to the life of their domineering partner. The yielding spouse must get permission for everything they do. Instead of gaining a new identity within marriage, their identity seems to be lost all together. This type of merger often leaves the yielding spouse unfulfilled, and it seldom results in a true partnership of minds and hearts.
Historically, men have dominated relationships, however, a little anecdote from the Reader’s Digest reminds us it can go both ways: Men waiting their turn at the Pearly Gates of Heaven were asked to stand in one of two lines. At the head of a line of men that stretched as far as the eye could see was a sign that read, “Men who did what their wives told them to do.” A short distance away was a sign that read, “Men who did whatever they wanted.” One man stood alone in this line. St. Peter came through the gates and surveyed the long line with a smile, then with a shock saw the man standing alone in the other line. He approached the man and said, “As long as I’ve been here we’ve never had a man stand in this line. We are all anxious to hear your story.” The man shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Not much to tell. My wife told me to come stand over here, so I did.”
Merger Type 2: Two separate roads come together, but each maintains his or her own lane.
This type of marriage has become more common and popular among today’s couples. Although two roads become one, there really is no true “merger” of the lanes. The husband continues with his friends, his interests, his bank accounts, and his way of life, and the wife does the same. It is essentially two separate lives sharing one roof. The individuals in these marriages often have very similar but separate lives. It sounds nice because it is quick, painless, and very little is invested But when the investment is minimal, so are the returns.
Merger Type 3: Two individual lanes merge into one “new” lane.
This, of course, is the ideal marriage merger. As God commanded of Adam and Eve, these individuals leave their families, cleave to one another, and become one-new-flesh. In this type of marriage a new identity is created out of two previous identities. It is the riskiest, but most rewarding of all merger types. It requires the yielding of both partners to the good of the new family unit. Each spouse commits to be “all-in” the new lane–there is no riding down the middle of the line. The happiness of your spouse becomes your greatest desire. These mergers also take the greatest amount of time and consideration to get right. There is a lot of taking turns, checking blind-pots, and the giving and reading of signals.
So why would anyone opt for this type of marriage when it obviously requires the most effort and involves the greatest risk. The answer is simple: It brings greater happiness than either individual could experience separately. It involves the principle of marital synergy. In a true marriage merger, this means that the happiness and joy each spouse experiences is much greater than either of them could have had alone.
We have found this to be true. As James Faust described it, “Happiness in marriage and parenthood can exceed a thousand times any other happiness.”1 Spencer Kimball said it even more energetically, “…marriage can be more an exultant ecstasy than the human mind can conceive.” 2 In describing heaven, Jeffrey Holland said that if Patricia was not there, it “wouldn’t be heaven” to him.
Measuring Your Marriage
For most of us, material like this causes us to reflect on our own relationships. Here are some questions that each spouse may want to ask themselves:
- How do I treat the desires, goals, and opinions of my spouse?
- Does my spouse feel that he or she is an equal partner?
- Have we become “one” in heart and mind?
- Are there aspects of my life that I need to merge, but haven’t?
- Is the happiness of my spouse my greatest desire?
Emma McKay once related: “I sat on a bench and [David] was standing over by the car. Suddenly at my elbow I heard a tiny voice say, ‘I guess that man over there loves you.’ Surprised, I turned and saw a beautiful boy about seven years of age with dark curly hair and large brown eyes. ‘What did you say?’ “‘I said, I guess that man over there loves you.’ “‘Why, yes, he loves me; he is my husband. Why do you ask?’ “‘Oh, ‘cuz, the way he smiled at you. Do you know, I’d give anything in the world if my Pop would smile at my Mom that way.’”3
The happiness that comes from two lives truly merged into one will be the admiration of neighbors, the inspiration of young couples, and the dreams of children!
- Enriching Your Marriage, Ensign, April 2007
- Speeches of the Year: 7 September 1976
- Emma Ray Riggs McKay, The Art of Rearing Children Peacefully (1952), 10.