As I’ve written marriage articles this year, I’ve observed marriages around me. It wasn’t an intentional thing, but I suppose it was only natural since my mind is always on marriage for the next deadline. I’ve learned by watching other marriages, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve seen some marriages where one spouse seemingly makes most of the important decisions, while the other spouse is content to take care of life’s little details. Some couples don’t seem to be on the same page with parenting techniques, often discussing in front of the children whether or not children should be allowed to do something, leaving lots of room for the children to manipulate them—which, in turn, leads to some marital discord. Disciplining the children usually comes from both parents, but in some marriages it is primarily left up to one spouse or the other, essentially making one parent the “good guy” and the other the “bad guy”. This also can cause problems in the marriage.
Some married couples are happy, while others appear to be together solely for the benefit of their children. Some spouses seem to have resigned themselves to “just getting through it,” while others seek to make their marriages better. I’ve observed spouses who seem to be in denial that there is anything amiss in their marriage, and others who miss the joy by picking apart and criticizing every tiny flaw they see in their partner. Some seem almost paranoid that their good marriage is about to fall apart, while others are in denial that they have no marriage left at all.
I’ve watched stay-at-home moms, stay-at-home dads, working moms, working dads, retired couples, and even widows and widowers dealing with grief and the prospect of moving on with life. I’ve observed couples with children, childless (by choice) couples, infertile couples, adoptive parents, foster parents, same sex couples, divorced couples, and blended families.
Marriage and family come in many varieties. I’ve pondered if there is a common denominator in the variety that makes for a joyful marriage. My observation is that it is unselfishness. Selfish individuals simply do not make good marriage partners. Marriage is about loving someone enough to sacrifice.
Time and experience have proven that unselfishness is the key to successful marriage, for, you see, unselfishness invites reasoning together.
Unselfishness insists on an extra-mile effort.
Unselfishness paves the way for family financial security.
Unselfishness stops divorce.
(Robert L. Simpson, A Lasting Marriage, Apr. 1982 General Conference).
If you are a selfish person, does that mean it is too late? Of course not! You don’t just throw in the towel on a wonderful medical career because you had one bad day in the lab. You go back to the lab and practice—and then practice some more until you get it right. If you never can get it right, you specialize in an area where that particular skill isn’t needed and hope the rest of your performance will make up for the one skill that evades your capability. Selflessness is a character trait that can be acquired with time and practice. After all, the saying goes, “practice makes perfect.”
Practicing selflessness can begin as easily as doing one act of selfless kindness a day for your spouse. After a week, make it two selfless acts of kindness per day. I’m willing to bet that in a few weeks you’ll be so pleased at the response from your partner that it will become a habit you won’t want to break. After a while, it becomes second nature to your personality, and you won’t even have to think about it.
Every divorce is the result of selfishness on the part of one or the other or both parties to a marriage contract. Someone is thinking of self—comforts, conveniences, freedoms, luxuries, or ease. Sometimes the ceaseless pinpricking of an unhappy, discontented, and selfish spouse can finally add up to serious physical violence. Sometimes people are goaded to the point where they erringly feel justified in doing the things which are so wrong. Nothing, of course, justifies sin. . . .
The marriage that is based upon selfishness is almost certain to fail. The one who marries for wealth or the one who marries for prestige or social plane is certain to be disappointed. The one who marries to satisfy vanity and pride or who marries to spite or to show up another person is fooling only himself. But the one who marries to give happiness as well as receive it, to give service as well as to receive it, and who looks after the interests of the two and then the family as it comes will have a good chance that the marriage will be a happy one (President Spencer W. Kimball, Marriage and Divorce, 148–49, https://www.lds.org/manual/eternal-marriage-student-manual/selfishness?lang=eng).
President Kimball didn’t mince words. If you need motivation to work on being an unselfish person, that quote should do it for you. If you stop and think about it, every divorce really is the direct result of selfishness on the part of one or the other party—sometimes both. The trick is not pointing a finger at your partner as the selfish party, but being able to look inward at the real you.
Sometimes in my own marriage I’ve been frustrated by my husband’s supposed selfishness, only to realize that it is me who needs the attitude adjustment. Once I begin to look inside myself at what is really going on, I can get back on the road to becoming the selfless person my partner deserves.
There is no better place to exhibit “The Golden Rule,” than within the bonds of marriage. We expect our partner to treat us with kindness and to be unselfish in his or her words and actions. The best way to achieve that is to be kind and unselfish ourselves. Marriage truly is a two-way street.
Tudie Rose is a mother of four and grandmother of ten in Sacramento, California. You can find her on Twitter as @TudieRose. She blogs as Tudie Rose at http://potrackrose.wordpress.com. She has written articles for Familius. You will find a Tudie Rose essay in Lessons from My Parents, Michele Robbins, Familius 2013, at http://www.familius.com/lessons-from-my-parents.