I was recently asked to write a talk about marriage. Although my blog has focused mainly on parenting when sick, I thought it would be appropriate to post my talk here as well, as a parent-child connection is not the only relationship that can suffer when mommy gets sick.
In terms of marriage and people with disabilities, neurologist Richard Senelick, wrote an article discussing the struggles married couples have when facing disability. He said, “Disabilities break down the basic structures of relationships. Roles may be reversed overnight…. The disability places increasing demands on the relationship.”
We’ve certainly seen a role reversal here as my husband has had to take on so many additional duties in the home, with the kids, and in caring for me. It has added stress to our lives and has made me feel inferior in regards to being an equal partner in our marriage. I’ve had to look at other ways I can contribute and other things I can do to help my husband and continue to build our relationship.
The following is geared towards everyone that seeks to improve their marriage relationship, not just the sick and disabled. Yet, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to take a closer look at things I can do to improve my relationship with my husband, despite my current state of health.
Maintaining a Strong and Healthy Relationship with Your Spouse
Henry Eyring has said, “There is no more important commitment in time or in eternity than marriage."
And yet, life sometimes gets in the way. I know there have been many times in my life where after dealing with work, kids, school, extracurricular activities, house, laundry, church responsibilities, and more, that my poor husband is the last person to receive my attention. Currently, with my illness, my time of feeling “good” is so limited, I have to be so picky about what my priorities are and how I spend my time, as I can only do so much in a day.
So amidst our chaotic lives, how can we make marriage a priority and how can we strengthen and maintain a good relationship with our spouse?
A piece of advice often given to those who are single is to be the kind of person you want to marry. This advice shouldn't end once we've found our companion, however.
We should strive to be the kind of spouse we want to have.
The golden rule most certainly applies to marriage.
So what is the kind of spouse do we all want to have? I have thought about this a lot the past week, and have come up with a rather long, yet I'm sure not all-inclusive, list of things I seek or treasure in my spouse. Thus, I know these are the things I need to work on for myself, as well, in order to improve my marriage.
1. I want to be a spouse that is kind. Why is it that we are often kinder to strangers than we are to our own family whom we love?
2. I want to be someone who takes time for and listens to my spouse. We need to go on dates, share the exciting and mundane details of our days and, with the age of electronic devices in full force, put down our phones and have quality conversations and connections with no self-inflicted distractions.
3. I want to be a spouse that shows empathy and seeks to understand. We may not always have the same opinion or point of view, and that’s okay. But we shouldn’t discount our spouse’s point of view because it isn’t the same as ours. As Stephen Covey has counseled, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
4. I want to be someone who is quick to recognize my spouse's accomplishments and show gratitude for his actions. So many of the mundane daily tasks in our lives may start to seem commonplace—but don't let them go unnoticed! Show gratitude often. I'm amazed at how much more willing I am to cheerfully serve my family when I know they recognize and appreciate my efforts.
Additionally, if we can focus on the positive things each other is doing, it helps us to avoid dwelling on the things they aren't doing or we wish they would do-- which only leads to negative feelings and frustration.
Linda Burton said, "The nature of male and female spirits is such that they complete each other. We are here to help, lift, and rejoice with each other as we try to become our very best selves. Barbara B. Smith wisely taught, ‘There is so much more of happiness to be had when we can rejoice in another’s successes and not just in our own.’ When we seek to “complete” rather than “compete,” it is so much easier to cheer each other on!”
5. Along these same lines, I want to be someone who apologizes and also forgives.
Linda Burton posed a question that helps put this principle in perspective. She asked, "When was the last time I chose to be happy rather than demanding to be ‘right’?"
Steven Snow said, “Unnecessary pride can dissolve family relationships, break up marriages, and destroy friendships. It is especially important to remember humility when you feel contention rising in your home. Think of all the heartache you can avoid by humbling yourself to say, “I’m sorry”; “That was inconsiderate of me”; “What would you like to do?”; “I just wasn’t thinking”; or “I’m very proud of you.” If these little phrases were humbly used, there would be less contention and more peace in our homes.
6. I want to be someone who thinks often about the needs of my spouse and how I can help. While I may not be able to physically help him with every trial, sadness, or stressor in his life, I can always, always pray for him.
7. I want to be someone that is happy and strives to make my spouse and others happy.
Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." I also love Russel M. Nelson’s recent talk where he said “we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives.” We can be happy, even if life is not going the way we planned. That is certainly a lesson we have learned in our family this past year, and I am so grateful for my husband who helps me smile and laugh every day.
Take care of yourself so you can take care of your spouse.
In addition to concentrating on these areas of improvement, there are two other principles of focus that I feel are important for a strong marriage. The first is to take care of yourself. I know this sounds counter-intuitive when talking about marriage, but I would assert that if your basic needs are taken care of, it will be easier for you to take care of the needs of others.
Barbara Smith said, "The state of our health affects every facet of our life—our feeling of personal well-being, our approach to work, our social interactions—even our service to the Lord.”
One of the bumpiest times in my marriage was after our twins were born. They were preemies and slow to eat-- you'd just finish feeding and changing them both when it was about time to start over. They were colicky and screamed for hours every night. They got RSV (a respiratory infection) early on which had lingering effects for almost a year after. And it seemed like they never, ever, EVER slept at the same time or for more than an hour or two at a time. Thus, we also rarely slept and merely coexisted in a state of constant exhaustion. Needless to say, the frazzled ends of our patience tended to ignite much faster than should have— not because we didn’t care about each other, but simply because our basic needs (particularly that of sleep) were not being met.
These is a well-known health theory called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Imagine a pyramid with five tiers or levels. The bottom level is your most basic physiological needs-- such as food, water, and sleep. The second tier is safety, then friendship and belonging, esteem and respect, and at the very top is self-actualization, or feelings of fulfillment-- something we all want to achieve.
The premise of the theory is that it is hard to reach a higher level of the pyramid until the needs on the lower levels have been met. For example, if you were hungry enough, I imagine you would be willing to risk your safety (in the second tier) in order to obtain food. Similarly, how much harder is it to give or receive kindness, patience, love and compassion when you are hungry, tired, and stressed?
Jeffrey Holland has said, "Fatigue is the common enemy of us all--so slow down, rest up, replenish, and refill."
If we take the time to take care for ourselves through rest, a healthy diet, exercise, and mindfulness, it will enable us to better attend to our marriage. We can also help our spouses do the same-- which may mean giving them time to exercise or encouraging them to refresh by getting out of the house to spend time with friends, focus on hobby, or walk the aisles of Target alone without any needy children.
Trust in the Lord
Of course, despite our best efforts, we can’t fully eliminate stress or exhaustion in our lives. But Todd Christofferson has assured us that, “Much that is good, much that is essential--even sometimes all that is necessary for now--can be achieved in less than ideal circumstances.”
So that is where my final words of advice come into play: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct they paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
We are told that we can do all things through Christ. Moroni 7:33 says, "If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me."
Marriage is ordained of God. He wants us to be successful, and He has promised to help. Pray for and with your spouse. Rely on your Savior as you strive to strengthen your relationship with each other. In so doing, we can follow the proverb “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee, and we’ll ascend together.”