Principles for Resolving Conflict in Loving Relationships

“Despite what many therapists will tell you, you don’t have to resolve your major marital conflicts for your marriage to thrive,” says Dr. John Gottman.  “Most marriage arguments cannot be resolved.  Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done.  This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality or values.  By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.  Instead, they need to understand the bottom-line difference that is causing the conflict—and to learn how to live with it by honoring and respecting each other.  Only then will they be able to build shared meaning and a sense of purpose into their marriage” (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, pp. 28, 139).

It is certainly true that no matter how many times we talk about it, I will always prefer to own a practical, safe minivan and my husband will still prefer to drive a fast, top-brand sports car. More seriously, the things that help me to feel emotionally connected are not the same as what makes my husband feel connected.  So, should we just keep silent about our differences and avoid the conflicts that can’t be resolved anyway? No!  As Dr. Gottman teaches, “avoiding conflict…leads to emotional disengagement” which puts us on a “course toward leading parallel lives and inevitable loneliness—the death knell for any marriage” (p. 140).  The key is to learn how to manage conflict in a way that allows you to honor and respect each other which requires empathy and leads to compromise.

Dr. Gottman suggests the following keys to managing conflict (pp 157-159):

  • Listen to each other’s negative emotions which “hold important information about how to love each other better.”  Remember the motto, “When you are in pain, the world stops and I listen.”
  • No one is right. There is no absolute reality in marital conflict, only two subjective ones.”
  • Acceptance is crucial.  It is virtually impossible for people to heed advice unless they believe the other person understands, respects, and accepts them for who they are…Make sure your partner feels known and respected rather than criticized or demeaned.”
  • Focus on fondness and admiration.”  Dr. Gottman teaches the importance of  cherishing your partner by maximizing positive thoughts about your partner and minimizing negative ones (p79).  As Neil Barrignham says, “The grass is greener where you water it” (

The following 5 steps are Dr. Gottman’s model for resolving conflict.  (These steps can be studied in more depth in Chapter 9 of his book).

  1. Soften your start-up
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts.
  3. Soothe yourself and each other.
  4. Compromise.
  5. Process any grievances so that they don’t linger.

Soft start-ups are critical in order to have a productive, respectful conversation. Gottman’s 4 steps to a soft start-up include:

  1. “I share some responsibility for this…”
  2. “Here’s how I feel…”
  3. “About this specific situation…”
  4. “Here’s what I need….”

Gottman also explains the importance of complaining without blaming (I feel…about what…and I need…), starting your statements with “I” instead of “you”, describing the situation according to what you see without evaluation or judgement, clearly stating your needs (don’t expect mind reading), always being polite and appreciative.  It is also important not to wait too long before addressing an issue because a soft start-up is difficult when you are ready to burst (pp. 167-168).

Challenges and conflicts in marriage can teach and train us to better people.  Dr. Wallace Goddard said, “When we see our challenges within marriage as customized invitations to greater goodness, we will rejoice in His perfect purposes. When we understand our marriages to be the best opportunity, we will ever have to show our generosity of spirit, we will be ready to be the kind of partners God would have us be” (Drawing Heaven Into Your Marriage, p. 111).  That greater goodness and generosity of spirit can be enhanced as we honor and respect each other even in the midst of conflict.  When my husband gave me a ride in his new sports car yesterday, he couldn’t wait to show me how quickly it accelerates.  I absolutely hated the experience, but was able to find joy through watching his excitement and loved the time together (especially after he slowed down).

“Do You Want to be Right or Do You Want to be Married?”

“Sometimes it is hard to see ourselves as we really are.” This week in my class the following question was posted, “If you were to ask your spouse or someone close to you how you do with accepting influence, how do you think they would respond?”  In Dr. John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, the fourth principle is “Let Your Partner Influence You” (p. 115).  Dr. Gottman shares many examples and statistics that support the importance of couples honoring and respecting each other as they search for common ground.  He reminds us that “accepting influence” is not only an attitude, it is also a skill that can be learned, and he includes exercises and games to do together in order to improve that skill.  He also states that, “A marriage can’t work unless both partners honor and respect each other… often in life you need to yield in order to win” (pp. 119, 125). At the end of the chapter Gottman suggests, “If you’re having difficulty accepting influence, you will benefit your marriage enormously by acknowledging this tendency and talking about it with or spouse” (p. 136).

In his book Drawing Heaven into Your Marriage, Dr. Wallace Goddard states that “The natural man is inclined to love himself and fix others.  God has asked us to do the opposite.  We are to fix ourselves by repenting, and to love others.  It is not surprising that we have difficulties in marriage.  We so often do the very things that will destroy our relationships.  In great literature—including scripture—the highest and noblest service entailed sacrifice and selflessness.  In contrast, evil was always self-centered and self-serving.”

In his hallmark April 1989 General Conference address, Beware of Pride, President Benson teaches us the destructive nature of pride as the “universal sin” and “great vice” that has caused the fall of civilizations, nations, and our most precious relationships.  “Pride adversely affects all our relationships—our relationship with God and His servants, between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, teacher and student, and all mankind.  Our degree of pride determines how we treat our God and our brothers and sisters.  Christ wants to lift us to where He is.  Do we desire to do the same for others?”  Have you ever felt hostility towards your spouse, or in a state of opposition with your spouse or even hatred towards your spouse?  President Benson taught that “The central feature of pride is enmity—enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen.  Enmity means ‘hatred toward, hostility to or a state of opposition’…. We can choose to humble ourselves by conquering enmity toward our brothers and sisters, esteeming them as ourselves, and lifting them as high or higher than we are.”

Irene Eubanks shared the following story in her January 2008 Ensign article “Putting My Marriage Before My Pride.” “Like any couple, my husband and I have had disagreements during our marriage. But one incident stands out in my mind. I no longer recall the reason for our disagreement, but we ended up not speaking at all, and I remember feeling that it was all my husband’s fault. I felt I had done absolutely nothing for which I needed to apologize. As the day went by, I waited for my husband to say he was sorry. Surely, he could see how wrong he was. It must be obvious how much he had hurt my feelings. I felt I had to stand up for myself; it was the principle that mattered. As the day was drawing to a close, I started to realize that I was waiting in vain, so I went to the Lord in prayer. I prayed that my husband would realize what he had done and how it was hurting our marriage. I prayed that he would be inspired to apologize so we could end our disagreement. As I was praying, I felt a strong impression that I should go to my husband and apologize. I was a bit shocked by this impression and immediately pointed out in my prayer that I had done nothing wrong and therefore should not have to say I was sorry. A thought came strongly to my mind: ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?’ As I considered this question, I realized that I could hold onto my pride and not give in until he apologized, but how long would that take? Days? I was miserable while we weren’t speaking to each other. I understood that while this incident itself wouldn’t be the end of our marriage, if I were always unyielding, that might cause serious damage over the years. I decided it was more important to have a happy, loving marriage than to keep my pride intact over something that would later seem trivial. I went to my husband and apologized for upsetting him. He also apologized, and soon we were happy and united again in love. Since that time there have been occasions when I have needed to ask myself that question again: ‘Do you want to be right, or do you want to be married?’ How grateful I am for the great lesson I learned the first time I faced that question. It has always helped me realign my perspective and put my husband and my marriage before my own pride.”


Turning Toward Your Spouse


When my husband and I got married in 1995, one of the gifts we received included 2 perfectly soft pillows, the best we have ever owned.  At some point during our first 3 moves, one of those pillows was lost.  The loss was far more disappointing than I expected because every other pillow hurt my neck or head by morning and I didn’t want to spend the money for expensive ones.  In spite of my absolute love for our one remaining pillow, I always placed the perfect pillow on my husband’s side when I made the bed because of my love for him. Each morning I felt joy in the tiny sacrifice that I was making for my husband. Many years later we were talking, and he let it slip that he had always hated that pillow.  I was completely shocked and asked why he had never told me.  He replied that he thought I was putting the pillow on his side because I hated it too!!  He had chosen to endure the “awful” pillow because of his love for me!  We had quite a laugh over that tender moment of realizing that our love for each other meant more to us than years of sleeping soundly.  Obviously, we need to work on our communication skills, but our true desire was to sacrifice for the comfort and welfare for the other.

This past week we have been studying what John Gottman refers to as “turning toward each other instead of turning away.”  Throughout the day there are often countless opportunities to turn towards another person or to turn away.  This principle applies to all types of relationships.  In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work Dr. Gottman states that, “Hollywood has distorted our notions of romance and what makes passion sizzle.  Watching Humphrey Bogart gather teary-eyed Ingrid Bergman into his arms may make your heart pound, but real-life romance is fueled by far more humdrum scenes. It is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life. In marriage, couples are always making what I call “bids” for each other’s attention, affection, humor, or support. Bids can be as minor as asking for a back rub or as significant as seeking help in carrying the burden when an aging parent is ill. The partner responds to each bid either by turning toward the spouse or turning away. A tendency to turn towards your partner is the basis of trust, emotional connection, passion, and a satisfying sex life” (p.88).  Gottman shares many examples of turning towards your spouse throughout his book and especially in chapters 6 and 12.  Chapter 6 includes many examples of turning toward a spouse and includes exercises and instructions on how to turn towards each other.

In his book, Drawing Heaven Into Your Marriage, Dr. Wallace Goddard shares a beautiful example of how to turn toward a spouse even in a moment where the first inclination would be to turn away. He tells the story of a man who had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints against the wishes of his wife.  Each time they tried to discuss the subject she would become angry.  The man sought the counsel of a young missionary who felt inspired to say to the man, “My friend, the next time you and your wife begin to discuss your baptism and you start to feel anger and frustration, stop. Say no more for a moment. Then take your wife into your arms, and hold her tight. Tell her that you love her, you appreciate her, and nothing will take her place in your life.”  The man listened to the counsel of the young missionary and could hardly wait to return and tell him what happened. He said, “You will not believe what happened. I did as you said. We talked again of my faith and my baptism. Again, she criticized me and told me I was deceived. I wanted to yell and tell her she was wrong, but I remembered your words. I stopped, took a breath, and looked at her, trying to remember all the years of love we have shared and the love that I still feel. She must have felt something in my gaze, for she softened. I took her into my arms and held her. I whispered that I love her, that I appreciate her, and that nothing could take her place as my wife. We cried. Then, sitting close, we talked for many hours about all we have experienced—the good, the bad—and then I held her again. For the first time in many weeks we felt love” (pp. 61-62).

During my married life I have found that when I turn towards my husband, he also turns towards me and when I turn away, it causes a downward spiral in our home.  President David O. McKay stated  that too many couples come to “marriage looking upon the marriage ceremony as the end of courtship instead of the beginning of an eternal courtship. Let us not forget that during the burdens of home life—and they come—that tender words of appreciation, courteous acts are even more appreciated than during those sweet days and months of courtship. … Love can be starved to death as literally as the body that receives no sustenance. Love feeds upon kindness and courtesy” (Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss [1967], 289).  As President Gordon B. Hinckley stated in the April 1991 General Conference, “I am satisfied that a happy marriage is not so much a matter of romance as it is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion.”

Nurturing a Struggling Marriage Back to Life

At a very difficult time in my marriage, I had a life-changing experience while reading a bedtime story to one of my children. That day I was literally fasting and praying for help and direction from the Lord. I picked up a stack of children’s books we had checked out from the library and began reading them one by one to my 2-year-old. Near the end of the stack I started reading a true story by Rainbow Abegg called The Prayer Tree about a young girl and her family who were moving to a new home where there was a dead peach tree on the property.  The father said that he was going to chop the tree down for firewood after watching the daughter try to climb onto a large branch only to witness the brittle branch break easily and crash to the ground.  The daughter told her father that she believed there was life in the tree, but he pointed to heaven and replied, “If you are going to turn this broken-down, dead old tree into something capable of growing fruit, you are going to need a lot of help from up there!”  I already had tears streaming down my face as the words sunk in and I suddenly felt hope for my marriage which seemed broken down and lifeless. The tears continued flowing as I read how the girl worked to clear the trash and weeds from around the tree, faithfully watered the tree and gently raked the dirt by the tree as she fervently prayed on her knees for help from above.  She kept nurturing her tree and praying for help and in time she was enjoying an abundance of delicious peaches and the joy of her efforts.

When I finished reading the story, long after my 2-year-old had already fallen asleep, I knelt by my bedside and prayed with all the energy of heart for God to fill me with His love for my husband and to guide me in doing my part to nurture my marriage.  I am eternally grateful for a loving Father in Heaven who cares about us individually and cares about our marriages.  I have felt his constant help and guidance as I have sought to nurture my marriage. And God has continued to soften my heart and fill it with love on many occasions.  In the October 2009 General Conference talk entitled “Our Perfect Example,” President Eyring said, “Pray for the love which allows you to see the good in your companion. Pray for the love that makes weaknesses and mistakes seem small. Pray for the love to make your companion’s joy your own. Pray for the love to want to lessen the load and soften the sorrows of your companion.”

Dr. John Gottman teaches powerful principles on how to nurture your marriage in his book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.”  The book includes questionnaires and enjoyable exercises to complete together as well as a seven-week outline for increasing fondness and admiration.  In reference to the exercises suggested in the book Dr. Gottman says, “Many couples do not realize they are neglecting to cherish each other.  Fortunately, this is easily corrected.”  It may not always be easy but the fruits of your labors might be life-changing and marriage-saving which is always worth the effort!

What NOT to do if you are hoping for an Emotionally Intimate Marriage

When my husband and I built our first home we were expecting our third child and there was a lot of work to do in the yard.  One hot Saturday afternoon I was planting flowers as my husband was clearing rocks from our entire yard in order to plant grass seed.  There had been some escalating conflict in our marriage at the time as we were being pulled apart by his increasing demands at work and my caring for our two young children.  At one point during the afternoon he stopped to talk to a neighbor so I asked if he could please hold our one year old while he talked because she kept pulling up all the flowers I was planting.  He said “no” because he was tired and still had lots of rocks to clear.  As soon as he said that I started thinking about everything negative that had been happening in our relationship and my mind got on a destructive pattern of negativity that went on for two days.  On the third day I decided I would make a list of all the things I was upset about in order to confront my husband.  During the day he sent me a message asking if I could please pick up the rocks from the very small patch of land that was left after his long day of work on Saturday. He needed it finished because he wanted to plant the grass seed that night before it got dark.  I was so upset but went out anyway to do the needed work.  As I picked up the rocks I realized how exhausting it was and I was only doing a small amount compared to what he had done.  By the time I was finished I felt so grateful for all that my husband had done and sorry for my anger in not understanding his exhaustion.  When he got home that night I told him how grateful I was for all that he had done instead of launching on the list of negative things I had originally planned to confront him with.  After I thanked him I was absolutely shocked as he started to cry (which has rarely ever happened in our 23 years together) as he told me that things that been very difficult at work. I was instantly so grateful that I had not launched into my negativity and caused further destruction to my marriage when in reality all that was needed was a little bit of appreciation and a lot of love. Things got much better in our marriage when he could have gotten much worse if I had gone through with my original plan.

Have you heard of The Magic Relationship Ratio?  In the following video John Gottman explains the importance of positive feedback during conflict in order to keep a relationship together:  Gottman teaches that the number of positive interactions during conflict such as “interest, asking questions, being nice to one another, being kind, being affectionate, being empathetic” compared to the number of negative interactions such as “criticism, hostility, anger, hurt feelings”  should be a ration of 5 to 1.  In his words, “There’s 5 times as many positive things going on in relationships that work as negative.”  He also suggests that each negative thing you do that hurts your spouse’s feelings should be made up with 5 positive things in order to create a stable relationship that will stay together.  How do your interactions measure up using The Magic Relationship Ratio?  I believe this ratio can also be applied to other relationships in order to make them stronger and more stable.

John Gottman is considered by some to be the “country’s foremost relationship expert” because of his revolutionary, in depth study of couples over many years. In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Gottman shares critical principles and resources for improving emotional intimacy and creating a healthy, long-lasting relationship.  In his book Gottman states that “one of the saddest reasons a marriage dies is that neither spouse recognizes its value until it is too late…. Too often a good marriage is taken for granted rather than given the nurturing and respect it deserves and desperately needs.”  Gottman shares powerful, practical advice as to how couples can deepen their friendship, nurture the positive in their marriage and avoid destructive habits that devastate marriages.  Dr. Gottman does mention that in relationships dealing with “addiction, clinical depression, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder, and severe personality or mood disorders” couples should not rely on his book alone but should also “seek the additional advice and support of a knowledgeable and experienced mental health professional.”

Have you ever started a conversation with what Dr. Gottman would consider a “harsh start-up” where your words or tone are negative and accusatory right from the start?  I certainly have, which I why I was grateful for Dr. Gottman’s reminder as to how destructive “harsh start-ups” are to relationships and marriage.  He also lists other habits that he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” because they are predictors of divorce.  The first is CRITICISM which “expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other’s character or personality.” Unlike a complaint which “focuses on a specific behavior or event,” criticism asks “what is wrong with you?” (Gottman, pp. 32-33).  His second horseman is CONTEMPT which grows with long term negative thoughts and is a form of disrespect which may include, “name-calling, eye-rolling, mockery, and hostile humor.”  “In whatever form contempt is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.  It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you’re disgusted with him or her.”  The third horseman is DEFENSIVENESS.  Dr. Gottman explains that even when defending yourself seems understandable, it only escalates the conflict because it is a way of blaming your partner (Gottman, pp. 36-37). The fourth horseman is STONEWALLING which occurs when one partner eventually tunes out (Gottman, p. 38).  After studying these detrimental “Horsemen” I am grateful for the hope Gottman gives through “repair attempts” which are especially effective in relationships where there is a strong bond of friendship.

The positivity in a relationship, the repair attempts, the kindness are so important in sustaining a marriage.  As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained, “Sometimes the greatest love is not found in the dramatic scenes that poets and writers immortalize. Often, the greatest manifestations of love are the simple acts of kindness and caring we extend to those we meet along the path of life. True love lasts forever. It is eternally patient and forgiving. It believes, hopes, and endures all things. That is the love our Heavenly Father bears for us.We all yearn to experience love like this. Even when we make mistakes, we hope others will love us in spite of our shortcomings—even if we don’t deserve it.Oh, it is wonderful to know that our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will.  We see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. Although we might settle for less, Heavenly Father won’t, for He sees us as the glorious beings we are capable of becoming.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities. The means of this refinement is our Christlike love. There is no pain it cannot soften, no bitterness it cannot remove, no hatred it cannot alter. The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote: ‘One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life: That word is love.’ The most cherished and sacred moments of our lives are those filled with the spirit of love. The greater the measure of our love, the greater is our joy. In the end, the development of such love is the true measure of success in life.”  My goal this week is to increase my ability to feel and express this pure Christ-like love in order to have greater emotional intimacy in my marriage and in all of my relationships.

“Faithful One Hundred Percent!”

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I believe that families can be sealed for all eternity through making sacred covenants to each other and to God in Holy Temples.  For these covenants to be binding each partner must honor his or her marital vows with complete fidelity.  I have witnessed how honoring these covenants has been a blessing in my parents 65 years of marriage and within the marriages of many of my family members.  I love the line from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hatches the Egg: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent.” In a covenant marriage, each partner commits to giving 100%. There is only one other person besides God that we are commanded to love with ALL of our hearts (Doctrine and Covenants 42:22). That person is our spouse, and ALL does not mean 50% or even 80%. ALL means 100% of our hearts.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen taught, “Marriage is by nature a covenant, not just a private contract one may cancel at will. Jesus taught about contractual attitudes when he described the ‘hireling,’ who performs his conditional promise of care only when he receives something in return. When the hireling ‘seeth the wolf coming,’ he ‘leaveth the sheep, and fleeth … because he … careth not for the sheep.’ By contrast, the Savior said, ‘I am the good shepherd, … and I lay down my life for the sheep.’ Many people today marry as hirelings. And when the wolf comes, they flee. This idea is wrong. It curses the earth, turning parents’ hearts away from their children and from each other.”  In today’s world it seems there are wolves relentlessly attacking marriages on every side.  We must, as Elder Bednar stated, “devote our best efforts to the strengthening of marriage and the home. Such instruction has never been more needed in the world than it is today, as the sanctity of marriage is attacked, and the importance of the home is undermined.” Giving our best effort means 100%.  Are we giving our very best efforts to our marriages and families?

Selfishness makes it difficult to give our best efforts to our marriages.  President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Selfishness so often is the basis of money problems, which are a very serious and real factor affecting the stability of family life. Selfishness is at the root of adultery, the breaking of solemn and sacred covenants to satisfy selfish lust. Selfishness is the antithesis of love. It is a cankering expression of greed. It destroys self-discipline. It obliterates loyalty. It tears up sacred covenants. It afflicts both men and women” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 96; or Ensign, May 1991, 73). On the other hand, Elder L. Whitney Clayton shared invaluable insight as to how humility and repentance can bless marriages.  “Humility is the essence of repentance. Humility is selfless, not selfish. It doesn’t demand its own way or speak with moral superiority. Instead, humility answers softly and listens kindly for understanding, not vindication. Humility recognizes that no one can change someone else, but with faith, effort, and the help of God, we can undergo our own mighty change of heart. Experiencing the mighty change of heart causes us to treat others, especially our spouses, with meekness. Humility means that both husbands and wives seek to bless, help, and lift each other, putting the other first in every decision. Watch and learn: repentance and humility build happy marriages.”

As I have witnessed the blessings of covenant marriages during my life, I have prayed that each of my children will one day be married to a faithful, devoted spouse for time and all eternity in a temple.  Several years ago, I had the impression that along with tucking my children in bed, after they had said their personal prayers, I should kneel by each of their bedsides and offer up a prayer for each one of them.  The prayers are different for each child based on what they are experiencing and needing that day and I try to make sure they are sincere and not repetitious. However, one theme that I try to include in every prayer is that each child will one day marry in the temple to a faithful, worthy, committed spouse.  A couple months after feeling inspired to offer these prayers each night, I read the following quote from President Thomas S. Monson, “As a teenage daughter hears her sweet mother plead unto the Lord that her daughter will be inspired in the selection of her companions, that she will prepare herself for a temple marriage, don’t you believe that such a daughter will seek to honor this humble, pleading petition of her mother, whom she so dearly loves?”  I also read these words from Elder Bednar, “Do our spouses, children, and other family members likewise feel the power of our prayers offered unto the Father for their specific needs and desires? Do those we serve hear us pray for them with faith and sincerity? If those we love and serve have not heard and felt the influence of our earnest prayers in their behalf, then the time to repent is now. As we emulate the example of the Savior, our prayers truly will become more meaningful.”

The other night I went into one of my daughter’s rooms only to find her sound asleep before I could get there to tuck her in bed and pray for her.  As I knelt beside her bed to pray for her anyway, I was thinking about all that we had studied this week regarding temple marriage and covenant marriages.  I also had in my mind all that I had been studying this year regarding divorce and the many threats to lasting marriages in our day.  Tears streamed down my cheeks as I prayed with all my heart that my sweet daughter would one day experience the joy of a covenant, faithful, beautiful marriage in a Holy Temple.  As a result of my studies this week I have also committed myself to follow President Benson’s counsel to teach my children more about the temple and prepare them for the covenants they will hopefully make there one day. This is the time to strengthen marriages and families in order to improve stability for future generations.

FYI:  My instructor posted this week that “from here on out we will be directly addressing the principles that strengthen or fracture the foundation of emotional intimacy” which is “the foundation of a strong marriage.”  Tune in next week!


How will Obergefell v. Hodges Affect Society and Children Over Time?

When I reflect on my favorite memories as a child, I think of climbing up on my dad’s knees and doing back flips off his lap or practicing volleyball skills with him in our yard.  My most comforting memories of my mom were of her reading stories to me at night and private girl talks with her while we sat on the edge of her bed.  Although none of these activities are exclusively gender specific, I appreciated that I could ask my dad for help when I needed a tight jar opened or my bike fixed, and I could go to my mom when I ran out of tampons or needed specific types of emotional support.   Two parent households are decreasing in number and many parents are left alone trying to nurture all of the emotional, physical, spiritual, intellectual and social needs of their growing children or are searching outside the home for help to meet all of their needs.

Mothers and fathers have some innately different parenting styles that contribute valuable skills in child development.  Beginning in infancy, babies respond differently to each parent and learn from their unique styles.  “Harvard pediatrician Michael Yogman demonstrated that by six weeks of age, babies respond differently to each parent.  In his research, babies would partially close their eyes, slow their heart rates, and relax their shoulders as their mothers approached to pick them up, as if they were sighing, ‘Ahhh, Mom.’ When fathers approached, the babies hunched their shoulders, their heart rates rose higher and they opened their eyes wider as if to say, ‘It’s Dad…party time!’ (Pruett & Pruett, Partnership Parenting, 2009, p. 18)). Infants also learn different approaches to life by the unique way they are held by their mother or father.  “A mother tends to approach and pick up her baby in a predictable fashion. Nine times in ten, she puts both hands under the baby’s upper back and shoulders, cradling the child in her hands and arms as she lifts the baby to her upper chest and into the crook of her neck.  The baby’s face [is] turned inward [which] gives the baby more ready access to the mother’s face and body, but less to the world beyond this…. When fathers go to pick up their children, their approach is unpredictable, They may hold the baby at arm’s length, look the baby in the eye, or activate the baby physically by rolling the baby over in their arms.  And when a man does (finally) bring the baby to his body, it is less often into he crook of his neck than against his upper chest or thorax, supporting the baby’s weight on the upturned palm of his hand…The father’s position…gives the baby a different view of the world—the same view that the father has.  They are approaching the world together head on.” (Pruett & Pruett, 2009, pp.22-23).  These different parenting traits are similar to how my husband and I play board games with our children.  I do all I can to help them win so they feel protected and safe, and my husband tries as hard as he can to beat them in order to prepare them for the real world.

I thought about these diverse parenting styles this week as I studied the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision ( legalizing same-sex marriage in all states.  I read the opinion of the court led by the bare majority (5 justices) and also all of the dissenting views written and supported by the other 4 justices.  It was incredible and enlightening!  It also made me much more aware (and somewhat wary) of the power of our Supreme Court.  After reading the opinion of the court I have greater understanding and empathy for their reasoning behind their decision due to statements such as “it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies the petitioners’ contentions. This, they say, is their whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, the petitioners seek it for themselves because of their respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And their immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.” However I agree with Chief Justice Roberts that “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not legal judgment. The right it announces has no basis in the Constitution or this Court’s precedent.”

One of my greatest concerns with this decision is the possible threat to religious liberty.  Chief Justice Roberts stated, “Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority— actually spelled out in the Constitution. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to ‘advocate’ and ‘teach’ their views of marriage. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to ‘exercise’ religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.”  Justice Thomas noted in his dissenting view that “Numerous amici (impartial advisors to the court)—even some not supporting the States—have cautioned the Court that its decision here will ‘have unavoidable and wide-ranging implications for religious liberty.’”

Another concern is how this might affect traditional marriage and especially how it might affect children over time.  Chief Justice Roberts shared his concerns regarding traditional marriage and the family in his dissent, “As the majority acknowledges, marriage ‘has existed for millennia and across civilizations.’ For all those millennia, across all those civilizations, ‘marriage’ referred to only one relationship: the union of a man and a woman… This universal definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is no historical coincidence. Marriage did not come about as a result of a political movement, discovery, disease, war, religious doctrine, or any other moving force of world history—and certainly not as a result of a prehistoric decision to exclude gays and lesbians. It arose in the nature of things to meet a vital need: ensuring that children are conceived by a mother and father committed to raising them in the stable conditions of a lifelong relationship. The premises supporting this concept of marriage are so fundamental that they rarely require articulation. The human race must procreate to survive. Procreation occurs through sexual relations between a man and a woman. When sexual relations result in the conception of a child, that child’s prospects are generally better if the mother and father stay together rather than going their separate ways. Therefore, for the good of children and society, sexual relations that can lead to procreation should occur only between a man and a woman committed to a lasting bond. Society has recognized that bond as marriage. And by bestowing a respected status and material benefits on married couples, society encourages men and women to conduct sexual relations within marriage rather than without. As one prominent scholar put it, ‘Marriage is a socially arranged solution for the problem of getting people to stay together and care for children that the mere desire for children, and the sex that makes children possible, does not solve”.

My greatest concern, going back to my opening paragraph, is how this decision will impact families, particularly children.  Will it mean more children being raised without a mother or a father in the home?   I am certain that many same-sex parents have exceptional parenting skills and create a loving environment for their children.  There are still those who state they wished that they had been raised by a mother and a father.  For example, Heather Barwick, raised by two mothers said, “I loved my mom’s partner, but another mom could never have replaced the father I lost…I’m not saying that you can’t be good parents…but by and large, the best and most successful family structure is one in which kids are being raised by both their mother and father…It’s only now, as I watch my children loving and being loved by their father each day, that I can see the beauty and wisdom in traditional marriage and parenting” (Barwick, Dear Gay Community…Your Kids are Hurting, 2015).

The Divine Institution of Marriage states that “Strong stable families, headed by a father and mother, are the anchor of society.  When marriage is undermined by gender confusion and by distortions of its God-given meaning, the rising generation of children and youth will find it increasingly difficult to develop their natural identities as man or women.  Some will find it more difficult to engage in wholesome courtships, form stable marriages, and raise another generation imbued with moral strength and purpose.”  In The Family A Proclamation to the world it states, “We warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”  Only time will tell the true effect of the decision by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage across the county.  My hope is that in an atmosphere of love and kindness we all learn together how our country can better assist parents in strengthening their families and meeting the needs of their precious children.

Stay tuned for future posts on creating an emotionally intimate marriage.  My posts each week are based on what we are learning in my Marriage 300 class and there is some incredible information on emotional intimacy ahead. Thanks!