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A friend shared with me that at the set-off point for a white-water rafting trip in Colorado, their guide had some amazing instructions not just for the river that day, but, as she realized later, for the river of life.

As the waters roared a short distance away and with an exciting adventure awaiting, he helped to secure everyone’s life jackets. “Folks,” he said with a smile as they sat down for final instructions, “You’ve signed the release that today’s trip may end in death and that you won’t hold us responsible. Now, to do our best for that not to happen, I have a few rules!” As he went through the list of safety guidelines, he concluded with the wry comment: “As you can see from the river beside us, this is NOT Disneyland! I cannot turn it off if a problem arises! I repeat! I cannot turn the river OFF!” They all laughed and loaded up.

As my friend got in the boat, with the waters raging and a very strong, rapidly flowing current pulling everything in its appointed direction, she realized how futile it would be to try and head upstream or even cross stream. Days later, she realized that his instructions were a literal “bend” in her own river of life. She reflected that she had been actively trying to go cross-stream and upstream with some difficult personal relationships. It was impossible and a waste of energy to even try. Where was downstream and a better flow? As she described the situation, I pondered that perhaps this is the Savior’s message in how to love! Find the downstream!

My patriarchal blessing aptly calls mortal life “the turbulent seas of mortality.” Finding downstream in marriages and families is, indeed, much like a white-water rafting trip because so many of life’s most troubled waters churn distressingly and incessantly within family relationships. I know of not one family, both within and outside the Church, that does not have divorce within its most immediate circles, including my own of many years ago. The recent articles here at Meridian (check them out by clicking here and here) are beautifully written to confirm the upstream pain and problems. I loved the article by Mariah Proctor of marriage’s downstream joys, “A Bird and A Fish in Barcelona.” Don’t miss this one!

Where is “downstream” for happy marriages and families? How grateful we are for the Scriptures and the Savior’s life to provide the downstream path for how to live, love and be happy. But I’m always grateful for a little practical support and counsel from people who are much wiser than I.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound – or even ten pounds – of cure!

In no situation is this more true than for young marriages. My personal first marriage that failed (along with the many I have seen since) tells me that as good as we are, as honorable missions we may have served, as worthy to marry in the temple as we may be , as much confirmation from heaven as there may be, it’s a terrible shock when it doesn’t “work.” So, for our own precious and youngest daughter who will marry in the Provo City Center Temple later this summer, and for marriages and families at all stages and ages, my wonderful husband of 33 truly happy years and I offer up a “triple combination” of excellent books to go along with our own gospel library “Triple Combination” found in the scriptures. How grateful I am for my marvelous Bob, the patriarch of our home and family.

Like a safety jacket, oar, and an experienced river guide, we both agree that these books are literal tools to help you keep your family and marriage afloat and happy. They are readable and enjoyable and came to us at different stages of our long and happy family life. We’ve read all three out loud to each other. Some of them more than once and agreed, “This would have been so helpful as newlyweds! Why didn’t someone teach us this? How easier so many things would have been!”

And so, for our Kelly who is getting married later this summer, and married/divorced brothers and sisters of all ages, we offer the blessed three:

Book 1: “Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts” by Dr. Les Parrott III & Dr. Leslie Parrott.

This book came to us through a young married woman who had grown up with our own children in a wonderful Ward. In learning about the sad divorce among one of their friends in that circle of youth, she hugged me and said, “I know the book he needs! To help him get through the divorce and be ready for a successful second marriage! It was given to me and my husband before our own wedding by a BYU Professor who knew us and really cared! Though the first years haven’t been easy, it’s been much easier with the help of this little book. I had no idea how much I had to learn! I know why so many young LDS marriages fail.”

She shared that this devoted teacher gave it to them before their wedding with the words, “I’ve seen too many promising young BYU temple marriages quickly end in divorce simply because they didn’t know what to expect and how to make it through the first year. The Scriptures are always enough, but practical application and a handbook to supplement the teachings of the Gospel. I looked long and hard to find something to give young couples like you, so you had a better chance right from the beginning.” That “something” was this book.

We ordered it for ourselves and, though married 30 years, there was plenty to learn and plenty to wish you could pass on to every young couple. We eventually ordered the second book, “How To Save Your Second Marriage Before It Starts” and gave it to a special friend, previously divorced and his fiancée after they were engaged, who much appreciated its value and gave them lots to talk and think about before marriage.

Written by a married couple who share the same title (Doctor – one a marriage and family therapist, and the other a clinical psychologist) and first and last name, they share that their own first year of marriage was unexpectedly rough. With determination and counseling, they made it through that first year. They then have devoted their professional lives to helping others succeed in marriage. The preface of seven ways to predict a happy marriage is followed by seven chapters titled as questions to the reader:

The Seven Predictors:

1) A healthy expectation of marriage
2) A realistic concept of love
3) A positive attitude and outlook toward life
4) The ability to communicate feelings
5) An understanding and acceptance of gender differences
6) The ability to make decisions and settle arguments
7) A common spiritual foundation and goal

The Seven Questions:

1) Have You Faced The Myths of Marriage With Honesty?
2) Can You Identify Your Love Style?
3) Have You Developed the Habit of Happiness?
4) Can You Say What You Mean and Understand What You Hear?
5) Have You Bridged the Gender Gap?
6) Do You Know How to Fight A Good Fight?
7) Are You and Your Partners Soul Mates?

After reading it, we knew why that marvelous BYU professor was giving it to his students. We highly endorse it for all couples at any stage to understand what makes a marriage flow downstream.

Book 2: “I Don’t Have To Make Everything All Better” by Joy and Gary Lundberg, who are also authors here at Meridian.

Published in 1995, this is an old book and a “bible” for many LDS families already. We make it a point to read it out loud every several years and do our best to keep the principles active and alive. It is written with a delightful conversational style and filled with true family/marriage experiences from their own lives and Brother Lundberg’s extended work as a marriage and family therapist. The entire book is built around one simple principle: Learning how to successfully validate feelings of dear ones without taking over their problem. Whether the problem is a reluctant toddler in potty training or a newlywed daughter with marriage problems of her own. The book includes everything in between. One who can successfully validate often changes not only what happens in a day, but what happens in a long-term relationship.

Repeated again and again are what we know of the Savior’s love: that each individual is of worth, each individual’s feelings matter, and each individual is cherished. While we all know these principles and their value, why do loved ones resist us when all we’re trying to do is HELP them? Why are there so many problems in just talking about problems?

Well, if relationships came with a handbook, we would say this is it. The Lundbergs explain how to listen without jumping in, the little sounds and expressions to make while listening so your loved one will know you are listening and caring, and how to support them by NOT jumping in with a solution or identifying their feelings for them.

After reading this book (and you can put the principles into play within minutes of reading the first few pages), we were surprised to see how often we’d interrupted the natural “downstream” flow of teaching moments and independence for each other and our children by jumping in to “help.” On reflection, we continue to realize that our best and dearest friends, the ones we always feel most warmly to, are the ones who listen to us without jumping in to “save” us when we confide in them with troubles large and small. How empowering it is to solve your own challenges! How much closer we are to loved ones who let US solve our own challenges!

As one who loves to talk, it’s a hard thing to just listen and validate when you can see the obvious answer for a child or family member. We learned the necessity of literally biting our tongues to allow a child or each other rage with feelings, then watched in amazement as they 1) calmed down after being validated, 2) often come up with a solution on their own, and 3) appreciated you more than ever for just listening and allowing them to own their problems. Yes, there is a time to offer support and advice, but learning when and how is the key to this book!

We shared this book with our children early on shortly after it was published when Kelly was a pre-schooler, and they grew up with the book. We eventually learned, and now often ask when something is troubling to them, “Do you want to be validated or do you want advice?”

What a marvelous tool this is in teaching us how to live and love “downstream.”

Book 3: “Meeting Amazing Grace” by Joy and Gary Lundberg

True confessions: I’m an advice columnist junkie and have been from the time I learned how to read. I was in second grade when I learned how to find “Dear Abby” in the Deseret News and have been hooked ever since. From Hints From Heloise to “Can This Marriage Be Saved” in the Ladies Home Journal, I never get tired of people’s problems and someone else’s perspective. For years we’ve been reading “Carolyn Hax” of the Washington Post at the dinner table. Perhaps that’s why I graduated in Child Development and Family Relations at BYU, I just love reading about people, their problems, and ways to solve and/or live with them.

But I digress …. “Meeting Amazing Grace” was like an excellent advice column from beginning to end, but told in the form of a STORY with a fictional character to pull it altogether. Published more than ten years after the Lundberg’s “All Better” book, it’s written with their characteristic warm and conversational style, and is a very fast read.

Unlike the first two books that focus on the marriage and a family relationships, this book focuses exclusively on in-law relationships! Oh, how we need this book! Implementing the same principles as “I Don’t Have To Make Everything All Better”, it all comes to sparkling life through the eyes of a young woman named Lindsey who is reluctant to marry the man she knows is right for her – because of his mother. Somewhat like Ebeneezer Scrooge in a “Christmas Carol,” Lindsey gets to see many families, couples and in-laws at different stages of life and how their family challenges bear fruit or thorns as the years go by. They are shown to Lindsey through “windows” by a guide named Grandma Grace, better known as Gigi.

Based on true life people and, once again, true life situations from Brother Lundberg’s lifetime practice as a marriage and family therapist, Bob and I were able to go back and view our own 30 year marriage with some big “a-ha” moments. From the stress of mothers and mothers-in-law who do not understand boundaries when visiting to care for a new grand baby, to finessing charged relationships with a son-in-law who is struggling to support his young family, this book is a bell ringer!

It develops and defines the need for healthy boundaries and includes real-life of examples couples who establish them with kindness in seemingly impossible situations. “Won’t her mother-in-law be unhappy about that?” Asks Lindsey when a couple kindly tells a mother it is time to go home after interfering with disciplining their children. “Yes,” says Grandma Gigi. “But who says everyone has to be happy all the time? Watch how she handles that boundary over the next few months and years to make a happier life for herself and everyone.”

The best thing is that although many of its principles (best explained in the “I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better” book) are quick to implement, family and in-law relationships are built around the test of time. True colors for a family take years – even many years — to manifest, and often change midstream. The book sees families at different points as their histories have evolved to enlighten the reader with the comforting realization that the last chapter of family life has never been written.

“Life is long” says advice columnist Carolyn Hax, and this book helps us understand and be patient with its ebbs and flows, no matter how challenging, while we implement the tools of validation, kindness, perspective, forgiveness, faith, and healthy boundaries.

This book is a joy to read out loud as the fictional elements pull the case histories together in a tapestry that creates a most delightful novel.
In conclusion, the River of Life brought my wonderful Bob and I to live in Tennessee two years ago. It is the mission field. There are very few LDS people, but many, many strong Christians and we love them all! We are very close to a Christian University where young people with high life standards are encouraged to marry young in a very similar way to our LDS youth. These young, engaged couples attend required premarital workshops to prepare them in practical ways. While similar courses may be available on our Church campuses, this counseling which seems so necessary, is optional for our LDS marriages. We strongly recommend these three books for every engaged, newlywed or long-wed couple and we highly recommend them as your own personal pre-marital study course. (And privately wonder why something like this is NOT required for temple marriages.)

You can purchase all three books at Amazon or at the Lundbergs website, www.JoyGaryLundberg.com where their other excellent books on Marriage are also available. You can see the Parrott’s other books and New York Times bestsellers at their website, www.lesandleslie.com

Carolyn Allen is the Author of 60 Seconds to Weight Loss Success, One Minute Inspirations to Change Your Thinking, Your Weight and Your Life. She has been providing mental and spiritual approaches for weight loss success both online since 1999, having presented for Weight Watchers, First Class, Fairfax County Adult Education and other community groups while living in the Washington, DC area. She and her husband, Bob, are the parents of five children and grandparents to a growing number of darling grandchildren. They are now happy empty-nesters in Jackson, Tennessee, close to Memphis, where they center their online business for an amazing herbal detox and reflexology power socks.