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Question

Our almost 30 year-old daughter married several months ago after a two and a half year relationship with a good young man with some challenges (Attention Deficit Disorder, little schooling, and job instability). He was not an “obvious choice” for her (a returned missionary with two college degrees and a good career). Significant others told her this, but early on she had a spiritual confirmation that he was a good choice for her. Their courtship was rocky, but so desperately wanting to do the right thing and after counseling with an LDS therapist, she chose marriage.

Emotionally frantic the week before, and even at the altar, she moved forward believing peace would come after she acted on her faith. Peace has not come. We have counseled with her with every Gospel principle we know — loving, serving, repenting, and developing Christlike attributes– to help her accept and deal with their differences. But, she is struggling with settling into her fate in fear that the confusion and anxiety at the temple alter was, in reality, the Spirit warning her, not the adversary discouraging her.

My husband and I pray continually for our daughter and her husband. It saddens us when she says that, at this point, she does not want to have his children. We cannot make her decision to stay in the marriage or divorce. I have told her that God will love and help her whatever choice she makes if she will surrender to Him. She is afraid of not having the opportunity to marry again.

She says if she knew this was God’s plan for her, she could move forward. However, she is afraid that it wasn’t His plan and she didn’t listen. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

Answer

Committing to one person for time and all eternity is a daunting decision that leaves many dating, engaged, and even newly married individuals feeling anxious and unsure. Your earnest daughter has made this decision with much prayer, counsel, time, and thoughtfulness, yet, something about it doesn’t seem quite right to her. I want to be careful to not minimize the significance of her post-marriage confusion as I suggest some ways she move forward with her new marriage.

I’m optimistic about role of challenges in marriage. In fact, I’m not afraid of them, but welcome them. I’m not talking about welcoming affairs, abuse, addiction, or abandonment, as these are often fatal to marriage. I’m talking about accepting and welcoming the normal challenges of personality differences, viewpoints, motivation, quirks, temperaments, and other inevitable dynamics that happen when you ask two people to give themselves to each other completely.

I recognize that many people, including your daughter, recognized that her husband had some obvious challenges that gave everyone pause. At the same time, you and your daughter recognized that this young man was, as you put it, “good”. What does that word mean to you? Does it mean that he is faithful? Is he pure? Is he selfless? Is he simply kind? I believe that if she saw something “good” in him, then this may be more of a foundational quality that will bless their marriage for years to come. I would be more concerned if this young man had a stellar resume but lacked goodness.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland expounded on this idea that we should look for this type of quality in our future spouses:

There are many qualities you will want to look for in a friend or a serious date—to say nothing of a spouse and eternal companion—but surely among the very first and most basic of those qualities will be those of care and sensitivity toward others, a minimum of self-centeredness that allows compassion and courtesy to be evident. “That best portion of a good man’s life [is] his . . . kindness,” said Mr. William Wordsworth (Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey [1798], lines 33–35). There are lots of limitations in all of us that we hope our sweethearts will overlook. I suppose no one is as handsome or as beautiful as he or she wishes, or as brilliant in school or as witty in speech or as wealthy as we would like, but in a world of varied talents and fortunes that we can’t always command, I think that makes even more attractive the qualities we can command—such qualities as thoughtfulness, patience, a kind word, and true delight in the accomplishment of another. These cost us nothing, and they can mean everything to the one who receives them.[i]

If her new husband is a man with a good heart who is committed to her and is willing to accept her influence, they will be just fine.

Recognize that he is taking a risk on her as well. It wouldn’t be unusual for him or his family to have similar reservations about your daughter. Granted, she may be appear more successful by some measures, but she will most certainly need some refining in areas where he is stronger. Perhaps she battles with anxiety where he is more faithful and believing. She might be more hard-charging in her goals and he’s better at enjoying the journey in a more peaceful way. Even though his limitations are more obvious right now, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find ways to work with each other to build a healthy partnership.

Please don’t fret about his resume right out the gate. If those foundational qualities of mutual respect, openness, commitment, kindness, and charity prevail in this marriage, they will chart a path together that will blend the best of the strengths and manage the weaknesses they both bring to the union.

It’s also important to note that many of us have brought the values of the marketplace to our marriages. Dr. William Doherty wrote a compelling article called “Consumer Marriage and Modern Covenant Marriage”, where he observes how we often enter marriage like a consumer approaches a potential purchase. He encourages us to view marriage as a covenant that involves self-sacrifice instead of as something that will only meet our predetermined expectations.[ii] I highly recommend you review and share his article with your daughter.

I recognize that she is feeling confused about promptings from the Spirit about her choice. I encourage her to quiet down the outside voices and, instead, focus on turning to him and fully giving herself to learning who he is and how she can celebrate what he brings to their marriage. He needs to do the same. Working with a qualified marriage counselor can also help them learn to discover and build on these strengths. In fact, most marriages get off to a rough start or experience this type of turbulence at different points in the journey. In almost twenty years of working with hundreds of marriages, I’m more certain than ever that any two people who are willing to turn to each other in complete humility and charity can build a beautiful marriage.

She’s saying some alarming things about not wanting to have children with him. She doesn’t have to make every decision about their future right now. She can pray to have less fear and “cheerfully do all things that lie in [her] power” so she can “stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed.”[iii] She is married now and they both have the responsibility to work hard to trust in God and each other to create something bigger than the both of them.

The author James Thurber once said, “Love is what you go through together.” She has only been married for a couple months, even though they dated for a couple of years. They are just starting to go through things together and need the space and time to let their love develop and deepen.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

[i] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland_how-do-i-love-thee/

[ii]http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1020&context=marriageandfamilies

[iii] Doctrine and Covenants 123:17