Love is one of the most profound emotions known to human beings. Most of us marry feeling that nothing could possibly separate us, believing that a celestial marriage will be perfect and easy—a happily ever after. Yet life is not that way and we face the harsh reality of conflict where our perfect happiness can be shattered. What will save our happily ever after is to realize is that life and marriage evolve in stages. Our marriage probably won’t ever be like it was at the beginning nor should it, because it could be something even better. Our purpose in marriage is to help each other meet the Savior, and our spouse can be our greatest purifying fire, our greatest teacher, and our greatest gift—if we will allow them to be.
In the book The Lifecycle Stages of a Marriage by Barbara Markey, ND, Ph.D., she explains that relationships proceed in three basic stages: the newlywed stage, the cooperative stage, and the endearing stage. Each of these stages gives us opportunities to become like Jesus Christ. Here are a few ideas for how you can build a celestial marriage with your spouse and the Savior no matter where you are at in your marriage.
The Newlywed Stage
We can also call this the “Hollywood Stage.” And like Hollywood, what we think we see is not real. We have amazing passion and believe it is real, but we are more likely living on a high, feeding this belief through excessive generosity to our loved one. We build trust, respect and emotional intimacy at this stage, which is needed and important. But this type of cycle is like running a sprint: we do great at first, but eventually run out of steam and revert back to our previous habits and self. Often during this shift, we may feel discouraged, like our marriage is broken, like our spouse is no longer the person we married.
Tips: We need to focus on what matters most, and what will create the strongest foundation for future stages of marriage.
1. Set gospel foundations early on in your marriage. Develop habits of attending church and temple, reading the scriptures together, and holding some form of FHE. These habits will keep you turned toward the Lord and remind you of the celestial covenants you have made together, even if the passion of being newly married tapers off. It will also help you continue to build trust, respect, and emotional intimacy needed in the next stage of marriage as you discuss things of the spirit.
2. Pray for patience and understanding. When frustrations or irritations start to encroach on your newlywed bliss, remember to involve Heavenly Father in your reasoning and disagreements. Chances are, things that make sense and are familiar to you may not be the same for your spouse, and you will need the Spirit to have patience as you talk things out and learn to understand the way your spouse thinks and consider different opinions.
3. Keep a journal of positive things about your spouse. Whether you write them down in notes and give them to your spouse or go back and review them, remembering some of the things that you loved about your spouse before and right after you got married will help you stay focused on the positive. And remember, it’s not up to them to do all the changing. You’ve probably reverted to some old bad habits as well. Find a strategy to help each other recognize and work on these habits together—like the team you want to become.
The Cooperative Stage
Often called the problem-solving stage, we focus on our jobs, raising kids, or paying the bills. The passion tends to turn to business and we discover our partner is really human. We learn acceptance, empathy, and openness during the disappointments and conflicts and begin to overcome some of the shock from the shift that happens during the newlywed stage. The great potential of this stage is we can create the foundation for being truly known, understood and supported for the rest of our lives as long as we keep trying. Just remember a Thomas Edison statement, “The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are: first, hard work; second, stick–to-itiveness; and third, common sense.”
Tips: We need to stay focused on what is the most important. In our busy lives, we can be easily distracted, but if we remember to try the following, building on the tips from the previous stage, we will have greater success:
1. Make shared goals. These could be home improvement projects, hobbies, travel plans, temple attendance, etc.
2. Laugh together. Avoid laughing at your partner or expecting a certain kind of humor. Laughing together is a sign that you are in it for the long haul and are willing to have fun together.
3. Keep expectations real. Do not expect a partner to fulfill all of your needs. They may be able to fulfill many of them, but talk about it together. If you need to join an exercise group or make a few new friends in the ward because of limitations your spouse has, that’s okay. Do your best to fulfill their needs as well, but don’t be hurt if they still need some outside support from family or friends. Make sure you involve the Lord in your efforts to help each other succeed and be happy—He knows the needs of you and your spouse better than anyone.
4. Remember that intimacy is more than sex. You also need emotional intimacy, which requires communication and vulnerability. While finding time to have heart-to-heart talks can be difficult during this stage, it’s good to share who we really are and learn who our spouse really is. The more you talk together, the more you learn, and the deeper the relationship grows. Talk while you are both getting ready for bed, while you are on a lunch break, or on a scheduled date night, and practice discussing topics that go beyond the everyday tasks you already have to coordinate.
5. Do something new. Keep growing, learning, and sharing together. You may find a new part of life you love and didn’t know you could as you attend community and cultural events, creating new memories together in new places, or attending a class together.
6. Work it and work it some more. Listening and working will continually create that heaven-on-earth feeling as you involve Heavenly Father in your decisions and efforts to truly understand and help each other succeed. Remember that marriage isn’t a competition. It’s a team effort.
“Love is taking a few steps backward, maybe even more…to give way to the happiness of the person you love.” —Winnie-the-Pooh
For more on increasing happiness go here.
The Endearing Stage
This is the most stable stage, bringing the most satisfaction. This is where we begin to truly know and love the other person. This stage makes it easy to see that you started with infatuation and what you have now is true, lasting love—a marriage of admiration, respect, appreciation, and honor of the intrinsic worth of this amazing person you married. You see his/her character, virtues, talents, quirks, faults, weaknesses and strengths and you still love him/her. At this point, you see all the parts of your partner and have found ways to communicate and solve problems. Your marriage is no longer a fantasy of happily ever after but a realized and attained happily ever after.
That doesn’t mean everything goes perfectly from here on out, however. Here are a few additional suggestions to help keep your marriage celestial at any stage.
1. Get professional help if you are feeling overwhelmed in the troubling times of marriage. A little help from an expert can return the focus on what matters most.
2. Make regular, scheduled traditions. For example:
a. Daily reminders of your love such, as goodbye hugs or lunch break texts of affection.
b.Weekly simple dates.
c. Monthly bigger dates, such as an overnight adventure.
d. Yearly honeymoon.
3. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Listening is the most powerful way to show a person you value them.
4. Make sure your spouse feels appreciated, admired, respected, and wanted every day. Learn their love language and speak it. Pray out loud for them. Ask them what makes them feel loved and make an extra effort to do those things.
We are given many opportunities to become like Jesus Christ. Our spouse can be our greatest purifying fire, our greatest teacher, and our greatest gift if we will allow them. Our purpose in marriage is to help each other meet the Savior.