Thirty-five years and still hanging on
LDS doctrine is pretty straightforward: those who are sealed in a temple and endure to the end remain married to each other for eternity; those who are not sealed in a temple or who do not endure to the end are not married to each other after this life. That is, however, probably not enough of an answer for a blog post. So we add a question: "What does that mean?"
One thing it means is that ultimately we are not merely individuals. We are most fully who we are in relation, and marriage and parenthood are the relations in which we are most fully who we are. Presumably marriage and parenthood in this life are analogous to marriage and parenthood in the next life, and our experience with them now prepares us for life with our Father. So marriage in this life and parenthood as we know them are important preparations for our eternal lives, lives of relation rather than individuality. We think that explains why those who remain in an individual state can be angels in the celestial kingdom but not more.
The problem comes when we move from straightforward—and abstract—doctrine to particular cases. What about people who desire to be sealed but cannot? What about people who cannot have children? What about people who choose not to be sealed? Here, too, the doctrinal answer is straightforward: God will not withhold blessings from anyone who did not have the opportunity to receive those blessings, but we are responsible for the choices we make and the outcomes of those choices. Deciding what that means in individual cases is not so straightforward. Paul reminds us that we "see through a glass darkly" (1 Corinthians 13:12), and this is an area in which the glass is particularly dark. There are a lot of things about sealings, marriage, and family that we do not understand well. But we know enough, in spite of the darkness of the glass, to say a few things: the highest form of human relation is marriage, it can be eternal, and God will not deny its blessings to anyone who comes to him in faith.
That said, we would rather talk about a different question: "What can I do to have a marriage that I would want to last eternally?" (We've all done this as students, right, taken the essay question that the teacher asked and turned it into the one we wanted to answer?)
As we approach thirty-five years of marriage, we see some marriages survive that we thought would fail, and we see marriages fail that we thought were perfect. We have often talked about the role of "luck"in a successful marriage, and we have to admit that luck probably played a role in ours. We didn’t know each other that well when we decided to get engaged after dating for less than a month. We knew each other a bit better after the four-month engagement. But there were still some surprises after marriage. Janice was shocked to discover that Jim didn’t think it was his sole responsibility to keep the car’s gas tank full, something she has not yet fully gotten over, and Jim was a bit surprised to discover that she didn’t feel any responsibility to make sure he had a clean shirt to wear. He has gotten over that. It ceased to be an issue about twenty years ago when Jim discovered the BYU Laundry. After years of struggle we have made the necessary Christmas compromises: Jim has agreed to help put up the tree as soon after Thanksgiving as possible, and Janice has accepted that we are not ever going to have any outside lighting that involves someone getting on a ladder.
But we think that luck may be only tangentially related to success in marriage. What makes or breaks a marriage in the long run is commitment. Both people have to be committed to the relationship. Both have to make sacrifices for the relationship and both have to want the other person to be happy and fulfilled. It sounds simplistic, but a marriage works if both people are committed to it, and it fails if one or both people want something else more than they want the marriage. It is luck if you get someone who defines a clean house the same way you do, but commitment is being willing to discuss the cleanliness of the house and to make compromises if needed.
A couple of weeks ago we were cleaning up after a dinner party and one of us said, "We work pretty well together don’t we?" That about sums it up. When you work well together, you want it to last a long, long time—eternally.