Fidelity in Marriage and Relationships
As I first started reading up in preparation for this talk, the majority of the discourses I found focused on condemning all of the aspects of infidelity. We all know and understand what those are. We know how devastating adultery and pornography can be to sacred relationships. We know that small indiscretions and flirtations can damage precious relationship and lead to serious sin. We know that unfaithfulness in parents can have lasting effects on children for generations to come. But, thankfully, I didn’t feel the need, nor could I bear to spend an entire talk on those things, to, as Jacob put it, enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds.
Instead I’d like to focus on what we can do to build fidelity in our marriages and our family and personal relationships, including our relationships with ourselves and with God, because when we are actively, continually, and carefully working to build our relationships, it is much less likely that we will fall into temptation with respect to them.
Joseph Smith taught that Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God. (Teachings, p. 255-256)
While the world may teach that happiness is a product of the pleasure of outward circumstances, the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that happiness is the product of personal righteousness. The greater our fidelity to the Lord and to others, the greater our peace and happiness will be and the more the Lord will be able to pour out His guidance and blessings upon us. We achieve this by making and keeping sacred covenants that bind us to the Lord and school us in becoming like He is.
Meanings of fidelity:
· Adherence to truth
· Accuracy and exactness
· Strict observance of duties and promises
Lasting, loving relationships of any kind cannot survive without fidelity; without each participant living so as to earn and retain the trust of others and the approbation of God.
When I think of fidelity in this light, the 13th article of faith comes to mind. To me, it provides great practical instruction for how to join our fidelity to God with our fidelity to others. We Believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men. To me this embodies fidelity. We start by avoiding deceit and keeping our promises, being honest, true and chaste. We deepen our fidelity by seeking continually to do good and be virtuous and kind in all of our interactions.
We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. Do we trust and hope for the best in others, enduring hard things with them and lifting them up? There is no fidelity if we abandon others in the hard moments.
If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. Fidelity also requires that we look for the true version of those around us, seeing them as God sees them and as they can become. When we look for the worst, compare and compete, criticize and tear down, we are not being true to God, to each other, or even to ourselves. Ironically, it can be easiest to fall into this trap with respect to those closest to us because we know them the best and want them to meet our expectations. But as the Article says, we must seek after the things that are lovely, good, praiseworthy, or virtuous.
I struggle with this with my children; at the end of the day, I too often feel like I’ve spent all of our interactions in breaking up fights and putting out fires; that my children have received a lot of supposed discipline without a lot of encouragement. While I do need to let them know when they have made a mistake, they need to know even more when they have been kind and thoughtful. Looking for the good in others enables us to see truth, or things as they really are. Then we will see the true, high-fidelity picture of our loved ones. Ultimately, as we lift each other, all of us will get closer to God.
In a 1979 address at BYU, Spencer W. Kimball said: Like some of the very sophisticated recording equipment I hear in your rooms, we not only need fidelity at this university, we need high fidelity. We need great faith on your part, for we live in a time of temptation and opposition. Allegiance to the straight and narrow path of Christ is crucial, and it has implications for you far beyond a dress and grooming code or a stated paragraph of moral behavior. We live in a day when our allegiance is being sorely tested. Satan is succeeding too well in many places, and he succeeds when he entices any person to excuse himself in wrong doing. Almost all dishonesty owes its existence and growth to that inward distortion we call self-justification. It is the first, and worst, and most insidious form of cheating: We are cheating ourselves. (“On My Honor,” BYU Address 1979)
* Bishop Richard C. Edgely: Honesty is the basis of a true Christian life. For Latter-day Saints, honesty is an important requirement for entering the Lord’s holy temple. Honesty is embedded in the covenants that we make in the temple. Each Sunday as we partake of the holy emblems of the Savior’s flesh and blood, we again renew our basic and sacred covenants—which encompass honesty. As Latter-day Saints we have a sacred obligation to not only teach the principles of honesty, but also to live them… Honesty should be among the most fundamental values that govern our everyday living.
When we are true to the sacred principles of honesty and integrity, we are true to our faith, and we are true to ourselves.
Oct 2006. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/three-towels-and-a-25-cent-newspaper?lang=eng&query=true+to+covenants
The world has much to say about what it means to be “true to ourselves,” and it mostly has to do with being “who you are” in the sense that you shouldn’t have to try to change anything to gain others’ approval. This can be an insidious twist on a true principle. We are children of God. We have inherent value, and all deserve to be loved and treated with kindness. However, being true to our eternal, divine selves means looking beyond our current state and working toward reaching our eternal potential. The Plan of Salvation teaches us that our true self is not a collection of my quirks, habits, and moods, that I put out on a “take it or leave it basis.” When I am true to myself, I demand more of myself. I see beyond and work to emulate the Savior, whose life and work embody what I can become.
As a character trait, our fidelity grows as we make and keep sacred covenants with God; those covenants bind us to be true in our treatment of others at all times, in all things, and in all places that we may be in.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said of this responsibility: The Saints are to be absolutely without guile in every aspect of their lives: in their homes and families, Church callings, all business dealings, and, especially, the private and personal parts of their lives into which only they and the Lord see.
I suggest that we look into our hearts and see whether our motives and actions are pure and above reproach and to see whether we are free of deceit and fraud. Perhaps we can ask ourselves a few questions. (I’ll list just a few of these questions, as he lists many):
Are we totally free of guile in our conversations and associations with our spouses and children so they always know what to expect and always have unquestioning trust and confidence in us?
Are we satisfied with our personal standards of integrity, morality, and honesty? Can we say of ourselves, as Jesus said of Nathanael, that we are without guile?
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Without Guile,” April 1998. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1988/04/without-guile?lang=eng&query=true+to+covenants
When we are true to the Lord and to ourselves, it will not be a huge leap to keep the covenant to be true to our spouses.
With respect to marriage specifically, the Lord has set out a clear outline for spouses in The Family: A Proclamation: Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. “Children are an heritage of the Lord” (Psalms 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, to teach them to love and serve one another, to observe the commandments of God and to be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.
As Ezra Taft Benson taught: “Fidelity to one’s marriage vows is absolutely essential for love, trust, and peace. Adultery is unequivocally condemned by the Lord.
“Husbands and wives who love each other will find that love and loyalty are reciprocated. This love will provide a nurturing atmosphere for the emotional growth of children. Family life should be a time of happiness and joy that children can look back on with fond memories and associations” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Salvation—A Family Affair,” Ensign, July 1992, 2; or student manual, 283).
Before I go further, I want to emphasize a couple of points, as this subject can be a sensitive one for many. For the marriage covenant to be honored, both spouses must be faithful and true to each other and to becoming their best selves. It is a tried and true principle that you can’t fix a marriage by focusing on the other spouse’s faults, but it is also true that you can’t fix a marriage alone. Both spouses must be seeking to make the marriage work, seeking the other’s well-being before their own, and seeking to put the Lord above all. While I hope that we won’t focus on the failures of others, I also hope that none will feel themselves a failure because their best efforts did not change the bad choices of another. Loving and forgiving does not require enduring abuse or mistreatment; both spouses must choose to be true to their covenants. Having spent some time and study on family law and domestic abuse, I have learned that the same words that can rightly guide and encourage one marriage may make an abused spouse feel guilt at not being able to fix something out of their control, or obliged to remain in a harmful situation. I hope that the thoughts and quotes that I share are taken with that understanding in mind. And for all, regardless of what may be in our past or even our present, the Atonement is available and powerful, and things of the past can be made clean and should be left behind.
Jumping back in a bit more, as I’ve mentioned, fidelity goes beyond simply avoiding lying or cheating. It requires a continual building of love and trust. If we neglect these things, we not only risk our bond with our spouse, but we risk compromising the trust and growth of our children. It is likely that their own families will come to reflect what we have exemplified to them to a greater or lesser degree.
* ELDER DURREL A. WOOLSEY, “An Eternal Key” nov 1990 It is absolutely essential that you set an undeviating course of loyalty and faithfulness to your companion, to whom you have previously made these very commitments and promises. The example of your great love and respect for her, the two of you being as one, will establish a singular guiding strength that your children will desire to follow. Your voices and actions blending together in a united front as you teach and lead your little family will be the trumpet with a certain sound of strength and unity leading to safety. Synonyms of fidelity are allegiance and devotion. They will be critical supports to your foundation of fidelity.
Then-Elder Thomas S. Monson gave this advice: As parents, we should remember that our lives may be the book from the family library which the children most treasure. Are our examples worthy of emulation? Do we live in such a way that a son or a daughter may say, “I want to follow my dad,” or “I want to be like my mother”? Unlike the book on the library shelf, the covers of which shield the contents, our lives cannot be closed. Parents, we truly are an open book. Pres. Thomas S. Monson, “Hallmarks of a Happy Home,” Oct. 1988. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1988/10/hallmarks-of-a-happy-home?lang=eng&query=happiness+the+object+of+our+existence
Much has been said about how to set this kind of example and continually build a celestial marriage relationship. Now if this talk wasn’t already enough like a quote book, it’s about to get worse. Here we go.
To wives and husbands the Lord has said: D&C 25:14 Wherefore, lift up thy heart and rejoice, and cleave unto the covenants which thou has made. Continue in the spirit of meekness, and beware of pride. Let thy soul delight in thy husband, and the glory which shall come upon him.
D&C 42:22-23 Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.
President Kimball said: It is not enough to refrain from adultery. We need to make the marriage relationship sacred, to sacrifice and work to maintain the warmth and respect which we enjoyed during courtship. God intended marriage to be eternal, sealed by the power of the priesthood, to last beyond the grave. Daily acts of courtesy and kindness, conscientiously and lovingly carried out, are part of what the Lord expects” (President Kimball in Conference Report, Oct. 1978, 7; or Ensign, Nov. 1978, 6).
Here I think I might add that in addition to giving daily acts of kindness, we should be careful in recognizing them. Sometimes when I am in one of those moods, I will get worked up about things that I wish John had done, and I completely overlook the things that he did do to show that he cares – stopping his studies to help me with the boys, changing diapers, jumping in to help me when I am getting stressed out even though he has a lot on his own plate, or taking the screaming baby when I’m at the end of my rope. We’re at a place where our wallets can’t afford a lot of flowers and our waistlines can’t afford a lot of chocolates, but I am finding that the best “I love you’s” can come in much more mundane ways.
President David O. McKay said, “There is no great thing the man or woman can do to keep love alive and healthy, but there are many little things given daily, and, if possible, hourly—a kind word, a courteous act, a smile, an endearing term, a sparkle in the eye, an unexpected service, a birthday greeting, a remembering of the wedding anniversary—these and a hundred other seemingly insignificant deeds and expressions are the food upon which love thrives.” (Secrets of a Happy Life, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1960, p. 18.)
Richard L. Evans said this: All things need watching, working at, caring for, and marriage is no exception. Marriage is not something to be indifferently treated or abused, or something that simply takes care of itself. Nothing neglected will remain as it was or is, or will fail to deteriorate. All things need attention, care and concern, and especially so in this most sensitive of all relationships of life. (Richard L. Evans in Richard L. Evans’ Quote Book, Salt Lake City, Publishers Press, 1971, p. 16.)
And President Hinckley: Be loyal in your family relationships. I have witnessed much of the best and much of the worst in marriage. Every week I have the responsibility of acting on requests for cancellation of temple sealings. …I am grateful to be able to say that divorce is much less frequent with those married in the temple. But even among these there is far more divorce than there should be.
The bride and groom come to the house of the Lord professing their love one for another. They enter into solemn and eternal covenants with each other and with the Lord. Their relationship is sealed in an eternal compact. No one expects every marriage to work out perfectly. But one might expect that every marriage in the house of the Lord would carry with it a covenant of loyalty one to another.
I have long felt that the greatest factor in a happy marriage is an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one’s companion. In most cases selfishness is the leading factor that causes argument, separation, divorce, and broken hearts.
Brethren, the Lord expects something better of us. He expects something better than is to be found in the world. Never forget that it was you who selected your companion. It was you who felt that there was no one else in all the world quite like her. It was you who wished to have her forever. But in too many cases the image of the temple experience fades. A lustful desire may be the cause. Faultfinding replaces praise. When we look for the worst in anyone, we will find it.
Brethren, be loyal to your companion. May your marriage be blessed with an uncompromising loyalty one to another. Find your happiness with one another. Give your companion the opportunity to grow in her own interests, to develop her own talents, to fly in her own way, and to experience her own sense of accomplishment.
President Hinckley, “Loyalty,” April 2003. https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2003/04/loyalty?lang=eng&query=true+to+covenants
On another occasion he elaborated: 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. (Pres. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Apr. 1991, 96; or Ensign, May 1991, 73).
I am very blessed to have had a wonderful example growing up in my loving, loyal parents who put each other and us before themselves. They had their share of trials and troubles, but their love of the Lord and of each other took first priority and they remained faithful to each other. Though I know they had their differences at times, I never heard either of them say a disparaging thing about the other to us or to anyone else.
I have been really grateful for this example in my marriage. Because I tend to do a lot of self-deprecating and poking fun at myself, when we were first married I found myself lumping John in with myself and doing the same with him. Sometimes I would catch myself and wonder if what I had said may have been hurtful, and I’ve tried to be more careful. Frankly, I am very lucky that he really doesn’t give me any material for complaining, but at times it seems like others make sport of pointing out and laughing at their spouses’ weaknesses or habits. In those moments I try to make sure that my loyalty remains with John in the things that I say to others, whether he hears them or not, and whether it is in jest or not. John has been very considerate in doing the same for me, and it has meant that we have been able to freely trust each other with our thoughts, feelings, concerns, and fears, having the confidence that neither will intentionally hurt the other.
In a March, 1979 Liahona article, Veon G. Smith pointed out three myths that can undermine marriages: The first myth says, “If I have my wedding in the temple, the marriage will take care of itself.” But it won’t. Marriage is a dynamic interaction between two growing, changing people, and it requires constant focus on the quality of that interaction if the marriage is to be close and meaningful. A temple marriage does not automatically guarantee a celestial marriage—or even a pleasant one.
The second myth says, “If the marriage is not successful, I should start over.” But success is not an instant achievement. By definition, marriage is a continuing process, not a final stage. Consequently, it will be more successful at some points than at others. Many people want or expect instant success in all dimensions of marriage; if any aspect seems less than perfect, one despairs and thinks, “I married the wrong person.” This attitude frequently turns one’s attention toward someone other than his marriage partner.
The third myth says, “Loving my spouse does not preclude the possibility of becoming involved with anyone else.” The task for every married person is to maintain loyalty and fidelity with one person; the spouse. It is inappropriate to feel and express to others the same love feelings one expresses to a spouse.
Fidelity, like infidelity, is a process. Fidelity, the positive quality is measured by the degree of loyalty, allegiance, and commitment between husband and wife. Infidelity, the negative quality, results from insufficient feelings of loyalty and allegiance. Any action that fosters inappropriate relationships with another person erodes fidelity.
Two souls, united in matrimony, can achieve spiritual and temporal unity only if they constantly increase their friendship, love, and loyalty by expressing their feelings verbally, by maintaining mutual respect, and by demonstrating concern for each other.
Like most illnesses, infidelity is easier to prevent than to remedy, and the best prevention is to work hard at developing a good marriage. Temple marriage, entered into with a firm commitment to make the marriage an eternal relationship, is a solid foundation. Strong personal commitment, not only to one’s spouse, but to the institution of marriage as it has been divinely ordained, emphasizes the necessity of faithfulness—not only faithfulness to another person, but faithfulness to our Father in heaven.
In closing, I think that desire expressed by Elder Holland sums up how I have come to view the concept of fidelity: Fidelity in marriage, and really in any relationship, requires being true both to the other person and also to ourselves and to the Lord. “May the joy of our fidelity to the highest and best within us be ours as we keep our love and our marriages, our society and our souls, as pure as they were meant to be, I pray” (Jeffrey R. Holland, https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2010/04/place-no-more-for-the-enemy-of-my-soul?lang=eng&query=fidelity).