Sunday, 18 March 2018

Masturbation Morality Myths

In ages past people believed masturbation would lead to blindness, or hair growing of the palms of their hands.  There are still to this day medical websites that work to refute those myths.  That is not what this post is about.  There are a number of myths within the church about the morality of masturbation that I am going to address here.

Before getting into that, I want to clear up some terminology.  Common usage of the word masturbation is limited to an individual sexually pleasuring themselves, but the dictionary definition would also include a spouse manually stimulating their partner in foreplay.  Because of this it is fairly common for church leaders to use the term 'self-abuse' rather than masturbation.  Manual stimulation of one's partner in foreplay is not sinful.

Intent is also a a factor, as in any sin.  If there is a medical purpose (for example, so a couple can conceive via IVF) then it is not sinful.  For the purposes of this post I will use the word masturbation to refer to the act of deliberately stimulating one's own genitals to produce sexual pleasure, arousal and/or orgasm for the purpose of sexual self-gratification.

From past experience, I'm aware there are some members who are heavily vested in some of these myths, so I'm going to try and be as thorough as possible.  If it seems like overkill please bear with it.

Myth 1:  Avoiding masturbation is just counsel, not a commandment.
While it is true that there is not a specific condemnation of masturbation in scripture, our knowledge of God's commandments are not limited to that one source.  In the October 1980 General Conference report is a speech by President Spencer W Kimball on morality.  In it he says the following:

     Masturbation, a rather common indiscretion, is not approved of the Lord nor of his church, regardless of what may have been said by others whose “norms” are lower. Latter-day Saints are urged to avoid this practice. Anyone fettered by this weakness should abandon the habit before he goes on a mission or receives the holy priesthood or goes in the temple for his blessings. (link)

Some have taken this quote and focused only on certain small parts, like 'common indiscretion' and use that to argue that it is not a sin and we are not commanded against it.  This overlooks the fact that every sin is an indiscretion.  It also ignores that further on this same speech he specifically lists masturbation as one of a number of reprehensible sexual sins.

In this quote a prophet of the Lord, acting in his office as Prophet and as President of the church, clearly lays out that both the Lord, and the Church do not approve of it.  This is not mere policy or council. To deliberately rebel and do something the Lord has disapproved of is sin.  President Kimball was the only one in that day who could legitimately speak on behalf of the Lord and on behalf of the Church and here he does so in no uncertain terms.

This is by far the clearest and most authoritative speech against masturbation we have in modern times, and that is also the reason why when this topic comes up in church publications this talk is nearly always quoted. I will be referring back to this again further down in this post as 'the Kimball quote'.

It is  not the only such declaration by prophets and apostles either.  In the October 1983 General Conference President Benson, and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles refers to self-abuse as being one of several sins that are 'like unto' adultery (link).  Elder Boyd K. Packer delivered a talk specifically about masturbation in the October 1976 Priesthood Session of General Conference, and that talk was turned into a pamphlet that was in print for 40 years.

Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in the April 1975 General Conference said:
    Now, my young friends, and I am sorry to say, many adults, how about all those of you who have a masturbation problem?... We don’t have to buckle under Satan’s temptations. That urge does not have to be satisfied. (link)

Apostle Rudger Clawson recorded in 1902 that "Pres. Joseph F. Smith called it [masturbation] 'a most damnable and pernicious practice'.  And if you want to go way back, in 1870 First Counselor George A. Smith called the practice evil.

Myth 2: Masturbation is a violation of the Law of Chastity
Because masturbation is a sexual sin, and was soundly condemned, and was often listed alongside other sexual sins that were violations of the Law of Chastity, some members including Bishops and Stake Presidents came to assume that masturbation was a violation of the Law of Chastity itself.

This lead to some of those struggling to overcome it feeling far more anguish than what the situation called for, or for local leaders to deal with such cases in ways that were perhaps too harsh.

Not every sexual sin is a violation of the Law of Chastity.  To break the Law of Chastity one must have a sexual relationship with somebody else who is not their lawful spouse.  Masturbation is a solo act, so while it is a sexual sin, it is not a violation of the Law of Chasity.

As far as I can tell the church never stated that masturbation was a violation of the Law of Chastity or treated it like one when there were no other sins of a more serious nature involved.

Currently the Church Handbook of Instructions (Handbook 1, Section 6.7.1)  lists it as something that normally does not need the Bishop to call for a Disciplinary Council. Other wrongs that fall into that category are not paying tithing, or not living the Word of Wisdom, or using pornography.  Bishops are free to handle the situation through informal discipline such providing counsel and warnings, or prohibiting them from taking the sacrament, entering the temple, or exercising their priesthood.  Adultery and fornication are listed as serious transgressions that normally do require a Disciplinary Council.  This fits with what is stated in the Kimball quote, that a member should free themselves of this before going on a mission, entering the temple or advancing in the priesthood.

Myth 3:  Masturbation is not a big deal
While it is not good to cast masturbation as a sin next to murder, it also is not good to minimize it as an excuse to continue doing it.  While it is true that there are far more serious sins than masturbation, the fact remains that this is something that will affect your worthiness to enter the the temple and partake of the sacrament.  That is serious enough that members should strive to avoid this and repent of it as necessary.

Myth 4:The church only tells singles and youth to not do it.
Many of the warnings against masturbation are directed at the Aaronic Priesthood or the Youth and YSA member of the church, but it is a mistake to think this only applies to them.

If you go back to the Conference Report where the Kimball quote comes from, you will see the talk's title and subtitle are "President Kimball Speaks Out on Morality - Special Message to All Latter-day Saints".  The quote itself specifies "Anyone fettered by this weakness should abandon the habit..."

Page 219 of the Eternal Marriage Institute Manual (obviously for those preparing for marriage) quotes from President Kimball's talk where he condemns masturbation. Lesson 33 of the New Testament Gospel Doctrine manual (where most married members would be during Sunday School) contains this:
    Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve taught: “Any sexual intimacy outside of the bonds of marriage—I mean any intentional contact with the sacred, private parts of another’s body, with or without clothing—is a sin and is forbidden by God. It is also a transgression to intentionally stimulate these emotions within your own body”(in ConferenceReport, Oct. 1994, 51; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 38)
At the start of that talk, Elder Scott stated his message would "apply to all present" and Elder Featherstone's remarks (linked above) likewise makes a point of including the adults.

The Kimball quote also directs members to 'abandon the habit'.   Abandon is a strong word. It means to leave something behind for good with no intention of ever returning to it.

Myth 5:  This only applies to men in the church
The idea that masturbation is a 'male only problem' is not true.  Women are sexual beings as well and they are just as capable of falling into this trap as men are.  There is no solid statistical evidence of how widespread masturbation is among men or women in the church  but that doesn't matter.  Casting masturbation as a male only problem heaps additional shame on women trying to deal with it and makes it harder for them to seek help when needed.

While many statements from church leaders reflect the idea that this is a male problem, not all of them do.  Also, while the new YM/YW curriculum has done away with traditional lesson manuals recently, the Young Women 2 manual that was in use from 1993 up to recently covered the topic of masturbation in Lesson 33 (The Sacred Power of Procreation) and used the Kimball quote in doing so.

Myth 6: Sometimes it can be OK
Not that long ago masturbation was universally condemned by all Christian faiths.  While the Catholic Church still considers it 'a grave moral disorder' much of the Protestant world has changed their position on it considerably.  Citing that there isn't a specific verse in the Bible condemning, it many Protestants believe it is OK if your spouse approves, or is present when you do it, or if you 'masturbate without lust' (although that seems like an oxymoron to me).

It can be hard when military service, long term medical issues, or other circumstances prevent a married couple from being intimate for a long period of time, however there is not one statement from any General Authority at any time that says masturbation is an acceptable practice in such cases, or any other circumstance.  Their direction to us is to never do that.

Myth 7:  Those statements from past prophets are outdated
As you may have noticed, many of the quotes I've given come from the 70's and 80's.  This was a time where societal views on masturbation were changing and it required the church to address the topic repeatedly.

It should not be ignored however that current church publication, like the Eternal Marriage Institute Manual, the New Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, and others make use of those quotes, validating the applicability in this day.  I've also quoted Elder Richard G Scott.

On top of this Elder Tad. R Callister, as President of the Quorum of the Seventy gave a devotional address at BYU Idaho that was published in the March 2014 Ensign where he said: "The Lord condemns self-abuse. Self-abuse is the act of stimulating the procreative power of one’s own body" and then goes on to quote Elder Boyd K. Packer on the topic.

More importantly, statements like what President Kimball made do not come with an expiry date.  We still quote Joseph and Brigham on many things.  Only a subsequent prophet can offer clarification or an update to what President Kimball said, yet none have done so.

Myth 8: The church is trying to sweep all that under the rug and doesn't talk about it any more.
I have provided links to both General Conference talks and current church publications that repeat the same message that President Kimball made, often quoting him in the process.  It does not get as much focus as it did in the past when the church needed to combat shifts in society, but it hardly hidden or ignored.

Myth 9:  The church has changed it's position on masturbation
The position of the church is that it is wrong, the Lord doesn't approve, and that has not changed over the years.  What has changed is that the leaders of the church are more aware of how sensitive this topic is for some people, and have given local leaders more flexibility in how to deal with it.  Where in the past there was more of a top-down, one size fits all approach, local leaders are free to deal with each member on a case by case bases doing what will best help them to repent and overcome what is a potentially addictive habit.

Beyond the moral implications, I believe there are also ways it can be harmful to a marriage.

Masturbation breaks the link between sexual pleasure and your relationship with your spouse.  If you can gain the pleasure on your own, then it removes a big incentive to resolve relationship issues, and it weakens your bond with your spouse since you no long have to rely on their kindness to have your physical needs met.  The bonding effect a couple enjoys from sexual climax becomes diluted when that same climax is had alone.  In this condition, it is much easier for a problem in the marriage to go unresolved as the couple drift apart.  Each spouse's pleasure should be found in the arms of the partner, not in the palm of their hand or the tip of their finger.

C.S Lewis put it this way:

    "For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect love: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself….

    Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison."

    (C.S. Lewis, letter to Keith Masson (3 June 1956); cited in Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis (HarperOne, 2008), 292-293.)

On the positive side, I believe if both spouses hold to the direction given by the Lord in this area their marriage will be blessed for it.  If they focus on meeting their spouse's needs rather than their own it will draw them in both physically, spiritually and emotionally and a greater joy is possible from that then what can ever be found alone.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Healing the Wounds Part 4 - Restituion and Resolve

[Part 1]  [Part 2] [Part 3]

Making a full confession and asking for forgiveness is a vital part of healing a wound, but by themselves they are just words.  Those words need to be followed up with action to be taken seriously.

Making restitution is a vital part of the healing process.  True regret comes with a desire to make up for the wrongs done.  Simply stopping the hurtful behaviour is not enough by itself.  Consider the case of a bank robber who expresses deep regret and sorrow over what they did, promises they won't do it again, but keeps the money and hides from the law.  It calls their words into question if they are unwilling to pay back or make up for what they did.

Sometimes however a direct form of restitution like that is not possible.  That doesn't mean you have a excuse to skip this step.  What you should do instead is to make restitution by making up for what you did.  Swing the pendulum to the other side and counteract a misdeed with it's opposite.

A spouse who had a habit of speaking harshly to their companion can't undo the fact that they said what they said, but the can make restitution by making a habit of giving their partner genuine praise instead.  A spouse who has been inconsiderate of their partner's sexual needs can't go back in time and change years of selfish refusal, but they can makes restitution by doing all they can to make the future one that includes a high level of sexual fulfillment for their spouse.

Restitution like this is not something you do for a week or a month then drop, it is a lifelong change.  It shows your spouse you have had a true change of heart rather than just a change of mind.  It proves to them that you are no longer the kind of person who would do such a thing.  It wins back their trust and confidence in your feelings for them.

Resolve to never do it again

True regret is a painful thing, and it should be painful enough that it drives you to do all the steps after it.  It should also be painful enough to leave you resolved to never do such a thing again.  Your resolve reform yourself needs to be expressed to your spouse in words, and demonstrated in deed for the rest of your life.  As I mentioned before, the Lord said:
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. (D&C 58:43)
If a spouse makes their confession, asks forgiveness and makes restitution for what they did, then goes on to do it again (even if many years later) it re-opens the original wound.  After that, confessions will be harder to take as sincere and a greater restitution will be required.

In Luke 7:37-50 a woman known to be a sinner washes the feet of the Savior with her tears and anoints his feet with expensive ointment.  Simon the Pharisee thought that if Christ were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this was and not let her do this.  Christ, sensing his thoughts taught:
Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:47)
Likewise, to whom much is forgiven, the same loveth greatly as this woman showed.  These steps allow a couple to tap into the power of the atonement which can heal the wounds and restore peace and love to a marriage.  When there is both forgiveness and all the elements of reconciliation present, a marriage can come out of adversity stronger than it was before the trial began, with deeper love between the spouses.  Even a case of adultery can end with hearts healed and a marriage strengthened if both do their part.   Even if a spouse is unwilling or slow to forgive, this process will be a blessing to those who follow it. 

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Healing the Wounds Part 3 - Reveal and Request

[Click here for Part 1]  [Click here for Part 2]

So far we've talked about things that need to happen inside the head and heart of the spouse that caused the hurt, but to actually heal the relationship requires taking action.  They need to fix what they broke as best they can.  It is not an easy process and the reality is that things may need to get worse before they get better.  That is why the first two steps are so important.  It is unlikely that somebody will take the painful actions needed to heal the relationship unless driven by a pain of regret that is greater.

Reveal Everything
The first action is to fully confess your wrongs.  Not just the parts your spouse already knows about, but the things they don't know as well.  Come clean, put it all out there.  It is not enough to just stop doing wrong. The Lord said:
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them. (D&C 58:43)
It is best to do this without having to be compelled to by circumstances.  A person who is caught red handed and only admits to the things that have already been uncovered will seem like they are only sorry they were caught,  even if there really is nothing more to confess, and they genuinely regret their actions.

Apologize and lay out what you did, how often, for how long, why (not as an excuse).  Also share your journey of coming to realize and regret your actions and the pain you feel as a result. 

It will be tempting to say to yourself  'There is no need to confess that part, they don't know, I won't do it again, so why put them through the pain of revealing it?'  It would be a mistake to act in that way however.

Keeping a secret like that is harmful to yourself and to your marriage.  You will not be able to free yourself of the pain of regret and personal shame of what you have done.  Instead you will carry that burden and it will eat at you and undermine your happiness.  It will leave you aware of your unworthiness which is something Satan can use against you when he tries to tempt you again, and he will try.  You won't be able to feel fully loved and accepted by your spouse either.  When your spouse says they love you, you will wonder if they would have said that if they knew the whole story.

Even if your spouse doesn't know, they will likely sense that you have not been fully open with them or carry nagging doubts that weaken the marriage and create insecurity.  They also can not forgive you for something they do not know you did.  Some day they will know exactly what happened.  Either at the judgement bar or sooner they will know it, and also know that you hid it from them and lied to them that there was nothing more to confess. Your reconciliation will then be undone and the relationship will be worse off than before.

In contrast, a full, unforced confession may cause a lot of pain in the short term, but it also helps to rebuild trust and give hope that things can be made better.  It makes it easier for your spouse to forgive when your actions demonstrate true repentance by coming clean voluntarily.  Confession is good for the soul no matter what the reaction is.  The burden of hiding and lying will be gone and the process of healing will have started.  Even if the revelation leads to the break up of the marriage, it enables you both to heal and move forward.  A marriage held together by lies and secrets is not going to become an eternal marriage.

Revealing everything may be a process rather than an event.  Usually when a spouse is blindsided by something big they will not absorb it all at once.  They will come back with questions, request clarification, and need to go over something a few more times before they can wrap their head around it.  Answer every question and request completely until they are fully satisfied that they know the situation.  Don't hide, justify, downplay or brush off anything.  Give them the security of knowing there will be no nasty surprises down the road.

Request Forgiveness
Confessing your wrongs implies a request for forgiveness, but it should still be stated outright that you are sorry for what you did, and you wish to obtain forgiveness from them and from God.  The apology is your admission that you are in the wrong.  It also acknowledges your spouse's pain and validates it.  It brings them into the process, laying out what their part is and calling on them to start the work of forgiving.

While it is true that we have an obligation to forgive others (D&C 64:9-10), do not ask for forgiveness as if it is owed to you or that you deserve it because of your wonderful confession and painful regret.   You are asking your spouse to give you something you do not deserve.  They may owe it to God to forgive, but they do not owe it to you, even if you have forgiven them of something worse, even if you already have God`s forgiveness for what you did.  Their forgiveness is a gift and it should be humbly asked for and graciously received when offered.

It may take a spouse some time before they are ready to offer that gift.  Give them that time.  You do not get to decide how they should feel or how soon their heart should be ready to forgive.
Sometimes it is necessary to apologize more than once, especially if the offense is particularly hurtful. I have learned over the years that it sometimes takes several apologies before the sincerity of the apology is able to penetrate the wounded heart of an offended spouse. (Repentance and Forgiveness in Marriage, Ensign, September 2011)
When there is a strong bond of love between a couple, then there is a desire to forgive and return to the joy that was shared before the offense took place.  That reconciliation has to be earned however, otherwise the forgiving spouse is just allowing themselves to be walked all over and abused.

Confessing and asking for forgiveness is not the limit of what must be done to heal the wounds and restore the same level of love and trust that existed before.  In Part 4 we'll go over the last two things that must be done.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Healing the Wounds Part 2 - Recognition and Regret

[Click here for Part 1]
Imagine you are watching a typical date movie.  Boy meets girl, they fall in love, he does something that hurts or offends her, and now she is at the airport ready to board a plane to Europe and leave her heartbreak behind forever.  He rushes to the airport and catches up to her at the last possible moment and looking deep into her eyes he says "It was only one time, it wasn't my fault, you're making a big deal out of nothing and you just need to get over it."

I don't think she would be very unlikely to change her plans based on what he said.

As I mentioned in Part 1, the path to healing a relationship with a spouse (or anyone else) is the same process as healing our relationship with God when we sin, so I'll be taking quotes from scripture and church leaders about the process of repentance and applying them here to the process of reconciliation.

The first step in healing the wounds is to recognize that you caused a wound.  If you didn't mean to wound you spouse it doesn't mean there is no wound, and if you can't recognize your wrongdoing you won't be able to reconcile over it.

Recognition is something that happens in the mind.  You realize on an intellectual level that your actions or words were not what they should have been.  This may be because you can see the hurt or anger you caused, or because you are aware of how your actions violate expectations and reasonable treatment of other people.

The enemy of recognition is defensiveness and justification.  If you push back against the idea that you are in the wrong and try to rationalize it, then you are not going to be able to make things better.  It doesn't matter what wrongs your spouse has done, or what other circumstances exist, you have to accept responsibility for your actions and embrace the fact that it was the wrong thing to do.  You don't get to decide how somebody else should feel about something.  We all want to be the hero of our own story, but there are times we need face up to the fact that we have become the villain in another person's story and will stay that way until we change it into a story of our redemption.

Regret is probably the most important, as well as the hardest step to take.  We live in an age where anything that produces guilt is labeled as judgmental and intolerant, but that ideology creates a barrier to reconciliation and repentance.  A 'safe space' will not save your relationship, it will allow wounds to fester until the relationship is too infected to survive.

The Apostle Paul praised 'godly sorrow' as something the leads to repentance and salvation (2Cor 7:10).  It is your regret that will provide the emotional fuel to do what you need to do to achieve a reconciliation.  Without an appropriate level of regret you might go through the motions of each step, but they will be hollow and meaningless actions that won't produce lasting results.

While recognition happens in the mind, regret happens in the heart.  It takes heart wrenching regret to bring about a mighty change of heart and that is why repentance is often described as a painful process. The depth of your regret has to match the offense.  You can't cause a bucket load of pain for your spouse then offer a teaspoon of regret and expect it to balance out.

President Spencer W. Kimball said:
There must be a consciousness of guilt. It cannot be brushed aside. It must be acknowledged and not rationalized away. It must be given its full importance. If it is 10,000 talents, it must not be rated at 100 pence; if it is a mile long, it must not be rated a rod or a yard; if it is a ton transgression, it must not be rated a pound.  (What is True Repentance, Ensign, May 1974)
Alma described the regret he felt for his sins as being "tormented with the pains of hell" (Alma 36:13)

Your spouse needs to see your regret as well.  When they see your regret it softens their heart and shows them your heart is changing which builds trust.  If however your spouse has not seen genuine and sufficient regret, don't expect your apologies to carry a lot of weight.  To them it will feel like you are going through the motions, doing what you understand in your head is the right action to take, but lacking the emotion in the heart needed to really mean it.  They can forgive you, even if you don't do any of these steps, but if you want to restore the relationship and heal the wounds you will have to put your heart into it.

This can't be faked either, and it must be regret for what you did, not regret that you got caught.  If you genuinely do not feel an appropriate level of regret over what you did, you will need to work on that.  Have some empathy for your spouse's pain.  Don't make yourself a judge of how they should feel based on how you feel about things.  We all have different sore spots, different insecurities and fears.  The context of your life is not the same as the context of their life.  What may seems like a harmless bit of ribbing or a minor faux pa to you could be a devastating, cruel and hurtful attack in your spouse's eyes because of their past experiences and struggles in life.  You have to respect their feelings as valid and real even when you do not share them.

It may help to talk with your spouse to try and understand the situation from their perspective.  It may be a painful conversation to have, but it will help you understand your spouse better and show you are serous about trying to fix things. It may help you to avoid inadvertently causing more pain in the future.  Listen and don't judge, you are trying to understand them better so they need to be the one doing most of the talking.  Questions to get clarification are OK, but don't try and talk them out of feeling what they feel or back them into a corner.  Seeing their pain will hopefully soften your heart as well. 

Vindictiveness, hardness of heart, and pride will block genuine regret. If you struggle with those, pray for greater humility, empathy and understanding.  Bring the spirit into your life to soften your heart by reading the scriptures, attending church, going to the temple, and serving others. Seek to tap into the gifts of the spirit to help discern your spouse's side and empathize with them.

When you property recognize and regret what you have done the rest of the steps become things that your heart will compel you to do to free yourself of that pain.  They still may not be easy steps to take, but you'll have a strong motivating force to push you through it.  We will discuss the first action steps in Part 3.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Healing The Wounds Part 1 - Where To Start

I hope that those of you reading this blog do not assume that my marriage is perfect.  Many of the ideas I talk about here are things my wife and I are trying to live up to (with varying degrees of success).  While my wife and I love each other dearly and do our best, we are imperfect people and there are times where we cause hurt to each other.

This is a normal part of marriage.  Getting close to somebody emotionally goes hand in hand with giving them the ability to cause far deeper wounds to the heart than any stranger could ever inflict.  It often happens with no intent to cause harm, and even no realization that their actions or words would cause pain.  Certainly sinful behaviour like adultery, pornography usage etc. causes serious hurt in marriages, but spouses can hurt each other without committing such sins as well. 

These hurts are damaging to the relationship, and they must be addressed and healed. Don't count on time to erase everything, that often will make things worse.  If not dealt with correctly, some wounds may fester and spread.  Even if that doesn't happen and it seems to have been swept under the rug, over time an accumulation of scars take their toll.

Situations like this, even though they may not involve sin, are still closely related to the gospel principles of forgiveness and repentance.  God loves us more than we really understand.  When we rebel against his will, betray our covenant to follow Christ and instead commit sins, we hurt him.  We damage our relationship with our Heavenly Father.  The process of repentance is not a legal process, it is an emotional process for repairing that relationship and seeking a reconciliation.  The same process applies when we need to repair a marriage relationship, friendship, or any other relationship. 

Forgiveness: Human and Divine
The starting point of that process is forgiveness.  There are two types of forgiveness, human and divine.  Christ said:
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.  I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. - D&C 64:9-10
Divine forgiveness, the forgiveness a sinner seeks from Christ, comes only on condition of repentance.  When it is obtained, the stain of sin is washed away from the transgressor's soul by the power of the atonement.

Human forgiveness however does not cleanse the sins of the offender, and we are obligated to give it freely and unconditionally, even if they never repent.

Forgiving somebody doesn't mean you pretend it never happened.  It doesn't mean you extend to them the same level of trust as before.  It doesn't mean  you stop hurting.  It certainly doesn't mean you make excuses for what they did or give approval.  While this video is not from an LDS source, but I think it does a good job clarifying what human forgiveness is and is not.

What it means to forgive is that you let go of your anger, bitterness, vindictiveness and hostility.  You don't lash out and try to 'make them pay' for what they did.  It doesn't let them off the hook, but it does give them an environment that encourages and facilitates their repentance while preventing your soul from becoming poisoned with hate and contention.  Whatever your spouse did, not forgiving them for it is a bigger sin because you make yourself an obstacle to their repentance.

Repentance and Reconciliation
To repair the relationship the offender must address what they did and do what is needed.  For the sake of this blog, if the relationship being repaired is between a person and God I'll call it repentance, and if it is between a person and their spouse or other person I'll call it reconciliation.  The process is the same in either case but with repentance comes divine forgiveness and reconciliation is most easily achieved when human forgiveness has already been given.  Only after we have repaired our relationship with God is He justified in cleansing us of our sins.

The onus is on the offender to make this effort, and they do not get to decide at what point the other party should reconcile with them.  When reconciliation does happen however, the relationship is restored, even strengthened. Repentance is often described as a painful process, and with good reason.  Likewise reconciliation can be painful too.  There are times where repentance requires the guidance and counsel of a Bishop, and times where reconciliation requires the help of a professional marriage counselor.

In Part 2 I'll start to go over the steps of this process, and more importantly why those are the steps that need to be taken, and how to proceed with them.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Is your spouse's happiness your responsibility?

Prophets and apostles have counseled the members of the church a number of times that a married couple should each seek for the happiness of their spouse.

For example:
President Gordon B. Hinkley
True love is not so much a matter of romance as it is a matter of anxious concern for the well being of one’s companion. (link)

Elder Russel M Nelson
Harmony in marriage comes only when one esteems the welfare of his or her spouse among the highest of priorities. When that really happens, a celestial marriage becomes a reality, bringing great joy in this life and in the life to come. (link)

Elder Jeffery R. Holland
Find someone [to marry] ...who finds his or her happiness in your own. (link)

President Spencer W. Kimball
If one is forever seeking the interests, comforts, and happiness of the other, the love found in courtship and cemented in marriage will grow into mighty proportions.(link)

Does this mean that you are responsible for your spouse's happiness?  Are they responsible for yours?

In a way, yes you are...
The answer is 'Yes' in that we have a responsibility to do what we can to promote the happiness of our spouse, it is part of our stewardship as a spouse.  We should know (or find out) what our spouse needs to feel loved, happy and content with their life.  Not just with the marriage relationship, but in all areas of life.  If it is within our power to bring them greater happiness (without breaking commandments or laws of course), we should do it.

It may require us to make changes or sacrifices.  I may mean doing things you wouldn't normally do.  It may require gently helping your spouse overcome their challenges, or patiently waiting for the time they are ready to take that on.  It may just be giving them support and encouragement and expressing faith in them as they confront things you are not able to do anything about.  It can be giving them your best, honest counsel, forgiving them of their mistakes, and having compassion and charity toward them in their imperfections. It may mean seeking their forgiveness for things we've done.

Ideally it is supposed to be a two way street where your spouse does the same for you.  In practice that is not always the case, but even then it doesn't change our duty toward our spouse and their happiness.  When neither spouse seeks the happiness of the other there is a downward spiral that puts the marriage at serious risk.  If even only one spouse is seeking the happiness of the other, this is less likely to happen, and over time their example may rub off on their partner.

...and in another way, no you are not.
The answer is also 'No' in the sense that each person has the final responsibility for themselves.  Your obligation is to do you part to enable their happiness, after that it is up to them.  If there are mental health issues like depression, you may have to accept (at least for a time) that their unhappiness is not related to their circumstances in life and beyond your power to affect, other than to try and help them find an effective treatment plan.

As much as I wish I could remove every discomfort of any kind that my wife feels, it is not within my power to undo the Fall and make her world a Paradise.  I do what I can, and how she responds to the challenges she faces is her choice.  Likewise I am responsible for my happiness, and she is responsible for doing what she can to facilitate it.

If however the husband and wife are selfish, put seeking their interests first, treat their spouse with contempt, ridicule, verbal, emotional, or physical abuse, take them for granted, withhold help, comfort, support, encouragement, intimacy, or otherwise mistreat them or hedge up the way before them, then they make themselves responsible for the outcome of those actions and the damage they do to the marriage.

Nobody should be a hostage to their spouse's emotions, but they should be a help meet and partner.  And seeking the happiness of your spouse is very likely to result in a greater happiness for you than if you sought your own happiness above theirs.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Above and beyond

One thing I learned as an adult is that it doesn't take a lot to stand out from the crowd.  Just a little extra effort and magic starts to happen.  The same principle applies in our marriage too.  It is easy to stick with the daily routine of life, but when we break out of that and go the extra mile for our spouse amazing things can happen.

I'm not talking about doing something special for your spouse as a reward for something they have done, or to make up for something you did, or because it is a special occasion. I do encourage doing that, but here I'm talking about doing something extra for your spouse's happiness just because you love to make them happy. 

It doesn't have to some grand or expensive gesture. Just the fact that it breaks up the routine will make it stand out both at the time and later in memory. It has to be something that will put a smile of delight on their face, so it would probably be most effective if it was something related to their primary love language (not yours).  Here are some suggestions:

Words of Affirmation
- love letter
- greeting card
- affectionate (or sexy) candygram
- shirt, mug, certificate etc. proclaiming them 'World's Best _______'
- social media post praising your spouse

Acts of Service
- before they can stop you, do some chores for them that they normally do
- take care of something they haven't been able to get to
- give them a day off and wait on them
- give them a massage, draw a bath for them
- cook them a special meal
- do that thing they have wanted you to take care of for a while

- give them something related to their hobbies and interests
- take them out to dinner
- them them shopping, tell them how much they can spend on something just for them
- flowers / candy/ jewelry
- make something for them

Quality Time
- go for a walk together
- run away together for a whole day, nothing planned
- play board games
- binge watch something they are interested in
- go dancing

Physical / Sexual contact
- get a room for the night
- spend the whole evening being physically intimate
- tell them they get to pick what happens and you'll go along with it
- fulfill a fantasy of theirs
- make yourself as attractive as you can for them (hair, makeup, lingerie etc.)
- try something new in the bedroom (bondage, oral sex, role playing etc.)

Going out of your way to please your spouse sends them some very important messages that strengthen the relationship.  It tells them:

I don't take you for granted.
When life has you both in a rut, even if it happens to be a good rut, over time a person can feel like they are taken for granted.  The usual ways of showing affection become common, habitual, expected and lose impact.  When a spouse tosses in something special now and then it tells their partner they are not taken for granted.  A bonus side effect to this is that they are far less likely to take the everyday affection you give for granted as well.

You are worth my time and effort, and our relationship is a priority to me.
Going the extra mile is a deliberate act.  The very idea of doing something extra and making the choice to do it happen because of your feelings for your spouse.  They know you could have spent your time and energy doing something for yourself, or on anything else, but you invested it in them instead. 

I know what you like, and I like giving it to you.
When your spouse sees that not only do you know in your head what it is that pleases them, but you also feel joy in your heart when you provide them with it, a huge emotional bond is created or strengthened.  Knowing your spouse 'gets' you is a very powerful thing.  It is an important element of all emotional intimacy. 

We are supposed to go the extra mile in our jobs, our callings and in serving others.  Certainly should make a point of going above and beyond the usual in our marriages as well.  And when you go the extra mile for your spouse a few times, don't be too surprised if they start going the extra mile for you in return.