By Felice Austin, C.Ht.
Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other.
–The Family: A Proclamation to the World
When God first created the earth and man, he said, “It is not good for the man to be alone, I will make an help meet for him” (Genesis 2:18). The phrase ‘help meet’ (Hebrew ‘ezer kanegdo) is an interesting one. When I was pregnant, I felt inspired to take a Hebrew class, and from this introduction to Hebrew, I came to understand how much of the richness, the many-layered and poetic meanings, of Hebrew words and phrases is lost in translation. For example, in this phrase, ‘ezer, which in this context is translated as help (or helper) has the English connotation of an assistant of lesser status. However, in Hebrew, the word implies an equal if not a superior. In fact in other places throughout the Old Testament. God is an ‘ezer to man. Jolene Edmunds Rockwood, in her article “The Redemption of Eve,” states: “A more accurate translation in this context would be ‘strength’ or ‘power.'”
The second part of the word which is translated as “meet,” in Hebrew means “fit for” and has roots in the Hebrew word “equal to.” Thus the whole phrase could read “power or strength equal to.” The Joseph Smith Translation corroborates this. It reads: “a helper suited to, worthy of, or corresponding to him” (JST Gen 2:18). Thus we learn that men and women were created to be equal partners and strengths to one another.
If this is your first pregnancy, chances are that up until now, your marital roles were similar. With pregnancy, however many things may need to change or be re-evaluated. These changes can put stress on the strongest relationship. Nurturing a marriage during this time is crucial to your future success and happiness.
Bone of My Bone and Flesh of My Flesh
Upon being presented Eve, I like to imagine that Adam’s reaction was one of surprise and delight. He then says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23):
In Hebrew, these phrases indicate a closeness, a blood relationship between the two parties, and in this case a unified companionship between the man and the woman. But the phrases are also used in other places in the Old Testament to describe two parties who are not necessarily blood relatives but who have made a covenant with each other.
What is also interesting is that bone in Hebrew symbolizes power, and flesh weakness. Rockwood explains, “Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh thus becomes a ritual pledge to be bound in the best of circumstances (power) as well as the worst (weakness).” Adam’s use of it here is similar to the words of the modern day marriage vow which requires commitment “for better or for worse.” Depending on your circumstances, you may experience pregnancy in sickness or in health, for better or for worse. For many couples, pregnancy is the first true test of these vows.
In Genesis 2:24, God lays out the marriage covenant for Adam and Eve’s posterity: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Cleaving to one’s spouse means not only remaining with them, but also being unified in action and decision making.
When Eve made her decision to take the fruit, the scriptures tell us that Adam was with her. “[Eve] gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat” (Genesis 3: 6). Whether or not he was physically beside her when she took the fruit doesn’t matter-what matters is that they were united. As we know, Eve’s decision was not just to eat to become wise, but hers was a thoughtful, brave decision to fulfill her mission on the earth-to be the mother of all living.
Though most of this book is about becoming parents and the importance of children in God’s plan, Genesis 2:24 reminds us that the ultimate end of God’s plan is about couples. Ideally, all of our children will find spouses and leave us to cleave unto them. And in the next life, though we may be bound through sealing powers, we will not be living in families of six or eight, but in married couples. This doctrinal foundation can also be found in D&C 49:16: “It is lawful that he should have one wife, and they twain shall be one flesh, and all this that the earth might answer the end of its creation.”
Keeping sight of this goal amidst the day-to-day struggles of raising a family may be a challenge but can be done successfully. Elder Russel M. Nelson stated that marriage brings greater possibilities for happiness than does any other relationship. In his April 2006 Conference address, Elder Nelson suggests specific actions to strengthen marriage and make it more joyful. I have chosen to elaborate on Elder Nelson’s three action verbs-appreciate, communicate, and contemplate-to structure the information below.
Elder Nelson taught:
[T]o say “I love you” and “thank you”-is not difficult. But these expressions of love and appreciation do more than acknowledge a kind thought or deed. They are signs of sweet civility. As grateful partners look for the good in each other and sincerely pay compliments to one another, wives and husbands will strive to become the persons described in those compliments.
Returning to the Joseph Smith Translation of “help meet,” in Genesis 2:18 we read “a helper suited to, worth of or corresponding to him.” Notice that the translation does not say corresponding with him-which would mean they were identical-but rather corresponding to him. Corresponding to is defined as “associated in a working or other relationship: a bolt and its corresponding nut.”
Often couples believe that their similarities far outweigh the differences. However, over time, they may discover that they think and behave in opposite ways. While some of this may be gender related, it is not always helpful to generalize based on gender. The reality is that we are wired by God to be attracted to those who are most complementary to us, which can sometimes feel like oppositeness. However, if you could float up out of your body for a moment and view your relationship with perspective, you might see that your partner’s strengths fill in areas you may lack and vise versa. For example, while one of you might be more logic ruled or have trouble expressing emotion, the other may be more emotionally ruled and love to touch and hug and express. Both logic and emotion are necessary in the relationship. The trouble comes, however, when we judge each other based on our own behavior and allow feelings of rejection to compound. When we learn to accept and appreciate our differences, frustrations minimize and joy can abound.
The Importance of Appreciation – The Rice Experiment
In response to Japanese Scientist Masaru Emoto’s discoveries about the ability of words and pictures to transform the properties of water, one family in Japan decided perform an experiment. This experiment was later published and repeated by families all over Japan with the same results.
The family placed rice in two glass jars and for a month the entire family said “Thank you” to one jar and “you fool” to the other. “After a month, the rice that was told ‘thank you’ started to ferment, with a mellow smell like that of malt, while the rice that was exposed to ‘you fool,’ rotted and turned black.”
Later, a third jar of rice was added to the experiment, which was simply ignored. This rice actually rotted faster than the rice that was given negative attention. ]
Elder Nelson’s recommendations about communication are in italics. Below each of his recommendations, I have included actual comments in regards to continuing courtship and improving communication from couples that have submitted to this book.
“Good communication includes taking time to plan together. Couples need private time to observe, to talk, and really listen to each other.”
- Amigo Talk– We were getting so busy we sometimes didn’t even see each other in a day. So, in addition to a weekly date, we scheduled in a fifteen-minute chat every day. Some days it is early in the morning, but we just do it. Only on certain days are we allowed to talk about money and scheduling (we leave most of the money talks for our credit counseling sessions.) The rest of the time we talk about ideas and feelings and we take turns listening.
- Plan dates– We take turns planning a dates that are conducive to talking. Now that we have kids, they are mostly free dates since we have to pay for a babysitter.
- Plan a trip– We planned a last hurrah “just us” trip when I was in my second trimester.
- Walk– My midwife told me that if I walked 5 miles/day my baby would slide out of me, so I made my darling husband walk with me. The weather was nice and in the evening it is somewhat magical. We talked as we walked. I fell in love with my husband all over again.
- Be Creative– My husband played along with me and made birth art. He actually really enjoyed it and it was very cool to hear his explanation of his art.
- Learn New Tools– We went to counseling to work on our communication. My sister is a therapist, and she said that too often people go to marriage counseling when things are beyond repair, so we decided to not wait till then. We learned great tools we still use.
“They need to cooperate-helping each other as equal partners.”
- My husband is not very handy, but I was so big I couldn’t play carpenter, so he put the crib together while I read the directions, and we actually managed quite nicely. He had a great sense of accomplishment about it.
- When my husband saw how much there was to do, he just jumped in and did more. He knew I couldn’t do it all alone.
“They need to nurture their spiritual as well as physical intimacy.”
- When President Hinkley challenged everyone to read The Book of Mormon by the end of the year, it really got us motivated. Reading the scriptures together every day brought us so much closer.
- When I wasn’t at all interested in sex, I was still interested in foot rubs. So, every night we took turns giving each other foot rubs-and the funny thing is, it usually got me more interested in sex. We also used the foot rub time to talk about our changing sexual identities and fears.
- At night, we lay together in bed and breathed in an out in unison, and many nights my husband would practice various relaxation techniques with me. Pregnancy was turning out to be pretty doggone romantic.
“They should strive to elevate and motivate each other.”
- We took a complete childbirth education course together that was highly recommended by a friend. It was a ton of fun and we enjoyed practicing at home.
- We took turns writing in the baby journal we bought. It was nice to read what my husband wrote every other day. His words of love and encouragement uplifted me so much, and I think the baby felt them too.
- Serving each other and others motivates us. We made sure to always look for opportunities, especially while pregnant before the baby came. This got us ready to serve the new little spirit.
“Marital unity is sustained when goals are mutually understood.”
- We keep a goals-and-dreams chart where we list our goals and dreams and rate them by importance.
- One thing that helped us is when we realized that in order to reach our goals we needed to state them in positive terms. For example, rather than making our goal “to avoid traumatic birth” we stated it as “to enjoy a comfortable, peaceful birth experience that will promote even more love and intimacy.”
“Good communication is also enhanced by prayer. To pray with specific mention of a spouse’s good deed (or need) nurtures a marriage.”
- We make sure to kiss after every prayer we say together.
- When we’re traveling apart, we try to say prayers at the same time. It is strange, but I can feel when he’s praying for me.
- I never get tired of hearing him thank Heavenly Father for his beautiful, amazing wife.
What to Talk About
Successfully transitioning from couplehood to parenthood requires more than just a hopeful wish. In a study of 250 couples from third trimester to third birthday, researchers Belsky and Kelly, who wrote The Transition to Parenthood: How a First child Changes a Marriage, found that 51% of marriages declined after the first baby, 30% experienced no change, and 19% improved. They identified several of the characteristics of the improvers: “[M]ost important in facilitating a husband’s and wife’s smooth passage through the transition included the ability to surrender individual goals and needs and work together as a team.”
They identified five issues about which new parents disagree most. They are:
- Division of Labor
- Their relationship (which one is to blame for disconnection or stress)
- Social life (are we going out enough?)
Pam England and Rob Horowitz, authors of Birthing From Within, added a sixth big issue, based on their clinical experience: in-Laws. One or both of you may need to reevaluate painful loyalty conflicts between your family of origin and your new family. If this is the case, you may want to contemplate the Lord’s words to Adam and Eve: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
In their chapter called “Baby Proofing Your Marriage,” England and Horowitz recommend making a postpartum adjustment plan, which includes brainstorming possible issues, possible solutions, and listing small first steps. In the appendix of this book, you will find a simple example of such a plan which we hope you will find useful. “Quite simply,” summarize researchers Belsky and Kelly, “couples who manage to resolve these issues in a mutually satisfactory way become happier with their marriage, whereas those who do not become unhappier.” Thus, good communication equals more happiness in marriage after the baby comes.
Elder Nelson taught:
This word has deep meaning. It comes from Latin roots: con, meaning “with,” and templum, meaning “a space or place to meditate.” It is the root from which the word temple comes. If couples contemplate often-with each other in the temple-sacred covenants will be better remembered and kept. Frequent participation in temple service and regular family scripture study nourish a marriage and strengthen faith within a family. Contemplation allows one to anticipate and to resonate (or be in tune) with each other and with the Lord. Contemplation will nurture both a marriage and God’s kingdom.
As Elder Nelson explains, contemplation is one of the many words for meditation. Meditation in the Lord’s house frequently is ideal, as is meditating in your home. As we learn in the Bible Dictionary, “only the home can compare with the temple in sacredness.” If your homes are not already a templum-a place or space to meditate-then join your efforts to make it so.
As I describe in the meditation chapter, meditation is a set of principles and practices that invite the Spirit of the Lord. The power of this Holy Spirit should not be underestimated, especially as it relates to strengthening marriage. The Spirit is the binding agent in the universe. It is by the Holy Spirit of Promise that we are sealed in celestial marriage and eternal families. Elder Parley P. Pratt described the effects of making the Holy Spirit fully present in our lives:
[The Holy Ghost] quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands and purifies all the natural passions and affections and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness and charity. It develops beauty of person, form and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.
If the spark, passion, or tenderness has gone out of your marriage, it is time invite the Spirit back in. There are many different ways to enjoy meditating as a couple. I highly recommend reading the meditation chapter together and instituting a daily practice of meditation. As Christ taught us, when we seek first to build up the kingdom of God and to establish His righteousness, “all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12:30-31).
Our Perfect Example
As Latter-Day Saints, we know that marriage is an essential part of God’s plan of happiness, yet it is easy to become disheartened when couples you once admired split up. You may wonder who, if anyone, you can look to as an example. In Doctrine & Covenants 52, we read the Lord’s words, “I will give unto you a pattern in all things, that ye may not be deceived” (verse 14). The Lord has given us patterns to follow-they are in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, The Doctrine & Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price, The Proclamation on the Family, and in the temple ceremony. If you read the scriptures and attend the temple prayerfully, you will find the answers and patterns you need, so that you will not be deceived. This is a process that you may need to do over an over again as your marriage and family circumstances change.
Sometimes, despite how well we know our partner when we marry, we cannot always predict what the journey will bring. Marriage is a condition of agency. For those who are married to a non-member or to a spouse who as become inactive, there is also a pattern for you. In 1 Corinthians 7, we read Paul’s words.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy . . . . For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save they husband? Or how knowest thou, O Man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? (vs. 13-16)
However, regardless of your spouses’s status in the Church, if you are being abused, or think you are being abused (it is usually hard to tell because abuse turns us upside down in many ways), I invite you to read the resources in the appendix about abuse, and counsel with your bishop or Relief Society President immediately. They have resources that can help you. The most important thing is to make sure that you and your baby are removed from physical and psychological harm as soon as possible so that you may begin to heal. Heavenly Father has no tolerance for abuse. The Proclamation on the Family warns that “individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.”
As Elder Nelson and others have observed, “each marriage starts with two built-in handicaps. It involves two imperfect people.” This understatement returns us, once again, to the subject of first parents. Adam and Eve made the unified decision and “fell” from their perfect state so that mankind might be. Flaws, fears, vulnerability, pain, and sin are conditions of mortal life-as are pleasure, victory, and love. Adam and Eve may have begun just as naïve as any newlywed couple when they set out into the world outside of Eden. They looked forward to parenthood, but neither had any earthly parents or previous experiences to draw upon and no books to read. Yet as they faced each new unknown, they had knowledge of the plan of happiness and the doctrine of the Atonement.
As followers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can use Christ as our ultimate happy couple example. Though we don’t know much about Christ’s marriage or about our Heavenly Parents’, we know that Christ is the perfect example for both men and women in all things. Couples will achieve more and more happiness as they learn about the life of Jesus Christ and embrace the advice in 2 Nephi 31:12 “Follow me, and do the things which ye have seen me do.”
*Sorry the footnotes didn’t translate. We’ll add these manually soon.