Marriage Advice

So a family member is officiating at mixed-faith wedding. He put together pieces of advice he had foraged from various sources and asked me to compile it into counsel he could give at the wedding. So I did. And I quite like it, so I’m going to post it here.

A few bits of trivia – the silverware story comes from a talk by F. Burton Howard, which can be seen and read here. I’ve edited it and paraphrased somewhat liberally, as I didn’t intend to publish it. I don’t think I’ve altered the narrative much, but I’ve probably broken some journalistic rules by altering the text slightly, as I intended this only to be spoken, not published.

The young physical therapist referenced in the story is none other than my own lovely wife, the bright and beautiful Mrs. Cornell.

And the church leader mentioned later is David O. McKay, my great-grandfather and the ninth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So here it is. Imagine a pastor/rabbi/priest/bishop saying this to you as you tie the knot.

There’s an old saying that a man’s life isn’t complete until he gets married, but once he’s married, he’s finished. That’s good for a laugh, but it’s just not true.

In the first place, married life is far more fulfilling than single life could ever be. But more importantly, marriage doesn’t finish anything. It’s the beginning of a journey together that will require all that you have and give back more joy than you can now imagine. But don’t kid yourself – marriage takes work.

One man compared his marriage to the precious silverware his wife had been collecting since their wedding. I want to share part of his story in his own words.

Here’s what he said:

“As is common today, when we married my wife registered with a local department store. Instead of listing all the pots and pans and appliances we needed and hoped to receive, she asked only for silverware. But when we opened the presents, there wasn’t a knife or fork in the lot.

“Two children came along while we were in law school. We had no money to spare. But when my wife worked as a part-time election judge or when someone gave her a few dollars for her birthday, she would quietly set it aside, and when she had enough she would go to town to buy a fork or a spoon. It took us several years to accumulate enough pieces to use them.

“This lead to many discussions at dinner as to which utensils to use. In those early days I would often vote for the stainless. It was easier. You could just throw it in the dishwasher after the meal, and it took care of itself. The silver, on the other hand, was a lot of work. It had to be hand washed and dried so that it would not spot, and put back in cloth pockets so it would not tarnish. If any tarnish was discovered, I was sent to buy silver polish, and together we carefully rubbed the stains away.

“Over the years we added to the set, and I watched with amazement how she cared for the silver. My wife was never one to get angry easily. However, I remember the day when one of our children somehow got hold of one of the silver forks and wanted to use it to dig up the backyard. That attempt was met with a fiery glare and a warning not to even think about it. Ever!

“For years I thought she was just a little bit eccentric, and then one day I realized that she had known for a long time something that I was just beginning to understand. If you want something to last forever, you treat it differently. You shield it and protect it. You never abuse it. You don’t expose it to the elements. You don’t make it common or ordinary. If it ever becomes tarnished, you lovingly polish it until it gleams like new. It becomes special because you have made it so, and it grows more beautiful and precious as time goes by. Marriage is just like that.”

A family member had a conversation with a 95-year-old man that put all this in perspective. Very early in her career and in her marriage, she was working as a physical therapist, and her elderly patient asked her if she had a husband. She told him she did. “Well, don’t you ever get divorced,” he said to her. “Remember, someone else will bug you just as much.”

That’s not a romantic thought, but it’s a practical one. It’s like what the wise man said: “Before marriage keep your eyes wide open. After marriage, keep them half closed.” Sharing a life with somebody creates opportunities for emotional intimacy that can’t be found in any other way. At the same time, it requires patience and a good deal of compromise. It can become far too easy to criticize or find fault with your spouse. Once you start down that road, it becomes very difficult to find your way back.

Even small things in marriages can become big problems if couples get complacent. It’s not hard to let practical, day-to-day concerns smother the romantic spark that was there in the early days. When things get hard, some couples start to mutter things like, “Well, the honeymoon is over.” The honeymoon doesn’t have to be over. It should never be over. But if you lose your way, and the honeymoon really is over, it can be rebooted. Just know that all of this requires commitment and effort.

A church leader at his own wedding anniversary referred to his marriage as 65 years of “wedded courtship.”

“Let us ever remember that love is the divinest attribute of the human soul,” he said. “Love must be fed. Love must be nourished; love can be starved to death just as literally as the body can be starved without daily sustenance. Enticing voices will speak to us of worldly achievements and acquisitions that may lead us on dangerous detours from which we can return only with great effort. Small, seemingly insignificant choices along the way will have large consequences that will determine our eventual destiny. Giving ourselves to one another in an eternal marriage is an unconditional giving of the whole person for the whole journey.”

That’s the key. You’re in this together, and nothing should tear you apart. Nothing else matters more. As distractions come your way, and they will come in forms large and small, you might be tempted to forget that. The same church leader once famously said that “no success can compensate for failure in the home.” Nothing you have done, and nothing you will ever do, will be as important as strengthening that unconditional, unwavering love that binds you together.

What you do today has profound consequences that you can only begin to understand. It has been said that marriage is ordained of God. I believe that is true. I also believe that through marriage, you begin to understand God’s purposes for you in ways that you never thought possible. God loves each of us with a purity and power beyond our comprehension. We get a taste of that love when, through marriage, we devote ourselves completely to someone else, when their life is more important to us than our own, and when the sole object of our lives is to make another person happy, no matter what price we must pay ourselves to make that happen. That’s the kind of love God has for you, and the kind of love you need to have for each other.

So don’t ever be satisfied with a mediocre marriage. Don’t ever let it settle into a domestic routine where you take each other for granted. Marriage isn’t a business partnership; it is a union of souls. On this beautiful day, as you two beautiful people see with clarity the power and purity of your love for one another, remember that this is only a glimpse of the deep joy that awaits you as you build your lives together.

Phase One

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