While each of us is responsible for our own happiness—a joy that grows as we increasingly become true disciples of Jesus Christ—there are many things that a husband can do to make his wife happier. And interestingly, his own joy will increase with hers.
In Ephesians 5:25 we read: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” What a beautiful message!
“If a husband will put his wife’s needs above his own, his love for her will increase. That’s the counsel given by President Henry B. Eyring … who repeats a three-word teaching often given to husbands by prophets and apostles: ‘Love your wife.’ It will take faith and humility to put her interests above your own in the struggles of life” (Ensign, January 2014, emphasis added).
I testify to the veracity of President Eyring’s words. When we are truly attentive to our wives, and when we impart small acts of service and words of affection, we can not only help them to be happier, but our love for them will increase, our own happiness will surge and we will fall deeper in love with our eternal companions than ever before. I would also like to stress, as President Eyring says, that this requires humility and faith.
Elder Richard G. Scott teaches: “Do you tell your wife often how very much you love her? It will bring her great happiness. I’ve heard men tell me when I say that, ‘Oh, she knows.’ You need to tell her. A woman grows and is greatly blessed by that reassurance. Express gratitude for what your spouse does for you. Express that love and gratitude often” (Ensign, January 2014).
Notice the resistance of some husbands to Elder Scott’s suggestion, “Oh, she knows.” Throughout my academic career working in organizational psychology, mediation and as a member The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have noticed that there are individuals who find it very challenging to either receive or offer words of praise and affection. I suspect that some of these, in their formative childhood stages, did not hear many words of approval in their homes. Certainly, people grow up in diverse family cultures in terms of words of love, affection and approval.
The good news is that we can improve our culture of expressing approval and affection, both in our families and elsewhere, and break away from negative cycles. I know Church members who in their youth saw family behaviors they did not like and have taken important steps not to repeat them in their own families now that they are adults. In other words, we can do much to transform the cultures we participate in, into positive ones. When people are complaining, for instance, all it often takes is for one person to say something kind and positive to turn around a conversation.
Some find it more comfortable to praise individuals outside their family circle, but this may also be corrected. Others notice it is easier to love their children over their spouses, as love for the children is generally unconditional.
President Spencer W. Kimball quoted D&C 42:22 in this context: “‘Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else.’ … The words none else eliminate everyone and everything’” including children and parents (Teachings of the Prophet Spencer W. Kimball, Chapter 18).
President Russell M. Nelson affirms that of all priesthood duties, none of them are of greater import than our responsibility to our wives (Ensign, January 2014).
Words of approval are compelling
One brother, upon hearing me speak on this topic of loving our wives and showing affection for them, asked, “But what if my marriage is not working out so well?” I would like to stress that words of affection, tenderness and appreciation, as well as loving actions towards our wives must exist without them having to pay a price or earn it in some way. Every marriage has its challenges, but there are excellent ways to dialogue and talk about these. Trials must not, cannot, mean that we stop expressing love and affection for our wives. Occasionally, I can see the pain in sisters who do not feel appreciated by their husbands.
As a university academic, I developed a model that revolutionized performance appraisals in some enterprises. How? Incorporating, as a pillar of the process, sincere and well-studied praise, avoiding certain bad habits that destroy sentiments of approval. Such as giving a half-baked compliment or implying that we want something in return for our tenderness or kind actions. The idea was to put praise in appraisals.
“I had never been praised in such a positive manner,” one supervisor expressed, moved by the kind words of owner of the enterprise, during one such Negotiated Performance Appraisal (NPA). She then added with feelings of regret, “And I haven’t praised my subordinates that way either.” The effect of the NPA process often causes people to return to work the next day with renewed energy and improved performance.
It is not the praise which caused these changes, however. Praise is not given by the supervisors in the hope of getting improved performance. No, but the positive comments pave the way for improved dialogue—where people feel free to talk about anything including those matters that they often do not speak about—between supervisor and subordinate. So, at the end, both the praise and the dialogue help people feel valued and injects them with a desire to improve.
Tenderness and love in our marriages
When it comes to our marriage, we also do not praise our wives in view of getting something in return. Rather, we permit the pure love of Christ to burst forth in our hearts for them. In marriage, I insist, we increase our tenderness and love to bring happiness to our wives. And of course, nothing prevents us from having these productive conversations. But let’s remember that the only person we can change in our lives is ourselves. We may have great dialogues and conversations, but we cannot change others.
Just as the Spirit invites, but never compels—because that would take away our agency—we can set a selfless example to those around us. Inviting through our examples, but never compelling.
Returning to our topic, how much does it cost to give sincere praise? It is pride that stands in the way of prayer, and it is also the same pride that keeps us from praising our wives. Or, of allowing the erroneous idea that we will wait until she deserves it. Thus, the importance of President Eyring’s teachings about humility in this context.
We will know that we have truly succeeded in our praise when our wife joins the celebration about what she has done well or asks us to repeat the compliment or words of affection. The most typical way they will do so is by asking something like, “What did you say?” Sincere praise fills an important void in the lives of our wives.
What do we imagine Jesus Christ would say if He spoke to us? I think we would first feel of His love and realize that He has more confidence in us than what we have for ourselves. When I have the sacred privilege of exercising the priesthood through a blessing of health or comfort, I first try to focus on feeling that pure love of Christ for that person and I try to transmit it by speaking very slowly, in a paused fashion, and allowing the Spirit to be able to confirm those words of love and affection in the person who receives the blessing. When I say pause, this often means that I stop speaking completely for several seconds as directed by the Spirit. This opens the line of communication directly between the Spirit and the recipient of the blessing.
A wonderful Stake President, when he came to the last question in the temple recommend interview, arguably the most difficult, asked my daughter-in-law to ask God to help her answer that question. Terry shared that the feelings of love that poured over her from the Spirit where overwhelming and beautiful, and she was able to answer in the affirmative. Likewise, when giving a blessing, we are permitting the Lord to manifest His love for the person directly through these pauses where the Spirit can more fully permeate.
I invite you to offer a blessing of comfort to your eternal companion and begin with those words of love and affection as moved by the Spirit—without rushing this part of the blessing.
I also like to interview the person who asks for a blessing and listen to the desires of her heart before beginning. On one occasion, just before his martyrdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith asked his beloved Emma to write down all the desires with the idea that he would then sign the blessing. He knew that she would not ask for anything inappropriate. She took this assignment very seriously and her words are very poetic:
“First of all that I would crave as the richest of heaven’s blessings would be wisdom from my Heavenly Father bestowed daily, so that whatever I might do or say, I could not look back at the close of the day with regret, nor neglect the performance of any act that would bring a blessing. I desire the Spirit of God to know and understand myself, that I desire a fruitful, active mind, that I may be able to comprehend the designs of God, when revealed through his servants without doubting. I desire a spirit of discernment, which is one of the promised blessings of the Holy Ghost. I particularly desire wisdom to bring up all the children that are, or may be committed to my charge, in such a manner that they will be useful ornaments in the Kingdom of God, and in a coming day arise up and call me blessed… that I may wear a cheerful countenance, live to perform all the work that I covenanted to perform in the spirit-world and be a blessing to all who may in any wise need aught at my hands. I desire with all my heart to honor and respect my husband … ever to live in his confidence and by acting in unison with him retain the place which God has given me by his side … I desire that whatever may be my lot through life I may be enabled to acknowledge the hand of God in all things.”
Over the decades, I have never experienced, in these preliminary interviews with those who have requested a blessing, an individual who has asked for something inappropriate. As we give these blessings, then, let us not forget that we should immerse ourselves with the Holy Ghost and first speak the words of love and affection that our Savior feels for that person. I think this is the most paramount part of any priesthood blessing, whether of health or comfort. Let us never forget that we are speaking, after all, through divine investiture given to us by our Savior.
Let us begin today, or continue if we are already doing so, to shower our wives with words of love and affection. We can leave them a poem in their scriptures; give them flowers or chocolates; bring them breakfast in bed, and the like. The Spirit will help us once we take the first step and accept this challenge. When we pray vocally as a family and as a couple, let us pray for our wife’s needs. Also, we can do the same in our private prayers.
Elder David A. Bednar explained: “We should remember that saying ‘I love you’ is only a beginning. We need to say it, we need to mean it, and most importantly we need consistently to show it. We need to both express and demonstrate love” (Ensign, January 2014).
And of course, prophets and apostles have also addressed similar words to our wives. They must also work to improve and become better wives. Therefore, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15).
May your wife never feel like a “woman forsaken and grieved in spirit” (Isaiah 54:6), but instead, may she ever experience life as a “wife of youth” (Isaiah 54:6), as the day you took her before the altar in the sealing room in the House of the Lord, to make her your eternal companion. May the Holy Spirit of Promise seal your marriage for all time and for all eternity.
Photo credit: Ryan Franco -unsplash