The Institution of Marriage: A Matter of Dedication and Constraint
It is indeed an honor to speak to you. I have enjoyed a wonderful marriage of 33 years, and we’ve had a lot of great experiences together. But beyond that, I have been doing this marriage and family therapy for most all of that time, and so after teaching my marriage class and family and stress class and family relations class at Weber State, I go over in the later afternoon and evening and meet with couples. And I’ve been doing that for a lot of years. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, and one of my purposes today is to help you get a vision of this bigger picture and of this institution of marriage, of which you join when you become married.
I want to begin by saying it seems like 33 years is a long time, which is longer than I was single. And we’ve had a lot of great experiences, but I want to share with you—one of my privileges is serving on the Utah Commission on Marriage. And so, for the last seven or eight years, I’ve served on that commission, and was just released as the chair of that commission. And one of the things that we do is to recognize couples who have extraordinary marriages as well as long-term marriages. And I want to introduce to you a very important theme couple for me and for my message to you today. And they are Ken and Lola Olsen. Aren’t they the cutest couple that you’ve ever seen? And I had the opportunity to take this photograph. They have been married for 70 years. That means, Pam, we only have 37 more years to go.
I want to tell you a little bit about Ken and Lola Olsen. They live in Davis County, and I’ll bet that there are people—would you raise your hand if you personally know Ken and Lola from Davis County? Do we have anyone? That surprises me, because they have touched so many lives in their lifetime together. They have 7 children, 20 grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren. And I would like to suggest that there are 35 great-grandchildren that are very fortunate to go over to Grandma Lola’s house and Grandpa Ken’s house. Because you can see in this picture—the reason that I love this picture so much is, one, to honor the 70 years. But it’s not just 70 years. You can see the adoration that they have for each other. They love each other, they laugh together, they have struggled together, they had these children together and grandchildren together and great-grandchildren together. And I personally have, in my office, their photo sitting on my office, just above the view of my computer. So I get to look up and glance at them, and I have made them my poster child, my vision of what is possible with Pam and me.
Come on up here for a minute. I’m a pretty lucky guy, to be married to Pam, and one of these days, we’re going to be on a poster. All right? We are going to enjoy the blessings of having spent all of these years together. And I can tell you already, with our five children and eight grandchildren—in fact, we had two of them sleep over last night—that this is a wonderful journey. And I am so grateful for those lives, those little people’s lives in our world, and I bring Ken and Lola to you today—I know, you’re thinking, “How did he get someone like that?”—I’m trying to bring to you the vision of this. So often when we get married—we just had our last daughter marry in May—it is this thought of planning a wedding, and that somehow the wedding is the marriage. And it’s a wonderful start to the marriage, and it’s even more wonderful when it’s made under covenant with your Father in Heaven. And He will bless you for time and all eternity.
But sometimes I think that we forget, in the excitement of the wedding, that this really is a long-term process, to be married, and that we really are joining—I mean, in the excitement of that wedding day, and I can remember sitting down in the temple, signing the witness form for our daughter to get married, and then coming in and signing—I don’t even think they know what they were signing. But they were signing up, at that time, to the institution of marriage. And I want to talk about that today.
To begin with, I want to go back to another story. This summer, we went up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and we ran the Snake River. We had a big raft and a friend that took us down, and we got onto the raft and we’re floating out in this beautiful, beautiful mountain setting, and we’re floating down the river, and it was getting a little bit boring, and so we had these giant squirt guns that you would fill up and you would shoot at the other rafts. So we created a little excitement and a little havoc, a little pushing away and splashing on, and it was all beautiful fun. But as we got down the river, we started to hit rapids, and all of a sudden you find yourself hanging on a little stronger. We’re all laughing, especially us guys, being brave—“That wasn’t that bad”—and then we came upon a bend and turned into the Big Kahuna. How many of you have survived the Big Kahuna? Let me tell you about the Big Kahuna. You’re in this large—seemingly large—boat, raft, we’re hanging on, and the guide tells us to hang on particularly tight. Well, what happens is that you’re cruising along and it starts to get rough, and then it goes straight down, and then it goes straight up.
Now, I did not realize that the people in front of me would be landing on me, and I’m holding on me with all of my heart, and they’re landing on me and this silly, little joyful squeals become screams of terror. We come up over the top—I was sure we’d go backwards. We didn’t, and then we came down, and we headed right down again, and then right back up again. And it was so scary, because you realized, whoa, I am such a little person compared to the power of that river. We made it through, it smoothed out for a little while, and we count heads, and everyone had survived.
And it was a humbling experience, because in life, we’re going to face some Great Kahunas. We’re going to deal with some things in our life that are challenging and are difficult. Your marriage is wonderful and beautiful and celebratory as it is at that wedding, there is going to come a time when you will be challenged. And you will be challenged with the Great Kahunas of life.
You know, Ken and Lola look so cute and look so happy, and they are. But I would like to share with you that they have endured the death of a son. They have raised a special-needs son. They had their house burn down. They’ve survived two types of cancer, had two strokes, and continue to deal with other physical ailments that they have to deal with. I don’t think you would call them lucky, on one hand, and yet, as you read their bio information, they share that their key to success is unity in all things. They work together on the same purpose and goals in every aspect of life, such as finances, childrearing, business, religion, etc. They always discuss everything and come to a unified decision before doing anything. Even after 70 years of marriage, they are always together, and looking forward to several more happy years.
I want to share with you today, keeping them in mind because for me, they sit in my office as an inspiration, as a vision of where Pam and I can go. One of the most important things that can happen when you kneel at that altar or are blessed to be married to one another, is that you make a commitment. And I want to talk to you today about that commitment.
I would like to suggest a book by Scott Stanley. And this book is called The Power of Commitment. And if you thought you understood commitment, you ought to read this book, to really understand the depth—I’m going to try to help you with some concepts today. But this would be a good read, to understand the true power of commitment in our lives, and in our marriage in particular.
There are two types, Stanley explains, of commitment. The first type he calls dedication. The dedication commitment—this is the one where you’re so excited to be together and you love each other, and you’re devoted to each other, and it gives you this motivation to see to the future and to love and to fill each other’s needs and to be the wife I want to be and the husband I want to be, and I am dedicated and I am devoted to this person for the rest of my life and for time and for all eternity. And that dedication commitment is a wonderful part. I think when you look at Ken and Lola, they love each other. They like each other! They enjoy each other. They’re there for each other, and they feel of the love and nurturing of each other. And that’s what makes the Great Kahunas doable. And that’s what makes that time together so enjoyable. And so there is that dedication commitment. And I commit to you.
But I would also suggest that sometimes dedication commitment, when the Big Kahunas come one after another, and the excitement of the wedding and the joy of that courtship time and the familiarity becomes a part—there is another layer of commitment that you are making on that day of your marriage. And we would call that a constraint commitment. The constraint commitment, basically, is a sense of obligation—I am committed and I am obligated. My sweet wife has given 33 years of her life to me, and I am obligated to take care of her as well. It refers to the costs if the current course is abandoned. During the Big Kahuna rapids in life, it is often the constraint commitments that work to help us work it out. “I’m out of here” probably isn’t in the best welfare of all of the people involved. And as you get children invested and other people invested in your relationship, it cannot be “until boredom do we part.” It cannot be until I find someone I would rather be with. And there’s an interesting social pressure.
We talk about those who might attack the institution of marriage, but it’s happening in a very subtle way. Many of you grew up, as I did, in the last few years, watching the show Friends. Isn’t that neat? One of my favorite characters is Jennifer. I don’t know—what’s her name in the show? Rachel? She’s a cutie, and she is just full of energy. And these sitcoms show a bunch of single people together, just enjoying life and having a lot of laughs. But the research shows that over the course of that program, Jennifer had 32 sexual partners. And in a subtle way, that’s what some would call a good life. He who dies with the most partners… He usually dies of AIDS, but you know, in television we don’t get pregnant when we don’t want to, and we don’t get AIDS, and we just have a good time and people kind of come into our lives and enrich it. But I would suggest that that’s a dangerous, very subtle marriage.
I tell you what—Ken and Lola have what they have today, not because they were transients in each other’s lives, but they were devoted and committed and constrained in that marriage. And yet it’s interesting—I don’t think Ken and Lola would ever use the word “constrained,” because when you are dedicated to your marriage, you don’t feel constrained. In fact, you celebrate those constraints.
But I want to talk a little bit about those constraints. I believe in marriage, and I don’t want to be divorced, and I don’t want to see the effects on my children, and financially it’s a horrible decision for anyone to go through. They don’t want to go through the pain themselves; they certainly don’t want to go through the legal system and that legal process. And probably most powerfully, I don’t want to see the pain of our children. It’s very difficult for a mother or father to do things that would be contrary to those children’s best interests. And so those constraint commitments—we are dedicated, but we’re also committed on a second level. You put those two commitments together and it’s like an epoxy glue, where you mix the one with the other and it becomes a super glue. It becomes a super bonding relationship. And it is very important. I think our society is getting away from committing to things. We tend to lease vehicles, and we trade them in after a few miles. And that seems to be our norm. And sometimes that thought pattern diminishes that commitment that we need to have for one another.
So this commitment is really important. And I want to talk to you about the institution of marriage, and what it does for us. To begin with, I’d like to share a little story of these two fish, swimming in the ocean together. They’re swimming along, enjoying life, and the one fish says to the other fish, “How’s the water?”
The other fish says, “What water?” You see, if you’ve always lived in water, you don’t even know it’s there. I would like to suggest that the institution of marriage is probably something that you haven’t really spent a lot of time pondering. We think of love, we think of partnership, but there is an institution of marriage that is very, very important and produces some very wonderful things in our lives if we will respect it and preserve it. And it’s a very important factor.
One of my intense hobbies—I am an avid wildlife photographer. And I love to go out and photograph wildlife, anything from little birds to bull moose, I’m game for. And I love to take pictures of them. The closer to nature that you get, and you really do get close to nature when you sit there for a long, long time, waiting for that bird to land on that branch or that big buck—I got a huge picture of a big buck this weekend that was just incredible. But as I get close to nature, I begin to realize that that wildlife depends on the environment. And even though I perhaps wouldn’t call myself an avid environmentalist, it is obvious that if we don’t protect the environment, these good things do not survive. If anyone can just poach whatever they want, shoot whatever they want, disregard the importance of the water—you know, we all live downstream—and we like to suggest and say, “You know, that’s just their own business.”
But I would like to suggest to you that marriage might be between a man and a woman, but it also has a big effect of the rest of us. There is a study that shows, by Dave Schramm from Utah State, in a conservative estimate, there is a direct and indirect cost to the state and federal government each year for the divorces that occur, a cost of 300 million dollars for the state of Utah, in just the cost of these marriages breaking down. There is a cost of about $18,000 for each of the couples to go through this process. And I want to go back to that overall environment. We are affected by the health and by the lack of health of the marriage and the marriage institution in our state and in our nation. In the Marriage Commission, our purpose is to help people form and sustain healthy and enduring marriages.
If we go back to Ken and Lola, those 7 children and 20 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren are the result of a marriage working and sustaining. And interestingly enough, there are some statistics that suggest that if your grandparents were divorced, it affects the quality of the marriage—on average, statistically—of the grandchildren’s quality of marriage. And that’s even if these grandchildren were not alive before those grandparents got divorced. There is a multi-generational effect of marriage in the institution of marriage.
I’d like to share some things about the institution of marriage and how it benefits us. Most of this comes from a report—actually, it was a hearing before the Congress, of Barbara Defoe Whitehead. She is the co-director of the National Marriage Project. And she points out that “marriage is a universal human institution. It performs a number of key functions in virtually every known society. Marriage helps organize kinship. It establishes family identity. It regulates sexual behavior. It attaches fathers to their offspring. It supports childrearing. It channels the flow of economic resources and the mutual care given between generations. And it situates individuals within families, kinship groups and communities.”
Perhaps even more important for me, as a marriage counselor, it creates the context for intimacy, and builds a sense of belonging among its members. It is this commitment to one another that allows us to have a secure setting for us to experience this intimacy one with another, and to be able to predict the future.
I’m going to take you back for just a minute, give you a little history here. Sometimes we don’t appreciate that the government is involved in our marriage. What are they doing involved in our marriage? But we are highly invested in it. I want to take you back to a little history of caveman. You know, the caveman, he was an interesting character. Him like sex. And so he thinks he go find a woman—kind of like Brian Mitchell and Elizabeth Smart, you know? You just find one, take her, and have sex.
Well, the problem with that is that, number one, it wasn’t mutual consent—in the Brian Mitchell case, and the age difference, obviously—but it also puts women to a major vulnerability, because in the jungle when you’re eight months pregnant, it is hard to run from the saber tooth tigers, okay? There is a vulnerability here. How am I going to survive and do the things that I need to do now that I’m pregnant? How am I going to survive when that child is born, because now I have to carry an additional load running from the saber tooth tiger? And I think eventually the tribe started to say, the parents started to say, “No, if you like my daughter, there are some rules here that need to apply.” And the tribe would say, “Yes, there are some rules that need to apply.” Eventually, churches got into the picture and said, “You know what? There are some rules that need to apply.” And as a father of four daughters, I’ll tell you what—there are some rules that need to apply.
These rules become codified and they become a part of law, and there are certain things that you’re not going to be allowed to do, and there are certain things you need to do if you’re going to decide to be together. And so this institution of marriage regulates the sexual access to other people, and it protects that couple. It ensured that not only does the caveman just disappear, but it also ensures that the cavewoman doesn’t take my son and just disappear—that there is a constraint commitment that we have made to each other, and that we will be there for each other through the two strokes, through the cancer, through the difficult child that we needed to raise that had special needs, and even through the tragic death of our son, that we will be there for you. This isn’t just caveman whoopee. This is about becoming devoted and committed to each other.
So what happens when people are devoted and committed to each other? Well, marriage is good for children. Statistically, children who come from marriages have advantages emotionally and educationally. It brings together under one roof a mother and a father who share a mutual interest in that child’s welfare. Economically, children from intact families are far less likely to be poor. Educationally, they are far more likely to stay in school, to get a four-year degree, and to be successful in their occupation.
Children benefit from the model of their parents being married. How many of you—I ask my classes this all the time—how many of you would like to have a marriage like your mother and father have? Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t that wonderful that you came from a model of an example? You have your own Ken and Lola in your life that will show you how it is to be done. Isn’t that wonderful?
We also know that marriage is good for the individual adults—the spouses, the husband and wife. It says that “married people are better off than those who are not married in a number of ways. On average, they are happier. They are healthier. They are wealthier. They enjoy longer lives. They report greater sexual satisfaction than single, divorced or cohabiting individuals. They live longer. They have better health.”
They have better health because married men, in particular, are a lot better off. Marriage tends to help men settle down. This is often due to their wives. It is not good that man should be left alone for very long. And that care of the wife, and that devotion to the family, to the commitment, to the children, help men to live less risky lives and to be more devoted and interested.
Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories. Indeed, for men, marriage reaps as many benefits as education. That’s an interesting thought. This is just good stuff for us. Marriage strengthens the bonds between fathers and their children. I think one of the most painful things that I watch is fathers that do not have that daily access to their children, and children who do not have that daily access to their fathers. Women gain financially from marriage, although married women often leave the workforce to care for children or other relatives, on average, they are still economically better off than divorced, cohabitating or never-married women. It’s good for everyone involved.
Married women also enjoy their sex lives more than sexually active single or cohabitating women, a finding the researchers attribute to women’s greater trust and expectations of marital monogamy and permanence. It’s where intimacy on all levels can be safe enough to invest and to give fully, one with another.
Marriage is good for society. It is certainly important for the institution of raising children. It’s interesting that when marriages break up or fail to form, the task of childrearing becomes harder, lonelier and more stressful for parents, especially those who are single parents. Paternity establishments, child support, child custody, children’s living arrangements and even their school, sports, and religious activities, become a matter of government oversight and enforcement. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, and that’s why the Commission of Marriage exists, because the government would like you to succeed. It is very expensive when it doesn’t work.
But even more than that, I want to share with you something that you’re probably all very familiar with called The Proclamation on the Family. It doesn’t go back to the caveman. It goes to the solemn proclamation that “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God…God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between a man and woman, lawfully wedded [to be] husband and wife.”
“Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.”
“We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”
The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is central 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” (The Family: A Proclamation to the World, 1995.
My brothers and sisters, I come to you today with this message, that marriage, if you ponder it, is just a little bit bigger than “just the two of us.” Indeed, you join an institution that is there to protect you, to bless you, and to help your lives to be healthier and stronger. I hope that my message today helps you realize that institution of marriage is very important. It’s what helps us get through the “Big Kahuna.”
But lastly, I would like to suggest that all of those constraint commitments, all of those legal bonds, mean nothing—well, they do mean something—but they’re not the focus of Ken and Lola. Ken and Lola are seventy years into this process because they are dedicated to it, and they’re dedicated to be there for one another. And I believe that they really had the power when they made that commitment to one another and to their Father in Heaven. I bear testimony to you of the importance and the value of marriage in our lives. Don’t underestimate how important it is, because all of you, I hope, today, have a vision of Ken and Lola, of Pam and Randy, of you and your partner, living out a wonderful life where you are enriched, your children’s lives are enriched, your grandchildren’s lives are enriched, and the society in which you live is enriched. I bear testimony to you that marriage is ordained of God, and important to protect and preserve. And I do this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.