Revisiting the Idea of Stronger Marriages

We’re grumpy, but attractive.

In September, I blogged about The Myth of Traditional Marriage, reviewing studies from Stephenie Coontz’ book Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage.  As a follow up, I wanted to explore how we as Mormons can build stronger marriages.

The world is changing, and if we want to strengthen marriages, we need to deal with the reality that exists.  A few things have drastically changed in the last fifty years.  First of all, the wage gap between men and women has narrowed significantly, meaning that women no longer have the limited earning potential associated with discrimination and lack of higher education that was the norm through the 1970s.  At the same time, and probably because of this, male breadwinner jobs (jobs that can support a financially dependent wife and several dependent children) are no longer the norm.  Additionally, in a less recent change, children do not contribute financially to families as they did in agrarian society and even in urban society before views on child labor changed.  Children are full dependents, creating an additional financial strain on family incomes, particularly with rising college tuition costs.  Wages are no longer set with the assumption that one person will be the sole earner.  In order to support growing middle class families, it is increasingly likely that a family needs two steady incomes, and most middle-class educated women can earn more money by working than they would spend on child care. [1]

Men and women have more choice than ever before; divorce is more accessible and more viable an option than in the past.  People are living longer, enjoying fairly good health for decades longer than was true 150 years ago.  Those who marry expect to find personal happiness and sexual fulfillment in their marriages.  If they don’t, they can divorce and try their luck again.  Marriage is more work than ever since the bar for expectations is the highest it has been, and the barriers to exit are at an all-time low.  Artificially raising the barriers to exit by keeping women out of the workforce may sound like a winning strategy, but it is also a cynical and lazy strategy.  Suppressing agency is never the right way.

What’s Working

Still the best wedding scene in a movie ever.

Given these challenges, there are several things the church does very well to strengthen marriages.  There is such a focus on how we treat other family members that individuals who owe child support or who have relationships “not in harmony with the gospel” are ineligible and unworthy to enter the temple.  Although the Proclamation on the Family focuses on gender role separation, it also encourages individual adaptation as circumstances require.  The church also does a terrific job on the whole of providing larger community support for families in terms of play groups, carpooling, and adult networking.  While the needs of children often feel central to these efforts, the support provided also enables parents to have the support of other responsible parents.

Mormons have a consistent focus on making the home a haven, a respite from the cares of the working world.  This view of domestic life originated in the Victorian era when the male breadwinner model first emerged.  Beliefs surrounding the need to separate home and family from the economic struggle (men only) led to charging women with creating that haven in the home.  The ideal of a place of refuge for the family is still one Mormons hold dear, one that helps strengthen marriages.  Avoiding the excesses associated with alcohol use can also improve home life for those prone to substance abuse.

A recent study showed that regular church attendance is another way to strengthen marriages.  Couples who regularly attend church together are 46% less likely to divorce than couples who never attend, and 56% less likely to divorce than those who sometimes attend.  In a similar result, the more people who attended the wedding, the less likely the couple will divorce.  If over 200 people attended, there is a 92% increased chance they will stay together.  It’s this community support of the marriage that makes a marriage stronger, and Mormons do it well.

Another area of Mormon strength is frugality.  Those who spend the least on their wedding are the least likely to divorce.  Those who spent $20K or more on their wedding were 46% more likely to divorce.  That amount sounds extravagant by Mormon standards, but the average cost of a wedding today is $30K.  Couples who spent less than $1K on their wedding were 53% less likely to divorce than the reference point.  That’s a big difference.

Our Blind Spots

Strengths overplayed can become weaknesses.

Bondage in marriage should be consensual.

While gender role assumptions may work well for those who feel naturally inclined to divide labor in this manner, for those who don’t have those same interests, these assumptions feel stifling.  Lack of communication can lead to disillusionment if spouses carry unexamined assumptions into a new marriage.  Gender roles encourage entitlement between the sexes:  women feeling entitled to a life of dependence and financial ease with a worthy priesthood holder, and men feeling entitled to a soothing home environment, being greeted by cheerful cherubs and a hot wife. This entitlement can lead to resentment when expectations are not met.  Additionally, making hard-line assumptions about division of labor creates a lack of empathy when couples see their spouse as solely responsible for an area with no belief that they must support them and back them up.  If communication is poor, feelings of entitlement and resentment can build up and ultimately lead to divorce.

Our focus on chastity protects singles from the difficulties of unwanted pregnancy or feeling objectified and used in uncommitted sexual relationships.  And yet, our focus on chastity has a few unfortunate side effects:  a tendency to marry quickly, to marry young, and to have unrealistic and ill-informed sexual expectations.  From the aforementioned study, couples who dated for 3 or more years have the best chance for success in marriage, 39% less likely to divorce than those who married with less than a year together as a couple.  There was no reference point short enough for the whirlwind courtships most Mormons had.

Mormons have been taught that any two “righteous” people could marry and do well, but that doesn’t mean we are great at judging our own abilities to weather storms or to assess prospective partners realistically.  The shorter our courtships and the younger and less experienced we are at the time we are seeking a partner, the less likely we are to make choices we will want to live with for 60+ years.  The study does show that caring too much about our partner’s wealth or looks leads to a greater likelihood of divorce.  Mormons are probably as prone to this as anyone, despite our ideal of being able to make a go of it with anybody worthy.

Sexual expectations can be stilted when chastity is only taught from a male perspective.  Often, women are still assumed to be uninterested in sex, or at least “good girls” are.  Women who are told they must cover up or tempt men into losing control may fear sex and their own sexual power.  Women are often taught to steer clear of anything sexual before marriage, but after marriage to go for broke.  It’s unrealistic to give such stark on-off instructions.  This isn’t a good recipe for sexual fulfillment.  Even when taught by other women, girls are not given any sort of female role models when it comes to sexual attitudes.  Curriculum is not helpful to women in developing healthy body image, a positive outlook on sex, or a useful approach to marital expectations and sexual communication.  Perhaps a focus on communication, consent, and exploration within marriage would be more effective.[2]

To add to this, marrying before financial independence is viable, and then quickly adding the financial strain associated with children can contribute further to the difficulties associated with entitlement, expectations, and the need for communication and partnership.  It’s hard to know how to support your partner when you feel disillusioned, overwhelmed and stressed out.  The study showed that the more money a couple makes, the less likely they will divorce, and the likelihood of divorce gets lower and lower the more money they make.  While bargain hunting and coupon clipping will help even this out, it’s no substitute for a little extra green in the wallet.

Fortunately, our Mormon communities offer a lot of support to new parents, including financial support, even when they don’t live near family.  We probably should do a better job teaching couples to communicate and relate to one another as equal partners.  We mention individual adaptation in passing, as a fall back if the ideal doesn’t work out, but we forget that our own marriages have been an ongoing negotiation.  Teaching communication skills rather than just gender roles creates a better investment in marriage.

Community support is vital, even without arranged marriages.

How to Improve

Here are a few more things we could do today to create stronger LDS marriages:

Divine modeling.  Let’s start talking about Heavenly Parents.  We can’t continually reinforce the notion that the family is eternal while only mentioning Heavenly Father.  Either we believe the family is an eternal model or we don’t.  What better example could there be than two divine parents working together in partnership? [3]

Better sex.  Honestly, I can’t imagine what the church could do in this realm that doesn’t give me the skeevies. [4]  Mostly, they should just quit doing things that hurt married sex.  The roots of the 1950s model of “traditional” marriage include the puritanical belief that a gentleman would never inflict his disgusting sexual desires on a pure-hearted woman, and a pure-hearted woman finds sex distasteful.  Victorian ladies were admonished to “lie back and think of England.”  Sex was seen as an unpleasant marital duty, like cleaning the toilet. [5]  Given this mindset, there’s a reason that studies show atheists are having the best sex; they aren’t tied up in knots about it. [6]

Economic & domestic partnership, rather than living completely separate lives.  The male breadwinner model was built on the idea that the home should become a respite from the cares of the workaday world.  The home can still be made a haven if both spouses decide that is what they want to build in partnership. [7]  Spouses can also partner in all financial and parenting decisions.  Spouses can provide support on bad days, regardless of whether they are at work, at home, or elsewhere.  Given the economic reality of our day, it’s time to drop our assumptions about who does what.  There should be no “off limits” tasks for either spouse in marriage.  There should never be big decisions, like moving or having kids, without both spouses agreeing.  There needs to be less pressure on men to financially support a dependent wife and large number of children in our evolving economy.  And equally so, there needs to be less pressure on women to be able to emotionally support a large number of children and endless hours of domestic work without adult contact unless that’s their choice and the family can afford it.

Both men and women need to be fully responsible for their family’s financial stability and also fully responsible to make sure their children are nurtured.  Nobody gets a pass, no matter how the couple chooses to divide labor.  It’s time to stop perpetuating stereotypes like “men earn it and wives spend it.”  Open communication on these issues creates better long-term planning, more responsible decision making, better communication, and more empathy.  It also helps to ensure that families are strong even when adversity hits:  lost jobs, mental or physical illness, or death of a spouse.  Having more choice may sound like divorce is more likely, but creating happier families requires both spouses to choose to be in the marriage.  Lack of choice leads to resentment.  Do we want to avoid divorce so much that we will settle for resentful marriages? [8]

Time to bust the myth that RMs are entitled to a hot wife.  Some RMs are entitled to BE a hot wife.

Mission Age Change.  The change to mission age that has caused so many more women to serve than ever before is probably one of the best things that could happen to marriage.  More women serving means that women will have more spiritual self-reliance and confidence, and that men will have more respect for them and learn how to work with women, not to see women as existing in a wholly separate sphere.  These skills are important within a marriage, and will increasingly become the norm.  A recent article already refers to the expectation that women will serve now that the age has been lowered. [9]

What are your ideas to strengthen marriage in our changing economy?  What do you think are the key strengths to the current approach the church takes?

Discuss.

[1] True for all but the poorest 25% of families and the highest-earning 5% (in which wives contribute through social connections and hostessing).

[2]  In Indian culture, where arranged marriages prevail, henna tattoos are used to help break down sexual barriers.  The bride’s hands and arms are tattooed with henna (it lasts about ten days), and the groom’s name is hidden in the flowery scrolls.  On the wedding night, the groom tries to find his name in the designs, and this creates a slower and more exploratory approach to intimacy with less pressure on both spouses to perform.

[3] I recognize that some of our detractors will use this as an excuse to insult us as polytheistic, but there are many out there who find the idea of a heavenly mother appealing and obvious.  There’s more to gain than to lose on this one.

[4] not an actual STD.

[5] rather a lot like it.

[6] except the BDSMs.

[7] Gags for the children might help, too.

[8] Personally, no.  YMMV.

[9] Don’t get me wrong.  The guy who wrote that steaming pile is clearly a misogynist, but it’s an interesting cultural shift to note.

Comments

  1. I appreciate the careful consideration given in writing this posting. I especially appreciate the crispness (and truth) in “Marriage is more work than ever since the bar for expectations is the highest it has been, and the barriers to exit are at an all-time low.” That sentence alone is worthy of reflection.

    I am very afraid of the divine modeling suggestion. Everything we hear regarding that matter is created by our own cultural thoughts, and nothing has been revealed. So any talk would be speculative, and I have heard enough Mormon speculative talk on other subjects and I don’t want to hear more on this subject. I suppose it is natural to project our current circumstances into the post-mortal future, and then to project those expectations in the pre-mortal past, but all of that is conjecture and speculation. God has not spoken on the matter. I am content to look at Jesus Christ as our model and example during his earthly ministry, and no further. For me, the teachings of the Savior in the first half of John ch. 14 are very meaningful.

  2. John Mansfield says:

    For those interested, take a look at Table 6 (Duration of marriages begun by individuals ages 15 to 46 in 1978–2010 by age, gender, and educational attainment) in the article “Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment” in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Oct. 13 Monthly Labor Review. That table provides a matrix of age at marriage and educational attainment which is helpful in separating the magnitude of each factor. (link)

  3. “While gender role assumptions may work well for those who feel naturally inclined to divide labor in this manner, for those who don’t have those same interests, these assumptions feel stifling.”

    Just a note that for some of us, gender role divisions have NOTHING to do with “inclination” and everything to do with the reality of our bodies and the incompetent babies that came into our lives (some of them were not willing to take a bottle and still nurse).

    My inclination was to continue a fulltime professional career, and pump breastmilk. What really happened was that I am ill during pregnancy and cannot be pregnant and employed at the same time. This is more common than one might assume; I’ve talked to a Registered Dietician in the Chicago area whose practice is specialized in helping women through nausea and vomiting of pregnancy–but her typical client is a woman who had previously had an abortion because she got so sick and could not endanger her career. And during the months when my job was to lie on the couch puking, I was grateful for the church’s gender role teachings, that view my contribution as having value, and that part of my husband’s role was to support me during that time.

  4. I second the fear of the diving model suggested. We know next to nothing about our Heavenly Mother. the idea that popped into my head while reading the post was how Heavenly Mother has never talked in the Scriptures. Some may interpret that as women should never talk or say anything. The father is the public face of the family. Yikes!

  5. Angela, this is strong stuff. I think there’s a lot of the recent Synod relatio that ties into what you’re describing here. A big part of it, I think, is deciding whether marriage is simply going to be a social institution or whether you’re going to take it on as part of an overall religious framework. If you’re going to pursue the latter course, you’d better be sure that you have thought through all the complications beyond just gender role stuff – you need to build up a base of believers with solid testimonies.

  6. Capozaino says:

    Looks like I’m taking the day off to get a vast, complicated henna tattoo.

  7. The OP is a wonderful summary of the societal shifts we have experienced (most in just the last 20-30 years!). Thank you.

    I too share a reluctance to embrace the divine model until more concrete information about the Heavenly Father/Mother relationship is revealed. A premature advance into this area is fraught with the same dangers of cultural gap-filling that progressive bloggers have bemoaned in earlier church policies/rules.

    As Nathaniel Givens said: “Where is Heavenly Mother? I don’t know, but I’m not going to replace Her with a misguided transliteration of contemporary gender studies while I’m waiting, no matter how lonely it gets.”

  8. I found it interesting that the study you cited mentioned that while regular church attendance predicts lower divorce rates, some church attendance predicts higher divorce than no church attendance at all. I wonder why that is.

    Also I’ve been reading the other book “How Love Conquered Marriage” since the blog post that you did on the book. I’ve found it very interesting.

  9. “In order to support growing middle class families, it is increasingly likely that a family needs two steady incomes”

    I think that this is partly due to an increase of expectations in what it means to support a growing middle class family. Home sizes have been steadily increasing in the last 60 years while family sizes have steadily decreased. Other expectations like number and expenses of cars per family has risen as well. Speaking as one who supports a family of 7 on a teachers salary, we cannot live like everyone else does, but we can live quite happily.

    “and most middle-class educated women can earn more money by working than they would spend on child care.”

    I think an important question to ask is how much more can they make working than they would spend on child care. If you only get to keep a third of your salary after paying for child care and other increased expenses it might be wise to ask yourself if you are willing to work all the hours and attendant stresses for 1/3 of the income that you are receiving.

  10. “Time to bust the myth that RMs are entitled to a hot wife. Some RMs are entitled to BE a hot wife.”

    I know it’s meant to be light, but this is not helpful. It infers that the harder you work (as a woman) on your mission, the more attractive you’ll be when you get home. Let’s just kill the myth and leave it dead, not tack on additions.

    I know there’s probably not data for it, but what of the effects of the differences in how long the couple has been having sex, not just saying that those in longer relationships have necessarily been having sex? How about the differences in how long they’ve been living together versus how long they’ve been “in a relationship”? If the answer is “go read the book”; point taken. ;)

  11. I’m curious – what do you think the church is doing that hurts married sex? I don’t know that LDS couples are really any different than couples in other faiths, garments notwithstanding.

  12. “Wages are no longer set with the assumption that one person will be the sole earner. ”

    I think it is true that wages no longer support a model where one person is the sole earner. But this makes it sound like companies used to think, “Hey, my workers only have one income in their families, I’d better pay more than I otherwise would, so they can have enough!” I just can’t imagine it was ever that irrationally (in the economic sense) generous out there in the business world. Global competition has driven wages down, but they weren’t lowered because somebody was thinking about family structure, now or then, right?

  13. When it comes to sex, you might want to look at the (in)famous Redbook Magazine survey of 100,000 women which found that religious women had more sex and greater sexual satisfaction. Also, the church does encourage couples date nights, which perhaps helps.

    Also, please stop accusing the church of promoting “a1950s model of traditional marriage.” I joined the church in the 1970s because of the radical notion of EQUAL PARTNERSHIP in marriage that was being taught at church.

  14. “Global competition has driven wages down, but they weren’t lowered because somebody was thinking about family structure, now or then, right?”

    Global competition isn’t the only thing that would drive wages down. Increasing the number of job applicants (re. women entering the workforce) will depress wages. It will also decrease the amount an applicant is willing to accept. Someone who wouldn’t have accepted a job at anything lower than 65k might accept a job for 45k if he knows his wife will also be bringing in 45k.

  15. Ya know, some of the disillusion that people feel may stem from being set up for failure by a wicked world. You can’t look at this stuff and get to the bottom of it without considering the morality of it all. The fact is we’re just more self-centered than we used to be — everyone’s got their “dream.” And the real trick now is how to make room for a nest full of chickities in all of that.

  16. Frank Pellet: “I know it’s meant to be light, but this is not helpful. It infers that the harder you work (as a woman) on your mission, the more attractive you’ll be when you get home. Let’s just kill the myth and leave it dead, not tack on additions.” I agree with you on this one! My point (not well made evidently) was that every single picture of sister missionaries on the church’s website are of very good-looking women. The church is continuing to advance the stereotype of female beauty, that loveliness is our most important feature; OTOH, it’s not like any person anywhere is putting pictures of a mustachio’d spinster out there as the spokesperson.

    Cynthia L.: Even my dad (born in 1927) chided me about taking jobs away from men who needed to support families. There definitely was a belief in that generation that a man with a family needed to earn enough to support that family alone, and employers historically gave raises when a man married and when he had children to help him support his financial dependents. That’s clearly not the case anymore. A case could easily be made that women entering the work force in the 1970s was a key factor in driving lower wages across the board. Anti-discrimination laws added a big dose of rationality to wage structures. Previously, those women were discriminated against to the point of not being able to rise out of the low-paid secretarial pool and certainly they had no ability to support themselves financially if they were unmarried. That’s been a huge shift in the last 40 years.

  17. Naismith: “Also, please stop accusing the church of promoting “a1950s model of traditional marriage.” I joined the church in the 1970s because of the radical notion of EQUAL PARTNERSHIP in marriage that was being taught at church.” Fascinating point, actually. The current push toward 1950s norms is not a holdover from the 1950s (IMO). It’s due to our misguided alliance with the conservative religious right. Their notions of gender roles are far more oppressive than ours and much worse than the Father Knows Best model. There is open preaching of women being subordinate to men and wives submitting fully to their husband’s authority. We are getting conservative scope creep coming in from our allies, not necessarily from our doctrine or even our aging leaders (at least not in a vacuum).

    While I agree with those who are worried that divine modeling could be speculative and worse than saying nothing at all, a simple step of saying “Heavenly Parents” rather than “Heavenly Father” in most instances (except where obviously not applicable) would be a huge improvement. Excluding a Heavenly Mother creates a vacuum in our narrative.

  18. One part of the article that resonated was the sense of entitlement that emphasis on strict gender roles can create. I’ve seen several examples of this among acquaintances and friends. I know several women who feel seriously cheated that their husbands can’t/don’t provide enough for them to be able to stay home full-time with their kids. The individual circumstances are all very different from the amount of kids they have, to the amount of debt the couple is carrying (including some sky-high medical bills), to the kind of vocation chosen by the husband, but I’ve had this conversation often enough in recent years to notice that these feelings of resentment are fairly common.

    In most cases, the wives grew up believing that they were supposed to be in the home with the kids (and they truly wanted this) but they never made any kinds of allowances for change when they married someone who didn’t have a super-high earning power. It’s unfortunate to hear about these shattered expectations because it does put such a strain on the marriage where one partner views the other as inadequate. More the pity because, for the most part, this problem is avoidable. I wish we didn’t present a mother who works as a last resort “in case something happens” it should have a place right next to stay-at-home moms as a healthy, flexible approach to life. To me, the women who seem most unhappy are those who took short cuts in choosing their vocations because they believed they would never work outside the home–now they feel resentment towards their husbands and they’re working a job they don’t particularly enjoy either.

    And I think the least we can do, if we’re going to continue elevating the stay-at-home-mom over the working-mom, is start disabusing young men and young women that they are going to have nice possessions. Start telling them now that having a parent home full-time is a sacrifice. Don’t expect to have two cars, new furniture, or even extra cash to pay for a lot of extracurricular activities for everyone, etc. Because having a stay at home mom is not unattainable but it is a HUGE lifestyle choice and it takes a lot of careful planning for both husband and wife to make it happen. And even then, no plan is ever perfect.

  19. I like this post, except for the suggestion that we model on Heavenly Parents? How can the church possibly promote a Heavenly Parents divine model when we know almost nothing about our Heavenly Mother or how She relates to our Heavenly Father. Trying to create such a model in the absence of more revelation seems somewhat idolatrous. We can’t look to Jesus either because even if he were married, we don’t know to whom. Besides, His marriage would necessarily be pretty asymetric, what with him being God incarnate and her being an imperfect mortal and all.

  20. Hah. I seem to have swapped a question mark and a period.

  21. “Trying to create such a model in the absence of more revelation seems somewhat idolatrous.” Isn’t that how the church created the Proclamation on the Family? That wasn’t by revelation either. I’m not even suggesting we go that far. I merely suggest (absent further revelation on Heavenly Mother) that we start by referring to Heavenly Parents rather than just Heavenly Father. My own kids had literally never even heard that we believe in a Heavenly Mother up to 3 years ago when I casually mentioned that we believe that. They have attended church regularly their whole lives. It’s been so completely excised from our curriculum that the rising generation was unaware we believe it – not WHAT we believe about it, but that we believe it at all. That’s a pretty big doctrinal loss.

  22. Angela, I don’t understand that. The term “heavenly parents” is in the Proclamation on the Family, and the Proclamation is used constantly, at least in my ward/stake. However, the scriptures we use never refer to Heavenly Mother or heavenly parents, so to the extent we try to teach from the scriptures, Heavenly Mother isn’t going to come up.

  23. MargaretOH says:

    IDIAT: The OP addressed a couple points about sex, specifically that girls are informally taught that they won’t want it or enjoy it as much as their husbands and that wanting/enjoying it is un-feminine. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife has done some compelling research in this area, showing that women who remained chaste before marriage because they wanted to keep themselves safe and healthy had much more fulfilling sex lives after marriage than those who had an idea of keeping themselves pure for their future husbands. You can listen to JFF discussing her dissertation research at Mormon Stories: http://mormonstories.org/lds-women-and-sexual-desire-with-dr-jennifer-finlayson-fife/

  24. I’m not sure we can say “we believe” regarding heavenly mother(s) — it isn’t part of our common doctrine — some among us believe it, but not others — and those that do, well, that belief isn’t based on revelation but is rather more hope or projection, I think. So I don’t think we can say “we believe” as a normative statement for Latter-day Saints.

    Some will say that all Latter-day Saints should believe, and err in not doing so. I’m not one of those.

  25. I am in my fifth year of teaching Valiants in primary, and every year when we teach about the plan of salvation and pre-existence it is done so with “Heavenly Parents” terminology. I do recall that one year a boy was upset at the notion of a Heavenly Mother, and I called the parents to be clear that I was teaching from the book.

  26. Naismith: that’s great to hear. I haven’t taught primary for several years, so I was not aware of that.

  27. I heard Heavenly Parents mentioned in General Conference a handful of times, and, if my memory is correct, that’s been true for quite a few years. It also is in the Gospel Principles manual and various quotes in the Presidents of the Church manuals. I think we use the term quite often, but, lacking any detail, we don’t teach it actively as a separate topic.

    I enjoyed this post, largely for the chance to think specifically about the points and questions in it. We absolutely need to rework how we talk about sex – both for unmarried and married members. There are all kinds of issues and really bad ideas / beliefs floating around in our culture – and some of them, unfortunately, are doing more than floating around.

  28. It’s due to our misguided alliance with the conservative religious right.

    Boy, isn’t that the truth. I think a number of things, from distinctly non-LDS wordings (leaders speaking of their “ministries” and things like that) to a frequent preference for, shall we say, local leadership whose righteousness demonstrates itself through material prosperity, are leaking over into the Church from our evangelical brethren. This is not a good thing. (If I start hearing Mormons say things like “God laid it on my heart,” I’m going back to the Catholics.)

    Politics really does make strange bedfellows, but we would do well to realize that we’re merely pawns – “useful fools,” if you will – in the conservative Christian right’s political game. Their ultimate theological fear and loathing of all things Mormon hasn’t changed a bit since they led the mobs in Missouri.

    ji, I understand that the Church hasn’t been clear or explicit on the notion that there is a Heavenly Mother. But looking at your previous comment:

    I’m not sure we can say “we believe” regarding heavenly mother(s) — it isn’t part of our common doctrine — some among us believe it, but not others — and those that do, well, that belief isn’t based on revelation but is rather more hope or projection, I think. So I don’t think we can say “we believe” as a normative statement for Latter-day Saints.

    Some will say that all Latter-day Saints should believe, and err in not doing so. I’m not one of those.

    . . . if you mean that you think there’s room for not believing that there’s a Mother in Heaven, or that you personally don’t believe that, I’m actually not sure that I can agree. Latter-day prophets have been pretty clear – in particular, Joseph F. Smith and Harold B. Lee – about her existence, even if details are lacking. Eliza Snow wrote of her in “O My Father,” in words that Wilford Woodruff referred to as “revelation.”

    I think the reality of Heavenly Parents is quite clearly “part of our common doctrine,” and indeed is a key to understanding our view of our eternal origins and destiny. It is one key piece of the group of truths that set us apart from the rest of the Christian world. I think it would be very, very difficult to look at the corpus of LDS teachings and writings since the First Vision and find any justification for rejecting that belief, or even regarding it as merely “hope” or “projection.”

  29. God is NOT our father in the the way that my father is my father or I am the father of my children. Instead of insisting on moving towards “Heavenly Parents” or more mentions of Heavenly Mother, we should move away from the terms completely. The idea of Heavenly Father helped Christians and Mormons conceptualize God and our relationship with Deity. However, the concept is completely useless when I comes to addressing my own actually family. It is useful in maintaining an idea of heteronormativity and they concept of gender essentiallism. This problem does not go away with a shift to Heavenly Mother or Heavenly Parents.

  30. New Iconoclast,

    Then do I fall short as a Latter-day Saint, in not adopting the common doctrine? Must I, to honestly think of myself as a whole and complete Latter-day Saint, start to believe in heavenly mother(s)?

    I may err in this, but I see the concept of heavenly mother(s) as part of the tapestry of Mormon thought rather than as fundamental and common doctrine. I don’t want to admit that The Godmakers film was right after all. And if I do adopt the belief, well, as someone pointed out above, that introduces a whole set of problems and new dissonance. I’m not ready for all that. I’ll wait for God to introduce the concept in the customary way.

  31. “Must I, to honestly think of myself as a whole and complete Latter-day Saint, start to believe in heavenly mother(s)?”

    Yup. You do err.

  32. Angela,

    Great run down and I am always for a discussion of the broad impact that the changing economic and work conditions are having on our Mormon model of marriage. I thinkt he discussion of the impact of continued increasing possibilities that have opened up for women outside the home have radically changed the range of preferences women and families may have for building a fulifilling and service oriented life. i think we need to be careful about primarily couching women’s choices to work only in terms of increased likelihood of economic neccesity for a certain level of consumption. Engaging in the world through work can be intrinsically rewarding and important in its own right. It develops talents, skills, abilities and as you pointed out provides a major path for agentic expression. Boiling down women’s choices (or men’s for that matter) choices to work to only economic calculus or primarily to economic calculus has really taken away from our culture much of the fullfillment and meaning in work (for men and women). Even for men it is a secondary consideration (or even guilty one) to actually enjoy work or find meaning in it. I know so many Mormom men who takes jobs and make career decisions only for economic/lifestyle reasons. And for Mormon women it is still largely culturally verbotim to think or act in terms of pursuing *a career*. We support women (largely) in pursuing education and even in working at a “job”. But the moment women start pursuing a *career* there is at best radio silence if not down right discouragement within much of our Mormon society. I am sure you are personally very aware of that tendancy. The world is a wonderful place, full of amazing opportunities to do good through engaging in the economy. We can build businesses and provide employement for other families, treat disease, create beautiful things, solve major world problems, build needed non-profit and service organizations, create and administer public policy etc. There are so many careers and jobs out there that have so much meaning but they have to be pursued as careers not just as jobs. I recognize fully that this comes partly from a place of priviledge but it is also a legitimate path the giving back and helping others work toward more agency and freedom in their lives to do the same. The comment is already long but marriage is such an important institution in both supporting individuals as they undertake these activities and finding meaning and growth through work is important in supporting healthy relationships. For an increasing number of women that includes work both in and outside the home.

  33. The doctrine of a heavenly mother is a combination of revealed scripture, D&C 131, and the reasoning behind Sis Snow’s verse. Assume God is in the highest degree of celestial glory. D&C 131 says that he must be married. Snow extrapolates that God must then be married, and his wife would be our mother.

    I think that any extended speculation beyond that ends up trying to map our earthly experience onto a realm we know little about. Filling in the blanks with what we know about mortal relationships can end up with a description of Heavenly Mother that’s more like Donna Reed than an exalted being.

  34. Yea, I’d have to agree that heavenly parents is a firmly established doctrine. (Chapter 2, Gospel Principles Manual, has several references to “heavenly parents.”) MargaretOH – I wasn’t raised in the church, but my wife was, way “out here” in the mission field. Your references are to the ways females may relate to sex, nothing about men. Catholic guilt about sex has long been a subject of cultural jokes. There’s hardly a woman around who hasn’t struggled with Good Girl Syndrome. I’m not saying we can’t do better. I’m just saying that LDS teachings/practices are no more stifling than the teachings of other denominations. Certainly as the world has grown more secular, sex has become “easier.” However, I don’t equate easy sex to better sex, nor with intimacy or bonding type sex..

  35. Well, then, I suppose I need to start believing. As I fashion my beliefs, well, I really must believe in the plurality of heavenly mothers. I must believe that heavenly father presides over all of them. I must believe that heavenly mothers must be or choose to be silent and invisible, leaving all decisions and interactions and communications to heavenly father. Can I at least pray to my heavenly mother, while others pray to theirs? Why did Jesus or Joseph Smith not reveal this truth to us? May I teach my earthly wife that her eternal destiny is to create spirit babies? All of this is too hard for me. I’m like the weak in faith in Romans ch. 14. But if the notion of heavenly mother(s) really is common doctrine, then everything I write here is fair inquiry. The original poster wants to know more, but there is no scripture and no revelation to guide those who want to teach the principle. I can’t accept this as common doctrine, but I do acknowledge it is a part of the cultural fabric of Mormonism.

    Well, I’ve said more than I wanted to say when I first read the original posting. That posting still has great merit. I’m still considering the thought (nay, the truth) that expectations for marriage today are at the highest we have ever imagined, and yet the exit costs are at the lowest. No wonder traditional marriage seems to be in trouble, and no wonder so many are afraid of marriage.

  36. Be careful, ji. Next thing you’ll imply that low exit costs actually change people’s behavior, and you’ll be branded as ignorant and condescending.

  37. “I really must believe in the plurality of heavenly mothers.”

    Why?

  38. No way am I not going to be anon for this says:

    Has anyone ever speculated that our Heavenly Mother might very well be the soul that inhabits our Earth? (you know, “Mother Earth”?) It sounds radical & hippie-ish – and I’m neither. It’s possible to make sense of it with an open mind, I think – and it’s a rather thrilling thought (imho) that she’s right here with us, we are made out of her, buried in her, grow from her. What could be more amazing? (are there any scriptures that refute or support the idea? Must She be embodied in human shape/form to be valid?) I honestly don’t know – just a wild thought for your weekend.

  39. NwaIngtbaft (9:49): While I appreciate the idea that the Earth has a soul (much in line with the Buddhist thought that everything does), I don’t like the idea of Earth being the same as Heavenly Mother. Aside from the whole polygamy thing, I don’t think many women would appreciate the thought of becoming a planet.

    And to address a previous comment, subjugation by HF and there being more than one HM are not the only options. Some believe that HM is equal to HF, and Her lack of communication attributed to Her is from Her own choice and part of Their plan. None of the options we can come up with are very comfortable, but we’re grasping at vapor as it is.

  40. I tend to think that HF is in charge of this planet, but HM is in charge of other planets. Different primary care givers.

  41. ^^But lest I be misunderstood, I’m not advocating teaching anything specific or speculative like that at church. I would just like us to be more consistent in acknowledging her existence.

  42. “As Nathaniel Givens said: ‘Where is Heavenly Mother? I don’t know, but I’m not going to replace Her with a misguided transliteration of contemporary gender studies while I’m waiting, no matter how lonely it gets.'”

    Nathaniel Givens has yet to show that he has actually read any contemporary gender studies.

  43. I tend to think that Heavenly Mother is just as involved as Heavenly Father, but being hugely influenced by sexism throughout centuries we have mostly forgotten her, stopped communicating with her, and wiped her out of our scriptures.

    When you think about it, we really don’t know much more about Heavenly Father than we do about Heavenly Mother.

  44. Ryan Mullen says:

    aubreylh: “When you think about it, we really don’t know much more about Heavenly Father than we do about Heavenly Mother.” To add to this statement, the BYU Studies compilation of LDS GA teachings about Heavenly Mother (https://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=8669) attribute to her each of the roles we attribute to Heavenly Father: heavenly spouse and parent, divine person, co-creator, co-framer of the plan of salvation, interactive parent in mortality.

    ji: “Why did Jesus or Joseph Smith not reveal this truth to us?” Why did they not reveal calculus, vaccinations, chiasmus, quantum mechanics or racial equality? While I accept the teachings of both Jesus and Joseph Smith as true (a vaguely defined word), I certainly do not think they taught everything that is worth knowing.

    Angela C, thank you for this post. It has given me much to think about.

  45. melodynew says:

    Heaven Mother. Yes. How long will it take before someone in a position of official leadership has the balls (the ovaries) to admit to revelations – small or large – about the existence of a Heavenly Mother and to begin preaching it from the pulpit. Seriously. People. Seriously. I realize we are all limited by our willingness to learn new truths. But it is hard for me to believe that, given a moment or two of quiet contemplation about the idea, anyone can really say this idea is new to our spirits.

    Angela C., thanks for the time and thought you put into this post. I agree that owning and seeking greater enlightenment about the possible existence of a Mother God is pivotal in the ongoing cause of truth. (Fear not, though the enemy deride.) Wasn’t it Joseph Smith who said something to the effect that we would do well to spend the bulk of our lives seeking to understand the true nature of God? Many of us act as though there is nothing more to know. Amen to Ryan M above: Why would JS make such a suggestion if everything had been revealed already? I also agree with you that the LDS church has the most firm and fertile foundation for nurturing and growing the seeds of doctrine about Heavenly Mother. Thankfully, some of that has begun, as noted in the BYU studies article linked above.

    Carol Lynn Pearson and others have done a fine job amending that proverbial soil. And recently Claudia Bushman was quoted as saying something like, “People should start writing poetry about Her so She can begin to become part of our doctrine” to which a friend of mine responded by directing sister Bushman here:
    http://amotherhere.com/#sthash.nbyQQaDJ.dpbs

    Incidentally, I liked all of the points you articulated so well in this post. But Mother God is the one I wanted to sing and shout about. Hallelujah! Jesus, take us home to Mom and Dad in heaven!

  46. Thoughts on sex: So I just finished reading Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. One of her male characters spends time in his thoughts comparing sex between his religious partner– who he feels has sex out of duty, because it is what her minister believes good wives do–and his college girlfriend, who obviously enjoyed sex and made sure she was also pleasured. He knows he preferred the latter because he didn’t feel selfish and he got satisfaction knowing he could help her feel sensual.

    It made me think about how we, as an entire society, could really shift our sex talks to promote a dynamic where both partners give AND receive satisfaction. Too often it’s about a woman giving to help her man feel close to her, and men receiving at the mercy of their woman.

  47. I like the comments here, but wonder if we should consider the whole picture before drawing conclusions. Consider:

    http://www.forbes.com/2006/08/23/Marriage-Careers-Divorce_cx_mn_land.html

    Specifically, consider the following statement:

    Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.

    Might there be room for an expanded view?

  48. Josh B: Doubtless, raising exit barriers decreases divorce, but again, marriages in which partners have reduced choice are likely to be the most unhappy of all when they don’t work well or when assigned roles aren’t a good fit. A different model of specialization is a family run business with both spouses working together (and ideally the children too), but these are rarer and rarer in our economy.

  49. Getting back to the original topic in the post, I am all for strengthening marriages, but many of the assumptions in the post do not ring true to me. For example,
    “Gender roles encourage entitlement between the sexes: women feeling entitled to a life of dependence and financial ease with a worthy priesthood holder….”

    I have never heard this taught nor felt this way during the seasons when I was not earning a paycheck. I am our family CFO and my husband doesn’t always know how much he earns. I would say that more than most of my neighbors outside the church, Mormons respect that homemaking can contribute to a family’s bottom line, since a penny saved is two pennies earned because it is neither taxed nor tithed (quote from Sydney Sperry Reynolds at a BYU devotional). And of course shopping is the modern-day equivalent of hunting-gathering. It’s not how much you make but how much you keep that determines a family’s financial well-being. And thus I think many Mormons can accept complimentary ways of contributing to the finances, rather than ONLY valuing bringing money into the household.

    “Additionally, making hard-line assumptions about division of labor creates a lack of empathy when couples see their spouse as solely responsible for an area with no belief that they must support them and back them up.”

    I totally agree, but it is NOT what our church teaches. I hear the church acknowledging the reality of changes in marriage nowadays. For example, in the February 2008 worldwide training on raising a righteous posterity, they stressed over and over the need for dividing labor whatever way works for each couple. For example, Sister Lant: “…the division of labor for young couples today is different than it was when I was first married. I watch the young couples in my family—my children and their spouses—and the way they do things in their family. It’s different than we did. They still get the job done. They work together in a different way. And in many ways it’s better than the way we did it. The point is, though, that it’s individual. Each couple has to work out how they will do things.”

    That was followed up by Elder Holland: “You’re taking me back to the proclamation, which speaks of being equal partners. We don’t just say, “You’re going to be the only nurturer, and I’m going to be the only one that’s concerned about the money or whatever.” There will be ebbing and flowing. There’s a balance here. We’ve got to be in this together. We’ve got to share in this. It seems to me that’s exactly what the proclamation said.”

    So they are openly acknowledging that they DON’T expect couples to do things a particular way, and anyone “making heard-line assumptions” may do so in their own family, but if they try to teach it over a local pulpit they are out of harmony with church teachings.

    “If communication is poor, feelings of entitlement and resentment can build up and ultimately lead to divorce.”

    I totally agree. But the real problem is communication, NOT the roles or expectations supposedly created by the church, which may or may not really be part of church teachings.

  50. NWAINGTBAH said, Has anyone ever speculated that our Heavenly Mother might very well be the soul that inhabits our Earth?

    Yup. Numerous times. They’ve also speculated that Heavenly Father has 12 wives, one for each tribe of Israel, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam. None of those speculations serves to discount the fact that the existence of [at least one] Mother in Heaven is a pretty solidly established point of LDS doctrine. (Thanks, Steve Evans, for putting it so bluntly – not to believe that is to err. I was trying to be “Minnesota Nice,” I suppose.)

    I would simply say that to accept that doctrine (which, melodynew, has been stated over the pulpit and in official communication by prophets with, um, the appropriate organs any number of times) does not mean that one has to accept any of the more unusual permutations thereof, with regard to Gaia, number of wives, contemporary gender studies, and so on. Specifically, ji, accepting Heavenly Mother certainly does not mean that you have to accept any part of The Godmakers, any more than accepting Masonic parallels in the temple endowment means that I have to accept that steaming pile of manure’s take on those parallels.

    Back to the OP. (This verbosity is what happens when I take the weekend off to strengthen my marriage by tiling my kitchen floor.)

    I think Angela makes a number of excellent points, one of which can be summarized like this – whatever Good Things we humans, as individuals or as institutions (like the Church), put into place to improve our lives and marriages can be carried too far until they become Bad Things. Thus, a culture that encourages a nurturing environment for children becomes a culture that raises exit barriers for women in untenable situations; a laudable emphasis on premarital chastity becomes an exercise in slut-shaming young women (projection, anyone?) and so on and so forth.

    Also, Satan and God are engaged in a chess game of sorts, and while I have no doubt but that Heavenly Father is several moves ahead of his opponent, his thickheaded servants down here take awhile to catch on. Thus we have a culture in which divorce is easy and the grass can always seem greener, but it’s taking us awhile to turn that around for our benefit and use it to emphasize equal-partnership marriages where people remain because they not only love but are committed to an eternal union. Satan makes a move – “I’ll make it easy for you to get out!” and it takes us awhile to Etherize (12:27) it – “We’ll stay of our own free will and choice, and we’ll be stronger than ever!”

    Ultimately, we probably have to start doing as we say, not as we do, and recognizing that we’re all imperfect. The reason we talk about ideals that we so rarely live up to, is that we are, or should be, trying to improve ourselves and live up to them. We need divine help to do this, or at least I do, and I usually only get discouraged and impatient when I try to go it alone.

  51. it's a series of tubes says:

    Great comment, NI.

  52. Solid stuff, NI.

  53. John Mansfield says:

    The arguments for low exit cost from marriage aren’t too different from the argument against entering marriage in the first place that if a binding covenant between a couple is required then the relationship between them is of dubious worth. George Bernard Shaw was making such witty complaints against marriage a century ago: “Send me to the galleys and chain me to the felon whose number happens to be next before mine; and I must accept the inevitable and make the best of the companionship. Many such companionships, they tell me, are touchingly affectionate; and most are at least tolerably friendly. But that does not make a chain a desirable ornament nor the galleys an abode of bliss. Those who talk most about the blessings of marriage and the constancy of its vows are the very people who declare that if the chain were broken and the prisoners left free to choose, the whole social fabric would fly asunder. You cannot have the argument both ways. If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?”

  54. We should see from the new California and Harvard rules about requiring “affirmative consent” for sexual intercoursejust how ridiculous and rotten Western culture has become. Trying to “update” LDS culture because “I want my leftoid academic friends to respect me” is a bankrupt task. Gay sex is “great” but heterosexual sex needs Stalinist policing? I see where this is going. Reject, as should all good LDS.

  55. Realist–what are you talking about? Did you read any of the original post?

  56. Lately I’ve been thinking about our doctrine of “Elohim,” which was a Hebrew word that Joseph took to mean the chief of the gods. We believe in the council in heaven. It’s not a stretch to believe that Heavenly Mother is included in Elohim. We don’t have any specific revelations that address Heavenly Mother, so I think that is why there is somewhat of a taboo on it. It makes sense, and that whole plan of salvation is useless without exalted women, so we have confidence enough to teach the concept. But there’s just a taboo on the subject like there is on the subject of God being an exalted man.
    I suspect that we can learn about our Heavenly Mother just like we can about our Heavenly Father, who we also really don’t have a lot of detail about. And that method is through personal revelation.

  57. Here’s a question for everyone here: do you think that redefining our idea with marriage might be strengthened by a civil marriage first, and then a mandatory wait on temple sealing for everyone for a year? That way a couple has something to work on and prepare for together. They learn more about temple covenants before they go and what they are getting into. Plus, it gives them some time to live together, get out of puppy love mode, and then make a clear decision that has eternal consequences. This is in opposition to the status quo where a couple may have dated for a month, get engaged for 3 months, 19 year old girl goes to the temple once or twice, and then have their wedding planning/temple wedding/reception/honeymoon at the same time.

  58. Or they could live together for a while to see if they want to get a civil marriage and then get sealed after a year of that.

    Seems like I’ve heard a similar argument somewhere else before….

  59. jb, I’m not understanding your comment. One is an actual legal, binding marriage and the other is not. It’s not even in the same ballpark at all. My understanding is that the early Saints still had a traditional wedding and then a sealing later, and that got changed at some point. The suggestion to pick this up again and put a mandatory waiting period comes in light of high temple divorces in the church in our generation.

  60. Pierce, having a halfway marriage, just to see if it takes, is a bad idea. It’s moving the “real marriage” to the temple, much the same as having a couple live together before marrying.

    It’s bad enough when people don’t consider married in the temple (but planning and preparing to be) as “really married”. When you get married, you plan on it being forever, even if it’s not done in the Temple yet. Anyone who gets married just to see if they like it isn’t likely to stay married long.

  61. Frank,

    I want to say that I am mostly playing devil’s advocate here in order to explore an idea. I’m not a proponent of this in any meaningful way.

    When someone is legally and lawfully married, they are “really married.” The temple even uses these words, and the church won’t baptize people who are living together unless they are married . You’re just confusing temporal and eternal.
    I’m not suggesting a civil marriage for the sole intent of “seeing if it takes.” Read the rest of reasons why a new paradigm might be something to consider in light of divorce in the church. You say that it’s “bad enough” when people don’t consider a temple marriage. But do you know what is worse? Making covenants in the temple when a person is not ready. Or doing something because you are pressured into it. Or having to go through a temple divorce.
    A temple marriage is not the ultimate goal. It is only the beginning–the gate TO the ultimate goal. Is that how we’re treating it? The temple tells you that temple covenants are only valid if people keep their covenants.

    I find it humorous to be afraid of the idea that people may not end up in the temple if they are civilly married first. If they don’t make it to the temple after a year, or six months,then what does that really tell you?

    “Anyone who gets married just to see if they like it isn’t likely to stay married long.”
    This is disingenuous. How many people marry “just to see if they like it?” Not many. But this cuts both ways. People can and do do this with a temple marriage, but the difference is that covenant-making is involved.

  62. Pierce – “Plus, it gives them some time to live together, get out of puppy love mode, and then make a clear decision that has eternal consequences.”

    This, to me, says “see if it takes”. This is making a step below eternal marriage, for people who don’t feel they can make “a clear decision that has eternal consequences”. We already have too many people who jeer at others marriages being “til death do you part”. This would be inviting more of it within the Church.

    Oh, and who gets to decide when the couple is “ready”? Do you think this will create less pressure for those currently feeling pressured into it? What of those who felt they were ready before the fact, but feel they were not ready afterward?

    “A temple marriage is not the ultimate goal. It is only the beginning–the gate TO the ultimate goal. ” – This is true, but you don’t get any closer to the goal if you take a quick jog and decide the gate is too imposing.

    We aren’t just offered covenants, we are instructed that these covenants are required. No one is ever truly “ready” for them, not even a couple who has already been married for 100 years. Eternal marriage is something to continually strive for; a journey that has no end, no “goal” in sight. None of us completely live up to those covenants. That’s why we have a redeemer.

  63. And the 11:50 comment should be:
    It’s bad enough when people don’t consider NOT married in the temple . . .

  64. “This, to me, says “see if it takes”.

    Frank, I think you’re ignoring the reality that this happens, even though it is not desirable. The whole point of the is post is to reconsider ways to strengthen marriages in our time now and reduce divorce in the church. The number of people who have a temple wedding is only as good as the number of people who don’t get a divorce. The postponement idea seeks to reduce divorces.

    “Oh, and who gets to decide when the couple is “ready”?”
    I think that it actually empowers a couple in the decision to be sealed even MORE. But, a simple answer could be that they attend a temple prep course for six months or something, and do endowment sessions together if they are close to a temple. Bishop’s discretion. And it’s more about giving it time to grow a bit together rather than passing some set of requirements.

    “Do you think this will create less pressure for those currently feeling pressured into it? ”
    Absolutely. It eliminates the pressure that the church puts on members to do it since the temple would not be the gateway to married life. It reduces the possible pressure that parents and relatives put on on the couple since the couple will be more autonomous later on. It allows non-members and others to attend the ceremony. It eliminates the pressure of “getting married before you screw up” (yes, I have known many who have stated this as a reason for moving up weddings, as well as having to cancel weddings). It allows the couple to learn more about the temple together. The couple can focus on the actual sealing itself, as well as the endowment for the woman, rather than everything at once.

    “What of those who felt they were ready before the fact, but feel they were not ready afterward?”
    Good! Since covenants are the gateway rather than the goal, it’s better that they were never made than to be made and broken. This question is the whole point of this proposition.

    “We aren’t just offered covenants, we are instructed that these covenants are required.”
    Required for what? Exaltation? Yes. But these are blessings are only valid if covenants are kept. God is not forcing people to get married, man. He is offering this for people who “desire to receive it” and who live up to their covenants afterwards. While it’s true that the Atonement exists for a reason, we still have a choice in the matter, and the ceremonies state it as such.