Foundational Building Blocks of a Flourishing (Mixed-Orientation) Marriage
— November 12, 2022—
But there are some things that I think...I think a lot about these things, as you know, because I work as a therapist. I've been working around these issues in a number of contexts. I first opened up about my story in 2000... Well, I started really opening up more in 2003, I've kind of had my own two year existential crisis before that. So, it's been longer than that. But so, from that time, being in ministry, or building relationships, or learning from different people and individual stories, and just seeing how many different stories. And then, for the last 15 years working as a therapist, I have both a master’s and Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy. And from a couples perspective, I would say, maybe 80% of the individuals that I work with are navigating sexual or gender minority/identity issues. But couples, it's about 50%. So, I see a pretty broad swath of couples and different issues, and there are obviously some unique things that couples that are navigating gender sexuality or gender issues in a marriage navigate. But it's also amazing to me how similar many of the difficulties in marriage are. And it's really easy, I think, for people to sometimes sort of scapegoat these issues. Any problem we have is because I'm attracted to men, or I'm attracted to women, or whatever it is. And certainly, I don't want to minimize those, but I also think we sometimes overstate the impact that those things have on marriage, when many issues are just marital issues, or gender differences, or personality things. And so, I think probably one of the biggest issues that Danielle and I have is that she's a super extrovert, and I'm a super introvert. She will send me memes joking about how to kill an introvert. You put strangers in the kitchen and you starve them to death. And so, there’s just things that make us different that, really, I think it's important for us to appreciate. Even as we acknowledge some of the unique issues, I think, if we overstate them, we alienate ourselves in ways that we can't. So, one of the things I want to talk about is ultimately sort of the narratives and identity. So, let me introduce this. So, here's where we're going today. As we think about marriage, I think about marriage in two ways: You have frame, and you have picture. The frame of marriage. Now in marriage and family therapy and a lot of the research, I think you get a lot of picture and not a lot of frame because frame is what your ‘yes’ and your ‘why’ are. What is it that we're creating together? What is our vision for marriage? And that's hard to… You can sort of research that from a qualitative standpoint, but you're not going to get hard rules and hard laws because people have very different goals for marriage, very different narratives of what marriage is. And I want to explore some of those because I think we want to have an accurate picture, but we also need to start with the right frame. So our ‘yes’ and our ‘why’ are really where the frame is, and then, the ‘how’ I see as the picture. What are the nuts and bolts that create a happy, healthy, sustainable relationship, period? And then, we want to understand what are some of the unique dynamics that might come into play when you have sexuality or gender differences? So, this is kind of where we're starting. So first, we have to know our ‘yes.’ What is your vision for your marriage? I'm going to kind of a broad frame, and then, we're going to zero in. What is your vision for your marriage? What is your ‘yes?’ What is it that you're saying yes to, because very often, especially in circumstances like this, it's really easy to get lost in nos. What I can't have, or what makes me different, or what I'm lacking, or what losses am I experiencing. And again, while we don't want to minimize those things, we do ourselves harm to the degree that we disproportionately focus on them. And I want to give you just a brief example of this even though I'm going to, again, kind of mix things around a little bit. Am I doing something wrong? Okay. So, I was having a conversation with Sherry Dew once. And as you know in her story, and she's probably talked about this publicly, she was called as a Relief Society President in her early 30s, the state Relief Society President in her early 30s. And the way she described it was that, “I was Relief Society president of a very married stake.” As you know, she's not married now, she wasn't married then. Okay. “Of a very married stake.” And she said that as she started in her ministry, one of the questions that plagued her was, “How do I as a single woman help all of these married women?” You can see where this goes. As she's focusing on these differences, it created the sense of difference and alienation for her. And then she said, “One day, I just had this epiphany where I realized that I as a woman have a lot to offer other women. And when I focused on that difference of relationship status, something that I felt kind of aliena… Made me different, one of these people is not like the others, I lost some power in my capacity for ministry. But as I focused on what I as a woman have to offer other women, there was a lot more power.” And she could see the similarities, and it enabled her to minister in a very different way. And I think how we… The identity. We talk about identity a lot these days. And we have individual identities, but we also have relational identities. And I want to define identity here today, and what that means, and why that's important, because identity is not just the words we use, it's the stories and the narratives that we live within. And how they give meaning to our lives, bad or good. So the ‘yes’ is, what is our vision? But one particular question that I want to explore today, because I think about this a lot as a researcher and as a therapist, is that as Latter Day Saints, we believe in this thing called eternal marriage. And yet, somehow, we think that signing your name on a piece of paper and kneeling across an altar for 15 minutes is going to make your marriage eternal. And it doesn't. An eternal marriage is not a marriage that is performed in the temple. That's obviously, there's healing power there, there's authority there. But an eternal marriage is a marriage, as God said that, “I am eternal. Eternal life is the kind of life that I live.” And a celestial marriage, an eternal marriage isn't just duration, it's in quality. And so, we have to ask ourselves, what is a narrative of marriage? How do we think about marriage in a way that can actually sustain an eternal marriage or sustain a marriage for eternity? Because, I tell you, in my field, there's a growing number of trainings and things on polyamory, and consensual non-monogamy, and even those that believe in strict monogamy ,it's more of a serial monogamy, and it's a monogamy as long as we like each other. The idea, or the ideal, I should say, of lifelong monogamous marriage, to say nothing of eternity, is not even really that much of a value. There was an op-ed ] it was either the Washington Post or the New York Times a few months ago, kind of talking about how the idea of a lifelong monogamous marriage is oppressive. And if you really feel called to it, if there's a sort of thing, it's increasingly not an ideal. So, we have to ask ourselves, so the narratives that we see in our culture, the values that we see perpetuated through popular media, are not going to sustain an eternal marriage. So we have to think about what is that? What does that look like? What does that mean for us? Because I think that's important. And that's not just all, that's not just all population, this is something that I think has become a challenge for a lot of Latter Day Saints. I work with BYU students whose eternal marriages have lasted about 18 months because they just were living in this sort of infatuatory Disney dream, and when things got hard, they must have married the wrong person. And that's a problem for a lot of people. So, I want to talk, I'm want to spend some time with them. So then, what is our ‘why’? What is your motivation for your marriage? What was your motivation for going into it? For those of who sort of came to a sense of self-awareness maybe around sexuality had opportunities to integrate and experience a deeper sense of congruence before marriage, that experience is going to be different than those who find themselves 10, 15, 20 years later into marriage navigating questions of sexuality, or gender identity, those kinds of things, and the experiences are going to be different. But again, so the ‘whys’ they change, but that motivational piece is important. I’m actually going to start with that in a minute. And then, there's finally the ‘how.’ What are the nuts and bolts of creating a happy, healthy, thriving, celestial marriage, period, but, in this context of mixed-orientation and mixed sexuality, marriage? This is where the social sciences really can be very, very helpful. And so, we'll spend some time on that as well. So I want to start with the ‘why’ because this is the easiest one. And then I'm going to talk about a developmental frame that will help us kind of see sometimes how this happens, or shifts, or changes, and where we need to be if we're not there. But there's a lot of research on the mental health benefits of spirituality. And that people who have have a strong spirituality have better mental health. And usually, the question is framed as spirituality, but it's hard to operationalize spirituality. So,the way you research spirituality is you identify religiosity. And again, people who are highly religious, most studies tend to show that they have higher levels of mental health. And occasionally, there's a study that will show the opposite, that people who are highly religious actually have higher rates of depression and anxiety. And so, some researchers were interested in this difference, this dissonance between some of these results. And so, they decided to do a study that looked specifically at motivation, is what we call a moderating variable. Because you can have correlations, but there may be other things that are playing a role that are unseen. And so they looked at motivation as a moderating variable. And sure enough, what they found is that people who were highly religious and internally motivated, intrinsically motivated, they're doing it because this is what they want, what gives them life, what gives them meaning, had higher levels of mental health than the general population. And what they also found is that people who are highly religious and externally motivated had higher rates of depression and anxiety. It's not just what you're doing, it's why you're doing it. All the time, we hear the question; do mixed-orientation marriages work? And the narrative is that they're doomed to fail. And I think the problem is that the framing question is fundamentally flawed because I know a lot of marriages that work quite well, and I know a lot of marriages that did not work. And , we have to shift the question, why do they work when they work? And why do they not work when they don't work? Because that's going to get us a lot closer to understanding the mechanisms, the principles that are going to promote or nurture a thriving marriage. But that ‘why’ piece really is critical. And a lot of us do things, maybe, starting out. My belief in the church, my activity in the church as a child was motivated by the fact that that's what my family did. It was a family cultural thing. At some point, I gained a testimony, a personal testimony, but I think a lot of my motivation, still had a little bit of a hustling factor, kind of a perfectionism and an anxiety kind of in there, which is not awesome. And then, later, through some profound spiritual experiences that I want to actually talk a little bit about, my motivations for why I do what I do have fundamentally changed. Even if what I'm doing on the surface hasn't always changed. And the ‘why’ because my ‘why’ has shifted, my faith has become much more life giving. And so, I think, again, whether that's on an individual level, why do you do what you do? But then, as couples, we negotiate a kind of relational identity. John Gottman in his book, ‘Seven Principles for Making marriage work.’ If you don't know John Gottman, he's kind of one of the premier researchers on marriage, if not the premier researcher on marriage. And one of his principles was having a… Creating shared meaning. If you're going to thrive in marriage, you as a couple have to co-create a sense of meaning for your marriage. Why are you together doing what you're doing, not just individually, but together as well? And that shared meaning could go a long way in helping to help couples flourish. So that's the ‘why.’ Now, I want to spend the rest of the time today on the ‘yes’ and the ‘how.’ Now, the ‘yes’ piece is big. Because, again, what are we moving toward? This is where I think I wrote probably five different presentations. But the question is, again, what is a narrative? What is your ‘yes’? What is your narrative? Evangelical Christians often will talk about how you can't have a vocation of ‘no’. Vocation, we don't use that word in Latter Day Saints a lot, but in Catholics, and other evangelicals, your vocation is kind of the sense of mission that you have that God is calling you into. So when we say mission, we have a very particular context for that. That’s something you do, you go on a mission. And a lot of people go on missions who never really live in mission. So, having a sense of mission, or a sense of vocation I think is really key to adult spirituality. But they talked about having a vocation of ‘yes.’ As one gay Christian writer said, “You can't have a vocation of not getting gay married, or not having gay sex, you have to have a vocation of ‘yes.’” What is your ‘yes’? What forms of love, and connection, and intimacy is God calling you to say yes to? Because if you don't have a ‘yes,’ if you're living from a place of ‘no,’ you're going to live a hard life. You're only going to see your life in terms of loss, and sacrifice, and fairness and what's unfair. And yet, there are so many beautiful things that God is calling us to say yes to, even as we choose to live within the covenants that we make as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. And so, I want us to think about what is the ‘yes’ that God is calling us into. Interestingly, if you remember this, this is from a talk that Elder Uchtdorf gave a few, maybe, three four conferences ago, but he talked about this idea of walking in circles. This is research from the Max Planck's Institute, but it's a metaphor for something really powerful, I think. But he said this, “There's an oft-repeated theory that people who are lost walk in circles. Not long ago, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics tested that theory. They took participants to a thick forest and gave them simple instructions, ‘Walk in a straight line.’ There were no visible landmarks. The test subjects had to rely solely on their sense of direction.” How do you think they did? “The scientists concluded that ‘people really do walk in circles when they do not have reliable cues to their walking direction.’ When questioned afterwards, some participants self-confidently claimed that they had not deviated in the slightest. Despite their high confidence, GPS data showed that they walked in loops as tight as 20 meters in diameter. Why do we have such a hard time walking in a straight line? Some researchers hypothesize that small, seemingly insignificant deviations in terrain make the difference. Others have pointed to the fact that we all have one leg that is slightly stronger than the other. more likely. However, we struggle to walk in a straight line because of ‘increasing uncertainty about where straight ahead is.’ Whatever the cause, it is human nature that without reliable landmarks we drift off course.” And this is where I think our ‘yes,’ our vision really needs to be. There's a Chinese proverb that I love, “If your vision is for a year, plant wheat. If your vision is for 10 years, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, plant people,” And the Latter Day Saint version of this would be, “If your vision is for eternity plant gods.” What is God making of us? Why are we here? What are we doing? What is the purpose of the experiences that we have here? And I think our theology gives us the potential of the most life-giving kinds of narratives even for the difficult things that we might experience here. So now, before I go there, I want to provide an idealistic vision of relationships that I have never seen in reality. But I do like the vision. And then, I want to kind of talk about how do we get there? What does that look like, and how do we get there? But one of the things I've come increasingly to believe over time… As many of you know, in my master's program, I had some very strong spiritual experiences that I needed to start kind of studying mindfulness and learning how to be in solitude with God. And as I started really kind of studying mindfulness, which sort of burst through a mental health lens, but then our conceptions of mindfulness in the West are sort of stripped-down versions of Buddhist spiritual practice. And, as I started listening to a lot of Buddhist psychologists, and Buddhist psychotherapists who we're kind of bringing in teachings of the Buddha, and other Buddhist spiritual teachers, one of the things that I started to feel and to believe is that Eastern conceptions of love are much closer to gospel conceptions of love than our western Victorian romantic conceptions of love are. And that, ultimately, that love is not love unless it is free. The degree to which I think of relationships from a stance of utility, how you meet my needs, or you make me happy, is the degree to which love is actually compromised in the relationship. You can love somebody that you can't be in relationship with, so I don't want to give the idea that I'm promoting you should just love people whatever or tolerate any kind of behavior in relationship. Healthy, thriving relationships do need a quality of reciprocity. There are things that we need to do to nurture healthy relationships. But we have to look at those things as different from a question of love. Because most of the way we talk about love, when you really break it down, we're actually talking about utility. It's very self-oriented, not other-oriented. The other person's value in the relationship is what they offer us as individuals, and which is kind of narcissistic, but we don't see it that way. So, this is a yoga teacher who said to us that true love in a relationship is realized only when two people each connected with his or her deepest self unite. Now, we have a synergistic and not a draining relationship. We love one another, not because we need love, and not because the other needs love, but because love overflows our cup and we must share. Then, rather than fall in love, we rise in love. Christian writer, Catholic writer, Henry Nouwen, before he passed away, he wrote a piece called ‘Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.’ He talked about this episode in the life of the Savior where he went up in the mount, spent the night in solitude with God, came down, called his apostles, and then went out with his apostles into ministry. And, as he broke down this event, he said, “There's an order here.” And he said, “I believe that that order is a type for our lives, but in all that we do, before we go into ministry, we really need relationships.” And that's sort of not just what are we doing, but who are we doing it with. So, we nurture these relationships. But before we can build relationships, we need to know who you are, and that Jesus first spent the night in solitude receiving from God that which only God could give him. And he said that order is important because if we don't get from God what he can give to us, we start looking to fallen mortal humans to give to us what only God can give to us. And we start holding other people responsible to give to us the unconditional love, existential meaning, and all of the things that we need. And he said, too often, it's us coming into relationship as lonely individuals, it's loneliness clinging onto loneliness. But when we come to God, and know that we are the beloved, and we receive this divine light, truth, Grace, knowledge, this infusion of God's love, then we come into relationship with others who have the same, and it's the beloved clinging to the beloved, not the lonely clinging to the lonely. And I think there's something powerful there. The degree to which we do not know who we are and are looking for humans to gift us what only God can give us is the degree to which we're going to put a stress on relationships that will ultimately cause them to stress fracture. Mortal humans just can't give us everything. So, I want to think, how do we get closer to this ideal? What does that look like? So, for a second here, I want to talk about identity. We often talk about identity as if it's synonymous with labels. And labels are not identity. They're not unrelated, but labels are typically the things, the words we choose based on the stories that we tell. But two people could use the same word. You could have two people who identify as gay, whose story, what that means in their lives in fundamentally different ways. Or two people who identify as same-sex attracted, or whatever. You might have one that's coming from a really secure place where that label feel kind of oppressive, and you might have somebody else that’s more of a shame-based, and is more of an anxiety-based way of fear of taking on labels. So, the words we use can have a lot underneath them. But identity is really about what's underneath. What are the stories that we tell ourselves about what we're experiencing? What does it mean to be attracted to the same sex? What does it mean to experience gender dysphoria? And then, we take on labels and identities based on that experience. And then, we have narratives of relationships. How do we story marriage? Jesus, at one point, said this, probably heard this somewhere before, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” But the 20th, 21st-century version of this, we as 21st-century Westerners, we think this is what Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man or woman than this, that any and all consenting adults should experience passionate romance, intimate pair bonding, and maximize sexual fulfillment all the days of their life. And be wary of children for they may inhibit life satisfaction.” This is the progressive 20th, 21st-century Western American narrative. It's rooted in expressive individualism, and Victorian romanticism, and all these isms that Jesus did not teach. And if we can't see through that, we're going to expect things or want things for marriage that will hold our marriage and our spouses often hostage to things. We have to have a better vision. Now, this is where that last piece comes from. If you haven't seen this, there was a Time Magazine cover story that the child-free life when having it all means not having kids. If you really want to maximize your happiness, consider the burden that children will be in your life. And again, these narratives are taking pretty strongholds in the West. Then one of my favorite quotes, and I actually owe this to Heidi, and I asked her if I could steal it from her because she was going to use it in her presentation but I'm here first. Sorry, not sorry. But I love this thought. This actually comes from ‘The Meaning of Marriage,’ Tim Keller, He's quoting somebody else, but this is from his book. “Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes that marriage and family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment necessary for us to become whole and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry, and that if we look closely enough, we will find the right person. The moral assumption here overlooks a crucial aspect of marriage, it fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.” I love that. We never know whom we marry, we just think we do. If I had a nickel for every time I heard a couple say something like, “I thought we knew each other when we got married, but we did not know each other.” Even Danielle and I have jokes because when we were dating, she's like, “Sometimes I feel like we're the same person.” And now, today, she's like, “We're so different.” And I'm like, “Do you still like me?” And she's like, “Sometimes.” But we just think we do, or even if we marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. I have a couple that I'm working with, and this has become extremely conflicted because we're in an election season. When they first got married, they both had similar social and political views, they were both kind of identified as sort of a center-right. Over the course of their marriage, she has moved hard-right, and he has moved kind of center-left. And they have both made comments to the effect o, “I have no respect for someone who can vote for him.” And it's become this real conflict. Like, “I can't believe you can see the world that way,” and this sort of thing. And they're really good people. And when they're not getting lost in their political differences, sometimes, they really like each other, but there's nothing underneath that marriage that I can't see them really working through, but they just… There's these conflicts that affect the way they see each other. But conflicts they would never had foreseen or foreknown when they got married after dating for six months. And that's best case scenario for some marriages. For marriage, being the enormous thing that it is, means that we are not the same person even after we've entered it. The primary problem is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. Esther Perel, when Heidi and I present later we're going to talk a lot about her, a very prominent sexologist therapist. Really brilliant thinker in a lot of ways. She made a comment recently, she said, “Over the course of an average lifespan, individuals will have… Well, over the lifespan, individuals will have an average of four to five different marriages.” And she said, “Most of those are to the same person.” And then, she sort of jokes, she's like, “I think my husband and I have had maybe four different marriages, and he thinks we've had probably five or six.” So again, over the lifespan, as we grow and evolve, we need to A) Continue to nurture the relationship. We can't just ride the wave, the laurels of how we felt in the honeymoon stage. And we also, as we evolve and change, we need to be willing to be flexible and kind of renegotiate what that means for us and our future. So, here we have this idea of the triangle, the divine triangle that a man and woman are married together. As we enter into covenant, it's ultimately thee covenant with God and with each other. And as we move closer to God, we will move closer to each other. As Paul says, “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man in the Lord.” And Gary Thomas, another Christian writer who wrote a book called sacred marriage. He subtitles his book this “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Now, in a culture rooted Victorian romanticism and expressive individualism, these are fighting words. You're trying to take something from me here, my personal happiness, my personal fulfillment, that I've been dreaming about ever since I started watching Disney movies and writing my list of my future spouse in young men's and women's. We never did that, I don't know if that's just a young women's thing, or if young men get it too. But I'm not actually confident young men do. But I know a lot of young women do. But we kind of have these ideals that we are striving for. And we may get lucky if we get some of those. But, in that process, the tricky thing is that there are going to be some myths of darkness, there's going to be some things that cloud that process. That may be that your spouse's political beliefs change. That may be that some historical trauma comes to light. That may be family of origin issues impacting them, other cultural narratives. There could be a number of different things. Evolutions and faith, or faith perspective. There's just a number of things that can impact, that can make that process really difficult. But again, our relationships really are, they sanctify us, they shape us. As Ram Dass said, he's a prominent contemplative. He said, “As soon as you think you're enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” You think you're enlightened when you're doing yoga, and then you go home and your spouse triggers every rough spot you have. It's easy to be enlightened on a mountaintop or on a yoga mat, it's hard to be enlightened in relationships. And yeah, this is the sanctifying process that God has called us into; our marriages. As much as I do believe that God has designed marriage to make us happy, I think we also have to conceptualize, reconceptualize what we mean by that. Does it mean feeling good all the time? Andrew Weil, who's a Harvard-trained physician, who became very disillusioned with medicine very early on because it's basically owned by the pharmaceutical industry, and he's then pioneered a subfield of medicine called integrative medicine. But he talks about depression. He's like, “One of the things that fuels depression…” One of the things, and not to oversimplify because there's a lot of things that can contribute to depression. But he said, “At least, one of them is the belief, the cultural belief that we're supposed to be happy all the time. Being happy all the time is not a natural state.” And when we try to force nature, something that is not natural, the expectation that we're supposed to be happy all the time is part of what contributes to depression and anxiety. We're doing something wrong. What's wrong with me? It can feel shame. And he said, ironically, in his book ‘Spontaneous Happiness,’ that it is possible to foster a state of contentedness where we really can live contented all the time. And from that state of contentedness, we're going to have moments of happiness, but they're going to come more spontaneously. It's not something you can predict or force, and if we try, it can hurt us in the process. So, we have to be kind of aware that there are going to be a lot of forces working against us. So, before we go there, I want to talk a little bit about cultural narratives. I've been thinking about this a lot, this comes back to the question of what is a narrative that can sustain eternal marriage? And Kathleen Flake, she is the chair of Mormon studies at University of Virginia. And she gave a talk a few years ago at Utah State University, and she was approaching it as a sort of an academic. And it was called ‘The Emotional and Priestly Logic of Plural Marriage.’ And she said, “I'm not trying to defend or say why plural marriage was logical.” She said, “As a historian and as a religious studies scholar, I wanted to understand why those who thrived in it, and who defended it thought it was logical.” And she said, “As I was really researching plural marriage in 19th century, and looking at those who really struggled and those who thrived, there was one particular theme that continued to emerge over time and it was what people believed about marriage. What was their narrative of marriage.” And then to put that into some historical context, what we sort of take for granted is sort of the romanticism. It really was popularized, started to become popular in the late 18th, early 19th centuries. We have St. Jane Austen to thank for some of that. The patron saint of Romans. But it started to popularize in the late 1830, 19th centuries. And so, as Joseph Smith, as the restoration is coming into play, there's still a very strong covenant, very strong religious notion of marriage. It's about family bonds, and, of course, we have some economic and other things in there. But then, this Victorian romanticism was what was then called the love-based marriage. Now, we don't say love-based, that just sounds redundant. But interestingly enough, in Indian culture, where there's still a really strong culture of arranged marriages, they still refer to Western marriages as the love-based marriage because they have more of a conception of marriage is the school of love. Love isn't something you just have figured out before you get married because you fell into it, and the rest of life is just trying to hold onto what you fell into. You see, you understand that marriage is a school of love, and getting married, there's a lot of factors that go into it. So, they still kind of use that language. But, at the time, even though we don't use that word anymore, at the time, there was this idea of the love-based marriage. And part of her thesis was that Joseph Smith was de-romanticizing marriage when he thought marriage as an order of priesthood. That it's not just about romanticism, it's a sort of this capstone ordinance, a priesthood ordinance that men and women enter in together, the fullness of the Melchizedek priesthood, that has to encompass all preceding covenants. If we don't understand the baptismal covenants, or priesthood covenants, which apply to both men and women -- that's a whole conversation for another day -- if we don't understand the covenants of sacrifice, and consecration, and obedience, and the love the gospel, and chastity, we cannot understand marriage. We can't understand marriage if we don't… Again, I think a lot about consecration. How does our understanding of the law of consecration, the covenants of consecration, inform a Latter Day Saint view of what it means to be in a marriage? What the Lord taught in D&C 105 is sort of the law of the celestial kingdom. But yet we just think it's all about… We still, even though we believe in eternal marriage, it's still sort of Disney for eternity. That's a good name for a movie. Disney forever. And then, we write plays like ‘Saturday's Warrior,’ where romance doesn't just start in life, it started in the pre-mortal world. “I've seen that face somewhere before,” I can sing it. I'm not going to, but I could. And so, we just have this idea that we knew each other in the pre-mortal world, and we just have to find that person, and you'll know, and you want to burst into the song. These are the narratives that even Latter Day Saints, we theologize something that is not theological, that is not doctrine. And I think some of these narratives actually inform some of the conflicts, some of the challenges that those who are navigating questions of sexuality wrestle with, and they're real. But this idea, and the other thing that I want to notice that Stephanie Cook… Because in this line, so basically, what Kathleen Flake speaks to is that those who struggled most with plural marriage, I’m not making a case for plural marriage, I don't believe that plural marriage is an eternal institution personally, I'm open to whatever, but that's not my point. My point is that it's the narrative of marriage that matters. And those who believed, who had a more Victorian romantic view of marriage were the most likely to struggle in plural marriage. And the way Kathleen says it, she said, “Those who thrived in plural marriage had a priestly view of marriage.” And so, even though… I teach at BYU, I teach in internal family class where we talk about marriage as an order of priesthood. Most students are like, “Why have we never heard this?” Like, “Probably because you've never read D&C 131, maybe.” We have, but we don't understand what it means. We don't understand the significance of it. And so, but she said that those who through believe had a priestly view of marriage, and those felt differently. And she uses Fanny Stenhouse is a popular example, a prominent example of this, who ended up leaving a plural marriage that she was in, and then, left the church. She said, “ What I most longed for was to be the sole queen and mistress of my husband's heart.” That's good romanticism. “What I longed to be was the sole queen and mistress of my husband's heart and Mormonism robbed me of that.” And so, again, these are the views that we have. And what I believe is that that conflict actually provides a far better analog for where we see the conversation around LGBT issues in our culture today, than blacks in the priesthood, and how we got it wrong, and eventually, we got it right. Because I believe that those who have a priestly view of marriage will navigate their sexuality very differently than those whose views and narratives are rooted in Victorian romanticism, expressive individualism, and sexual or queer liberation. So, we have to ask ourselves, “What is my story? And what are the influences that have been fueling my story?” And so, one of the things that Stephanie, she's a prominent sociologist and a historian of marriage, who's written a lot about this tension of what she calls the paradox of marriage. And she said that the flavor of romanticism… And I want to be very clear that I'm not trying to poopoo on romanticism, because I think it can have a place and it can have value, but not as a foundational narrative. It's more of a flavoring and something that we nurture within it, but not as story because every single culture that has adopted romanticism as a primary motivation for a narrative marriage, the stability of the institution of marriage has been fundamentally destroyed. And she's not conservative, she's not trying to make a case for returning to the good old days. What she is saying is that there are two tensions, you have quality, but then, you also have stability. And she said, “When the narratives that Victorian romanticism promote place a high level of expectation on marriage…” And sometimes, in some ways, that's been good, because people, when they're happy, they're happier and more satisfied in marriages than we've ever been. But, at the same time, we've put some undue stress and expectations that are not realistic, that has caused marriage to stress fracture. And it's ultimately become far less stable than it's ever been. And so, there's this idea of what is a narrative that can create stability even as we try to increase satisfaction in marriage. And interestingly enough, there's where I have the four option survey, where some colleagues and I, kind of liberal conservative collaborative effort, looked at different life paths for sexual minorities, focusing specifically on sexuality, but what are the potential life paths and it's single celibate, single sexually active, opposite sex relationships, mixed-orientation/same sex relationships. And that paradox shows up here too because, as much as there is a narrative that mixed-orientation marriages don't work, in our study, what we found was that about 80% total, like if you take satisfied and highly satisfied, and there was about roughly 500 people, so the total sample was about 2000. And there were roughly 500, give or take, in each of the categories. Actually, the largest sub-sample we have, about 530 was those in mixed-orientation relationships. And for the narrative that mixed-orientation marriages don't work, 64.8, to be exact, reported being satisfied or highly satisfied. And if you add those that are more satisfied than dissatisfied or neutral, you have almost 84%. Now, the percentage, and this is where this paradox is interesting to me, the percentage of those who are satisfied in mixed-orientation relationships was lower than those who are in same sex relationships because the percentage of those who are satisfied in same sex relationships was 94. So, 10% more reported being satisfied. But the paradox of this is that, while there was greater satisfaction, there was also two and a half times less stability. mixed-orientation relationships, at least, in this study, were two and a half times more stable than same sex relationships. So, there's this kind of wrestle, this paradox, again, of what promotes stability, which is typically going to be values, commitments, children, covenants, religious values, and what promotes satisfaction. Fall in love, awesome, fall out of love, go find somebody else to fall in love with. And I was kind of looking at some other researches to see how does this looking at stability in same sex relationships, and most other studies that I've been able to find… Because the average length of mixed-orientation relationships in our sample, it was about the same amount, about 500 same sex relationships. The average relationship length of mixed-orientation was 17 years, and the average relationship length of same sex was seven years. And comparing that to other studies that I was able to find, seven was actually high. And so, again, you have this paradox that we all have to wrestle with. So, how does my expectations of what marriage does, how does that impact us? So, in terms of ‘yes,’ and how we think about it in the narrative of marriage… Elder Maxwell said something that I think is really valuable. He said that “God loves us, and loving us has placed us here to cope with challenges which he will place before us.” And I'm not sure that we can always understand the implications of his love because his love will call us at times to do things that we may wonder about. And we may be confronted with circumstances that we would rather not face. I believe, with all of my heart, that because God loves us, there are some particularized challenges that he will deliver to each of us. He will customize the curriculum, I love that phrase. He will customize the curriculum for each of us in order to teach us the things that we most need to know. He will set before us in life the things that we need, not always that we like, and this will require us to us to accept with all of our hearts, the truth that there is divine design in each of our lives, and that you have rendezvous to keep individually and collectively. When I first started kind of navigating my own experience, I did have that kind of, “Why me, this is unfair, how come everybody else gets to have the things that I don't get to have, and whatnot.” And I've had a couple of experiences that fundamentally shifted that for me, that I'm not going to spend a lot of time on but they were really important. And I think in terms of framing a ‘yes’ that both an individual, ‘yes’ is but also that we need to think about in terms of relational ‘yes.’ I had an experience where I felt I had… There's three kinds of framing spiritual experiences that I had. But one of them was this experience where I felt, I had a vision of love. I don't even know how else to call it. But it was what I would think of as a vision, but it wasn't seeing, it was feeling. And it was just feeling enveloped in this feeling of God's love, but not for me. It was the sense of this is the love that you will feel, and it will become a permanent part of your being. And the love that I felt, that all of us will feel for each other, made all of the ways that we talk about sex, and romance, and love, and relationships feel so shallow, and so trite, and so earthy. In that moment, my question stopped being about how do I sort of survive mortality with this thorn in my flesh. I stopped seeing this as a weakness. And I stopped really thinking about it much at all except through this lens of how I could grow into that quality of love. How do I develop? How do I become that? Because that's all I want. Because that is beautiful, and it's worth living for, and it is worth sacrificing for. And then, a couple of years later, again, I was single at this time, I did not think I was going to get married. But I think this focus is part of what prepared me to get to the point where I could be in this place to have the kind of marriage that Danielle and I have. And I was just in graduate school, and I don't even think I was really asking for anything, but I just had this kind of very clear impression that I knew before I was born that this would be a part of my mortal experience, and it would be tied to my mission. And that was the moment that I also started thinking about consecration. And I started thinking about this, again, not just a weakness, not a thought, or not a trial, but more of a stewardship, that this experience that I have is a stewardship that God has given me, that he is going to ask me to consecrate to build the kingdom. And that turned it into a ‘yes.’ How can I use this? How does God want me to use this. Not survive this, to use it to do good, and to build the kingdom, and to bring people to Christ? And those two experiences have been so shaping and framing for how I have navigated my life and how I viewed my individual experience, my marriage, all of this as living out my ‘yes.’ I don't think about life in terms of unfairness anymore. And I don't think God sees our experiences in terms of fairness either. Jesus didn't come to save the Jews from the Romans, he came to save them from themselves. And yet, they wanted to deliverer, a political, a mortal, temporal deliverer. And he's like, “You've understood this all wrong.” And I don't think God sees our experience, we actually think, Ah, it's just not fair. Why does everybody else could have what I can't have? And why does everybody else can live in natural? And I don't think God, again, views this experience in terms of fairness, I think he views all of our experiences in terms of our customized curriculum and opportunities for growth and development. How does God want us individually to grow and to develop into godly attributes through this yours, mine customized curriculum. And again, all of us, we might have some kind of shared experience that brings us here today, but we have lots of different experiences that are all part of your each, individually, your unique experiences. And so, we have to think about that. And I want to share one last experience, and then I'm going to kind of just kind of capstone frame some of the other things I want to talk about. And then, I'm happy to share slides with you if that would be helpful. There was an experience. So, since that experience, I've been very interested in pre-birth experiences because I wanted to understand… Because there's near death experiences. There's a sub genre where people will be asked if they would like to see themselves before they were born. And the themes of that are consistent, and they get to see themselves being presented with a number of different challenges or difficulties. And they choose the ones that they would like to experience, that would help them to develop godly attributes that they also chose. And this is one experience that this woman shared that I just think is really… I love her analogy. But she said it this way. She said, “After I had selected the challenges that I would experience on earth, I entered into a waiting area.” And she was in the hospital, had a guide, and the guide was like, “Would you like to see yourself before you were born?” And she comes from a fundamentalist Christian background, and the way she talked about it she's like, “I didn't even know that was a thing.” But I said, “Sure, why not?” She's like, “Nobody ever told us we live before we were born, or told me that.” And so, she has this experience. She saw herself choosing a number of challenges that she would have. So, “After I'd selected these challenges, I entered into a waiting area. It was here that I and my angelic escort went over the choices that I had made. I understood very clearly the implications of each choice. And I also knew that I had chosen what those on earth would consider to be a very hard life. I knew that to achieve the wisdom, empathy, and growth I needed, these challenges were necessary. Don't get me wrong, when I saw that I had chosen a life of adversity, that didn't mean that those I met on earth were predestined to abuse me.” That was one of the things that she chose, she was abused as a child. “But I knew that I would be placed in an environment where abuse would be likely to occur. And I was excited for the opportunity to experience life to its fullest. I wanted to experience it all. And I could see how various experiences on earth could help me to grow, and I wanted them. So, I selected many opportunities,” and I love the parenthesis here, “On Earth, it would be defined as challenges or adversity,” but there we thought of them as opportunities. How many of you would think of your marriage, or individual experiences, your marriages as opportunities rather than adversities? “As I reviewed the various events in my life, my angelic host asked, ‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’ And I replied, ‘Yes, Yes, I'm sure.’ You see, at that time, my perspective was eternal.” I love this because I teach especially relevant. “I knew the time on earth is very short and would be quickly over, it's sort of like going to college. Yes, I know I have a difficult course load, but it's only for a semester. 16 weeks, and then it's over. I needed the experiences that these classes would provide to prepare me for the rest of my eternal existence. When the review concluded, I was asked if I had any questions, and I said, ‘No,’ I was ready and eager to go to earth. When I stood up, I found myself surrounded by a bright light. My angelic escorts informed me this light will be for your protection. As long as you live your life righteously,and live what you have been taught, you will be protected.” So, we have the story. How do we story our relationships and how you share an experience? I don't even know if I can say this, but when you're teaching, would it be appropriate to say this? Can you say it, the one you shared with me from the last conference that somebody shared in your workshop? The dream? Can you share that really loud real quickly? I just thought that was similar and really kind of beautiful in a relational sense.
It was actually shared by a spouse. She talked about how she… This is the right story, right, Ty? Okay. She kept asking herself, “Why me?” When she found out about her husband. And that was just a continuous ‘why me’ question. And she said that, one night, she had a dream, and she was kneeling at the feet of the Savior, she recognized that she and her husband were both kneeling at his feet. And the Savior had a very heavy backpack, and he extended it to her. And she said, “Please, no, not me.” And her husband said, “I'll take it.” And she said, after that, she never asked the question, “Why me?” Again. That was a very impactful story to me. Hopefully, it's okay that I shared it.
So, an individual experience, different people are going to have different experiences. But I think how God teaches us our ‘whys’ is going to be, I think, one of the most important parts of our journey. The last piece here, I want to talk to… I’m going to just to breeze through a couple pieces here on the ‘how.’ And I wanted to frame this, I want to talk about, it's important to separate what I would call tears. We have sort of the nuts and bolts of what makes marriage work that are foundational, I don't think that these are any special rules. These are the same rules for everyone. You got Gottman’s principles, you've got attachment theory and differentiation models. There's all sorts of things that are just across the board the foundation for any healthy marriage. And I don't think mixed-orientation relationships are any exception to any of these, that somehow, being naturally attracted to someone is going to be the thing that's going to save you for the rest of your life. As one heterosexual individual said, he's like, “I'm not attracted to 55 year old bodies, I'm attracted to 25 year bodies.” It’s like, “So, what are you going to do? Divorce your wife and go find a 25 year old because the greatest good is having natural sexual attraction in your marriage?” He's like, “I was attracted to her, but I'm just not anymore.” It's not a mixed-orientation thing, what’s he going to do with that? So, we have these things we have to look at. So, what are the nuts and bolts? Then what are gender differences? There are people that think, “I's like, I feel like this is an SSA issue.” I'm like, “No, it's more of a male issue,” or that's a female issue. And do we really understand just how different… And this isn't even mixed rotation stuff. I've worked with couples who are both are heterosexual that they just feel like something's wrong. I'm like, “No, the problem is that your husband thinks like a man and you think like a woman.” Even in the sexual relationships, if I could boil down to do a lot of sex therapy, the frustrations that couples bring to marriage, the biggest problem is that women want their husbands to think about sex like women do, and men want women to think about sex like men do. There's your problem in a nutshell. And, granted, there are other complications. That's not to oversimplify, but a lot of times, there's just these differences that we have, and we can't scapegoat those to something that we just think is more than that. And then, personal differences, family of origin issues, personality, attachment styles, love languages, wounds and weaknesses that we sort of respectively bring. And then, finally, there's certainly going to be some things that are unique to same sex sexuality, or gender dysphoria, or whatever. But I also think that we need to see those in context, and I think they're going to be relatively small, to all of these other things that are going to be just as important that show up in any marriage, even interest in people outside of the relationship, or falling in love with somebody else regardless of gender, And now, I'm going to put in a shameless plug really quickly. I have to say, I'm not proud of this cover, but I had no say in it. But this is coming out. Because, again, we talk a lot about equal partnership in the church, and I think we sort of give lip service because I have couples who value equal partnership while one of them is hiding the finances. And it's like, “That's not an equal partnership. You're in more of kind of this compete, accommodate, not a collaborative equal partnership, or dynamic.” And if you've ever seen Bethany Spalding and MacArthur Krishna, they did the ‘A Boy's Guide to Heavenly Mother,’ and ‘Girls Guide to Heavenly Mother’ books, if you have seen those. They wanted to do a book on equal partnership in marriage that's based on Julie Hanks’s dissertation. And then, they invited four different therapists. So, Julie Hanks, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, as therapists, to identify some of these 12 principles, like, what does an equal partnership and marriage really look like? Because a lot of couples struggle with this. And we have to understand, what are the laws that govern healthy relationships, and equal partnerships? And this comes out, and they'll start marketing this in December or January, but it's kind of 12 principles, 12 months to be a workbook. Take a principle in your marriage each month and work on nurturing this equal partnership throughout. And then, finally, this will be my kind of close here. From the four options survey data, there were some predictors of satisfaction that were true across the board. These were the strongest predictors of life satisfaction, regardless of path. And then, there were some that were specific to mixed-orientation relationships. So, one of the strongest was meeting needs for connection, intimacy in the truest sense of that word, and mutual understanding. Those that have that in marriage were satisfied, those that didn't weren't. Those who are single and have this need met were satisfied and healthy, and those that didn't weren't. Now, it’s easier to get those needs met in a marriage. But, again, mixed rotation relationships and same sex relationships both had higher levels of satisfaction than the single categories. But you have people who are highly satisfied, highly dissatisfied in all of them. But that was the strongest predictive variable. And then, the other four that were close to that were experiencing commitment, physical, or sexual intimacy. It didn't have to be sexual, but physical connection, intimacy. Physical intimacy in the sense of non-romantic relationships, like platonic physical intimacy. And in romantic relationships, romantic, heterosexual, physical intimacy was important. And then, authentic sexual expression, however, that was defined. So, if someone was in a mixed-orientation relationship and felt like this is my choice, I'm choosing this, and this is a way, even if it's not like the most naturally sexually attracted to, this is a way in which I feel like my choice to be here is an authentic expression of who, and where, and how I want to be in the world, and live my life.” Resolving conflicts with religion, so navigating through some of the faith dissonances that come up. And then, reducing vulnerability to depression and anxiety. And then, the ones that were specific were to mixed-orientation relationships, again, which had about 84%, satisfied; meeting needs for connection, intimacy, mutual understanding, that was the highest. Expressing sexuality in ways that feel best within your values, and that felt congruent. And then, experiencing… There wasn't a high difference, but there was more opposite sex attraction. And then, resolving issues around depression. Resolving conflict between faith and sexuality. And then, discouraging masturbation. Kind of random. But those who believe that masturbation was contrary to the goods of marriage had higher levels of satisfaction than those who did not. But again, there's this idea of how do we create this? So, all of this is some, and there's probably about 40 more minutes of things that I didn't get to talk about. But with this idea of understanding our ‘why,’ and our ‘yes.’ What are you living toward, and living for? I think, is one of the most important things that we can have to make our marriages life-giving, to thrive rather than just to survive. And then, within that, we have to understand the laws that make marriage work. And that could be a three hour presentation in and of itself. And with that, I want to say thank you for that. And, from here, thank you. And then, I don't even remember who I said, who's Next? The cases. I'm going to turn the time over to them.