346: Intimacy in Mormon Marriages

holland-memeMormon theology, including temple covenants, along with pulpit and lesson rhetoric and cultural and community discourse place a strong emphasis on the family. It also focuses on our becoming as fully like God as we can, including perfecting the combination of strength and vulnerability, independence and relationality. In Mormon marriages, this means developing full intimacy with our spouses, which requires first a genuine intimacy with ourselves, facing our challenges and becoming whole. All of our theology and values point to this type of “becoming”—becoming one with God, within ourselves, and with our spouse. Yet, are there aspects of Mormon thought, culture, and practice that work against the development of genuine intimacy between spouses? And, if so, how might we come to better understand these in ways that will allow us ultimately to change them, but along the way, for ourselves, to at least transcend them?

In this episode, Carol Lynn PearsonStephen Carter, and Jennifer Finlayson-Fife join Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon for a focused discussion of intimacy in Mormon Marriages. Pearson alerts us to the negative consequences of the persistence of polygamy in our doctrines, practices, and in the hearts and minds of many Latter-day Saints, leading to a terrific discussion that dives down several more layers and, ultimately, to our imagining a “partnership” future that has transcended the harm engendered by “patriarchy.” Carter takes us into several interesting areas related to gender roles, church structures, and ways that the LDS culture places “value” on and judges the success or failure of a marriage—all of which that work against intimacy. Finlayson-Fife lifts up examples and insights from her career as a marriage and family therapist working with Mormon clientele, along with calling us again and again to pay attention to the core gospel of Jesus Christ, what Christ pointed to, which is internal transformation and development not external performance.

The above is just a tease! There’s so much more! Dive in! And then please join in the discussion in the comments section below!

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Links:

Carol Lynn Pearson, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men (Walnut Creek, CA: Pivot Point Books, 2016)
Carol Lynn Pearson, Beginnings and Beyond (Springville, UT: Cedar Fort, 2011). Contains the poem, “The Steward.”
Carol Lynn Pearson website
Jennifer Finlayson-Fife website; link to relationship courses
Sunstone, Perspectives on Polygamy Issue (includes Stephen Carter’s review essay discussed in the podcast)
Eugene England, “On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage,” Dialogue 20, no. 4 (Winter 1987); link is to version on the Eugene England website (but it links to original if wanted)
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Not mentioned in the show, but here is a fantastic article: Marybeth Raynes, “How Sex and Spirituality are Linked: A Developmental Perspective,” Sunstone, Nov 2011. It shares both via research as well as samples from poetry, lyrics, and other literature various levels of intimacy and the spirituality associated with it.

Comments

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25 comments for “346: Intimacy in Mormon Marriages

  1. Dan Wotherspoon
    October 7, 2016 at 9:14 am

    Priming the pump for a discussion of movies and novels whose main focus is a marriage, here is a list from Stephen Carter (with some items generated during the episode conversation). Please suggest ones that strike you as fitting this category well.

    MOVIES
    On Golden Pond
    Scenes from a Marriage
    Amour (2012)
    45 Years
    Junebug
    The Last Station
    Ordinary People
    Shadowlands
    The Painted Veil

    NOVELS/PLAYS/MEMOIRS:
    Bound on Earth, by Angela Hallstrom
    Heresies of Nature, by Margaret Blair Young
    Family,” a play by Eric Samuelsen
    Goodbye, I Love You, by Carol Lynn Pearson
    Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
    How to Be Good, by Nick Hornby

    • Yetta
      October 7, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Away From Her is a beautiful reflection on how to gracefully navigate the painful changes that come with the slow and agonizing loss of a partner to dementia. Highly recommended.

    • October 7, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      My essay collection has an essay on Marriage: “Mr Mustard Plaster and Other Mormon Essays.”
      Mary Bradford

    • Brian D.
      October 14, 2016 at 1:07 pm

      There is a fantastic film about marriage vis a vis gender roles and unmet expectations in stressful situations. It is a swiss film titled Force Majeure.

      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2121382/?ref_=nv_sr_1

      Also, I really loved this conversation, in particular the second half of the podcast.

    • Maggie
      October 21, 2016 at 8:18 pm

      I think tv offers some great stories about marriage.

      Mad About You
      Friday Night Lights
      Poldark
      Parenthood

      And as for movies?

      Julie and Julia is an interesting look at two different marriages

  2. Gwen Hutchings
    October 7, 2016 at 9:35 am

    I don’t know that I would agree that very “few movies focus on the actual marriage.” From cheaper by the dozen to Swiss family Robinson to Mary Poppins, we have many examples of marriages running through the course of raising kids and all the craziness that that entails.

    I think I would be one of those that agrees that the typical Mormon “worships or idolizes heterosexual marriage” to an unhealthy degree. The Proclamation on the Family has not been canonized but Mormons act as if it has been.

    • October 7, 2016 at 11:11 am

      Hi Gwen,

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I thought along similar lines as I was trying to come up with helpful movies. What I realized was that the stories you mention (and many that I considered putting in the list) are actually about taming chaos or going on an adventure where marriage is part of the setting rather than the subject. And that’s what happens almost every time: marriage is the setting rather than the subject.

      For example, I was thinking about including The Conjuring in my list above because the two ghost hunters are married, and their marriage plays an interesting role in the plot. However, the plot is about hunting the ghost, not about their marriage.

      Your point about there being plenty of stories about raising children is also valid. However, I think there’s a huge difference between stories about marriage and stories about raising a family. As I point out in the podcast, we tend to judge a marriage according to what it physically produces (children, homes, careers, church callings), and that production aspect is what stories about raising families is about. We barely even notice the marriage itself. And THAT’s what I’m trying to get us to notice: the alchemy that can occur between two souls in a committed context as they seek out intimacy with each other.

    • Gwendolyn Hammer
      October 23, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      I had never really considered that the Proclamation isn’t canon the same way the standard works are. That’s actually quite comforting.

  3. Sarah
    October 8, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    I just finished the podcast. It gave me a lot to think about. I think that Marjorie Hinckley has been a prophets wife who has probably had more “spotlight” than any others. I agree that it’s really nice to see pictures of them together. I think the Friend does a good job of that. Now maybe we can get the Ensign to start too!

    I appreciated Stephens comments about how his wife was there for him through his faith crisis and that that ended up making a big difference for him. I’m sure there is more to that story, but I find it helpful to see examples of what these intimate marriages look like. I love the partnership model. I think work is actually a really good word for what needs to be done to attain it. Simply because it actually does feel sometimes like taking the shovel to the back yard weed field! And can also be as rewarding:)

  4. KarlS
    October 10, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    I appreciate the guests’ insights and experiences. I acknowledge the pain, heartache and unrealized dreams and in some cases mistreatment that many, if not most plural wives had to endure under polygamy as practiced by early Mormons and the fear that living LDS women have about potentials in the next life. And, so I understand why one solution is to just call it all a big mistake. However, I can’t help but notice the important issue that this podcast and the previous podcast on The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy missed or avoided. By not at least discussing it, it seems you are being dismissive and discriminatory against another valid sensitive point of view and reality. It boils down to this: What do you expect a man to do when the wife he is sealed to dies, especially if the man is relatively young? Should he remain celibate the rest of his life and raise his children alone? If he marries, should he only marry for this life, so as not to hurt his deceased wife? Is marrying only for this life to the new wife fair to her who deeply loves her husband and desires to be with him in eternity? Though Joseph taught that the sociality here will exist there (D&C 130:2), do we really know what that means? If we are eventually to be so advanced–like God, and logic tells us that time and space will also have to be so very different, why must we think that love, companionship, emotional intimacy and physical intimacy (if it even exists there) will be the way we experience it here? Though I honor Eugene England in so many ways, I felt his essay On Fidelity, Polygamy, and Celestial Marriage was also missing the same point and was fixated on the assumption that a loving and meaningful relationship in the next life had to include physical sex as we experience it here.
    So, for my mind to deal with all this, it’s easier for me (rather than to cut off loving relationships at death because of a negative assumption about what our feelings will be like in the eternal worlds) to assume that our feelings in the eternal world will be such that relational intimacy and love will exist without jealousy and pain. And, for all I know, and I wouldn’t care if it were, that our agency and perfections will allow both polygyny and polyandry. It’s really about what is most reasonable to one’s mind with a large dose of trust in God’s love and plan that we (and the brethren) only partially see.

    • Marie
      October 11, 2016 at 8:01 am

      KarlS,

      I think there would be less heartache if the sealing policies and language had some parity for men and women. As it stands now, a living man (after becoming a widower or is divorced) can be sealed to more than one living woman. Not so for the woman. If she remarries in the temple after her husband dies or divorces, she must break her sealing to husband #1 in order to be sealed again. Also, as noted in the podcast, during the sealing women give themselves to their husbands, but husbands do not give themselves to their wives. No explanation is ever given for this, but it can be assumed that this is in anticipation of eternal polygamy. If you have a better explanation, I’d love to hear it.

      • Sarah
        October 11, 2016 at 10:38 am

        It wasn’t until recently that I even notices the language in the temple as having any partiality. I can see it now and I can see how it causes some people, women especially, to feel hurt or undervalued. I don’t have a vision or thoughts on why or how things “should” change. I suppose I am really glad I am not in charge! 🙂

        What I DO appreciate, especially with the new temple videos is how thoughtful Eve is. How carefully she is able to take the information she is given, process it and come to a decision about what to do. You can see her asking God and herself, “is there no other way?” and then going forward. Maybe Eve was the very first person ever to have a “faith crisis.”

        The other thing I really appreciate is about the sealing ceremony. I know that it feels wrong that husbands don’t “give” themselves to their wives, but I am so glad that I gave myself away. I was (and still am not) anyone’s property to give away. I find that really beautiful. (I am just learning about the polygamy aspects in all of these things.)

      • KarlS
        October 11, 2016 at 2:29 pm

        Marie,
        I don’t see that the woman “giving” herself to the man as an anticipation of eternal polygamy. But, I agree that there are inequities in those wording and sealing practices used in the temple. I can’t really explain the reasons other than maybe it’s an indication of the cultural norm of the day or a vestige of the religious phraseology and rites in the churches the early leaders came from. E.g., Calvinist denominations and the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer 1816 vows were that both man and woman “have this woman [or man] to [be] thy wedded wife [or husband]” and later both “take thee [name] to [be] my wedded wife [or husband]”. However, to the wife was added the vow to “obey him.” https://archive.org/stream/commonprayeradmi00chur/commonprayeradmi00chur_djvu.txt
        And, I don’t feel the wordings and sealing practices you mention are congruent with the current teachings we now hear of “equal partners”, etc. Like other parts of the temple ritual and general church culture and policies that have changed as the members and leaders became more sensitive, this too may change for the better.

  5. Valerie
    October 10, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Thank you to all of you for your time and insights. I found it to be very enjoyable and uplifting.

  6. Katrina
    October 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    “Middlemarch” by George Elliot–there is more focus on the unhappy marriages than the happy ones though.

    Possibly “The Scarlet Pimpernel?” (Movie & books)

    What was the name of the book mentioned about becoming one with people? (Talked about during Stephen’s faith crisis in Alaska)

    • Dan Wotherspoon
      October 10, 2016 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks for adding those suggestions! The book Stephen mentioned was The Different Drum, by M. Scott Peck.

      Cheers!
      Dan

  7. David
    October 12, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Caroline, is it a universal experience for women to be more loving and kind to their husbands once they acknowledge Polygamy was a mistake?

    Seems hard to believe that this would be the case… but you talk about it as if it would be.

  8. David
    October 12, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Yes there was a time together for newly couples in the old testament. I’m uncertain of the time, but I thought it was a year.

  9. David
    October 12, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    http://www.startmarriageright.com/2011/05/taking-the-first-year-%E2%80%9Coff%E2%80%9D/

    Deuteronomy 24:5 says, “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” That’s like a year-long honeymoon! And most wives would welcome the idea of our husbands devoting a whole year to our happiness!

    Since this is a law from the old covenant, it is no longer binding for believers living under the new covenant of grace. And I am not advocating for newlyweds to quit their jobs or decline all other commitments. Neither am I advocating that young couples shut out the rest of the world; I think it’s healthy and necessary to maintain other relationships. I also realize that some couples get married and dive right into ministry, or a military commitment may separate them in the early years of marriage. We all have unique situations to which God has called us. But the underlying principle evident in this verse, that still holds wisdom for today, is that God wants His people to establish a strong foundation for their marriage, right from the start.

  10. UTManMI
    October 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Regarding whether there are good examples of partnership marriages among church leaders, here’s an interesting interview with Sister Renlund (from before her husband was called as an apostle). He was an MD, a Bishop, and they had a young daughter when she went to law school and later became a successful trial attorney.

    https://www.mormonwomen.com/interview/just-call-me-ruth/

  11. Joseph Stanford
    October 12, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    Deuteronomy 24:5
    When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

  12. Ann
    October 13, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    The Giant Joshua is a fascinating look at Mormon polygamous marriage.

  13. Greg
    October 31, 2016 at 1:42 pm

    Here is a link to the full poem of The Steward. Sad poem to read. I hope I never stifle any dreams or desires of my wife and that I am willing to sacrifice for her.

    http://scottvanatter.blogspot.com/2014/02/the-steward-by-carol-lynn-pearson.html

  14. Rosemary
    November 3, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Papa Married a Mormon, by John D. Fitzgerald. My husband and I read it aloud together while in the early stages of our faith crisis and it was a lifeline–a beautiful, tender vision of what could be in the marriage of two people who love each other and love God, and have a “mixed” marriage in a tiny southern Utah town in the late 1800s. We decided we want that kind of a marriage, no matter where our respective and joint spiritual journeys take us.

  15. TA
    December 14, 2016 at 6:44 pm

    Deuteronomy 24:5

    5 ¶When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.

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