We live in a culture that has "lost the plot" about marriage and has forgotten the fundamental ideas of what being a husband or wife is about, Elder Bruce C. Hafen said.
Many of today's LDS Church members, he added, are confused "by the world's confusion" regarding the order of marriage.A member of the First Quorum of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Hafen offered the General Authority Address Thursday at the spring convention of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Therapists.
His wife, Marie Hafen, also spoke.
"Stemming the Tide of Divorce" is the theme of this year's convention, held at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. LDS husbands and wives need to think "more deeply" about the nature of marriage, Elder Hafen said.
First, couples need to ask themselves if they are in a contract or covenant marriage.
A contract marriage is based on an expectation, or "contract,"
of happiness. A union free of trouble.
"They marry to obtain benefits, and they'll stay as long they are receiving the benefits they bargained for," Elder Hafen said.
Like the undependable hireling from the New Testament parable who was contracted to care for the sheep, parties in a contract marriage walk away "when the wolves of adversity come."
Husbands and wives in a covenant marriage learn to shoulder unbearable burdens. "When troubles come to a covenant people, they work through them," Elder Hafen said.
Therapists working with troubled LDS couples seeking covenant marriages need to help their clients discover reservoirs of power and compassion "they did not know they had in them," Elder Hafen said.
Marie Hafen recounted an evening encouraging her rambunctious young son to finish a school assignment to build a diorama of an Indian village. The child initially resisted, but she persisted.
Eventually, the diorama was finished and the little boy rewarded his mother's patience with a bedtime hug. An amazed Elder Hafen asked his wife how she did it.
Marie Hafen said she had made up her mind that she could not leave her son, but added, "I didn't know I had it in me."
Today's married couples must also be reminded of the community interest societies have long invested in marriages. A marriage joins more than a husband and wife -- God and the community are also brought into the union.
Elder Hafen said successful marriages are based on equal partnership between husbands and wives.
Traditional, albeit misguided, Christian doctrine suggests wives are dependent on their husbands -- while contemporary attitudes counter that wives are independent of their husbands.
LDS doctrine, supported by the church's recent "Proclamation on the Family," states husbands and wives are "interdependent" on each other -- an equal partnership, Elder Hafen said.
Couples share the blessing of supporting a family "with differing primary roles." Each party needs to develop the attributes of Christ, he added.
Lastly, husbands and wives should be striving for exaltation as a couple. Today's marriages, he said, can be blessed by Christ's atonement.
Like the post-Garden Adam and Eve, husbands and wives can overcome Satan and the turbulence of life. "They do it," Elder Hafen said, "as a couple."