Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to Deal with People Who Live Together

As a missionary from time to time we would run across couples who lived together. Thirty years ago it wasn't as common as today. In the last ten years I have even seen it in my own family who are not members. Both my brothers lived with their wives for five years before they married them. One brother's wife ran off with another man and my other brother's wife divorced him also. My first brother is remarried and might have learned his lesson since he didn't live with her first. My wife's sister has lived with her significant other now for about fifteen years. I worked with a professor at SDSU who used to brag to me about how common law wives in some states got half the assets but he knew how to hide them. I am not sure of every state but he told me some states they don't get common property. I worry about my sister-in-law if something happened she could be left with little or nothing if his family contested his will. I have told all of them the should get married since they will have better protection legally and morally but most don't care.

When I was a missionary I learned an important lesson about marriage. I was especially useful on the chastity concept since I didn't have any embarassment giving it. I knew a lot about it since my sister got pregnant at fifteen and my parents had to get married as my sister was born three months after they were married. My family were a case study in the problems associated with premartial sex.

The fascinating thing is that there isn't anything from drugs to sex to crime that I haven't seen vicariously done by one or another of my family members. People think that because I am so inflexible and hard line on not doing these things that I don't understand human foibles. The truth is that because I have seen them up close and personal I can see the train on the track quicker than most other people. Unfortunately no one wants to be told they are about to get hit ahead of time since it is so obvious after the fact. I guess you lose the ability to learn from your sins by people like me who warn you.

Companions didn't like me telling people living together to knock it off and get married in such direct terms. They felt we should ease in to the discussion. One of my best pieces of wisdom is don't put out because it will drive them crazy and they will marry you faster. My other favorite piece of advice as a missionary was in order to join the Church you need to quit bonking your girlfriend. Most of my companions told me I needed a more subtle and gentle approach. I found my approach is what the investigators expectation is to be told. The expect you to stand for something and as a minister tell them to walk the straight and narrow.

It was always funny to me at the bafflement of my companions when the two people did the strangest thing. Not only didn't they join the church most of them broke up. It might have had something to do with the fact I would say to them after the marriage discussion. In order to join the church you have to get married or stop living together. We would explain how they could be married for eternity. Most of the women would gasp and say "are you kidding me I would never want to be married forever to him." I always felt so sorry for the poor guy. The couple would blow us off for a few weeks since they had to reevaluate their relationship. Then when we got back in one of them would no longer be there or they would tell us they weren't willing to make the commitment. Usually that was the end of their interest in the gospel too. In retrospect I think we should have worked on helping them build a better relationship so they would have felt like being married for eternity. I think you need to overcome their objection and they need to see a greater value from the more traditional role.

I know a lot about people living together. In dealing with people who live together you need to find out why they have such an arrangement. You need to be clear on the church's policies. You need to be patient with them and convert them to the principles of the gospel. Get smaller commitments from them such as attending church. Integrate them in to the church slowly. They need to see a value to getting married such as what it can do for their future children. Many people who live together don't have children. The only reason my second brother got married was he eventually got his girlfriend pregnant. People who live together have to see a value in joining the church. Sometimes it will take a few set of elders before enough time has passed for them to assimilate in the gospel. The most important thing to remember is not to be judgmental if they don't do what you want. So be patient and reinforce why marriage is important.

Missionaries need to consult with their mission president for guidance when there are serious moral issues. He will instruct them in how to deal with each case. I remember our mission president had us work with the local bishop.

Remember you have to reeducate them since society doesn't stress traditional values as much today. Many people would get married if they felt their spouse felt a long-term commitment to them. Most people want to marry someone that loves and values them.

When they don't immediately get married remember that many times we are planting seeds or new ideas or expectations that might be realized later. I feel many of these couples would join the church if they were to associate with us in family focused wards. If they do decide to get married when you teach them you will have done some social good by helping form another traditional family with a father and mother.


Jane said...

I have frequently read your blog, but never commented. I just wanted to say that I think you are right on with the things you say. I am just learning about the church and you are such a great example. I am living with my boyfriend, going on four years, but he doesn't want to commit. What can I say to him. I really love him.


Dr. B said...

I need to be careful so I will tell you what I would tell any of my seven daughters in this situation. This is a complex issue since I don't know if there are children involved. But in your case I would ask my local bishop for advice. I am sure he would be willing to meet with you and your significant other. If you have a father who is active in the church I would ask him to come over and talk with the two of you. I had a daughter in a bad situation I kept talking to her and her boyfriend about respect. I was up front with the guy and I told him if he respected my daughter he would respect the values of our family and her religion. It took a while but he eventually joined the church. I wish I could tell you it had a positive outcome where they lived happily ever after but it didn't. He did join the church for her and was active for about a year. He messed around with another girl and my daughter took a different path in life. She went back to college at BYU after a several year absence. Last night a nice returned missionary called me to ask for her hand in marriage. I worked him over a little but compared to the other bozo she was better off. I don't know how your life will go but consult with those you trust. My daughter was never shy and she always reconfirmed her commitments with the guys she had relationships with. Don't be afraid to have faith in what you know is right. You are a daughter of our Heavenly Father and you deserve to be honored in the right way. Good luck. God Bless.

S.Faux said...

Dr. B:

I like your straight forward approach. Tell people what they need to hear, but be compassionate and have the capacity to forgive.

We hear much discussion about trying to keep the institution of marriage from being weakened in society. Well, marriage is already weakened. Divorce rates are about 50%. Young people often forego marriage. This is why I love the way our Church strengthens marriages.

In our Church, temple marriage is an ordinance, and like all ordinances, it opens doors to heaven. (Of course, these blessings are available to ALL, even if accomplished in the next life).

Your advice to Jane is excellent. My marriage has benefited in the past from consulting with a Bishop. Bishops are loving individuals, and it is a wonderful thing to have them praying for an answer to a problem, and further, they can bestow specific blessings upon individuals.

True, Latter-day Saints are not free from having problems, but we have been given a wonderful set of gospel-related tools for fixing those problems. As for me, I NEED those tools.