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Fa mi l y, Ki n s h i p, Fr ien d s h i p, an d Com mu n it y BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship,
Friendship, and Community
Allen E. Bergin and Mark H. Butler n addition to gospel principles, concepts from secular research can help
us move closer to ideal relationships. Drawing on current research from
the social sciences that is in harmony with gospel principles, this article,
which is taken from a chapter of a new publication entitled Eternal Values
and Personal Growth: A Guide on your Journey to Social, Emotional, and
Spiritual Wellness, explores ways people can become more Christlike in
marriage, in friendships, and across generations. I The Ecology of Intimacy
Our identities are part of a social ecology—a complex system of
adaptation and accommodation that occurs in all living systems, including human relationships. Newly married couples, for example, experience a period of adjustment analogous to the way biological organisms in
an ecosystem adjust to the introduction of a new species. As each partner
becomes aware of elements in the relationship that do not coordinate, the
bliss of courtship and early marriage is challenged. For example, a husband might discover that his idea of closeness requires that the couple
spend much more time together than his wife’s idea of closeness does.
She might ﬁnd that he does not want to talk as much as she does. Both
might realize they have diﬀerent criteria for deciding how to spend
money. Their new living system must be coordinated if it is to survive
In nature the more powerful members of a living system defend their
existence by brute force and compel others to adapt to them. In plant
ecology, for example, some more powerful species overshadow and even
BYU Studies , no. () BYU Studies copyright 2003 139 strangle their weaker host. The most ﬁt survive while the less ﬁt die. But
in marriage, a power-based approach can be lethal to the entire system.
At best it creates debilitating conﬂict. At worst it kills the marriage. In
some power-based marriages, a coordinated interaction of dominance
and submission does develop, but it is a sham intimacy. Even pathological relationship systems, such as violent marriages or families, can
achieve a crude, adaptive ecology over time, just as some plant and animal ecosystems can survive by being parasitic and exploitive.
In healthy, godly intimacy, each partner makes a deliberate choice to
consecrate himself or herself to the welfare of the marriage by caring for,
celebrating, and enlarging each other. When both partners are able to
make this commitment, they experience gradual development of a balanced marital ecology. This process entails coordination of thoughts,
feelings, beliefs, and behaviors that in turn become a springboard for
Rebirth through Healthy Relationships:
The Wellspring of Christlike Love and Intimacy
The experience of a healthy marital or family ecology can give birth to
a stronger self that is increasingly able to sustain Christlike thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. To understand this process, we must ﬁrst review the
basis of identity.
When you were born, your identity began to form in a developmental
process that extends throughout your life. As a newborn infant, you were
the world and the world was you. At ﬁrst there was no distinction between
your hand and your mother’s breast or your father’s caress. Within a few
months, you began to discern your separateness and began to understand
your bodily self as an autonomous identity. Physical boundary, then, is the
initial marker of identity.
With further development, you perceived that you were not only physically separate from others but also mentally and spiritually separate. You
became diﬀerentiated from others by how you processed information, by the
choices you made, by how you used and shared your resources (such as talents, energy, possessions), and by what groups you chose to join. You experienced yourself as a unique identity through awareness of your and others’
diﬀerent thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, worldviews, and interpretation
of events. During adolescence, you might have audaciously, maybe even
rebelliously, asserted your uniqueness to ensure that everyone around you
knew that you were an independent being.
You also experienced yourself as a unique identity in terms of autonomy
and self-regulation. Things you had immediate control over comprised BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 141 your self, while things that acted independently of your will comprised other.
As you grew, these boundary markers deﬁned and expressed your identity.
As a developing identity, you also exercised agency to direct your own
development. But you were not self-suﬃcient. You experienced need for connection, interaction, and interdependence with others. In time, these feelings
and experiences aroused a desire for and attempts to secure close relationships. These attempts began in your family of origin. They continue their
mortal expression in marriage, family, and close friendships. Their ultimate
consummation is Christlike love and connection with all of creation.
When a person chooses marriage, experiences begin that have the potential to fulﬁll the ultimate formulation of identity—the dialectic of the I and
we. The term dialectic refers to two entities that co-exist in tension with one
another yet together form an integrated whole. If either entity is lost, the
other and the whole are harmed. For example, joy co-exists in dialectic
relationship with pain. We cannot have the joy of intimacy without taking
the risk of being vulnerable to rejection and pain. In intimate relationships,
without the I there is no we, although too dominant an I threatens the we, and
too dominant a we threatens the I. Self must be subsumed, to one degree or
another, to belong to something larger. In this act of self-sacriﬁce, the I is
not destroyed; rather, paradoxically, it is enlarged.
It is within the crucible of this I-we dialectic that full intimacy develops. As a committed couple, we have experiences that blur the boundaries
and markers of our autonomous self, which in our youth we so boldly
aﬃrmed. Marriage and family therapist Terry Hargrave, in a comment on
his own marriage, captures the idea of true intimacy when he says, “I don’t
like ballet, but us does.”
In “us” intimacy, experience becomes collaborative, not independent.
We cope and manage our turmoil and torment; we magnify our euphoria
and joy; we live and experience life as much through and with our partner
as by ourselves. At times a wife may understand her husband’s experience
more clearly than he does himself. A husband may at times empathetically
articulate his wife’s concerns better than she does. Spouses increasingly
experience things similarly. When they do not, they seek for convergence
through dialogue. The common experience of one spouse ﬁnishing another’s sentences is an example of this convergence. Beliefs and worldview
become more and more shared through innumerable conversations and
experiences.₁ Shared belief systems, in turn, redeﬁne the boundary of self.₂
I am no longer self-contained. My thinking, feeling, and knowing are interdependent with another.₃
Our experience of autonomy and self-regulation also changes within
the intimate borders of marriage. Decision making is shared; consensus is BYU Studies copyright 2003 sought; activities and schedules are negotiated rather than entirely selfdetermined. Self-mastery, too, including repentance and recovery from
serious problems, is relationship based. We are not the maverick captains
of our souls. Our surviving and thriving are interdependent.
The parameters of resource allocation shift as well. We learn that our
own welfare and the welfare of our spouse are inseparable—to nourish
our partner is to nourish ourselves. We have become functionally, ecologically, one. As the Savior has told us, “Give, and it shall be given unto
you. . . . For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured
to you again” (Luke :).
Identity, Intimacy, and the Rebirth of Self
As interdependence matures in marriage and families, we may experience a new sense of self. We may view anew the hive, not the bee; the
colony, not the ant. We may perceive a more socially vital self that lives,
breathes, and has an existence that transcends our former individuality.
This rebirth of self can profoundly alter our understanding of the distinction between self and other, as Bahr and Bahr have noted:
The assumption of a separate and separable self is not shared by all
peoples of the world. In alternative conceptions, the self is seen as open
and continuous with others. In this view, as one shows respect for
another, she necessarily respects herself. If through her actions she
injures or harms another, she also injures herself. And if she gives of self
in appropriate interaction with others and with the intent of fostering the
growth of another, her own growth is enhanced. Conversely, a refusal to
sacriﬁce self-interest may impoverish the self.₄ When self is reborn in this communal sense, self-sacriﬁce and altruism
become second nature. Consecration of ourselves to the growth and wellbeing of another, together with our own, becomes the natural consummation of our own life and happiness. Understood in this manner, intimacy is
the celestial behavior that arises from a celestial comprehension and expression of our true, relational identity.
As we approach this celestial intimacy, we discover that we have
received a new heart constructed in the image of God. We are capable
of promoting, nurturing, and sustaining eternal relationships that are
joyful, fulﬁlling, and enlarging. This new heart is given as a gift of the
Spirit (Moro. :–). It leads us to the kind of life that God lives (John
:), which includes eternal relationships, eternal progression, and eternal increase. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 143 Marriage and Family: Phases and Stages
If marriages were static—a “snapshot” of two people in the perfect
pose of aﬀection, like an engagement photograph—there would be no
need for covenant commitment and Christlike consecration. People could
ensure marital success by searching carefully until they found “the one,”
the perfect ﬁt, the missing piece to their puzzle. Relationships would
endure and thrive because of simple compatibility. Such a relationship
would be easy indeed, as the work of marriage and intimacy would be completed during the searching stage.
But basing a marriage decision on an overly idealistic compatibility
wish—that we can ﬁnd “the one”—poses substantial risk. When diﬃculties in a marriage arise, the logical conclusion is that the selection process
was faulty. The next step is either resignation to living with a mistake or
divorce and a renewal of the search. Neither remedy is appealing. The resignation response leads to a lifeless marriage, a mere husk without the
heart. The search-some-more response leads to unstable and soul-damaging
serial monogamy. Covenant Relationships
by Mark Butler
Once, while in the temple, I was struck by the beautiful pattern of needlework
on an altar and its symbolism of covenant relationships (a similar pattern is represented below).
View each circle as an identity. As your eye moves from identity to identity, you
can see that each is whole, but at the same time each is formed in part through a
shared connection. The portion of identity shared with another does not encroach
on or diminish the other. Each identity remains complete and whole, both as a singularity and as an element of a larger pattern.
Further, no identity is lost in the larger
pattern, though by focusing on any given
point you may “see” one element for the
moment and not another.
So also are covenant relationships—
marriages and families are bound
together through time and eternity
across generations, but individual identities are preserved. Independence, connection, and interdependence intermingle
in perfect balance and harmony. None
overshadows any other. The whole is
greater than the sum of its parts. BYU Studies copyright 2003 The perfect compatibility ideal is therefore untenable. Marriages are
not static but ever-changing. They are a living ecology of two people whose
lives are intertwined in an intimate system maintained ultimately far more
by covenant and consecration than by an easy ﬁt of compatibility. It is not
a matter of ﬁnding two puzzle pieces that ﬁt together perfectly, but a matter of two people, full of Christlike love, under covenant and committed to
puzzling through the various shapes and circumstances of their lives, creating and re-creating, ﬁtting and reﬁtting a loving and eternal union.
A covenant-and-consecration model of marriage is reﬂected in the
temple marriage ceremony itself, where individuals signify in the presence
of witnesses their free-will choice to receive their partner in marriage. They
make a commitment that is unqualiﬁed in any way, including what the
future may reveal about whether the chosen partner really was the “right
person.” In marriages anchored this way, partners make a choice based on
their best judgment. More importantly, they commit themselves to stand
by their choice and make it the right choice through eﬀort and throughout
all the seasons of life. Then, when diﬀerences and disappointments arise,
there is a basic anchor of commitment that sustains the marriage by problemsolving eﬀorts.₅
Marital Life Cycle
Researchers have found that most intimate, enduring relationships
experience typical cycles. By carefully observing marriages over many
years, researchers have identiﬁed four seasons of love (Eros, romantic love,
friendship, and agape) and four seasons of marriage (visionary, adversarial,
Seasons (Stages) of Love
It appears that all enduring intimate relationships pass through the
seasons of Eros, romantic love, friendship, and agape. However, the length
of seasons varies from relationship to relationship. Young, sometimes
newly married university students often ask, “Do all couples have to go
through all these stages, or can they skip some?”—usually meaning themselves. The answer is that, like the seasons of the year, seasons of love are an
inevitable part of life.
Eros. Eros is sexual attraction and desire. It is biological in origin
and operation. Its primary function is to ensure perpetuation of the
human family through both reproduction and strengthening the binding
tie between husband and wife. As husbands and wives commit to and
maintain ﬁdelity in their sexual relationship, Eros draws them to each BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 145 other and encourages them to work diligently for a satisfying, enduring
relationship where sexual desire remains strong and is regularly expressed.
As a form of love, Eros alone is highly conditional and self-oriented.
While sexual expression between two people can and should include
love, respect, and nurture, these are less self-focused than Eros. Consequently, by itself Eros is potentially dangerous because it does not consider the restraints on its expression that are essential for the full,
multidimensional experience of love.
Romantic Love. Romantic love is psychological in origin and operation. It is characterized by infatuation and mutual ego-aﬃrmation. One or
both persons experience an obsession-like attraction based on an idealized
image of the other person. When someone is attracted to us and “in love”
(or “in worship”) with us, we feel euphoric. A romantic link is forged, a
sort of quid pro quo connection: if you’ll be my perfect partner, I’ll aﬃrm
(worship) you, and vice versa. It is a tenuous link because idealized
imagery always erodes. No two people can be brought into close quarters
for very long before the idealized person fades and is replaced by the reality of ﬂawed humanity.
Those addicted to the rush of romantic love often become serial
romantics, hanging on to a relationship only until they have captured the
object of their infatuation or have achieved the “token” they need from
another’s infatuation with them. The token may be sex, clinging emotional
dependency, or the experience of a conquest. As soon as that token is
obtained, the adrenaline rush disappears. The relationship is cast oﬀ, and
the headlong rush into the next romantic experience begins again. The
word “experience” is critical here, because the serial romantic does not love
people but rather is addicted to an experience that involves people. Thus
romantic love, valuable as it is, if untempered by other types of love, can
lead to instability and emotional devastation.
Serial romances can arise during the diﬃcult middle years of marriage, when the buildup of stresses begins to wrinkle and gray one partner’s view of the other, and some wonder if they could have chosen better.
Those who succumb often go through multiple brief relationships, leaving
behind broken hearts and shattered lives, all the while telling themselves
that the next one will be the “right one.” But they will never ﬁnd someone
who will remain eternally infatuated with them or with whom they will be
eternally infatuated. True intimacy is about choosing, covenanting, and
Couples should be forewarned against building a marriage relationship on either Eros or romantic love alone. These stages of love may get
things going and heat things up, but they are not sustainable. Nevertheless, BYU Studies copyright 2003 Eros and romantic feelings can both survive and thrive in marriages that
are anchored in friendship and agape.
Friendship. Friendship love is social in origin and operation. It is
based on compatibility. Unlike Eros love and romantic love, friendship love
thrives in an atmosphere of security, commitment, and safety. It is not
awakened or intensiﬁed by the uncertainty of “the chase.” In the day-to-day
interaction of marriage, friendship plays a vital role. It ensures complete
safety and is a sound basis for healthy interaction. Friendship love can
include similar beliefs and values, shared interests and activities, and the
shared stewardship of a family.
Friendship love is strikingly diﬀerent from Eros and romantic love in
at least two respects. First, friendship love is less conditional on what we
are “getting” from the relationship. Second, friendship love is more otheroriented. In its highest expression, friendship can be completely unconditional and other-consecrated. The pinnacle example of such friendship is
Jesus Christ. At the last supper, Jesus invited his disciples to be his friends
and foreshadowed that he would lay down his life for his friends (John
:–). He then invited them to love one another in the same way he
loved them. This ultimate willingness to sacriﬁce oneself for the sake of
others merges into godly love.
Agape. Agape love is God’s love. In all its expressions, the mark of
agape love is a fundamental regard for the welfare of all creation. Agape
expresses itself as “I love you simply because you are, and because you are,
I desire to help you become.” Agape is pure in its intent, uncompromising
in its motives, and singular in its purpose. It acts for the growth of all
things, that all things might ﬁll the measure of their creation and ﬁnd joy.
Our Father in Heaven expresses this love to us, his spirit sons and daughters, in the covenantal assertion, “This is my work and my glory—to bring
to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses :).
Agape is love and kindness without ulterior motive. It is not fawning
adoration and naive worship but fully informed, I-love-you-anyway caring,
helping, and generosity. Agape is experienced less as an intense feeling than
as an abiding yearning for the other. It consumes one’s life and actions in
service. Agape is altruism in action. It is charity, the pure love of Christ
As with most things of great value, agape love is diﬃcult to achieve.
This holy love can be nurtured by eﬀort but cannot be earned, for it is a gift
of God by the ministration of the Holy Spirit. We must “pray unto the
Father with all the energy of heart, that [we] may be ﬁlled with this love,
which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus
Christ” (Moro. :). Without agape, our lives and loves are mere “sounding BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 147 brass” and a “tinkling cymbal” (Moro. :; Cor. :). Relationships cannot thrive and abide, mortally or eternally, without agape, because it
includes the necessary ingredients to enduring connection and commitment: repentance, forgiveness, healing, redemption, patience, long-suﬀering,
service, self-sacriﬁce, and devotion beyond recompense. In marriage and
family, such charity is the ultimate and unbreakable binding tie, for it
places oﬀ limits all thoughts, expressions, and actions that could hurt or
harm and seeks in every way the growth and happiness of one’s partner,
one’s family, and all others in one’s domain of care and concern.
We see agape love commonly in the self-sacriﬁcing, nurturing relationships between parents and their children. Human history is replete
with unassuming accounts of mothers and fathers who have laid down
their lives for their loved ones. Some have done so in one desperate, heroic
moment, but most lay down their lives one day at a time, wearing out their
bodies and their hearts in yearning and acting for the welfare of their
beloved ones. One day at a time, this love takes its bearer on a journey to a
new place and a new way of being, where, paradoxically, the body may be
spent but the soul is enlivened.
Reﬂections on the Four Stages of Marital Love
Eros love and romantic love are kindling to the ﬁre of relationships—
that important spark. They may get things going, but they burn hot, burn
fast, and burn out. For the relationship to endure, Eros love and romantic
love must very soon be merged into and integrated with friendship love
and agape love. Friendship love is the large, heavy log that fuels the ﬁre of
a marriage relationship. This log, once lit, can abide occasional inclement
weather without being extinguished.
Agape love might be represented by the rocks that encircle the ﬁre.
These rocks enclose passion within safe boundaries, preventing a stray
spark from igniting a ﬁre outside the circle. These rocks also soak up the
heat and energy of the ﬁre, retaining it and radiating it back as needed. As
anyone who has doused a campﬁre knows, rocks heat up to their core and
can still be warm to the touch even after a thorough drenching. Like children at a campﬁre, we may enjoy watching sparks ﬂy up as kindling is
added from time to time. But the adults standing around are well aware
that the heat needed for cooking, warmth, and protection from storms
comes from the less spectacular coals forming beneath and from the rocks
that radiate all night long. Agape love is like these rocks that keep couples
and families warm through storms and the changing seasons of life. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Seasons (Stages) of Marriage
The four seasons or stages of marriage are the visionary, adversarial,
dormant, and vital. As with the seasons of love, these stages follow predictable patterns in every marriage, although the dormant stage may not
occur if the couple resolves conﬂicts well. The degree of distress during
the adversarial stage and the degree of isolation during the dormant
stage can be intensiﬁed or diminished by each partner’s measure or lack
of Christlike love, compassion, commitment, patience, and longsuﬀering.
These stages of marriage were originally developed by S. Miller and
others.₇ We have adapted their work for our purposes here.
Visionary Stage. During the visionary stage, a married couple idealizes their relationship. They expect a blissful future together, and the
focus is on “us” and what “we” will do and become together. On the positive side, the visionary stage gets the relationship oﬀ to a good start and
with high energy. On the negative side, the couple discounts or ignores
traits of each partner and of the relationship that are incongruent with
the idealized image. Conﬂict and diﬀerences are stowed away rather than
acknowledged and resolved. This stage is illustrated in the following
report from a student:
We have been married for almost six months. For every day that goes
by, I love him more and more. I feel that nothing can break us apart as
long as we adhere to the covenants we promised in the temple and the
covenants we renew every Sunday. My love for my husband is real. I feel
that his happiness is my happiness and vice versa. Not in a total loss of
ego boundaries, but in that I want to give him everything that is in my
power to give. Our marriage is a union between us and God, which no
man can destroy as long as we do our part in keeping the commandments. We are a total union of our hearts, our hopes, our lives, our love,
our future, and our everything. . . .
What seems to make the diﬀerence between my infatuation with John
and my true love with George is that with George I am real. I am myself.
We included Christ and our Heavenly Father in our courting. We love
our Heavenly Father and trust him to help us in need. I believe that is a
big strength in our relationship. . . .
Our marriage is based on commitment to the Lord, each other, and
the family. . . . The reward of one hundred percent commitment is a
healthy family that will branch and give birth to other healthy families. As tranquil and beautiful as the above relationship sounds, inevitable
pressures will build in the background. Eventually this pressure, like water
behind a dam, compels some degree of acknowledgment of problems,
either to oneself or within the relationship. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 149 Adversarial Stage. As the spouses encounter real-life challenges, they
usually experience disillusionment, disagreement, and conﬂict. Concealed, unacknowledged conﬂict breeds resentment and prevents the relationship from growing. Partners often fear that their negative feelings
signal possible failure of the marriage, so they let disagreements build like
water behind a dam. When the dam bursts, as it inevitably does, the ensuing discord becomes conﬁrmation of their worst fears. They may conclude
to try even harder to hold back conﬂict, not recognizing that this “solution” is part of the problem. The repetition of such a pattern can lead to
the serious marital distress they had feared. Overt conﬂict, too, if not handled carefully, can be damaging. But if disagreements are handled with
maturity and commitment and without pretense, greater intimacy can
develop over time.
When the idealized image of marriage begins to erode, partners often
begin attempting to change one another. Internal dialogue might go something like this: “Well, I see now that he’s not perfect, but that’s okay. I can
rebuild him.” This common approach damages the relationship because
the other person feels unaccepted. Resentment typically follows. The relationship can be at great risk at this stage unless both partners dedicate
themselves to working through problems. In some cases, one or both partners cannot endure the shattered ideal image, and they may pursue the
ideal in a new relationship where reality is again obscured by the dynamics
of the idealized visionary stage.
Such dire consequences can be avoided if marital partners understand that disagreements should be expected, acknowledged, and
approached. Gospel perspectives (for example, Matt. :–; D&C
:), clinical wisdom, and empirical research₈ all clearly conﬁrm that
conﬂict is inevitable and can be handled successfully by applying proven
skills. Numerous communication skills and conﬂict resolution strategies, guidelines, and assessments are available. Therapists can oﬀer recommendations, and local libraries have many resources. Becoming
skilled at intimate communication helps couples maintain and
strengthen their intimate connection.
A BYU student wrote about how his parents weathered storms and
forged an even stronger commitment:
My parents are not perfect, and neither is their marriage. But that is
what makes them the ultimate example of the ideal. Without rough
times, they would not be as strong today. Victor Brown said that time is
the ultimate test of commitment. Ten years ago things were extremely
stormy. My dad was between jobs and my mom was dissatisﬁed with who
knows how many things. At one point my dad asked my mom if she BYU Studies copyright 2003 wanted a divorce. As Brown said, “Family living is not for emotional
weaklings,” but because of their commitment to God and their
covenants, today, despite arguments, they boast that they’ve never been
happier and more content with life and with one another. They are not
content because they have done everything right, but because they did
the most important things right: working unselﬁshly toward improving
their whole relationship (no fragmentation). Both were willing to sacriﬁce, exercise self control, and risk everything, and now they are enjoying
the fruits of their eﬀorts. Dormant Stage. If healthy problem-solving does not occur and the
couple remains together, exasperation and exhaustion set in. Spouses can
become frustrated that their eﬀorts do not produce change—“It seems he
can’t be changed. Maybe he is just defective.” Partners may surrender in an
uneasy truce and live more quietly together, though there is no true peace.
Conﬂict diminishes, and the dormant stage of the relationship begins.
Partners in this stage withdraw from one another emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Outsiders may observe a loss of vitality, energy,
and life in the relationship. Lacking are the living marrow and sinew that
make an intimate relationship joyful. Hobbies, civic service, children,
church service, and work may be used as substitutes for lost intimacy.₁₀
The focus shifts from the relationship to me—my interests—and allowing freedom for my partner to do the same.
In some cases, during this stage partners renew their individual development and growth, reducing pressure on the marriage to meet all needs.
But in most cases, partners simply avoid issues with each other and go their
own way, shutting out the other. “Living under the gradually accumulating
layers of hurt and pain over the years,” families petrify and hearts turn to
stone.₁₁ When partners give up on each other in this way, the relationship
is at greatest risk.₁₂
Stonewalling—the refusal of one or both spouses to talk or relate in
any meaningful way—is an important sign that the relationship has
reached this critical point. In some instances, one or both partners may
indulge in extramarital emotional or sexual substitutes for lost intimacy.
Relationships that reach the nadir of the dormant stage likely will disintegrate in time.
Dormant relationships are in need of healing that moves them toward
a reborn, vital relationship. If couples are faithful to their covenants, faithful to the Lord, and prayerful, they will be able to renew their relationship.₁₃ Marital therapy research has identiﬁed softening, forgiveness, and
acceptance as important components in this process. It requires a couple’s
best eﬀorts and divine assistance. “Without the kind of forgiveness that BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 151 stems from the Atonement—that pays the demands of justice and fully heals
all family members—there is no eternal family. . . . The Atonement of Christ
redeems us—redeems us individually, and redeems our relationships.”₁₄
Vital Stage. In the vital stage, both partners consciously recommit
energies to the relationship, eventually forming a stronger bond than in
any of the previous stages. The begrudging resignation of the dormant
stage yields to acceptance and genuine care. Partners seek to actively nurture each other’s welfare within the framework of their partner’s goals and
deﬁnition of growth, not their own. High value is placed on blending as a
pair and balancing similarities and diﬀerences. The goal becomes to forge
a lasting and powerful relationship that creates a synergy—a whole greater
than the parts—from the unique contributions of two individuals.
As these changes take root, the relationship experiences wholeness and
radiates vitality. The couple typically maintains strong boundaries and for
the sake of the relationship contains resources, information, and decision
making within the relationship. The report of a married student reﬂects
As our relationship continued to grow, we shared more and more
experiences with one another. He saw me at what I still consider my
worst. I saw him when he was not his best. We never put up a front, and
we were entirely open with one another. He shared experiences and feelings that, had I been using him or the relationship for my own gratiﬁcation, I would have ended it because of the discomfort they brought to
me. He suﬀered with me through some of my greatest miseries. Yet neither of us ever felt fear of rejection or any desire to end the relationship
because we had developed a true love for each other and our relationship was based on a real intimacy. We chose to invest ourselves for the
relationship. We backed this investment with the commitment of a marriage we consider eternal.
I shared my innermost self with him in a way that left me vulnerable
to rejection and heartbreak. He did the same. Without this risk, we never
could have gotten to know each other so completely and experienced the
joy of true intimacy. . . . My total acceptance of his self, faults and all, was
essential to my learning about him. Had I rejected him for his ﬂaws, he
would have stopped risking exposing them to me, and I would have
known only the man he wanted me to know. This is why so many marriages fail: the partners feel cheated at not receiving the whole other person instead of just the rosy side they knew about before the marriage.
Because we have been exposed to one another’s ﬂaws and know that
we cannot change those ﬂaws in the other person, we realize that there
will be diﬃcult times ahead. We have seen times when we may not have
particularly liked a side of the other person, and we know that will continue until both are perfect, so we need to make the conscious decision to
actively work on ourselves and our relationship to keep it alive. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Faithful, Christlike intimacy is fully realized by a husband and wife
who have stayed the course until they bring to fruition the vital stage of their
marriage. Stability, commitment, and satisfaction typically are at their highest point during this stage. The partners fully accept each other with genuinely unconditional, Christlike love. They are grateful for one another.
They regard the other’s well-being and happiness as their highest aspiration. They regularly ask what the other wants and needs from them. They
are not simply revisiting their ﬁrst honeymoon but have created a second
honeymoon. Their reward now is a relationship that is fully knowing and
fully loving. Their relationship is deeper, more complete, and more intimate than at any other time.
Reﬂections on the Four Seasons of Marriage
This model is potentially a powerful tool for couples. Understanding
each stage can temper its challenges. For example, couples can see the Edenlike visionary stage as satisfying to a degree but lacking in the experience, depth, and satisfaction that come only with knowledge and
experience. They can perceive the work and struggle of the adversarial and
dormant stages as necessary to attaining the exalting pinnacle of the vital
stage. The vital stage is a very real redemption of the relationship, but it
is not a return to the pristine, ignorant bliss of the visionary Eden. It is
mature, stable, committed, nurturing, and loving, with full knowledge and
without illusions. It is fully realized intimacy.
Research Perspectives on the Marital Life Cycle
Marital success requires learning how to manage the adversarial and
dormant stages, which means learning how to communicate and how to
resolve conﬂict, according to research spanning twenty years by Notarius
and Markman. They tracked engaged couples yearly for two decades and
found that couple communication and conﬂict management patterns are the
best predictors of marital success. “What predicts the future of a relationship
is . . . how couples handle diﬀerences, conﬂicts, and disagreements,”₁₅ not
the existence of conﬂicts per se. They found that poor communication and
conﬂict management reliably predict divorce.
Two of the danger signs Notarius and Markman looked for were escalation and husband withdrawal with wife pursuing.₁₆ Escalation patterns,
where negative feelings about diﬀerences intensify, signal an acute and
destructive symptom of the adversarial stage. Withdrawal and stonewalling,
symptoms of the dormant stage, often follow. The husband’s withdrawal or
stonewalling coupled with the wife’s pursuing is highly predictive of BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 153 divorce.₁₇ In other words, the wife pursues interaction in an attempt to
reengage the husband, but the result is often further hostility. This quiet
stage in a relationship might look more peaceful to outsiders than the
conﬂict of the adversarial stage, but the relationship is actually at greatest
risk, either for legal divorce or emotional divorce.
Notarius and Markman note that awareness of threats most couples
experience can help couples reduce their risk, because with awareness they
can take preemptive measures. For example:
. Disagreements in relationships are natural, even inevitable, and
how they are handled determines how much of a threat they are. If they
are not handled well, they gradually erode intimacy, love, aﬀection, and
attraction. “Happy couples have a way of controlling . . . negative behaviors and not letting them get out of hand. Unhappy couples tend to go into
a pattern of escalation or withdrawal in the face of those negative behaviors. Over time, that takes a tremendous toll on relationships.”₁₈
A preemptive measure is to learn principles of conﬂict management, as
mentioned above. Couples who take the time to do this show a percent lower rate of separation and divorce.
. Reciprocating a negative comment or behavior threatens marriages.
Gottman found that domestically violent couples, not surprisingly, have
excessive negative exchanges.₁₉ Once one partner initiates negative interaction, the other tends to respond in kind, creating a feedback loop that
can escalate to emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical violence.
Conversely, Gottman found among nonviolent couples that both partners have the ability to resist reciprocating a negative behavior or comment from the other. In gospel terms, we might say they “[put] oﬀ the
natural man [or woman] and [become] a Saint through the atonement
of Christ” (Mosiah :), turning the other cheek (Matt. :) for the sake of
their relationship. A preemptive measure, therefore, is to return good for
evil—a hallmark principle of Christian relationships (Matt. :–) and of
Christlike charity ( Cor. ; Moro. :–).
A recent informal observation of couples in therapy found that one
partner often was able to meet a negative comment from the other with
a conciliatory, nonescalating response at least once and often twice. But a
third negative comment typically began a tit-for-tat cycle. Thus, it seems
reasonable to identify a “three strikes” principle as an important signal of
danger to the relationship.₂₀
. Failure to understand that men and women handle conﬂict somewhat
diﬀerently can threaten a marriage—“Men and women ﬁght using diﬀerent
weapons but suﬀer similar wounds.”₂₁ Learning about these diﬀerences and
becoming sensitive to them is characteristic of successful couples. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Men, for example, handle conﬂict better when there are rules to regulate the process. They also ﬁnd the physiological arousal that accompanies
conﬂict more painful than women, which in turn can make them more likely
to avoid conﬂict in the future. They require more time to recover after
conﬂict than do women.₂₂ A preemptive measure is for couples to become
aware of these diﬀerences and to set up rules to regulate their conﬂict.
. Many couples experiencing problems in their marriages erroneously
assume that monumental eﬀort and changes are required to make a diﬀerence. They may become discouraged about even trying, further threatening the relationship. Research, however, indicates that “small changes make
a big diﬀerence.”₂₃ The scriptures teach the same principle: “By small and
simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma :, ; Ne. :).
A preemptive action, therefore, is for each partner to focus on making
small changes in his or her own behavior.
A Reservoir of Hope
No matter how bad things may look in a relationship, the potential
for change, healing, growth, and happiness is almost always present.
“Every relationship contains a reservoir of hope,” say Notarius and Markman.₂₄ During every stage of a marriage, but perhaps especially during
the adversarial and dormant stages, hope is a powerful motivator to work
on the relationship. Couples should do everything they can to search for
evidence, past or present, that can keep the ﬂickering ﬂames of hope alive
and then to express that hope through both words and concrete actions.
As they approach their seasons of marriage with an abiding, eternal perspective (“This, too, shall pass”), they are more likely to be optimistic
about their future together.
Generalizing the Model:
Seasons of All Intimate Relationships
The “seasons of a marriage” model provides a general guide for the
stages we can expect for all our intimate relationships. With realistic
expectations, we can better manage the pitfalls along the way and deepen
our connection to parents, siblings, close friends, and even God. With
more information about how we developed patterns in our families of origin, self-understanding and adaptability can grow.
Parent-Child Seasons of Intimacy
Visionary Stage. Both parents and children often experience a
visionary stage in their relationship. Young children in particular, who are BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 155 developmentally and experientially naive, tend to idealize their parents.
Some parents are also naive about their children, thinking they are incapable
of the lapses considered normal for other people’s children.
Adversarial Stage. Over time, the visionary stage breaks down. Children observe and become victims of their parents’ mistakes and transgressions. Parents discover that their children are not the last remaining
innocents but have as many weaknesses and imperfections as their peers.
Beginning at about age ten and continuing through adolescence,
most children feel some degree of disillusionment, disappointment,
resentment, and anger at what they view as their parents’ betrayal: “You
were supposed to be perfect, and you’re not. You’ve hurt me and damaged
me.” Disagreements, tension, and conﬂict ensue. Parents, too, may feel
disappointed in children who do not measure up to their idealized
expectations. Some parents, especially in religious communities, may
resent children who sabotage their attempts to project a perfect family
image to the outside world.
Christlike acceptance of one another is essential for getting through
this stage without serious rupture of relationships. This burden rests more
heavily upon parents, since children are developmentally less capable of
bearing it. Parents’ acceptance and understanding of children’s developmental stages can lead to interaction that is focused on gradual growth
rather than on pressure to conform to unrealistic demands and expectations for immediate change.
Often, though, both parents and adolescents set about to change the
other. As in the adversarial stage of marriage, resulting tension may sour
the relationship. Perhaps a few parents and children are able to prevent the
conﬂict typical of this stage, but most families experience enough friction
to move them into the dormant stage.
Dormant Stage. As parents and children become exhausted by
conﬂict, they may avoid one another or create emotional distance. Some
families may give up on each other or even reject one another out of
frustration or fatigue. As with marriages, parent-child intimacy is at risk
during the dormant stage. Covenant families, however, remain committed to Christlike love for one another, a love that does not make the relationship contingent on the other person’s coming around to “my” point
of view. Parents and children in covenant families stand with open arms,
ready to receive one another in love.
Even under the best circumstances, when children eventually leave
home, both they and their parents typically confess to some measure of
relief. Soon afterward, children and their parents stop trying to change
one another and begin to show the acceptance that is easier to extend BYU Studies copyright 2003 from a distance. Reunions may bring renewed complaints and insistence
on change, but they usually dissipate more quickly and with less conﬂict.
A return to the idealized imagery of the family may even occur from a distance. Additionally, as adult children observe families more closely and talk
with siblings about their own families, appreciation for their family of origin often increases. In time, these experiences may promote transition to
the vital stage.
Vital Stage. In the vital stage, children see their parents as fallible
human beings but accept them as brothers and sisters who were given a
stewardship and are trying to do their best. When adult children become
parents, their own mistakes and lapses further increase sensitivity to
their parents’ experience. Aging parents similarly accept their children’s
developmental struggles. Parents and children relate less in terms of expectation, entitlement, and demand and more in terms of support, nurture,
and encouragement. Like married couples beginning the vital stage, parents and children increasingly focus on changing themselves, not others,
and on helping one another in love.
Just as in marriage, critical to this process are softening, forgiveness,
and the renewal of trust—all aided by the Atonement of Christ and the
inﬂuence of the Holy Spirit. With this sustenance, parents and children
can heal, reconcile, and renew their relationships. They begin to cherish
and celebrate one another, rejoicing in the uniqueness and individuality
of the other.
Deity-Disciple Seasons of Intimacy
As developing disciples, our progression from conversion to reconciliation with our Father in Heaven also has its seasons. Our initial conversion
may be visionary—idealized and naive. As the demands of discipleship
press us to our limits and we experience the painful stretching of divine
chastening, we may become disillusioned with God or angry with him,
beginning the adversarial stage. The power of covenant commitments can
compel us to forego retreat and resist temptations during this stage. As the
stresses of this stage take their toll on our emotional and spiritual energy,
we may retreat from discipleship’s daunting demands and begin a dormant stage. And ﬁnally, when we accept anew the demands of discipleship
as the unavoidable prerequisites to reconciliation with our Father, we enter
the exalting vital stage. The Atonement of Christ, the gifts of the Spirit,
and the Savior’s grace are essential to the softening, forgiveness, and deepening of trust that are necessary to reach this stage. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 157 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship,
Friendship, and Community
Intimacy is not reserved for husband and wife, nor is it only physical.
Love and intimacy also occur in the broader realm of kinship and friendship. The social, emotional, and spiritual connectedness of extended family
members and close friends can have a crucial inﬂuence as we face life’s
problems. The principles of Christlike love apply in these relationships just
as they do in marriage, parent-child relationships, and our relationship
with Deity. We can do justice here to only a few concepts that focus on the
broad scope of love in human relationships. We have chosen to discuss two
universal themes: transitional persons and generativity.
The Transitional Person
When we face particularly diﬃcult problems created by imperfect parenting, even several generations back, it is helpful to examine our “emotional genealogy.” Researching personal and family histories from an
emotional perspective can reveal past patterns that aﬀect us currently. This
research includes reviewing journals, reviewing family histories, and interviewing key living relatives who may have information or insights about
maladjustments in our emotional family tree. Once we are aware of
unhealthy family patterns, we are better equipped to reverse their eﬀects in
our own lives. When we do this, we can become “transitional persons.”
A transitional person is one who rejects the unhealthy or evil family
patterns of previous generations and sets a new course for future generations by adopting healthy and godly patterns. Transitional persons are
gifts to themselves and potentially to thousands of progeny, with eﬀects
rippling across time and social networks. The transitional person exempliﬁes Christlike love by becoming a participant with the Lord in helping
to redeem others.
In the late s, the BYU Values Institute Theory Group₂₅ explored
the idea of the transitional person from social science, philosophical, and
religious perspectives. The Theory Group concluded that a person can
enact a “saving” or redemptive role in the mental and spiritual health of
others, particularly family members. While we cannot atone for the sins
of the human family in the same way the Savior did (Alma :–), we
can become redeemers within our families by sacriﬁcing personal need on
behalf of others (John :–, –; D&C ; D&C :–) and by reversing
sinful traditions to create a righteous heritage for succeeding generations.
The Theory Group discussed the inﬂuence of many converts on their families as a speciﬁc example and applied the term “transitional ﬁgure” to their BYU Studies copyright 2003 experience. Speaking for the group at a BYU gathering, I described the
therapist’s role in helping clients become transitional ﬁgures:
Since many psychological problems are, in eﬀect, the burden of sins
laid upon the person due to generations of unrighteous acts and conditionings, the therapist teaches the individual to become a transitional
[redemptive] ﬁgure in the history of his family. [The counselor] shows
the person how to compensate for and overthrow the eﬀects of generations of sins upon his [or her] psyche and behavior. [The client] thus
begins to reverse the trends in his [or her] emotional genealogy, clears [his
or her] consciousness of self-deceptions, and initiates a benevolent cycle
in his [or her] functioning [in the family network and] as spouse and
progenitor. . . . By accepting the role of making up both for [one’s] own
sins and those of [one’s] parents (cf. D&C :–), the individual
adopts . . . Christ-like behavior . . . [and] is then aided by the saving, healing power of Christ.₂₆ This psychological saving process parallels the eﬀort to spiritually save
forebears through genealogy and temple work, that is, to do for them what
they could not do for themselves. It requires giving up the personal need to
reject or retaliate against those, living or dead, who have contributed to our
emotional problems by perpetrating oﬀenses against us. Forgiveness is a
ﬁrst step, which may call for wrenching changes in attitude and behavior.
As innocent victims choose forgiveness and healing, they sacriﬁce themselves for the welfare of the extended family. This principle of sacriﬁce was
ﬁrst taught to Adam and Eve (Moses :–). It has been taught throughout
scriptural history that our own sacriﬁces are symbolic of the sacriﬁce by
the Son of God.₂₇ Sacriﬁce is an expression of love: “For God so loved the
world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John :). When we sacriﬁce,
our capacity to love is expanded (Alma :–).
Family life is our ﬁrst and most important laboratory for the development and practice of such intimate, Christlike regard for others. But over
time, those touched by the spirit of our eternal family ﬁnd that the deﬁnition of “who is my neighbor” (Luke :) expands beyond familial,
regional, national, racial, religious, and all other boundaries to include the
entire family of God and all his creations (see Luke :–). Christ
expressed this expansive scope of intimacy when he taught his disciples,
“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends” (John :–).
Envisioning intimate relationships as including saving inﬂuence in one
another’s lives and across generations elevates intimacy to a truly celestial
concept. Christlike intimacy makes sobering demands on us, but to reach so
deeply, lovingly, and redemptively into one another’s souls is the hallmark BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 159 of divine intimacy and the core of meaningful relationships. Surely one of
the highest callings in life is to rise to the challenge of becoming transitional ﬁgures in the lives of friends and family.₂₈
Over the years, these ideas about transitional persons have been
shared with professional audiences as an example of how spiritual
approaches can aid in psychotherapy. For instance, in a gathering of mental health professionals, the Theory Group explained how the transitional
person concept might help a client who had been abused:
The person is encouraged to see himself or herself as at a crossroads
in his or her family history. . . . Although he or she has been the victim of
pathologizing events in life, . . . it is important to adopt a forgiving attitude. . . . The release of aggression against the victimizing agents,
although it may be important at certain therapeutic junctures, is not
healing in a deep and lasting way.
We introduce . . . the concepts of sacriﬁce and redemption that are
common to great religions, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition. . . .
Sometimes it is important to absorb the pain that has been handed
down across generations . . . to stop the process of transmitting pain
from generation to generation. Instead of seeking retribution, one
learns . . . to be forgiving, to try to reconcile with forebears, and then
become a generator of positive change in the next generation . . . by
resisting the disordered patterns of the past, exercising [a] . . . healing
impact, and then transmitting . . . a healthier mode of functioning.₂₉ A member of the Theory Group, Victor L. Brown Jr., provided an
example of a woman who had severe emotional problems because of abuse
from her father and who decided to employ the transitional ﬁgure concept:
After learning about the transitional ﬁgure idea, she was encouraged
to go back to visit her father and, instead of confronting him with the
pain he had caused, to invite him to tell her about his history and to do a
family history interview. She was not to ask him about his dynamics or
disturbances and the consequences, but instead, about his identity, experiences, and so forth.
The result of doing this, including tape-recording and transcribing
the interviews with her father, caused a dramatic reconciliation
between the woman and her father and a merging of perceptions of
painful [abusive] events that had occurred. It stimulated her father to
face certain realities he had never faced. This was, however, a gentle experience occurring in a forgiving atmosphere. As a result, he was able to
lower his defenses, apologize, and seek to make up for his past conduct.
The changes in both client and father as a result of this encounter seemed
to be dramatic and more profound than the changes that had been
occurring through regular treatment. . . . BYU Studies copyright 2003 As in religious tradition, sacriﬁce was required on the part of the
client; that is, she gave up the need for retribution and separation from
the past family network. Furthermore, the sacriﬁcial act, consisting of
self-denial and forgiveness, yielded ultimate beneﬁts to all parties that
more than compensated for the sacriﬁce.₃₀ Case Studies of Transitional Characters
Roberta Magarrell examined from a Latter-day Saint perspective case
studies of “transitional characters.” Her work began with a BYU doctoral
dissertation in family science and continues in an ongoing research program. Her observations are based on in-depth interviews with six persons
who grew up in abusive environments and became transitional persons,
often without therapy. These individuals faced every kind of problem,
including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, character assassination, mental cruelty, neglect, abandonment, emotional isolation, sexual
promiscuity, adultery, incest, manipulation, and scapegoating. All six had
in common the question, “How do I reject a family of origin lifestyle that
is harming me and build a growth producing lifestyle for myself and for my
Magarrell found that all six of her subjects developed a determination to discard the dysfunctional aspects of their families and to create
a new way of life. This sense of mission provided motivation for both
personal change and reform of their family situations. Through enlightened understanding, the sense of mission ultimately evolved into a t ransitional leap that yielded a new way of seeing things. This altered
perspective occurred at diﬀering ages, ranging from youth through
The six subjects began their journey toward becoming transitional
characters in a general state of confusion. They asked painful questions
such as “Why did my dad desert us?” “Why don’t we have more food?”
“Why doesn’t my mother love me?” “Why can’t my parents get along?”
“How can I get out of here?” “What needs to change?” This questioning
eventually led them to see new options, such as “Life is going to be diﬀerent for me, for us” and “I’m going to do the things that I need to make that
happen.”₃₂ Many realized after the questioning process that they wanted
almost the opposite of what they had previously wanted. Where before
they wanted almost any way to escape their pain, they now desired a closeknit family, caring, understanding, a strong and supportive father, fun,
safety, respect, encouragement, and opportunities to work together and to
develop talents. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 161 As they attempted to achieve these new desires, they experienced
painful trial and error and alternation between progress and backsliding.
One participant described this process as follows:
It isn’t just a [simple] change, it’s moving up a hill, moving away from
whatever’s here, then you go over the hill and you can see things diﬀerently . . . a fresh view. . . . You can suddenly see things diﬀerently and then
you can choose which direction you’re going to go. But initially, you’re just
climbing out of it.₃₃ The process of coming out of confusion into enlightenment and eventually into the leap toward a transitional role was helped along by several
inﬂuences. All six subjects reported that at least one and sometimes more
than one signiﬁcant person outside of their immediate family gave them
steadiness, security, and a belief that they could move toward a new
future. In ﬁve out of the six cases, a grandparent was one of these signiﬁcant persons. Other inﬂuences included education, exposure to new
environments, a questioning attitude, and a sense of responsibility to self
and family members. In some cases, formal counseling or a self-help
group were critical factors.
Another vital aspect of the change process was the ability to communicate, including conversation with signiﬁcant others, self-talk, self-reﬂection,
talking to God, talking to a pet, and journal writing. This self-expression
helped the six subjects reinterpret their experiences, gave them new perspectives, and imparted comfort.
The growing sense of enlightenment was often accompanied by spiritual feelings and insights. Gradually a sense of mission emerged that they
should and could make a diﬀerence. They began to believe that freedom
from the past and new choices were truly possible. In some cases, this
new belief came like a spiritual revelation that showed them a revisioning of themselves as a person and as a new and diﬀerent part of an
old social system.
The next phase, the transitional leap from victim to healer, also was
often accompanied by a powerful spiritual experience. It occurred gradually and ultimately yielded a liberating view of the problems in their family
of origin.₃₄ One of the subjects said, “There is a freeing up to let go of the
past and to look to the present and to the future. . . . [It was a time of profound alteration,] a critical juncture . . . [a major forward thrust] as if one
is catapulted across a gulf that would be diﬃcult for anyone . . . to cross
back over.”₃₅ The subjects also let go of anger, relinquished excessive
responsibility for family problems, and forgave. One subject described a
“healing power to transcend, absorb the . . . emotionally destructive BYU Studies copyright 2003 environment.”₃₆ The transitional leap experience also imparted a sense of
being a person of great worth, of being in a place of safety and having feelings of substance.₃₇ The six subjects perceived that God loved them, which
was a particularly powerful insight.
Finally, they saw themselves as individuals who could make a diﬀerence, not only for their own sakes, but also for the sake of their family
members. They then were able to begin inﬂuencing their extended families and the next generation to shed dysfunctions and be open to new possibilities. Many of them used phrases that countered the negative, even evil,
trends in their families, statements such as “I will never be a deadbeat
dad”; “I cannot imagine being unfaithful to my spouse”; “I want my
family to be close-knit and caring, and we will work together to make that
happen”; “I will never abandon my children”; “I will not use alcohol or
drugs”; “I will not use violence in disciplining my children”; and “I will
encourage the development of my children.”
Magarrell notes that the sequence of events she outlined does not necessarily occur in a linear way. The transitional person may cycle through
diﬀerent phases at diﬀerent times and, often, more than one time.
Reading Magarrell’s account of the transitional characters is an exhilarating experience. It shows that people can heal from even the worst environments and become integrated, loving individuals.
Kinship and Community vs. Stagnation and Self-Absorption
Generativity is inﬂuence for good across generations. Erikson deﬁnes
it as “the concern in establishing and guiding the next generation.”₃₈ It is
the “antithesis of . . . self-absorption and stagnation . . . [and] . . . encompasses procreativity, productivity, and creativity, and thus the generation of
McAdams and de St. Aubin describe generativity as “commitment to
promoting the next generation, through parenting, teaching, mentoring,
and generating products and outcomes that aim to beneﬁt youth and foster the development and well-being of individuals and social systems that
will outlive the self.” Adults who take on generative endeavors “serve as
norm bearers and destiny shapers in families, schools, churches, neighborhoods and the workplace.”₄₀
Generativity research has shown that people who believe their inﬂuence
can extend into the future feel a responsibility to love others far beyond
immediate kin. As part of a larger society under God, they reach out from
the nuclear family to the world community and from earthly time into BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 163 eternity. Intergenerational concern and care builds their personal identity
and strengthens their bonds with others as they identify with a larger whole.
For Latter-day Saints, temple work for the deceased (who live on elsewhere) is a vivid example of this truth. Temple participation anchors us in
a transcendent network of emotional and spiritual ties with other people
who have meaning for our own existence. A professor recently reported the
depth of personal change that occurred after an experience in the temple
where he felt a vivid spiritual connection with individuals on the other side
of the veil. His extensive research into personal and family history had
already produced many emotional experiences as he discovered the identities and lives of his kin, both living and dead. As he pondered this experience in the temple, he felt love for and closeness to these people, and he
realized that he was part of a much greater whole—a universal, caring, and
eternal network that was invisible yet felt vibrantly real. His identity
became shared. He felt a oneness with a benevolent system of related eternal identities who shared in his history, his genetics, and his future.
As this experience occurred, his sense of self was transformed. Old
insecurities began to dissolve. His identiﬁcation with a shared community reduced his anxiety and the secret internal loneliness he had felt.
After this experience, he found that kinship commitment was healing and
energizing to his life at home and at work. He decided that his personal
history, family genealogy, and vicarious temple ordinance work₄₁ were far
more signiﬁcant than he had ever realized. He began to believe that deeply
felt familial connections are the most important thing, maybe the only
thing, that matters, for they redeﬁne “self,” extending it to the family of all
God’s creations. (See D&C :–; :–.) Such peak intimacy
demonstrates that the higher realization of self and identity involves
“becoming one” with signiﬁcant others.
Family closeness, unity, righteousness, and intimacy, endowed by the
Lord’s spirit and covenant bonds, are our primary protection and salvation from the spiritual, moral, and social smog that surrounds us.
McAdams and de St. Aubin explain generativity’s powerful impact on all
those we inﬂuence:
I am what survives me. I am my children, in their manifold incarnations: my sons and daughters, students, and protégés; the babies I care for
in the nursery where I work; the kids on the Little League team I coach;
the parishioners in the church I serve; but also the business I started, the
neighbors I helped (and hurt), the institutions I inﬂuenced (for good and
for ill), the organizations for which I volunteered, the poems I wrote, the
quilt I made, the jokes I told, the words of advice I gave, the examples I
set for others, my reputations, how others think of me, how others will
remember me. As adults, we all generate legacies, even unwittingly so. BYU Studies copyright 2003 We all ﬁnd ourselves caring for and contributing to the next generation,
even if the contributions are tiny, indirect, or negative, and even though
we never know, and can never know, what impact our eﬀorts will have
in the long time that is ahead of us. As adults, we all come to know the
challenges, rewards, and frustrations of generativity.₄₂ Stagnation, on the other hand, consists of giving in to ease and withdrawing from the eﬀort required to care about and care for the succeeding
generation. The dynamic energy of identity development becomes stuck in
midlife and progresses no further. Sadly, stagnation usually breeds tendencies toward self-satisfaction, shallow intimacy, self-preoccupation, and
rejection of those in need.
Examples of Generativity
Examples of generative kinship, family, and social inﬂuence are abundant in the scriptures and in the history of the restored Church. Family
prayer, family scripture study, family home evening, priesthood blessings,
parent-child conversations, church service, community service, family traditions, and family reunions are all generative acts. Photographs, diaries,
journals, biographies, letters, genealogy, and family history work anchor
these eﬀorts in documents, data, and personal experience of intergenerational connection. The Spirit of Elijah is a generative and transitional spirit
(Mal. :–; D&C :–; D&C :–). It turns the hearts of the children to their fathers, forefathers, mothers, and foremothers; and it turns
the hearts of forebears to their progeny.
“Generative parenting” is parenting enriched by special care in which
members of the older generation extend themselves to transmit strength,
wisdom, security, and opportunity to the rising generation. Generative
mothering has always been a strong tradition, and increasingly society is
recognizing that generative fathering is equally important.₄₃ As full commitment to fathering becomes the norm among righteous people, its
eﬀects prevent or cure many of society’s ills, defeating Satan’s plan to
destroy the family and civilization. A student reported how the inﬂuence of
his parents generated a model for his own ideal of marriage and family:
I recall at a very young age, probably age , hoping that someday I’d
be able to raise a family in the same way my parents were raising us
kids. I also recall hoping that I would be able to ﬁnd someone to love
and serve as my dad did with my mom. I think that they have an ideal
marriage, one that I will take from and institute into mine when I
have one. They demonstrated respect for each other, exempliﬁed the
sharing of roles, and provided support for mutual growth and personal identity development. BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 165 I also learned from them that love needs to be nourished, just as a
ﬂower needs attention to ﬂourish. They taught me that when trials and
disagreements occur in my own marriage, we will need to renew our
commitment to each other. “Benevolent intimacy” will be the highest
common denominator, as I put my loved ones ﬁrst in my life. Exceptional family patterns have been and are being set by latter-day
prophets such as Joseph F. Smith, David O. McKay, Ezra Taft Benson, and
their wives and families. Other leaders and millions of Saints have followed
these modern models of kinship, ﬁdelity, and generativity. The family
and community inﬂuence of any of the recent or current First Presidency and
Quorum of the Twelve with their wives and families could be studied with
beneﬁt. In the autobiography From Heart to Heart,₄₄ we learn about the
family of Elder Russell M. Nelson and Sister Dantzel White Nelson, where
each person’s heart and core motivation is turned inward toward each
other and then outward toward the larger world. The lives of Elder Neal A.
Maxwell and Sister Colleen Hinckley Maxwell provide another exemplary
pathway to generative inﬂuence.₄₅
The scriptures are also ﬁlled with powerful stories that set a standard
for us and help us establish life goals. The pattern can be continued in our
individual lives through personal adherence to the restored Church’s plan
of youth activity and service, priesthood advancement, missions, temple
marriage, and children born in or adopted into the covenant. Daily scripture study and regular study of the Ensign magazines will help the reader
understand both ancient and modern applications of the concept of generativity within a gospel context.
Generative inﬂuence is not restricted to those who have children.
Many great personalities throughout history have changed the world for
the better, even though they did not have biological progeny. Many were
women, such as Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc, and Mother Teresa. Anna
Freud, the renowned child psychoanalyst, was once asked how she could
possibly understand and therapeutically help children when she had never
been a wife or mother. Ms. Freud, however, had numerous children vicariously because of the great work she did to support and heal their mental disorders. Indeed, her clinic in London was a fertile center for generating
positive change in the lives of thousands and, indirectly, even millions of
children. Through her practice and teaching, generations of professionals
learned to care for the welfare of future generations.
Intimate friendships are also an important generative inﬂuence. As
older people reﬂect back upon their younger years, they often can identify
a turning point in their lives that centered around an intimate friend. For
instance, a successful middle-aged counselor reported that his life course BYU Studies copyright 2003 took an important turn in his late teens as the result of a conversation with
a close high-school friend. He and his friend were both ambitious intellectuals with strong academic and political interests. During one of many long
personal conversations, the friend, the son of a clergyman, made a statement that had a powerful impact upon the future counselor. He said,
“Whatever I do in the future, I want to do something that will beneﬁt the
world and make a diﬀerence.” The future counselor realized that such an
idea had never occurred to him before. He had previously been preoccupied with making a career choice that would be interesting and bring him
an adequate income. His friend’s statement shook the foundations of his
assumptions about what a career should be. A desire to do something
good for the world—to consecrate his life and his work to the beneﬁt of the
community at large—seemed to erupt from some hidden reservoir within
him. From then on, important decisions were informed by this newfound
value. The counselor reported that these decisions led to a lifetime of deep
satisfaction in work that might never have occurred otherwise.
Sometimes intimate relationships help heal a personal dysfunction.
Such inﬂuence can reverberate throughout a person’s life and is part of
the web of love that keeps individuals and society integrated rather than
disintegrated. In the example below, a college professor becomes a pivotal person for one of his female students, who had become too intimate
with a boyfriend and felt guilty and confused when the boyfriend left on
While he served his mission, I was enlightened by the wisdom of my
professors concerning the true meaning of love. One of them helped me
understand Christ’s love for us, which gave me more insight than I ever
had before. Centered around developing this ultimate love, he explained
that every relationship should be aimed at building the spirituality of
both persons. I knew then, clearly, that we are the literal oﬀspring of God
and that he loves us with boundless love. This gave new direction and
happiness to me and those I am close to.
When my friend returned from his mission, our reunion brought
incredible change to my life and my understanding of love. I am more
able to give selﬂessly without seeking physical or instant gratiﬁcation,
and this has brought about much happiness. My professor had a decisive inﬂuence in bringing about my changes and the consequences I
now enjoy. Conclusion
Christlike love extends intimacy to our social systems. All faithful
Latter-day Saints are transitional persons in the sense that all come from
imperfect families and social contexts and thus all have the opportunity BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 167 to reject dysfunctional or sinful patterns and pass on a healthier, more
righteous heritage. All generations of the past and the future make a transition through each person, for each is an inheritor and a progenitor.
Those who never procreate are progenitors in that their inﬂuence on past,
present, and future may be felt just as strongly as those who physically
From a Latter-day Saint perspective, a transitional person is one who
knows the doctrines of the Restoration, abides by its covenants, and follows
the Savior by witnessing and living according to the gospel he taught and
exempliﬁed. Anyone who does these things brings out transitional dynamics automatically.
Generativity can become a valued life goal and lifestyle pattern. Such
kinship ideals are based on interpersonal ﬁdelity and personal integrity.
From this orientation to life comes the power to aﬀect the family and the
larger world in a benevolent way.
We recommend the writings of Erik Erikson, the father of the modern
social science concept of generativity, and those of his students who are
carrying on this professional tradition that complements the principles
and practices of the restored gospel and Latter-day Saint culture.₄₆ We conclude this section by again quoting from Erikson:
Generativity, we said, encompasses procreativity, productivity, and
creativity, and thus the generation of new beings as well as of new products and new ideas, including a kind of self-generation concerned with
further identity development. A sense of stagnation, in turn, . . . can
totally overwhelm those who ﬁnd themselves inactivated in generative
matters. The new “virtue” emerging from this antithesis, namely, Care, is
a widening commitment to take care of the persons, the products, and
the ideas one has learned to care for. All the strengths arising from earlier
developments in the ascending order from infancy to young adulthood
(hope and will, purpose and skill, ﬁdelity and love) now prove, on closer
study, to be essential for the generational task of cultivating strength in
the next generation. For this is, indeed, the store of human life.₄₇ Allen E. Bergin (who can be reached by email via firstname.lastname@example.org)
recently retired after teaching psychology at Brigham Young University for
twenty-seven years. He has received a number of professional honors and served as
the president of the international Society for Psychotherapy Research. He is currently on a mission teaching institute classes in La Jolla, California.
Mark H. Butler (email@example.com) is Associate Professor of Marriage
and Family Therapy at Brigham Young University. He received his Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Texas Tech University. BYU Studies copyright 2003 This article ﬁrst appeared as a chapter in a book, Eternal Values and Personal
Growth: A Guide on Your Journey to Social, Emotional, and Spiritual Wellness, published by BYU Studies, .
. Peter L. Berger and Hansfried Kellner, “Marriage and the Construction of
Reality,” Diogenes (): –.
. See David Reiss, The Family’s Construction of Reality (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, ), .
. Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, Ann Swidler, and
Steven M. Tipton, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American
Life (New York: Harper and Row, ); K. S. Bahr and H. M. Bahr, “Another
Voice, Another Lens: Making a Place for Sacriﬁce in Family Theory and Family
Process,” Thirty-third Annual Virginia F. Cutler Lecture, Provo, Utah, Center for
Studies of the Family, Brigham Young University, November , .
. Bahr and Bahr, “Another Voice, Another Lens.” See also Dorothy Lee,
Valuing the Self (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland, ).
. Scott Stanley, The Heart of Commitment (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, ).
. Sherot Miller, Daniel Wackman, Elam Nunnally, and P. Miller, Connecting with Self and Others (Littleton, Colo.: Interpersonal Communications Programs, ).
. Miller, Wackman, Nunnally, and Miller, Connecting with Self and Others.
. Bonnie Burman, Gayla Margolin, and Richard S. John, “America’s Angriest Home Videos: Contingencies Observed in Home Reenactments of Marital Conﬂict,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology , no. (): –; Cliﬀord I.
Notarius and Howard J. Markman, We Can Work It Out: Making Sense of Marital
Conﬂict (New York: Putnam, ); John M. Gottman, “A Theory of Marital Dissolution and Stability,” Journal of Family Psychology , no. (): –; John M.
Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail (New York: Simon and Schuster, ).
. See “Conﬂict Tactics Scale” in Murray A. Straus and Sherry L. Hamby,
“Measuring Physical and Psychological Maltreatment of Children with the
Conﬂict Tactics Scales,” in Out of Darkness: Contemporary Perspectives on Family
Violence, ed. Glenda Kaufman Kantor and Jana L. Jasinski (Thousand Oaks, Calif.:
Sage, ), –.
. Mark H. Butler and James M. Harper, “The Divine Triangle: God in the
Marital System of Religious Couples,” Family Process , no. (): –.
. James M. Harper and Mark H. Butler, “Repentance, Forgiveness and Progression in Marriages and Families,” in Strengthening Our Families: An In-Depth
Look at the Proclamation on the Family, ed. David C. Dollahite (Salt Lake City:
Deseret Book, ), .
. See Gottman, “Theory of Marital Dissolution and Stability,” ; Gottman,
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail; and John M. Gottman, “Predicting the Longitudinal Course of Marriages,” Journal of Marital and Family Therapy , no. (): –.
. M. H. Butler, B. C. Gardner, and M. H. Bird, “Not Just a Time-Out:
Change Dynamics of Prayer for Religious Couples in Conﬂict Situations,” Family
Process , no. (): –; M. H. Butler, J. S. Stout, and B. C. Garder, “Prayer
as a Conﬂict Resolution Tactic: Clinical Implications of Couples’ Reports of Relationship Softening, Healing Perspective, and Change Responsibility,” American
Journal of Family Therapy (in press). BYU Studies copyright 2003 Love and Intimacy in Family, Kinship, Friendship, and Community V 169 . Harper and Butler, “Repentance, Forgiveness and Progression,” .
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. Gottman, “Predicting the Longitudinal Course of Marriages,” .
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. Gottman, “Theory of Marital Dissolution and Stability,” –.
. S. R. Woolley, “Enactments in Couple Therapy: A Process Study” (Ph.D.
diss., Texas Tech University, ).
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. Gottman, “Theory of Marital Dissolution and Stability”; Gottman, “Predicting the Longitudinal Course of Marriages,” .
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. Notarius and Markman, We Can Work It Out, .
. The BYU Values Institute met in to discuss ideas and practices that
might form a framework for a gospel-centered approach to human behavior.
Among the members of the institute were Truman G. Madsen, C. Terry Warner,
Victor L. Brown Jr., Stephen R. Covey, and Allen E. Bergin.
. Allen E. Bergin, “A Religious Framework for Personality and Psychotherapy”
(Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Publications, ), –.
. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, ),
. See Carlfred Bartholomew Broderick, One Flesh, One Heart: Putting Celestial Love into Your Temple Marriage (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, ).
. Allen E. Bergin, “Three Contributions of a Spiritual Perspective to Counseling, Psychotherapy, and Behavior Change,” Counseling and Values (): .
. Victor L. Brown, personal communication, October , in Bergin,
“Three Contributions of a Spiritual Perspective,” –.
. Roberta Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character” (Ph.D. diss.,
Brigham Young University, ), .
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” –.
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” .
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” .
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” .
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” .
. Magarrell, “Becoming a Transitional Character,” –.
. Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, d ed. (New York: W. W. Norton,
. Erik H. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed (New York: W. W. Norton,
), , italics in original.
. D. P. McAdams and Ed de St. Aubin, eds., Generativity and Adult Development: How and Why We Care for the Next Generation (Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, ), xx.
. A unique documentation of how temple themes may be woven into intergenerational family life was presented at the Women’s Conference held in at
BYU. The printed and video versions are highly recommended resources for
extending the discussion of principles in this chapter. See Ann N. Madsen in collaboration with Emily Madsen Reynolds, Mindy Madsen Davis, and Cindy Anderson Madsen, “And All Thy Children Shall Be Taught of the Lord: Bringing the
Temple to Our Children,” April , . BYU Studies copyright 2003 . McAdams and de St. Aubin, Generativity and Adult Development, xix, italics in original.
. David C. Dollahite, Brent D. Slife, and Alan J. Hawkins, “Family Generativity
and Generative Counseling: Helping Families Keep Faith with the Next Generation,” in Generativity and Adult Development, ed. McAdams and de St. Aubin,
–; Alan J. Hawkins and David C. Dollahite, Generative Fathering: Beyond
Deﬁcit Perspectives (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, ).
. Russell M. Nelson, From Heart to Heart (Salt Lake City: Quality, ).
. Bruce C. Hafen, A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book, ).
. See Erikson, Childhood and Society; Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed;
Robert Coles, Erik H. Erikson: The Growth of His Work (Boston: Atlantic-Little,
Brown, ); and McAdams and de St. Aubin, Generativity and Adult Development.
. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed, . Errata
We wish to correct an editorial error that appeared in BYU Studies volume 4, number 1. On page 161, this sentence appears in Paul H. Peterson’s
review of Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows:
Bagley faults Brooks for her overly sympathetic treatment of Lee
(most historians would agree that Brooks’s corrective was in order),
her shallow treatment of the background of the emigrants, and her
acceptance of some of the slanderous tales implicating both the
emigrants and the Paiutes.
The sentence should read as follows:
Bagley faults Brooks for her overly sympathetic treatment of Lee
(most historians would agree that Bagley’s corrective was in order),
her shallow treatment of the background of the emigrants, and her
acceptance of some of the slanderous tales implicating both the
emigrants and the Paiutes.
We apologize for any confusion this error may have caused.
—Editors, BYU Studies BYU Studies copyright 2003 ...
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