A Look at Flowers and Marriage: Does the Analogy Really Hold Up?

Published June 26, 1986.  A few weeks ago, I was talking to another faculty member at BYU. During our conversation he asked what I taught at BYU. I replied I taught a course about marriage.

You should understand that some of my colleagues in the ‘pure’ sciences—chemistry, physics and math, the exact sciences—are suspicious of family science. The person with whom I was conversing was of the ‘pure’ science persuasion.

“Why do we need classes about marriage?” he asked. “Particularly here at Brigham Young University.” He went on to say that we are a very family-oriented society. The university and church with which we were both affiliated, he suggested, were already highly committed to family life. Then came his stunning statement:

“If you just take care of the family, you will take care of the marriage.”

I told him I disagreed with his observation, but I understood his logic. Marriage could be viewed as a subset of a family. It is one of the important ongoing relationships within the family unit. So, in his way of thinking, if you take care of and nurture all the relationships within the family you would automatically take care of the marriage.

But there is another way of comparing the relationship between marriage and family. Rather than viewing the former as a subset of the latter, I suggested that a solid marriage is the very foundation of a stable family life. And if such is true, the family is strengthened by enhancing the marriage.

The bell rang, and my friend picked up his lecture notes. He said, partly in jest, he still didn’t understand the need for courses about marriage at a university.

After he had gone I recalled our conversation. Perhaps he thought I believed we should give less time and attention to the family than marriage. But that was absurd. How could such a concept be taught at BYU? I was not advocating that less time and attention be devoted to the family. I merely suggested that more time and attention be devoted to marriage. I was, and still am, ready to defend that position.

While thinking about our discussion, I recalled the many husbands and wives I had met during the past few years who had put their marriage on the back burner while they reared their children. Family, they told me, must take priority to marriage.

One wife even told me of the analogy of marriage to a flower. The purpose of a flower, she said, was to convey beauty and then produce seeds by which it may reproduce itself. The only trouble with that analogy, I replied, was after the flower produces its seeds, it withers and dies.

After thinking it over, however, perhaps her comparison of a flower and marriage was an apt description of many contemporary martial relationships. Some literally wither and die after the children are gone.

I picked up one of my books on the table before me. It was titled, “You and Your Marriage” by Hugh B. Brown, published in 1960. On page 107, I read the following:

“This program of enjoying things together, which begins in courtship, should not lapse, but continue through the early, middle and later years. The couple should not wait until the days of their active parenthood are past before undertaking their joint project of enriching life. If they have not learned along the way to be delightful, lively, interesting, and inquisitive, then when their active parenthood days are past, there is danger of their seeking the chimney corner where, as querulous old people, they may huddle and commiserate.”

How I wished my colleague in the exact sciences could understand that. I gathered up the rest of my lecture notes and headed for my marriage seminar.

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