• “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Suess

Friday, July 14, 2017


“Family rules are maintained and transmitted across generations on three levels: explicit, implicit, and intuitive” teaches Dr. Bernard E. Poduska, associate professor of family life at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, (p.27). 


A large poster, of a great variety of fresh vegetable and wholesome foods and grains, graced the wall behind our dining room table for many years. It was an EXPLICIT message impossible to ignore: this family loves vegetables.

It was a family rule; we mostly eat healthy foods. 

Similar posters may be purchased at All Posters on-line. 

It was discussed openly, and everyone knew the symbolism of that poster. EXPLICIT rules are the most obvious kinds. They are often written out, and placed prominently for all to see and remember: by the microwave or on the refrigerator, in a hallway, beside a light switch, or on a door. 

Such messages also may carry implicit and/or intuitive messages.

We have other EXPLICIT messages written on sticky notes, or dry erase marker on the large mirror in our main bathroom. We call it our personal ‘Liahona” (see 1Nephi 16).

The writing “change[s] from time to time” as prompts and quotes remind us to align our actions with our knowledge: 

  “Look Ahead, and Believe”
    (October 2013Edward Dube
      of the Seventy)

  “Work Will Win,
     When Wishy Washy
     Wishing Won’t”
        (Thomas S. Monson, 
        BYU Speeches, 11Jan 2009)

  “Replace Fear With Faith”
    (April 2017, Deiter F. Uchtdorf).


When we were newlyweds, my husband David, arrived home from work early in the evening. I was prepared. A carefully planned supper simmered on the stove, with fresh bread just coming out of the oven. The table was set, the house tidy, and I had changed to a fresh blouse.

His key in the lock, and step on the landing alerted me that he was home. I finished turning the bread out of the baking pans, buttered the tops of the loaves, and placed the food in serving dishes. 

From the doorway of our split level home, David called out his arrival, but never came down to the main floor. I knew how much he loved fresh-from-the-oven bread; how could he resist the aroma? I went up to tell him supper was getting cold. 

I found him just getting into a steaming bath. When he arrived home from a tense, sweaty day at work he expected a leisurely soak, and an uninterrupted period of relaxation; “Could you scrub my back,” he asked hopefully. 

I was astonished. Wasn’t he hungry?

Marriage blends rules and expectations from two cultures – two different family systems, and none of us “enter marriage empty handed; we carry a lot of ‘baggage’ with us” (Poduska, 2000, p.25). 

Each of us were acting according to IMPLICIT, unspoken rules “taught through non-verbal communication” and learned “below conscious awareness,” about “every day kinds of issues” (Poduska, 2000, pp.27-28).

These lessons are “repeated throughout childhood” (p. 27).  We all know where our father sits, and what to do (or avoid) if our mother cries.

David grew up in town, and his father worked in an office. He also served in Stake [i] and Ward (or Branch) [ii] leadership roles [iii].  In the evening, he might work around the house or yard, attend scheduled meetings, relax visiting friends, or play with the children. 

When David got home from work  he wanted to immediately ‘clean-up,’ to be refreshed and ready for evening activities with friends and family. He was willing to delay supper enough to be refreshed, set aside the stresses of the day, and able to engage socially.

When my father got home from work he was often pressured for time, and needed to eat immediately. We lived on a small farm with animals and crops to care for before night fell.

The dirtiest and hardest part of his day began after supper, in the fields and barnyard. He did not need to clean up or rest. He needed food for impeding rigor. I understood this need and the unspoken sacrifices and rules effected by that need.

David and I had to discuss and negotiate our own 'family rules' and expectations.

“It is important that couples understand the rules that bias their perceptions” (Poduska, 2000. p. 30) because misunderstandings and hurt feelings may impose unexpected penalties. 

 Differences between husband and wife, “their irreverence toward or compliance with family rules … helps explain why some … in-law[s] are accepted … and others are not. The degree of harmony between a husband’s family rules and the wife’s family rules also greatly determines the degree of difficulty in adjusting to marriage” (p.31).

When expectations aren’t met, “the most frequent consequences” are “distancing by other family members” (p.30).


The poster of fruits and vegetables in our dining room, represented not only an explicit rule, but also significant INTUITIVE family rules. As multi-generational members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we adhere to The Word of Wisdom, a health code revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833 [iv].

We abstain from using tobacco and alcohol, and hot drinks—specifically coffee and tea.

We believe
 “… strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of [our] bodies.

And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.

And again, hot drinks [coffee and tea] are not for the body or belly.

And …all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man—Every herb in the season thereof, and every fruit in the season thereof; all these to be used.with prudence and thanksgiving.

Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, … [are] ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly; …

All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life…. (Doctrine and Covenants 89:7-14). 

INTUITIVE RULES, usually unspoken, are more far reaching than.either explicit or implicit rules. They are “associated with … ethnic, religious, or vocational backgrounds” and are often “based on family heritage” with inherited “instinctive obligations” incorporating traditions and beliefs that one is expected to “pass on” to posterity (Poduska, p.28).

Although the poster in our dining room explicitly signified good health fostered by eating well, it also carried many other implications of physical health, religious teachings, and the habits and expectations of four and five generations of progenitors.

Both David and I brought these same INTUITIVE rules to our relationship, so we did not experience conflict.

 “Most families have hundreds of spoken and unspoken rules” (Poduska, p.29).

Dr. Poduska gives an example to illustrate:

A woman raised in a small Japanese village [develops qualities which can be directly] attributed to being Japanese. Similarly, a man raised in a small Swedish village would acquire rules that make him Swedish.
If both were to immigrate to the United States, they would take a great deal of their heritage with them and would need to adapt … in their new communities. (p.29)
Marriage entails similar adjustments. Rules from the past can play a significant role in how well marital identity is formed and adjustments to in-laws happen. 

Elder Marvin J. Ashton, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1971-1994) taught, “Couples do well to immediately find their own home, separate and apart from that of the in-laws on either side … an independent domicile … governed by your decision, by your own prayerful consideration” (1974, as quoted by Harper and Olsen, 2005, p.328).

Spencer W. Kimball, twelfth president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1973-1985), gave couples similar counsel to “establish their own household, separate from their parents,” and added that married couples “should confide in and counsel with their spouses, … [and] any counsel from outside sources should be considered prayerfully by both spouses together” (as quoted by Harper and Olsen, 2005, p.328).

“One of the great gifts parents-in-law can give to their married children is to recognize early that they must help define and protect the boundary of [a] new couple” (p.328).

As a husband and wife separate “from families of origin,” it may help them ‘establish’ their own traditions and rules if they imagine “existing together inside an invisible fence,” where they have privacy to “share information and behavior with each other …[that] is not meant to be shared with others outside the fence—not with future children and certainly not with parents or parents-in-law” (p.328).


 “The more a person can learn and talk about the unspoken rules in the … spouse’s family, the easier it will be to [assimilate]. … The clearer family rules are the better, because new sons—or daughters-in-law can’t follow rules if they don’t understand them.” (Harper and Olsen, 2005, p.332).

 Each couple must learn about the other’s family rules, examine what “to perpetuate or discard” (Poduska, p.33), and use “knowledge of [their] spouse’s rules … to express love and consideration in ways that can be more fully understood and appreciated by both” (p.32).

Inclusion, accepting and valuing differences, fosters fond family interactions. When  fresh viewpoints are expected to enrich everyone, and “bring new perspectives” that enhance, balance, and even complete understanding (Harper and Olsen, 2005, p.330), family members look forward to building and perfecting relationships—relationships to last forever.


All Posters:

Harper, J. M. & Olsen, S. F. (2005). "Creating Healthy Ties With In-Laws and Extended Families." In C. H. Hart, L.D. Newell, E. Walton, & D.C. Dollahite (Eds.), Helping and healing our families: Principles and practices inspired by "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" (pp. 327-334). Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

Poduska, B. (2000). Till Debt do us Part, (Chapter 2). Salt Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain.

Poduska, B. (2000). Till Debt do us Part, (Chapter 11). Salt Lake City, Utah: Shadow Mountain.

[i] Stake: An organizational unit, often geographically based, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is usually composed of 5 -10 congregations. (see Isaiah 54:2 "enlarge the place of thy tent; stretch forth the curtains of thine habitation; spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes").

[ii] Ward: “Large congregations (approximately 300 or more members) are called wards, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Smaller congregations are called branches. A ward is led by a bishop and two counselors, who constitute a bishopric. Branches are led by a branch president and two counselors.” 

[iii] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has lay leadership, unpaid members of the congregations who volunteer their time.

[iv] This health code is found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.