The first week or so of the companionship is referred to as "the honeymoon." During this period both companions generally try to impress each other with how righteous and obedient they are. This is a wonderful time to do as the Lord commanded in Doctrine and Covenants 88:119: "Establish a house."
Experience has proven that if companions will sit down the very first night they are together and establish the ground rules, it is much easier to make necessary corrections after the honeymoon.
What kind of rules and procedures should you establish? Start at the beginning of the day and work your way through. For example, you might say, "Elder, let's agree to keep the get-up-on-time rule. If one of us sleeps in a little, how do you suggest we get each other up?" Or you might say, "I prefer that you set the alarm clock by my head and turn on the alarm. How would you like me to get you up?" With approaches like these, you are still in the laughing stage and can generally invent creative ways to wake your sleepy companion.
When I served my first mission in Samoa, I had a Samoan companion who was a five-foot-tall, 350-pound wall of muscle. He taught me the honeymoon approach. His heart was in the right place, but his head just wouldn't respond to a 6:00 A.M. wake-up call. As we sat in our fale (home) that first evening, he said, "Elder Bott, I want to be obedient. You've probably heard horror stories about me sleeping in. You get me up at six o'clock every morning." I wasn't new to the mission field, and I did know of his reputation. I said to him, "Elder Paiali'i, how do you want me to get you up?" He said, "Shake me a little, and if I don't get up, throw a glass of water in my face." (I may be slow, but I was not stupid!) He quickly added, "Then run like heck! I will chase you for about ten steps before I wake up. Don't let me catch you in the first ten steps, or you are history. After ten steps, I'll be awake and you'll be all right." I thought, This must be a sure ticket to the spirit world.
At 6:00 A.M., I lifted his mosquito net and shook him gently. He grunted and told me to get lost. I was tempted to follow his directive. But true to the promise I had made the night before, I shook him again more firmly. This time he opened one eye and again ordered that I leave him alone. I shook him a third time, reminding him that cold water would be my next wake-up call. He told me my time on earth would come to an end if I doused him.
After a few minutes of serious pondering, I went for the glass of water. With a prayer in my heart and the pathway out of the fale clear, I doused him with the water. For a short, stocky guy, he could really move. He came out from under his sheet on a dead run. I had never been more motivated to move quickly as I tried to stay ahead of him. But true to his word, we had gone about ten steps when he stopped, announced that he was awake, and told me to return. I then had to make a life-determining decision: Was he trying to trick me back so he could finish me off, or was he really awake and ready to go! I slowly inched my way back toward my wet companion, who greeted me with a big Polynesian smile. As I approached him, he reached up to put his arm around my shoulder, but I winced like a disciplined puppy. I thought he would crush me, but he didn't! He was awake and happy. We joked about it during the day as we proselyted. Just before bed, he again charged me to wake him in the morning. The next morning was like a rerun of the previous morning. The second glass of water brought another string of threats, whose fulfillment I trembled to contemplate, as he pursued me toward the beach. Again I returned to find him happy and awake.
The third morning, I told him I was going to douse him again, so he might as well get up on his own. He assured me that he wouldn't be as easy on me this time. My faith almost failed me. I decided that it would be better to fulfill my commitment and die obedient rather than give in to pressure. Again, he shot out of bed when the water hit him, chased me for ten steps, stopped, invited me back and (thankfully) was awake and congenial like before. That was the last morning I had to douse him.
He always considered me his favorite companion, and he definitely was one of mine. I asked him why he liked being with me, and he taught me another lesson. He said, "I knew I should get up on time, but sometimes it's hard to be good without someone to help you."
After watching elders and sisters as a missionary in Samoa and also as a mission president, I am convinced that missionaries really want to do what is right. It is just that sometimes, as the Savior observed, "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).
Always try to motivate your companion to be a good, obedient missionary each day. But don't stop there! Devise a plan to handle a problem if either of you slips a little. If you have decided beforehand, then a kind reminder like "Remember that's what we decided to do" will usually bring things back into perspective. If you decide to try to force obedience on your companion, he or she will probably rebel, and ugly scenes could jeopardize your friendly relationship.
The following are just a few areas that need established game plans: getting up, companionship study, leaving on time, cleaning the apartment (including clothes, dishes, and clutter), length of time at members' homes, what to do when an appointment falls through, what time to be in at night, association with members of the opposite sex, and talking about nonmission topics such as premission activities, postmission plans, and girlfriends or boyfriends. You will find that the list grows as your experience with other missionaries increases. Toward the end of your mission, it may take three or four hours to establish ground rules. It is worth every minute.
One word of caution: Don't try to force your personal preferences on your companion just because you are senior companion, have been in the area longer, or feel you are more spiritual than your companion. If a rule is in the white handbook or is a directive by your mission president, there is no need to negotiate. However, how you spend the leisure hours of your P day should be established by a more cooperative approach. You may like sports, while your companion likes museums or historical points of interest. Don't always insist on doing it your way. You may decide to alternate P-day activities, or maybe your companion will accompany you to play sports for a couple of hours (even if he or she reads or studies while you play), and then you can accompany your companion for a couple of hours to his or her choice of activities. Be creative to ensure a win-win environment.
It is never too late to establish the rules. If you forget to do it the first day, do it as soon as you remember. No one enjoys living in an uncomfortable environment. The Spirit cannot dwell amid contention and bickering. It will be a bit more difficult to make rules after the honeymoon, because you will both be aware of the other's weaknesses. Agree to clean the slate and not to dredge up old complaints.
Once you have established the rules, be tolerant and forgiving. Habits are difficult to break. In fact, you will not achieve perfection during your mission or after in this lifetime. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the Gospel-you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after your have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 348; italics in original).
Modifying lifelong habits can be difficult. Be patient and kind, and others will likely return the same considerations to you. If you choose to ignore a companion's disobedience (or your own), the Spirit will gradually withdraw; you will not enjoy your mission nearly as much as you could if you were willingly obedient. Missionaries do not regret being too obedient. But bitter tears accompany many who, at the end of their missions, regret their irresponsibility and disobedience. Remember, you have only one chance to serve your present mission honorably.