I have a question for you. Did you like each other before you decided to marry each other? Most people do. In other words, they marry a friend. As our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding announcement read: “Today I will marry my friend; the one I laugh with, live for, dream with, and love.” They have had eleven years to test that friendship. Thankfully they are still married, and still best friends.
Friendship develops marital intimacy. Some people think sex does that, but sex is a celebration of intimacy, not the substance of intimacy.
Most couples began their friendship before marriage, but many do not continue it in their marriage. Couples who do not keep their friendship in good shape find their marriages become empty.
It’s like the difference between a living garden and a dead one. When you walk in a beautiful garden your soul feels refreshed. You want to linger. But let that garden die, and you will feel depressed just looking at it. Marriage without friendship is the same.
Consider just a few benefits of a strong marital friendship:
- Friends experience life together. They never abandon each other or ignore each other.
- Friends support each other, and both of them are stronger because of that support.
- Friends value each other. You will only have a few really close, reliable friends in your life. Make sure that you and your spouse value the friendship you have. Let it grow through the years.
- Friends are safe people in a dangerous world. I hate to see marriages where, when one partner goes through a struggle, the other one becomes another adversary. What a lonely life.
- Friends are the ones who love us even when we do not like ourselves.
- Friends laugh and cry. They enjoy talking and listening. They help each other find clearer understanding. They are not harsh, but they are truthful.
- Friends make time for each other. If you write appointments in your diary to play golf with your buddies, or meet your girlfriends for lunch, why wouldn’t you schedule time for the most important friend you have, your spouse?
- Friends refresh us. It is not any one thing a friend does that brings refreshing. It is the safety, security, and comfort they give us that refreshes us.
- Friends refine us. All of us have some mixed motives and confused ideas. A good friend helps us find clarity.
A good friendship is flexible, therefore durable. Friends travel through life together, adapting and adjusting to each other and to the changing seasons of life. Sadly, couples can destroy their friendship, and become rigid and unyielding. Joe and Mary were like that. Though they had been married for more than twenty years, they had no friendship. As I counseled them I tried to get them to agree on just one action, a little step that could begin their journey out of frustration and into marital fulfillment. But every time I would suggest something, one of them would become rigid, like a branch, once living and flexible, but now dry and hard. I could not help them.
On a visit to Northern Ireland I had the privilege of meeting a wonderful old man, James. He and his wife, Sophia, lived in Ghana, Africa, for almost forty years. Sophia died a few years before I met James, but the memory of their lifelong friendship was still there. As he told me of their life together he paused, looked into the distance, and said, simply, “I liked that woman.”
You expected him to say he loved her, didn’t you? He could have, surely. Yet with one profound statement James painted a lifetime of friendship. I could picture them enduring the difficulties of Africa together– laughing, crying, talking, listening– glad to be together whatever happened.
Friendship is the common ground of our marriage relationship. We build it from all the shared joys and sorrows of a lifetime. Friendship mostly develops through the ordinary days and times, not the unusual ones. Companionship lies at the heart of it.
Couples get busy. Life is complicated. Demands are many. That puts great strain on their friendship and without constant care and planning, common ground will disappear. When that happens, one, or both, will be tempted find their friendships elsewhere, and often their intimacy, too. Simply put, without common ground we have nothing in common.
I’ll close with the words of an ancient Arabian proverb:
“A friend is one to whom we can poor out the contents of our hearts, wheat and weeds mixed together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will sift all, keeping the wheat and letting the weeds fall away.”