Friendship in Marriage
By Debra Evans
I once met an unusual couple in a childbirth class I was teaching. They were in their forties and expecting their eighth child. Of the thousands of men and women I have had the privilege to work with, this couple stands out as a memorable example of a husband and wife wholly devoted to one another. Old enough to be grandparents, with a daughter in her sophomore year of college; yet they acted as if the entire process of childbearing were completely new.
I asked these two best friends what their secret was. The wife smiled as she glanced over at her husband, and they both began to give me the same answer simultaneously. Ever since they had begun dating, they spent Friday nights out together. After they married, they kept up the tradition.
Early in their marriage, this couple had learned an invaluable lesson: Marriage is the most important human relationship a man and a woman voluntarily commit to in love. It was designed to survive raising kids to adulthood and all of the stresses and strains involved in family life.
Obviously, the marriage friendship doesn't just automatically out-last all of these things. It must be lovingly nourished if it's to handle the demands placed upon it.
When you hear the word companion, what does the term signify to you? Given the dictionary's definition of a companion as “somebody who accompanies you, spends time with you, or is a friend,” do you currently see you and your husband companionably drawing together or separately drifting apart? Author Sheldon Vanauken warns:
There is such a thing as a creeping separateness. What do young people who are freshly married do? They can't rest when they're apart. They want to be together all the time. But they develop separate interests, especially if they have separate jobs and some separate friends. So they drift apart. Pretty soon they have little in common except, maybe, the children. So the stage is set for one of them to fall in love with someone else. Later they'll say the reason for the divorce was that he/she fell in love with someone else, but it wasn't that at all. It was because they let themselves grow apart.
In Genesis 2:18, we hear these words echo across the centuries. still vitally relevant to our relationships today: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” Consider that the Hebrew word for helper is ezer - remarkably, the same word used in Ps.118:7: “The Lord is with me; He is my helper (ezer).” This idea reinforces the essential role we play within our sacred partnership. The blessing of friendship and tenderness in marriage honors this unchanging truth: A wife's loving companionship was designed by God to meet her husband’s number-one relationship need.
Evaluate your level of intimacy with your husband, then consider whether you might have been neglecting your husband’s needs for affection, comfort, and camaraderie. Ask your husband what he would like to experience with you in this area. Reflect on times you have felt closest to your husband - what made the difference? Is spending time with him fulfilling or disappointing? Why?
Have you had a night or weekend away alone together in the past year? What about setting up regularly scheduled dates? If your husband seems less energized about this idea than you are, keep asking God how your marriage friendship can best be strengthened and renewed.
Spending time together is what counts. Getting out alone, away from the dishes, the laundry, the bills, and the kids - even for a brief time - can do your relationship a world of good. As your bond is renewed by your commitment to regularly schedule time alone together, your entire relationship will likely be refreshed.
Discovery in Our Differences
My husband and I began our married life together without any shared hobbies and with many divergent interests: He wanted to go to baseball games; I preferred going to the ballet. I was an avid reader; he spent most of his free time playing basketball or the guitar. He rarely stepped foot inside the house if the sun was shining; I thrived indoors, regardless of the weather.
After we celebrated our first anniversary, I wondered if we had enough in common to make our marriage work. Clearly, we needed something more to strengthen and deepen our bond.
I asked God to strengthen our marriage and opened my heart to His leading. Though I am still learning (and praying), after 30 years I now look back and see a beautiful theme has emerged: respecting and appreciating one another's differences, we no longer feel threatened by those parts of ourselves that are “apart,” or different, from each other. Because both of us have repeatedly been willing to go outside our dissimilar comfort zones - he occasionally attending the ballet or “chick flick” with me; I going to see baseball/football/basketball/hockey games with him, for example - our companionship has become more interesting, allowing us to grow together as a couple and as individuals. The willingness to prefer my husband's companionship above all others has helped me be more tender toward the man I now know better and appreciate more than anyone else in the world.
A High-Yield Investment
Marital friendship thrives with the companionship, shelter, and support we give our husband. Like a garden, it must be wisely tended, watered, weeded, and harvested. Done well, these responsibilities require a generous investment of time, effort, and energy. Jesus affirmed, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). Husbands know when their wives treasure them. They see it in our eyes, hear it in our voices, feel it in our touch. When we honor our husbands with our time, attention, and presence, we give them the opportunity to understand why their feelings, passions, life experiences, and well-being matter to us. Above all, we invite them to trust that our love for them is non-negotiable.
Think back to a time when a friend gave you the gift of her time, attention, and comfort. How did you feel? What did she do or say that was especially meaningful to you? Can you explain the qualities you most appreciated about her?
Over the years, meeting your husband’s God-made need for physical, emotional, and spiritual connection with you will require a certain amount of flexibility, patience, and understanding. It isn't always feasible to get away together, life challenges can temporarily preclude your regular time together. In such situations, make use of supplementary strategies as a means of nourishing your bond. When you're apart, liberally use phone calls, e-mail, and letters to remain close across the miles. “I am fully, totally married to my wife,” says Bob, married for thirty years. “When I am alone, physically or emotionally, I am uncomfortable. A part of me is ‘missing.’ My wife knows this, and we have always concentrated on maintaining a connection. When we pray, I know that her hand is reaching to touch mine. When we lie down to sleep, even after one of those episodes where we don't see each other's side of a controversy, we find our feet gliding through the sheets to touch gently. All is well, and we can go to sleep.”
The blessing of friendship and tenderness is a priceless gift. Husbands who have received it from their wives say that nothing else compares with the kind of intimate companionship only their wives supply. Wives who have given it smile with satisfaction when asked to describe what they like most about their relationship with their husband. It is a friendship worth nourishing and cultivating.
1. What kind of “creeping separateness” are you and your husband most susceptible to? What steps can you take toward one another to close the gap? Ask a close friend to help you with some creative problem-solving if you have to work around obstacles like unusual work hours and sleeping patterns, careers that require travel, and other demands.
2. Complete these thoughts in your journal:
From my husband's point of view, a close companion would be...
Something we haven't done together for a long time that we once enjoyed is...
When my husband and I are close, I feel...
3. Do you notice a difference in your husband when your companionship is in a healthy place versus when you are drifting? In what ways? In what ways are you personally different when the two of you are close?
Becoming Soul Mates
We hope you and your spouse are at the stage of deeply wanting to be soul mates - if indeed you haven't already formed such a bond. Soul mates have much more than a physical and emotional bond. They develop an ongoing, growing, spiritual dimension to their relationship. They come to realize that they will not excel in their marriage unless God is present and active in their lives.
Embracing God together involves spontaneity and structure. Get to a place when you have time for prayers, Scripture reading, service, and more. Go slow if you have to, but do it. And remember, there is no perfect style.
Some helpful hints we use:
- Stay focused on your purpose.
- Come to God with a spirit of expectancy.
- Don't set each other up for failure by trying to do too much.
- Don't be critical of each other's efforts.
- Don't quit!
The concept of “two becoming one” is no longer seen as an occasional coupling. Instead, neither spouse feels quite complete without the other one. It provides a permanence to the spiritual intimacy. The spouses' lives take on a shared meaning.
They also revel in the shared journey they are making together.... It's no longer two individuals involved in competition and evaluation of one another. They're in this marriage together, and they're in it for the long haul.
Communion with God. A shared meaning. A shared journey. Those are the basics of becoming soul mates.