Friendship in Marriage
by Mrs. Gail Glasscock, Moody Graduate School
Why do people marry? Romance, cultural expectations, financial security – all are true, but the prevailing with is to have a close companion for life, according to Melvyn Kinder and Connell Cowan in Husbands and Wives.
Friendship is the base for this close companionship, and a sound base requires avoiding hindrances which weaken the relationship and building characteristics which strengthen the friendship.
What is friendship? Howard Markman of the University of Denver defines a friend as “someone in whom you have trust and confidence, who likes you no matter what, who listens to you, and who brings out the qualities that you might not express otherwise.”
Proverbs 17:17 gives a perspective on genuine friendship: “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
Using synonymous parallel structure, the psalmist reveals that a real friendship does not change with circumstances – in good times or bad, a true friend will always be there for you.
Successful marriages require this type of friendship.
The lack of friendship in many Christian marriages results in mistrust, confusion and eventually divorce.
Kinder and Cowan list five barriers to friendship in marriage that hinder a couple’s unity and friendship:
1. Wrong assumptions. The partner is thought of as a lover, a provider, or someone to feel protective about, but not as a friend or peer. Marriage is viewed only as someone to own or use - a “meshing of functions and needs,” not as a friendship.
2. Lack of sharing. The sharing of fears and concerns really makes intimacy possible. Many spouses incorrectly seek out other people with whom to discuss the important issues of life.
3. Unequal exchange. Friendship occurs only when we approach our mate as an equal with no expectations of meeting unrealistic needs or false expectations which hinder friendship.
4. Failure of acceptance. Friendship is tolerant of differences, so do not demand your spouse to change their traits. Spouses should not expect the partner to be images of themselves.
5. Festering grudges. Some conflicts cannot be resolved, so agree to disagree. Attempts to resolve may actually be endeavoring to gain “victory” and create estrangement. If a “forgive and forget” policy is not held, the grudge will emotionally distance a couple.
Any friendship involves reciprocal actions. Think in terms of a mutual improvement – you are to be a friend, not just gain a friend who caters to you.
Some of the following aids for maintaining a happy relationship in marriage were suggested by Dick Capen, vice-chairman of Knight Ridder, Inc., and are crucial in the friendship aspect of marriage.
1. Commitment – no friendship or marriage can last without it. Threats with the “D” (divorce) word jeopardize security. An attitude of “we are going to work anything out” must prevail.
2. Faith – maintain your faith in the Lord and nurture a circle of three: you, your partner, and God.
3. Trust – stability is based on trust. Occupations bring spouses into contact with the opposite sex, so guard yourself. Allow your spouse space to minister, not allowing any doubts to occur about your own loyalty.
4. Openness – being vulnerable is a part of friendship, so accept constructive criticism and acknowledge personal weakness. Open youself up to hurt, whether intentional or unintentional – that is one of the prices of friendship.
5. Good communication – express how you really feel, not what you think the spouse wants to hear. Be a good listener, however trivial the discussion may seem. The issue may be very important to your spouse. Allow the venting of frustration by being a good, responsible sounding board.
6. A willingness to change – accept and welcome change, whether it be in attitudes, habits, or geographical location. Look at change as an opportunity for growth.
7. Toughness in hard times – trials are inevitable, coming in the form of financial, relational, occupational, or personal grief. Expect some difficulty in the friendship, but remember the situation is the problem, not the relationship.
8. Humor – sometimes the only redeeming factor for a situation is the “safety valve” of laughter. A helpful proverb is: “He who laughs, lasts.”
9. Encouragement – express your love often, through notes, cards, and physical affection. Don’t assume your spouse knows how you feel. Many situations create self-doubt, so reassure with your love.
10. Sensitivity – know your spouse well enough to be able to gauge feelings, concerns and needs. Respond accordingly.
11. Flexibility – friendship is based on acceptance of differences, so bend with flexibility and bear up with patience.
12. Sharing – give of your time and express love by looking for common interests. Seek a balance in activities that interest only one partner; go to the ballgame one week and the ballet the next.
Friendship in not just feeling; its action – reciprocal action. You must be a friend to have a friend. Friendship enriches marriage, making each partner feel accepted, understood and loved.
Friendship marriages also benefit the children. According to Henry Brandt, the best legacy parents can leave their children is for the mom and dad to be friends, setting a pattern.
If the Lord has indeed led you into a marriage relationship, make your spouse your best friend – and the desire for a close companion for life will be realized.