Marriage: Companionship—The Third Pillar of an Amazing Marriage
Companionship—The Third Pillar of an Amazing Marriage
The Pleasure of Friendship
We’ve all heard it said that you want to marry your best friend. It’s an assumption that we all make. Of course, to get married – you are best friends, right? Why is it, then, that so many couples grow so distant over the years? Why does a life-long, deepening friendship with the one we’ve chosen to spend our life with seem to be the exception and not the norm? Let’s take a look.
When we first started out in our relationship, we put a lot of work into getting our date. We do what we can to win them over, to charm and impress them. You remember, don’t you? You pursued each other; you did a lot of special romantic gestures, gave tons of attention and maintained incessant contact and communication. The goal? To woo and win them over. But after the wedding, life gets busy, priorities change and assumptions are made with work, the kids, and a ton of other pressures.
What happens to many of us at that point is we begin to take the relationship for granted. We often don’t spend as much time working on the relationship once we’re married. Then when the kids come – as great as they are – there’s even less discretionary time to spend together. Marriage is kind of relegated to third or fourth place beneath other priorities, and the relationship suffers. We lose the fun, the warmth and the romance between us and settle for a merely functional, co-existing, room-mate type status.
The easy thing to do would be to just let it slide and say, “Well that’s okay, we’re going to make it; we’ll reconnect after the kids move out.” Some might even take on the attitude, “Well I’m married. What do I need to do now? Of course I love you. I’ll tell you when it changes.” Sadly for too many reasons, many couples settle for far less than what marriage can and should be.
I’m here to tell you that better things are possible. You can build the kind of marriage that you love being a part of – a relationship that is so much more than two virtual strangers sharing a roof and a bed. The dream of being married to your best friend is within reach.
So, how do we do it?
Put Love into Action
We need to start by understanding what love really is, because our culture has a really warped view. When we think of love, we tend to think of a sentiment or a feeling – you know, the chemistry stuff, the swooning and the warm fuzzies. While those have their place, that’s not what lasting love is all about.
Love is not just an emotion. It is a choice that I can make to extend loving actions to somebody. Hobart Mowrer, a famous psychologist put it this way, “It’s easier to act your way into the correct way of feeling than to feel your way into the right course of action.” If I wait till I feel like doing something, there are going to be times that I wait an awful long time to do what I need to do. Instead, if I stick with my convictions and my commitment to Donalyn and say, “You know what? I love you and I’m going to show it by my actions,” it’s an incredible gift to a marriage.
When you got married, you said the words, “For as long as we both shall live,” not, “For as long as we both shall love.” There needs to be a commitment to this thing called marriage, and that needs to drive us to act in loving ways. Even as the feelings of love wax and wane at different points in our journey together, you need to choice to show love – to make an effort to connect with kind words and thoughtful gestures. Love is something that has to be acted out – not just good intentions or warm feelings. Actions are really what count.
Prioritize Your Relationship
Without time there is no relationship. Every couple needs to set aside time each week to focus exclusively on one another. So, pull out your calendars, get each other into your schedules, and plan some time together. It’s not going to happen without intentional planning, because life has a way of filling any discretionary times with other important things. We need to make time for what’s really important and work everything else around it.
Once you’ve made those dates, the second thing, of course, is to actually have fun together. It sounds easy, but sometimes it’s not – especially if you’ve spent years each doing your own thing. Find some activities that are mutually enjoyable, and be prepared to try some new things that your spouse loves to do. We’ve had some great times together doing things that I normally wouldn’t be very interested in. The relationship is the reward. Focus on chunks of time alone with your spouse – without kids, without work, without distractions.
Practice Intentional Kindness
Sadly, with all the pressures we face, it’s so easy for couples to just bite at each other. We react in negative ways to our mate because of tensions in life even when some don’t have anything to do with them. In many marriages, harshness, impatience and anger have become the norm. But that’s no way to build a lasting friendship.
How you treat your spouse is incredibly critical. We learned about it as a kid in elementary school, way back in grade one likely. The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a powerful principle. Before lashing out at your spouse, play the empathy game: “Would I like to be chewed out right now? Would I like to have someone be impatient with me right now?” Just keep swinging it around and ask yourself, “How would I like to be treated right now?” Even though she’s frustrated, even though he’s kind of late, or whatever – how would you want to be treated? That kind of perspective will make a huge difference.
Simply put from that great love blueprint – “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not selfish. Love is not rude.” (1 Cor. 13-4-7). There is more but be clear. Love requires the proper treatment to our spouse. There should be no one on this earth that you treat better than the person you married. There needs to be a real sense that “I value you; I treasure you.” Instead of tearing one another down, we need to make a real effort to encourage one another daily. Find ways to tell your spouse they are special and significant. Become your spouse’s greatest fan. There is no substitute for knowing that Donalyn is in my corner, believing in me and cheering me on.
Plan Special Moments
It’s tragic when marriage is seen as the death of romance. Why? Really, the ceremony should just be the beginning of a million magnificent moments of connection. After all, a lifetime is a long time to get to know someone. The longer you are together, the better you should know one another, which means you start really understanding what really scores with the other person. Learn to love them uniquely. Planning takes work but the rewards in your friendship are incredible.
Unfortunately, the tendency is to take the relationship for granted and to stop putting in the effort to put a smile on my spouse’s face. It’s a trend that has to be reversed. We need to go back to our dating days, when we would go out of our way to show we’d been thinking about the other person when we were apart. Keep finding ways to show your spouse that you love them. A little mystique and an element of surprise can breathe some life into any sagging marriage. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Prepare to Forgive
Forgiveness is essential to any friendship – especially one as all-consuming as marriage. Whether there have been big failures or just little bumps in the road, I have to be willing to forgive my spouse. If I am unwilling to forgive, I’m not going to have a relationship very long. We all screw up. Your spouse is going to blow it, and yes, you’re going to need forgiveness sometimes too.
Remember, forgiveness is like a gift to yourself. It will cost you for sure but you will live in greater peace in your heart and before God. Colossians 3:13 tells us to “forgive as Christ has forgiven you.” Well, that’s quite a qualifier because He has forgiven me a great deal, and He’s forgiven me unconditionally. God doesn’t hold my sins against me. I’m totally grateful for that. But when I think of it in the context of forgiving others, it’s sad to say that’s not where I’m at most of the time. I find I often have a very long memory when it comes to how Donalyn has offended me, and a very short memory for my own mistakes. When I really face up to having a restored relationship, I know that I really don’t want her to hold my failures against me or count them up like some record book. I want her to forgive me and give me another chance every time. I need to be willing to do the same for her if we’re ever to have the great friendship we both want.
Some of you have a lot of dirty water under the bridge. There’s a lot of hurt between you that you need to deal with. You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Friends? I’d just be happy if we could stop being at each other’s throats all the time!”
I want you to know that there is hope for you. There was a time early in our marriage when Donalyn and I were anything but best friends, and we almost threw in the towel. But I’m here to tell you that you can turn it around. It won’t happen overnight, but when a couple is prepared to forgive one another completely and unconditionally, and to make the changes that are needed, there is no issue that cannot be overcome. You will never regret making an effort to improve your marriage relationship.
© Dr. Dave Currie – February 2006
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