What is friendship?
To explore the different ways you can keep and develop a strong best-friends relationship with your spouse, you first need to understand the meaning of a genuine friendship. A friend is (1) someone who accepts me as I am, (2) someone I can talk to, (3) someone I can have fun with, (4) someone who cares about me, and (5) someone I can trust.
A friend is someone who accepts me as I am.
Since friendship is based on acceptance, eliminate any notion that you are going to change your mate—you can’t. True friends don’t try. That doesn’t mean your spouse won’t change, it simply means you can’t be the change maker. If you try, you will most likely be the road block that stops the change from happening. You may be wondering, “Why is that? If you love someone, isn’t it part of your responsibility to help him or her be a better person?” No! Your responsibility is to be the better person yourself. Of course, something interesting happens when you focus on making yourself a better person. It rubs off on others, particularly your spouse. But that must not be your motivation for self-improvement; it will simply be a pleasant by-product.
Remember that one of the most effective ways you bring out the best in a friend is to accept him for who he is, without criticism. Nothing builds a strong marital friendship like pure, unconditional acceptance from a spouse. Think of what Henry Ford really meant when he said, “He is your best friend who brings out the best that is in you.” That means, focus on the good in your spouse and stop pointing out the bad.
For example, when you are teaching your spouse any new skill it’s important to accept his or her level of expertise. Sometimes a mate can become impatient with his spouse if she doesn’t understand what he so clearly understands, such as a computer function, a cooking technique, a new dance step, or a football play—anything. Just because a person does not understand something as well as you do, does not mean the person is stupid. There will be other things that you will not easily “get,” and you will appreciate a little patience and respect while your mate shares a skill with you. Remember that you want to keep your spouse as your best friend. Allowing him or her time to learn and comprehend as you share information builds your friendship.
Many other areas in relationships require patience. For instance, are you the kind of person who is always on time and your spouse is always late? When you’re meeting friends for dinner are you tapping your foot impatiently while he or she does just one more thing? This can be very irritating for both of you. A simple discussion can help your mate realize how important this is to you. Remember that you love each other and you want your mate to be happy. Find a compromise by asking: “How about giving me a ten-minute notice before we need to leave. That would help me be ready on time.” Or why not create a loving signal such as a kiss on the back of the neck when it’s nearly time to leave?
Patience in spiritual matters is needed as well. If you and your husband are of different faiths or have diverging views about faith, you will have to work at respecting each other despite your differing views. All religions teach the power of love, and when you actually put it into practice with your mate, you are doing what you profess. Otherwise your mate may be thinking, What good is that religion? I don’t see it making a difference. Changes can happen when people are kind, caring, and understanding with each other. It makes for a great friendship.
A friend is someone I can talk to.
The importance of listening to each other cannot be overemphasized. We all need a listening ear from the most important person in our lives. Sometimes it is helpful if the person listening asks, “Honey, is this a listen-and-talk-about-it moment or a find-the-solution discussion?” This clarifies what is wanted or expected. Friendship is all about being able to talk about your deep concerns with each other.
When you encounter a challenge in your marriage, which can be anything from how to discipline a child to threatened financial security, have enough faith in each other that you can meet the challenge together. When two people are working toward a common goal, the outcome is greater than when there are two people working separately. This is the synergy that Stephen Covey teaches in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Often we are taught this principle at work, but don’t apply it to our marriage. But it does work in a marriage relationship, too.
Listening is equally important. If something wonderful happens to your mate, listen and share in the joy. It’s such a treat to have a spouse that allows you to relive a special part of your life. If a spouse won’t listen, or seems uninterested, the other spouse often will find someone else to confide in. It’s sad if your partner won’t allow you to share the important events of his or her life. If you avoid listening because you think you have to always make everything all better, remember, you don’t need to do anything but listen. That’s it. That’s what any friend needs, especially your best friend.
A friend is someone I can have fun with.
Best friends enjoy having fun together. Find as many things as you can that you both enjoy. When you go camping or fishing, or do any type of vacationing, it must be fun for both of you. If one of you ends up doing all the work, then it’s not fun for that person. When spouses enjoy different kinds of activities, it may require some compromising, just for the sake of being together and pleasing your spouse. Sharing the responsibilities makes it so your mate is more willing to go because he or she can then be part of the fun.
Make sure you’re both enjoying your chosen leisure activities. I remember a time when Joy and I went out with a group for a day on a deep-sea fishing vessel. She spent the day throwing up while I spent the day catching nothing. We’ve ruled that one out as an option for us.
Even though we haven’t always found the perfect activity, it’s not a bad idea to try something new once in a while. Be adventurous together. Don’t be afraid to find new interests that you can share. You just might like it. If you don’t, then you can laugh together about the whole experience and try something else.
A friend is someone who cares about me.
To be genuinely cared about and to have someone desire to be with you is a need that everyone has. It is most important to have this need fulfilled by your mate. You need to feel that you are individually cared about. It’s not a smothering caring—it’s a feeling that you know in your heart and it becomes evident through little acts of kindness that are directed toward you. It’s knowing that your mate cares about what you are going through—your successes, your failures, your hurts. It’s believing that you are important to your mate. You’re comfortable just being with each other, even when nothing is being said. It’s a feeling of peace and contentment. It is one of the deepest elements of friendship.
An additional way of caring is to recognize that sometimes your mate just needs some time alone. It may be nothing more than taking a walk, reading a book, or listening to music. It can be any place where your spouse can have his or her own thoughts and know you won’t feel threatened or left out. Kahlil Gibran describes this eloquently: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” It can be very rejuvenating for your mate and you, and it will end up being good for your marriage.
However, each spouse must be cautious when it comes to spending time with other friends. It is vitally important that wives don’t spend an inordinate amount of time with their girlfriends, and equally important that husbands don’t go overboard in the amount of time they spend with their buddies. Fishing trips every weekend that don’t include your wife—now, that’s extreme. It can seriously damage your marriage. Does that mean your wife has to be included in every fishing trip? No, unless you both want it that way. Your mate must feel like number one on your list. You can find out if you are spending too much time with other friends by simply asking your mate. If you plan something with friends when your best friend—your spouse—has plans that involve you, or if she or he may need you at that time, that can be hurtful. Work out solutions that you both feel comfortable with. You can learn to understand each other’s needs.
A friend is someone I can trust.
Trust is an essential part of friendship, but it does not come immediately. It takes time to build and then becomes the firm foundation that marriage is based on. When it is intact the marriage can endure the storms of life. The sad part is, small, suspicious acts can weaken and break apart this foundation.
People can have casual friendships with members of the opposite sex, but they must stay very casual and with others present. Spouses need to stay away from any intimate settings with a co-worker or anyone of the opposite sex, such as dinner alone or other activities that have the appearance of a date, including becoming someone’s confidant. There is danger in becoming a confidant because when you share another’s problems, you can start to have sympathetic feelings and a shoulder to cry on can become far more than you bargained for. Don’t put yourself in vulnerable positions. Your mate needs to be able to trust that you will guard yourself and your marriage relationship in these matters.
Another situation that can harm your marriage a great deal is when one spouse is jealous of the other. Jealousy does not mean you love or really care about you spouse. It means you are frightened and don’t trust your spouse. It also can be a demonstration of unhealthy possessiveness. Some people say, “I’m jealous. I admit it. I want him/her all to myself. He’s/she’s mine.” To be so extreme is pure selfishness and is a blatant lack of caring and trust.
Trust is also needed within your conversations. It’s a very good feeling to be able to tell your wife or husband something and know that it will go no further. Some things are just too personal and private to share outside the marriage relationship. Your mate needs to know that you will not talk about your private matters with friends, family members, your mother and father, or anyone else. To keep confidences is a must in a genuine friendship.
Your spouse needs to have confidence that you will not say disparaging things about him or her to others. You have probably heard other people say pretty disgusting things about their mates behind their backs. How did you feel about the person saying it? How did you feel about the person he or she was saying it about? It puts both in a bad light. It can be a serious betrayal. Honor your spouse and keep private matters private. That includes the sexually intimate side of your marriage.
Money is another area in which trust can be threatened. In some marriages one or the other spouse misuses credit cards and stacks up debt. Couples must be able to trust each other with the family funds. When this principle is violated, trust is lost. When the problem becomes extreme, professional counseling may be needed. Trust in this area must be restored for the marriage to be strong. You’ve got to be able to trust your best friend with the family money and needs.
If you have lost trust in your mate, it can be restored. First, the mate who broke the trust needs to be forthright and honest about the betrayal. A sincere apology needs to be given and the troubling behavior must change. Make a pledge to your spouse that you will sincerely work on changing your behavior. Give your spouse time to get over the broken trust until he or she can trust you again. It may take more time than you think is necessary before your spouse believes you have changed, so be patient.
Developing a deep and loving friendship with your spouse is one of the most important secrets to a lasting, happy marriage. Review the five elements of true friendship and look to see what you are doing to incorporate them into your behavior. Take responsibility for your own actions without being critical of what your mate may or may not be doing. Then decide what you would like to do to put these five elements into practice. You will then be doing your part to open the door a little wider to a deeply fulfilling marriage. As you grow together in your marital friendship, though you still remain individuals, you will develop a “oneness” that transcends all other friendships.