Be a friend in marriage
5/4/1979 Before we marry, almost all of us receive some kind of advice from well meaning friends, neighbors, wise uncles and others. While some of the counsel is helpful, much of it isn’t. Just before Susan and I married, a very close acquaintance gave me some of the best advice I have ever received. He told me to marry one of my best friends.
The thought seemed unusual then, but the wisdom seems to increase as time goes by. There are experiences in most marriages that are very romantic opportunities for altruism, growth and times of sexual fulfillment. But a large proportion of marital interaction is mostly companionship of being prolonged roommates or simply just being friends.
If the advice of my associate was sound, we have got to reverse some trends. Most people first become romantically involved and then later become friends. However, sadly enough, the friendship aspect of the relationship for many never occurs. Even more tragically, many people marry because of romantic attractions and a friendship between them never develops as husband and wife.
And if we become friends first another problem is solved. If the relationship does not lead to marriage one never has to disengage because you never have to break up a friendship.
Some time ago Daniel A. Sugarman and Rollie Hochstein wrote an article with the provocative title “I Love Him. But Do I Like Him?” The authors noted that an individual can become highly involved romantically with a person he or she basically doesn’t even like. Children, they stated, can play house, but it takes mature men and women to make a marriage.
Before women make decisions about marriage, Sugarman and Hochstein suggested they ask the following questions of the relationship: (1) Can I be myself when I’m with him? (2) Do I accept him as he is? (3) Can I grow in this union? (4) Can he grow too? (5) Have we gone together long enough to pass the test of time? (6) Will we have financial stability during marriage? And (7) Do we agree on major issues such as having a family, religion, and careers? Men could also ask similar questions of a potential spouse.
If you are already married, however, and haven’t yet developed a friendship with your husband or wife, you may want to do so. Simply learn to do with your spouse those things you have learned to enjoy with other friends and acquaintances.
If your children haven’t left home yet they will at some point in the future. Then you and your spouse will spend between twelve and fifteen years, depending on your age and family size, as companions without the major responsibilities of parenthood. I hope that during your years of parenting you have remained or will again become friends.
Eda LeShan in her book “The Wonderful Crisis of Middle Age” has written,
One of the most valuable attributes of marriage is that one’s partner can truly be one’s best friend. If one defines a friend as someone who loves you in spite of knowing your faults and weaknesses, and has even better dreams for your fulfillment than you have for yourself, it can surely be the foundation for what each of us needs most permission to quest for one’s own identity.
I hope others will follow the excellent advice to become friends first and then become romantically involved. And if we are not now friends with the person we married perhaps we could strive to become such. Many marriages would be vastly improved if a husband or wife would simply elevate their spouse to the status of a friend. And by so doing, marriage will likely be much more meaningful.