by Jimmy Evans
Friendship is a fundamental need of the human heart. Although they shed little or no light on the question of what a real friend is, even the sitcoms that have dominated TV programming in recent years attest to the fact that the subject of friendship—or, more accurately, our deep hunger for friendship and our pain when it is missing—is an ever-present human need.
But the TV sitcoms, soaps, and dramas have also perpetuated the myth that we can be driven solely by our selfish desires and still somehow experience meaningful friendship. In reality, just the opposite is true.
Part of the reason friendship is so hard to find stems from our culture's push to immediately sexualize a relationship between a man and a woman. The physical intimacy that many couples get involved in very early in their dating relationship prevents true friendship from ever developing. Many couples, instead of sitting down to talk or going out just to have fun, jump on the fast track to sex. The result is an emotional stunting of the relationship.
Although premarital sex is certainly a growing reason why friendship fails to develop in marriages, it is not the only cause. In many cases, either through neglect or misdirected focus, couples stop pursuing the goal of becoming best friends. That's certainly the way it was with Karen and me. We began our relationship as friends. Before we married, we spent a lot of quality time together and really enjoyed being with one another. But after we married, the friendship stopped developing and soon deteriorated. We didn't have much fun together anymore. The situation became so serious that we didn't even want to be around one another. So we simply replaced each other with other friends in our lives.
Whatever the reason, marriages that have been robbed of friendship are missing a vital element in making a relationship a paradise. If friendship has grown cold in your marriage or was never given an opportunity to develop in the first place, you can change that.
Recently, I sat on an airplane beside two men who turned out to be a couple of buddies going to a football game together.
"We went on a fishing trip to Canada last year," one of them said, "and I left my wife seven months pregnant and starting early labor pains."
I remember thinking, I'm going to do a marriage seminar. This conversation will make a great illustration.
Then he added, "It was okay; she didn't want me to miss the trip."
I was skeptical. "Did you pay a price when you got home?" I asked.
"Oh, yeah, it's all on a voucher system. She got me when I got home. Sure, I guess it affected her. But she'll get over it."
You and I know it affected her. And the clear message he sent to her was, "These guys are my friends, and you're not."
The fact is, with every great friend you have, there is always a positive history—a string of sacrifices and choices each of you made for the sake of each other and for your relationship. Without that history, there is no meaningful friendship.
The Bible tells us that "a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17). Making your wife or your husband your best friend begins with committing yourself to being faithfully there for them, especially when they need you most.
Believe in one another
No one who consistently criticizes me and puts me down is going to be considered my best friend. I'm just not going to have a best friend who doesn't believe in me. I think you'd say that is true of you too.
James 2:23 says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness, and he was called the friend of God." The reason Abraham was the friend of God was because he didn't question Him. In Genesis 12:1, we read that God told Abraham to leave his hometown of Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abraham left. When God said something to Abraham, he believed it and acted on it. Today, Abraham is the father of our faith.
Our spouses need to hear and see our belief in them. We can't put our spouses down and be negative toward them and think that we can build a strong friendship. Friends believe in one another.
Psalm 100:4 tells us that we enter God's gates with thanksgiving and into His courts—His very presence—with praise. We are built the same way. We receive people into our hearts who come to us with praise and affirmation. Conversely, none of us welcomes a negative person in.
In marriage there are times when we're going to need to be able to speak into each other's lives. We're going to have issues that we need to deal with, corrective things we'll need to say to each other. But to have an entrance to do so effectively requires a foundation of firm belief in one another.
In the old TV sitcom All in the Family, Archie Bunker's nickname for his wife, Edith, was Dingbat. Some couples' nicknames for each other are derogatory, and their communication is laced with sarcasm and derision. Perhaps you've heard similar things in your family gatherings. It's one of the most uncomfortable environments you can be in.
Do I need to point out that this is less than conducive to developing friendship? Friendship is inductive—it induces other people toward us. It makes them want to get closer. We naturally gravitate to the place of praise, acceptance and positive belief.
Karen and I work on keeping praise at the forefront of our relationship. I'm Karen's biggest fan, and she is mine. If you were in our home every day, you would observe that the words we speak to each other are overwhelmingly positive. So are the pet names we have for each other. Why? Because, if you're going to be best friends, you're going to continually do and say things that assure your spouse that you believe in him or her. You're going to do the things that draw you to one another and open you up to one another.
Embrace your differences
Recently, I counseled a man who, in more than 30 years of marriage, had never experienced an ounce of intimacy in the relationship. After he and his wife had finally begun to work on the problem and make real progress, this is what he told me:
We've gone to three levels in our relationship. At the first level, we totally rejected each other's differences. When we got married, I thought my wife was weird because she preferred to go to bed at a different time than I did, and because she differed from me in what she liked and didn't like. I thought it was my job to change her to be like me. After 10 or 15 years of marriage and total rejection of each other's differences, we got in a huge fight and I realized that was wrong.
Then for about 15 years, we tolerated each other's differences. I decided that God had made her the way she was and it was wrong for me to persecute her and try to change her. She was different from me. So I would just live on my side of the house, she could live on her side of the house, and we would share what we could share.
Recently, I've come to understand that we can celebrate each other's differences. I am ashamed to say that it has taken me 30 years of marriage to learn this. Because of it, we have never had the intimacy we've desired in our relationship. We don't want to live the rest of our lives this way. Finally, I have come to the place where I can look at her and say, "Thank God for the differences in my wife."
Friends celebrate their differences. They enjoy the fact that each has a gift or a skill that the other doesn't have, or that one person sees things from a different perspective. Our differences can be either dangerous or dynamic in our relationships, depending on how we choose to respond to them and express our feelings about them to our spouses.
If you are going to be best friends with your spouse, there can be no judgment of your mate that says, "There is clearly something wrong with the way God made you, and it's my job to change it. I reject the fact that you're more (or less) sexual. I reject the fact that you're more (or less) emotional. I choose to see your difference from me as a character flaw. Be normal like me."
Enemies say, "I hate those differences in you that don't completely match up with the way that I am." Best friends, however, look at each other appreciatively and say, "Don't we make a great team! We fill in each other's gaps. Look at how we complement one another!"
That's the way best friends think.
Adapted by permission from Our Secret Paradise © 2006 by Jimmy Evans. Regal Books. Used by permission.