Facets of Marriage (Part 1): Friends

Posted on February 27, 2014


Late in 1983 over beers, I had the following conversation with a friend (I think I am pretty close on the dialogue).

“I am marrying Carol because I like Carol a lot.”

“What? You don’t love Carol?”

“Of course I love Carol.  But love is a dumb reason to get married.  You have to marry someone you really like because you will be spending a lot of time with that person.”

In hindsight, I think that was not bad insight for a 23 year old man who had never been married and was drinking at the time.  Over 30 years later, I still have the wife, and I still have the friend.   This post is the first of several[1] looking at facets of marital relationships.  This one is about the friendship aspect.

BFF is an acronym that has become part of the cultural vernacular.  It, of course, stands for “Best Friend Forever.”  The implication is that the BFF is so dear and so close to one’s heart that not only is this person one’s best friend, but there is also the implied promise that BFF’s will be this close throughout a lifetime.  BFF’s are a wonderful treasure in life even if the second “F” (i.e. forever) does not always prove true.  My supposition would be that most childhood BFF’s do not stay such through adulthood.  Circumstances change, relationships change, experiences differ, and we grow into adults that may have very different dispositions, life paths, and world views from when we were young.  Even the relationships with BFF’s through high school and college will face challenges as life moves on to career, marriage, and family.

When we propose marriage, we are promising that “I will love you for the entirety of our lives.”  Then we have the wedding where we formalize this in front of all of our family and friends.  In English, we use “love” to mean many different things.  New Testament scripture was written in Greek in which there are several words for “love” which give it a more nuanced meaning.[2]  There is “eros” which is erotic love.  It is about attraction and desire.  There is “phileo” which is brotherly love.  This is more about companionship and affection.  Then there is “agape” which is a self-sacrificial, unconditional love.

All of these types of love are important to marriage.  At the risk of sounding unromantic, I would assert that “phileo” is a crucial element.  Marriages are most satisfying (and stable) if there is a BFF aspect to them.  If partners genuinely like each other and take joy and satisfaction in the companionship nature of their relationship, it helps to sustain the relationship through all of the changes and pressures of life.

Statistically speaking, marriages have a greater chance of success if the partners have known each other for at least 18 months.  In part this is probably because in that amount of time, we will show who we really are across a variety of circumstances.  When we first enter into a relationship and are trying to woo the object of our desire, we are on our best behavior.  By a year and a half into the relationship, our guard has come down.  I suspect that another part of the reason marriages do better when partners have known each other longer is that love at the beginning of the relationship is often “eros.”  Erotic desire tends to blind one to red flags that might be present in the relationship where a genuine affection and companionship can be more lasting.

Friendship is also about mutual support.  In life, we need to know that our partner has our back.  We need someone who is there for us in time of need.  It is easier to be Starsky and Hutch (Murtaugh and Riggs, Hannibal Hayes and Kid Curry, Ryan and Esposito, Flynn and Provenza, Ashburn and Mullins, Castle and Beckett during the first 3 seasons) than it is to be Scott Pilgrim (John McLane, Rambo).  It is the buddy system.  You need a mate who is on your team.

If you are married, and you already had a close friendship coming into marriage, it still takes maintenance to keep the friendship solid.  Spending time together, enjoying common interests, talking to each other (what a concept) are important.  Life is busy and demanding.  We need to be intentional about staying connected.  If you are married, but you have never been good friends, it might behoove you to develop a friendship together.  If you are not married, you might want to take a look at this aspect of your relationship.  The sexual heat may ebb and flow during the relationship; it helps to have the solid friendship as a base.

Secure attachment means neither being anxious in the relationship nor being avoidant of closeness.  A close friendship helps.   It is good to not only love each other but to really like each other as well.

[1] In other words, I haven’t figured out how many yet.  I am always making this up as I go.

[2] When I was in seminary, I was not required to take Greek as I was a Marital and Family Therapy major.  Greek scholars bear with me if I misspell the Greek words.