“…he is my lover, my friend.” – A wife speaking of her husband in Song of Songs 5:16
Looking back on our twenty-five years of marriage we can see how our relationship moved from being fun to being functional.
Work largely consumed me. Grace was working full-time, and then after having our first child, stayed at home to take care of the home and our family which grew to include five children.
We worked on most everything else first, and tried to work on our marriage in the cracks of life—late at night, catching a few minutes to talk here and there. The lines between home and work, family and church got blurred.
We really did love each other and wanted to connect, but often did not. We kept date night every week and checked the dutiful boxes of a decent respectable Christian marriage. We were together, but somehow still felt lonely.
For us, a big revelation was that, though we were once great friends, we were no longer as romantic and instead roommates working together to fulfill the numerous duties of marriage without experiencing the notable joys of marriage.
Does this sound familiar to you? Thankfully, we were able to rediscover our friendship, and move our marriage from being just functional to also being fun.
For us, a helpful matrix to accomplish this was to think of marriage in one of three ways: back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, and face-to-face.
(1). A back-to-back marriage is one in which the couple has turned their backs on each other. As a result, they live separately and do not work together (shoulder-to-shoulder) or draw each other out in friendship (face-to-face). In such marriages, the partners range from strangers to enemies, but are not friends.
Though Grace and I were not always back-to-back in our marriage, there were times when this was true, especially in some of the worst moments. The result was a growing emotional distance that we needed to overcome before it pushed us apart.
(2). A shoulder-to-shoulder marriage is one in which the couple works together on tasks and projects, such as keeping the home, raising the kids, growing the business, and serving the church.
For the most part, we were in a shoulder-to-shoulder relationship. I was busy working hard to provide for our large family doing ministry, and Grace was tending to the home, caring for our children, and serving in ministry in many ways.
Everything looked fine on the outside, but if the projects we worked on went away and we were left with just each other, the marriage would have declined as there was not sufficient depth to our intimacy and friendship. Sadly, this is often what happens to a couple when they become empty nesters. Like a balloon with a slow leak, the descent begins once there is not an urgent project, like parenting, to work on together.
(3). A face-to-face marriage is one in which, in addition to the shoulder-to-shoulder work, the couple gets a lot of face-to-face time for conversation, friendship, and intimacy. By God’s grace, we realized our need to focus on our friendship and not be glorified roommates. We began working hard on our marriage and our friendship and got our priorities straight. In the process, we learned valuable lessons about how men and women relate.
As a general rule, men commonly have shoulder-to-shoulder friendships around shared activity. Most men recall boys they played with on a sports team and guys they worked with on a job. But they often know very little about these guys they called friends, because their tasks consumed their time and conversation, as they talked about the task in front of them rather than the emotion between them.
Conversely, women’s friendships tend to be face-to-face and built around intimate conversation. This explains why women do the sorts of things with other women that most men do not do with other men, such as going out to lunch or coffee just to talk, sharing deep intimate feelings while looking each other in the face without a task bringing them together.
In order to move from being just functional to also fun, a husband and wife must work hard to relate to one another in a way that is both shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face. This takes stepping into each other’s world to enjoy each other and enjoy a variety of things that each person enjoys.
Wives, to be a good friend, learn to spend some time with your husband in shared activity. If he’s watching a sporting event, sit down and share it with him. If he’s working on a project, hang out nearby to help or at least ask questions and be a companion if nothing else. For a wife to build a friendship with her husband requires shoulder-to-shoulder time alongside him.
Husbands, to be a good friend to your wife, learn to have deeper and more intimate conversations. Open up, tell your wife how you’re doing and ask her how she is doing. Listen without being distracted by technology or a task (put your cell phone away), but instead focus on her, looking her in the eye for extended periods of time.
Draw her out emotionally, and allow her to draw you out emotionally. Keep your advice to a minimum and learn to listen, empathize, comfort, encourage, and in so doing resist the constant urge to find a problem and try and fix it. For a husband to build a friendship with his wife requires him to grow in face-to-face skills.
By God’s grace, engaging each other on shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face levels changed our marriage and saved our friendship. Today, we can honestly say that we are best friends. Our marriage is both functional as we get a lot done, and fun as we do life together as friends. It’s our prayer that those whose marriage is more like glorified roommates will rediscover your romance by having fun as friends.
Content for this blog was adapted from the book Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll