“Friendship is a deep oneness that develops when two people, speaking the truth in love to one another, journey together to the same horizon.”
~ Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
I am blessed to say I married my best friend. I fell in love with my husband, Matt, when I was sixteen and he was eighteen. Because we were so young, he and I were able to grow and learn together as we became adults. So much of who we are now was in some way shaped by the other. We have been extremely compatible from the beginning and have come to know each other so well during our almost twelve-year relationship (going on 5 years of marriage!). But, as we all know, people change as they grow. Movies, music, and activities we enjoyed when we were in high school might not suit our fancy as much now as we approach our thirties, and the fact that we have been given a beautiful daughter who never lets us sleep has changed our priorities as well. How do we continue to cultivate deep friendship when many of the commonalities that brought us together don’t mean as much now? There are also many marriages where the spouses are very unlike one another, and that’s not a bad thing! Regardless of how dissimilar a couple may be, deep friendship is possible. I wanted to share four simple and practical ways Matt and I continue to grow in our friendship, even when life looks different from how it did before.
1. Make Christ Your Dearest Friend
I know it sounds like the cliche Christian thing to say, but this is such a foundational truth: Jesus is the friend that sticks closer than a brother. He will never fail you. He will never change. His love, his grace, and his mercy towards you are inexhaustible. We and our spouses are in stark contrast. We constantly fail, change, and exhaust our supply of mercy and grace. But knowing that we are perfectly loved by God in Christ, we won’t be crushed when we fall short or when our spouse fails. This takes such immense pressure off your relationship and places you on unshakable ground. Matt and I must constantly preach the gospel to one another and remind ourselves that our identity is not found in our imperfect relationship but in Christ—our true and better friend who will never leave or forsake us. We can have confidence that our marriage will last on this journey of life because it is built on the firm foundation of the gospel. “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”
2. Be Intentional (Date Night! Date Night! Date Night!)
In practically every marriage or counseling book I’ve read, the number one reason for struggling marriages is neglect. Neglect is stealthy and hard to notice unless you’re actively searching it out. Even when we’re focused on good things, our marriage can suffer if it is not a priority. One of the most practical ways to be intentional about staving off neglect is having a regular date night. And no, it’s not just going and getting food somewhere that makes a good date night (although food is amazing); it’s using that time to intentionally focus on your spouse. Matt and I do our best to have one date night a week, even if that means dropping our daughter off at her Nana’s so we can enjoy an “at-home” date night, since going out every week can get pricey (but if you’re going to spend money on something, invest it in having intentional time with your spouse). Use that time to ask specific questions and learn something about your spouse. What are they learning in their Bible reading? What are they struggling with? What’s something they’ve learned about themselves? Where are some areas you can improve?
Matt is one of the pastors at our church, as well as an MDiv student, so he is constantly learning, studying, and planning. Anyone who knows him knows he processes by talking things out. I love listening, but on date nights, we try to make it a rule not to talk about his work or school, and I try not to talk about how tired I am. Even though those things are a huge part of our lives right now, date nights are a time to direct our focus to other areas that get less attention. For some couples, a date night with this kind of discussion might seem awkward at first because it’s an unnatural style of communication: asking such direct questions to someone they know so well already. However, it’s worth the initial awkwardness and effort to make it a habit of being a student of your spouse, intentionally learning and growing in love and friendship together. So, drop the kids off at a family member’s or a friend’s, and enjoy some quality time together!
3. Have Fun
This step ties in with being intentional but deserves its own point: having fun together is vital for friendship in marriage. Laughter can lighten the heaviest of moments and erase a day’s worth of exhaustion and tears. In other relationships I admire, it’s noticeable that the couple laughs together and truly enjoys one another. I must make note that this laughter is never at the other’s expense but rather an expression of their mutual joy and love. I’ve always appreciated Matt’s sense of humor; he can make me laugh like no one else can. He knows exactly when to say one of our favorite lines from Frasier, or he’ll randomly dance side to side from the doorway in our kitchen as I sit watching from the living room in hysterics. The comic relief he brings to our home is a blessing. A big part of intimacy in friendship is simply being able to be silly together. With the many responsibilities we carry, it’s easy to be serious most of the time (or to take ourselves too seriously), but it’s important to show your spouse that they bring you joy. Be generous with your laughter.
4. Give More Than You Get
Sacrificial love is the most Christlike love you can give your spouse. It means serving and giving more. It means trying harder to love your spouse better. A practical way to live this out is to care about the things that matter to your spouse. Whether it’s a specific sports team, a show, or a hobby, try to find something about those things that you can enjoy too. Try to pay at least some attention during the football (or in my case, futbol) game. For Matt, it means going on a walk with me even when he just wants to relax indoors after he’s home from work. It means sacrificing even when you feel you’re the only one who ever does.
Because we’re human, we’re selfish. We want what makes us happy and comfortable. But God’s primary purpose in marriage (and life) is not to make us happy, but to make us holy. Holiness happens over the course of our lives through the work of sanctification—a continual dying to our sinful nature and a consistent growing in our likeness of Christ. In Christian marriage, sustained and motivated by God’s love towards us in Christ, we have the unique opportunity to find deep, pure, and substantial joy by sacrificing our preferences for the betterment of our spouse. Can you think of a more true and beautiful friendship than when both spouses are doing this for one another: “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21)? Not only do we show a picture of Christ’s love to each other, but the world gets to watch the gospel on display as we glorify Christ in our marriage through our friendship with our spouse.