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The Role of Friendship in Marriage

Meghan and Pete fell madly in love at their small Midwestern college. When they weren't in class, or working their respective jobs, they spent every waking moment together. After just a few months, the couple began to dance around the subject of marriage. A year later they made a commitment to one another before God and their friends and families. The married couple moved to Washington, D.C., where Meghan started a prestigious internship on Capital Hill, and Pete waited tables while saving for medical school. In spite of the busyness of life, the two loved the newness of marriage and their friendship with one another.

Flash forward fifteen years: Meghan and Pete have four young children. Meghan left her job as a Senator's aid eight years ago to raise their newborn son. Pete, now a doctor, works long hours at a large teaching hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.

While the two are active together in ministry at their church, they have lost the fire of friendship that once defined their relationship. They work hard to keep up with schedules, work, finances, church activities and taking care of the home – it is not uncommon for them to go a week or more without having a mere ten minute conversation about anything other than a recollection of events. At the suggestion of another Christian couple they've instituted a "date night" once a week. More often than not, however, this practice has fallen victim to the tyranny of the urgent.

The word "friendship" conjures up thoughts of honesty, vulnerability, companionship, and mutual respect. It also implies a certain outlaying of time and energy. C.S. Lewis said of friendship: "It is when we are doing things together that friendship springs up – painting, sailing ships, praying, philosophizing, and fighting shoulder to shoulder. Friends look in the same direction."

Meghan and Pete's close friendship in college was very real, but after fifteen years they are no longer looking in the same direction. Indeed, in many ways, they have grown to be very different people.

"Marriage without friendship cannot work in our culture," says Bill Hanawalt, who has conducted pre-marital and marital counseling for 30 years as the executive pastor of the Vineyard Christian Church of Evanston, Il. "Friendship has to be nourished and nurtured regularly or it faces the danger of becoming a business relationship. I have seen many distant and business-like marriages where careers have developed and children have come into the picture, and the priority of emotional connection has been left to die on the vine. Couples that don't give attention to developing their friendship often come apart. It also creates an opening for marital infidelity."

Glenn Stanton, an expert on marriage at Focus on the Family and a husband and father of five children, echoes this sentiment. He says that a weakened friendship can lead a spouse to seek intimacy in other places. "When the luxury of being friends with one another takes a back seat, friendships that are deep and intimate can develop in other places resulting in emotional, and even physical, adultery," says Stanton.

"These kinds of friendships are obviously easier. Unlike your spouse, the other party has the luxury of being transparent and real without all of the other encumbrances and responsibilities of your family's life. We have no problem calling deep emotional intimacy between a spouse and another of the opposite sex wrong, however, if we're investing emotional capital in a same-sex relationship at the peril of the marriage, then that this also dangerous.

"In marriage the final answer is am I investing more emotional energy into husband than I am in a friend or child? Or, where is it that I'm investing most of my emotional energy?"

A lapsed friendship can be restored with intentionality, sacrifice, perseverance, and especially prayer. A good first step is to find activities that you like to do together – and then make the time do it. "And simply be together," says Stanton. "Jesus went off by Himself to be quiet with his Father. Make this a time when you're not doing and running around, but that you're just being together."

Pete and Meghan have taken small steps toward this end. Though Pete works long hours, he takes time during the day to call home and see how Meghan is faring with the children. If he's working late, she'll bring dinner to the hospital because she knows he hates hospital food. Their date nights no longer fall prey to the tyranny of the urgent. They take the time to get together weekly, not only to catch up with each others activities, but to check in on their friendship.

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