SOURCE: Mark and Grace Driscoll
The couple were devout Christians and virgins when they first met. Forty years later, the pain of their marriage showed on their faces. As they spoke to me of their troubles, they each hung their head in loneliness and grief.
There had been no adultery. There had been no divorce. But there had also been no friendship. Although they did a lot of work together, they hadn’t had much fun. With their children grown and home empty, the glue that once held them together was gone, and they were reduced to life as nearly sexless roommates.
What about you? How is your love life?
Maybe you’re newly married and still filled with wedded bliss, or a married couple so exhausted from the constant demands of work and parenting that your marriage is slipping. You may be reeling from a devastating sin in your marriage. Or the two of you are still in love and doing pretty well, but you want to avoid ending up like other couples you know who are not getting along and possibly even getting divorced.
All the talk about spending time and doing life together, making memories, being a good listener, being honest, having the long view of things, repenting and forgiving can be summed up in one word: friendship. Friendship is an integral part of a truly Christian marriage.
Three kinds of marriage
In our teaching and counseling, we have seen people respond well to a simple explanation of three kinds of marriages: back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, and face-to-face.
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.
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.
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.
As a general rule, women have more friendships than men. And their friendships tend to be more face-to-face. This is because men commonly have shoulder-to-shoulder friendships around shared activity. If they take the time to reflect on whom they have considered friends in different seasons of their life, 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 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.
A word to husbands and wives
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. If he’s going fishing, ask if you can come sit in the boat with him just to be in his world. 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, telling your wife how you’re doing and asking 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 male urge to find a problem and try and fix it. No wife likes feeling like a problem to be fixed rather than a person who wants to be intimate. For her, intimacy means “into-me-see,” which means she wants to know her husband and be known by him. For a husband to build a friendship with his wife requires him growing in face-to-face skills.
Intimacy is ultimately about conversing. As an old proverb says, “The road to the heart is the ear.”
Mark and Grace Driscoll founded Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington, in 1996, and it has now grown to more than 6,000 members. This article is taken from their new book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, ©2012 by On Mission, LLC. Thomas Nelson Publishers.