Endless romance. Hot sex. Being best-best-best-best friends. These are just some of the idealistic hopes we pile onto marriage. There are good motivations behind each of these hopes, but . . .
Though it is a wonderful thing to be your husband's best friend, I actually don't think that is necessary for a great marriage. In fact, putting the expectations of best friends, steamy lovers, and perfect co-parents all in one relationship can end up hurting your marriage by making it seem subpar.
While being your husband's best friend may be unrealistic, being his friend is a critical aspect of a healthy marriage. Like most aspects of marriage, friendship doesn't just happen. You have to work at it. Think about the friends you had in college. As much as you may have loved and enjoyed them, you've probably lost touch over the years. Your lives have drifted apart. Even though you live under the same roof, this can happen in marriage too. You and your husband can forget to have fun, develop separate hobbies and passions, and lose the art of enjoying each other's company. You can slowly start to exist as roommates.
So how can you prevent the friendship-fade in marriage? Here are three tips for nurturing a friendship with your husband throughout the decades of marriage:
1. Just do something. When it comes to friendship, men tend to like to do life together while women prefer to process life together. For you, building a friendship may mean weekly coffee dates where you share your thoughts and feelings with your husband. You connect by talking. Most likely, your husband isn't wired this way. He feels connected with you by doing life with you. Guys don't usually meet at Starbucks to share thoughts and feelings. They golf, bowl, or work on a project together.
While there may be times for a "talking date," make the effort to become your husband's friend by sharing in what he likes to do. Watching a movie, running on side-by-side treadmills at the gym, or going to Home Depot may not seem very romantic. But even if you aren't talking, this may be how your husband shares friendship with you. As you spend time doing life with your husband, times to talk become a natural part of shared activity. This morning, my husband and I did a 5 A.M. swim class together. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it made his day. As I was swimming my laps, I'd hear him yell across the pool, "I love you! You're doing great, Juli!" After our swim, we went out for coffee, which made my day. (Now if I can just stay awake!)
2. Build a bucket list. Managing a household and family together can get boring. Your discussions can revolve around the budget, disciplining the kids, the backed-up septic tank, and carpool schedules. I've been there! There have been seasons of marriage in which Mike and I simply forgot to be friends. Then we created our marriage bucket list.
Together, we came up with 100 things we wanted to do throughout our lifetime. Some of them were extravagant, like traveling to Rome and Paris. Others were immediately "doable," like going on an adventure race or leaving an exorbitant tip for someone who served us dinner. Some of our goals were also spiritually-focused, like service projects or meeting great men and women of the faith. Over the years we have completed almost half of the things we dreamed of doing together. And we are still adding new items to the list.
A big part of keeping friendship alive is dreaming together. Marriage only has as much passion as you put into it. Many marriages die because the relationship is viewed as a roadblock to dreams. Sure, your spouse may not share your exact interests, but any couple can find common ground if they really look for it.
3. Don't listen to your feelings. That might sound like very strange advice coming from a psychologist! Don't get me wrong. Your feelings are important indicators of what is going on in your marriage. However, your feelings should always be viewed as "diagnostic" rather than "prescriptive." In other words, let your feelings inform you, but not direct you.
There will be seasons of marriage in which you just don't feel close to your husband. You don't want to go on a date, laugh together, or have fun. Do it anyway. Research overwhelming indicates that our feelings follow our actions, not the other way around. When you make the effort to have fun with your husband, your feelings will follow. You can choose to be friends with your husband—not based on feelings, but based on your priorities.
Picture where you and your husband might be in a few decades, in the winter of your marriage. Your kids will be grown and gone. The heat of sexual intimacy may have faded because of health. One or both of you will probably be retired from your formal occupation. What is left? How will you fill an empty house and hours of silence? Through friendship, the powerful bond that will keep you connected through each season of joy and grief. It's worth working toward now!