Is Your Spouse Your Best Friend?
Marriage Secret #6:
"I want my spouse to be my closest friend."
Friendship is often misunderstood in marriage. As humans, we have a great need to be understood by another person and have them truly enjoy us. We want to confide in them and they in us. We want to have a friend that we cannot wait to be in their presence and we want them to feel the same way about us. We want the time when we are together to be easy, separate from the pressures around us. We want a friend who is connected to us in ways that others are not. God has given married people exactly this -- a best friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov. 18:24).
To understand the depth of marital friendship, it would be good to take a closer look into this passage and its context. Many people have interpreted Proverbs 18:24 to mean that Solomon is talking about God as the friend in this reference. That may indeed be true, but it seems best to understand this from a more normal Hebraic understanding of the structure of the book of Proverbs. The Proverbs show an interesting tendency to what we call "hooked learning," that is one Proverb links through a thought bridge to another Proverb. These thought bridges provide the context of the other verses. In other words, if you want to understand why Solomon is talking about this subject, then go back one or two proverbs and see the preceding thought he had written about that caused him to be giving the truth in this new Proverb. (Sometimes the thought bridge is one verse before; sometimes it is two verses before.) Two verses before 18:24 is the verse about the one who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." What Solomon is suggesting to the men of his culture is that a wife can be a man's best friend. She wants you to succeed more than even your brother does! She wants you to maximize your potential in every direction. She has a very intimate stake in your success and your problems. In that day, this was not the way that most men thought about friendship, or their wives, but Solomon had it right and God wanted us to know this.
Each spouse typically has a very different idea of what close friendship is. This difference in what makes your spouse a friend can cause a lot of difficulty in a marriage. Usually, for one spouse, friendship is tied to emotional intimacy. The other may see friendship as companionship. This difference in the way friendship is viewed and approached leads to all kinds of difficulties, even as both spouses are going after the same thing, friendship. They both want friendship but they both get there in different ways.
How can husbands and wives avoid ending up in very different places or become very frustrated with their spouse? It comes down to understanding the four levels of friendship. We'll look at four levels. There are things that every level of friendship shares and has in common. This common sharing is the crucial element within friendship. You have to meet the common conditions before the rights and responsibilities to correct or speak into the other person's life are opened up to you. If there is not a commonality on the issues on that level, then that level of friendship has not been met. A healthy marriage is one that strives to meet all four levels.
Level 1: Acquaintances
An acquaintance is one we have met before and have shared the same space or place before. The idea is that we have been introduced and share a common location. This is relevant to married couples because many couples have one spouse who works out of town or is away on business for periods of time. When the spouse comes back there is typically a period of readjustment or getting reacquainted to their presence. Even though this sounds basic and silly, this needs to be worked through when the partner gets back. This acquaintance level can be pushed through fairly easily without wounding feelings if both spouses agree to be together in a common location, sit and talk back and forth asking questions about their lives, and adapt to the context of the reunion. It is not uncommon for one spouse to have their mate come back and feel disconnected from them. They may be unable to just jump right back into a deep relationship right off the bat. It may take a little time.
Level 2: Casual Friends
This is the place where common interests lie and where many spouses need to camp. In 70+ percent of the cases, it is the man who can only enter into a close friendship through a common activity or interests that you share. To him, this is the zenith of friendship. The two of you do this thing together. There is joy in doing it and being with each other. It brings him joy, satisfaction, and pleasure. That's what friendship is all about to him. Many women have very little interest in this level of friendship. They do not see the point in this "lower level" of friendship when it is only the upper levels of friendship that really means anything to them. They want to push on to the deeper level of emotional intimacy.
Level 3: Close Friends
This level marks a significant dividing line in the friendship. Close friendship is significantly different from casual friendship because there is a level of emotional sharing and receiving that is not true on the previous levels. It involves meeting the needs of the other person. What does the person really need? What are the pain points in the person's life? It is significant to note that one person can share their needs with another and not become a close friend because the needs are not fully embraced by the other person. If the non-needy person keeps those needs at a distance or refuses to embrace them, then the friendship does not achieve the level of close friend.
In order to have a really balanced and mature marriage both spouses must carry some of the needs of their mate. They know each other well and make up for the areas of non-strength and difficulties that the other person encounters. It is possible for one spouse to carry all the needs of the other and there is little or no balance to the need sharing. A one-way close friendship is very draining for the friendship provider and this often causes marital fatigue because the sharing almost always goes in one direction.
Close friendship is about embracing the needs of the other and helping them. But if one spouse keeps making bad choices and expecting the other spouse to bail them out with money, addictions, understanding, time, lies, cover-ups, and energy, it wears out the spouse and they may leave. This will eventually break the relationship because of the lack of maturity of the foolish partner's choices.
Level 4: Intimate Friends
This level involves shared feelings of the other person, what is called empathy or sympathy. It is one thing to share the need, (and that is wonderful) but it is another to share the emotional reaction and ramifications of what is happening to the person. One person must put aside solutions, their own thoughts, and their own personal reactions, and enter into the reactions of the other. It means that one is following the person through all the twists and turns of their emotions.
Too many people have not learned how to follow the topic or the emotions of a conversation to have a really deep conversation with another person. This lack of ability to share a person's emotions with them is called a lack of empathy or lack of sympathy and it renders the highest stages of friendship unreachable. Everyone can learn this skill. One spouse is waiting for you to learn to listen with intensity and perseverance so they can become your friend and share in emotional intimacy. The other achieves this through physical intimacy. Once physical intimacy occurs, they can open up to new levels of communicating and sharing, which in turn feeds into the emotional need of the other.
At what level of friendship are you and your spouse?
What are some common interests and activities that you share or like to do together?
What can you do as a couple to achieve the deeper levels of friendship? Is there a need that needs to be met? Is a physical connection needed?
(Taken from an excerpt from Dr. Gil's new book, Marriage Secrets, coming out soon.)
I look forward to interacting with you during your spiritual journey. Please email me at email@example.com to let me know how God is working in and through your life. Your greatest life is just ahead. In His service,
Dr. Gil Stieglitz
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