The term “just friends” connotes a less valued, less serious affair when applied to the relationship between a man and woman. When that relationship progresses into a more meaningful, romantic state, it is described as “more than just friends.” Ironically, as reported by many committed marriages, it is their ability to be friends that makes the relationship last. Above all other aspects of their relationships, successful couples cite friendship as the key to lifelong committed marriages.
The roles of husband and wife are wrought with expectations. Newly married couples may feel boxed in by expectations that emanate from what was modeled by parents, other people who have been prominent in their lives, or even a previous relationship that has been idealized. It’s inevitable that married partners will miss the mark.
What saves many marriages after such disillusionment is the couple’s falling back on the essential friendship. They break free of their focus on the other’s poor role performance and begin again to look at the person, their strengths, weaknesses and proclivities. This then engenders new, better responses to each other. Liberated from the box of expectations, they are freer to experience the uniqueness of each other and the uniqueness of their friendship.
This was so for us early in our marriage. Our relationship began as “just friends” in high school in 1969. By the spring of 1970 our relationship was moving toward being “more than just friends.” This happened so subtly that we don’t know when exactly we began dating. Our relationship grew into a lifelong commitment that was pronounced in October 1975 at our wedding. However, through our dating years and the first few years of marriage, we stumbled clumsily through expectations of what a boyfriend/husband should do, what a girlfriend/wife should do. Invariably, our relationship was buoyed again and again by choosing what a friend should do. Over the years our friendship has empowered our marriage.
We talked on this subject with Lou and Amy Carlozo of Chicago, who at the time were married 2½ years. For them their friendship is the essence of their relationship. Their marital roles often define for them certain tasks that they agree to perform for the sake of the marriage. As married partners they expect each other to do their parts. However, there are times when either will “slack off” for various reasons. Sometimes either of them will take on the chores of the other because one may have had a stressful day, or one may sense the needs of the other. They do these things as friends who care about the well-beings of each other. In such times it is the friendship that saves the marriage.
Amy points out that “the boundaries we set in defining our marital roles frees us to be courageous in our friendship. We know we won’t chase each other away by holding each other accountable.” The security of marriage allows couples to take risks that they may not take if they were “just friends” or even “more than friends.” In this sense the marriage empowers the friendship.
Early in our marriage we recognized the necessary balance between marital roles and marital friendship—expectations of the institution of marriage and the free-flowing responses of friendship. After 5½ years of marriage, we felt the need to recommit with this balance in mind. Stated below is what we wrote on the occasion of renewing our friendship and our marital commitment:
Today we recommit ourselves, body and spirit, to God and to each other.
We promise to always try to make our relationship grow through open communication, through trust in each other’s willingness to work toward our mutual good, and through faith in our love for God, His love for us, and our love for each other, even when that love seems hidden for the moment.
We promise each other the freedom and encouragement to grow and develop our individual talents and capabilities. We promise to rejoice in that growth and work through any problems that it may entail.
We promise to be a prayerful couple who recognizes God as an active member of our family, the center and the source of our love.
We ask everyone present, our family and friends, to witness our commitment and take a stake in our marriage. We ask for your support to help us live our commitment to God and to each other. We, in return, will strive to be a beacon of light for all to see the glory of God through our marriage.
We ask Almighty God to bless us during our times of romance, guide us through our periods of disillusionment, and dance with us in our moments of joy.
Questions for Reflection:
Think of a time when your friendship “saved” your marriage. What was at stake?
How has marriage provided safe boundaries for your friendship?
If you were to have a recommitment ceremony today, what ideals about friendship would you include in your vows?