Great Marriages Start with Great Friendships
by Pastor Mark Driscoll
This is my beloved and this is my friend.
Song of Solomon 5:16
Husbands and wives who want their marriages to be enduring and endearing must be friends. In a round about way, you can say that a friendless marriage is a failing marriage. If you’re committed to making your marriage great, you’ll need first and foremost a deep friendship with Jesus and by extension a deep friendship with your spouse.
One of the most respected sociologists studying marriage, W. Bradford Wilcox, said in an article entitled, “Happily Ever After? Religion, Marital Status, Gender, and Relationship Quality in Urban Families,” that “The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. So men and women come from the same planet after all.”
He continued by saying,
Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately—they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out…Friendship fuels the flames of romance because it offers the best protection against feeling adversarial toward your spouse.
Rediscovering the theology of friendship
As my wife Grace and I began research on our new book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendships, & Life Together, we read all or part of 187 books on marriage, most written by and for Christians. Not one of those books had one chapter or major section of a chapter on marital friendship.
As we dug deeper, we could find only one significant Christian book written on a theology of friendship, and that was written in the 1100s by a Christian monk commenting on Cicero’s view of friendship. In more recent years, only a few popular books have been written on friendship from a Christian perspective and they do not reference friendship in marriage in any significant way. And every book I have read neglects every marriage in the Bible as a possible example of friendship.
Grace and I are friends. Since meeting, we’ve been friends. By God’s grace, until our season of life under the sun is done, we will be friends. At times our friendship has been strained, but it is because of the friendship that we remain together.
Our first dates together were not extravagant because we were broke teenagers, but they were fun because we just liked to hang out together. Our first date included a hamburger, a walk along the Seattle waterfront, and a long chat on the beach by a fire. We did not spend much money, but we each made a friend.
What it means to be a friend
Perhaps the only major Christian theologian to speak much about friendship was Augustine (AD 354–430). He wrote often about friendship in his book Confessions as he lamented bad friendships earlier in his life, the death of a close friend, and what he learned about true friendship. In tender fashion he spoke of human friendship as “a nest of love and gentleness.” He also spoke of friendship in the most practical terms:
To make conversation, to share a joke, to perform mutual acts of kindness, to read together well-written books, to share in trifling and in serious matters, to disagree though without animosity—just as a person debates with himself—and in the very rarity of disagreement to find the salt of normal harmony, to teach each other something or to learn from one another, to long with impatience for those absent, to welcome them with gladness on their arrival.