The institution called marriage is a complex and knotty one. Some are short-lived yet can boast of a few beautiful years. Others lasting for decades yet extremely toxic! It is hard to say what makes a marriage work. I have heard so many times that “perfect” marriages require more of friendship than being in love. By the way, there is no such thing as a perfect marriage. I use the phrase here to mean a marriage ideal for a particular couple. Essentially what makes them both happy and complete. It is clear that no two imperfect humans can make a perfect marriage. In their imperfections, however, they find ways to make it “a perfect marriage”. I am getting ahead of myself anyway, let us weigh in on the hypothesis about the friendship part, shall we?
A very short story I will never forget
Many many years ago, I hung out with a friend and his older divorcee friend. The old divorcee guy was exceptionally chatty. Giving unsolicited advice, he said to me, “when you marry, make sure you marry your friend. So that in the seasons when the love fades, oh and I bet you it will, your friendship will keep you going”. On God, I can barely remember this man’s face, talk less of his name. But his exact words have stayed with me for over a decade. He went on to explain that he and his wife had fallen in love almost at first sight and had not taken time to build a genuine friendship. In the seasons when the butterflies died, like they would in every marriage, they could not stand each other’s differences.
Lesson number one for today. If you are a chatty person, make sure you are always dropping jewels. Let people forget you, but never forget your words of wisdom.
I was twenty-one at the time, and believe you me, I had bigger problems back then. Marriage was far from my mind. Talk less of how to build a “perfect one”. Today, seven years in, I am thankful for wisdom from a stranger. A solid friendship and partnership are such key ingredients in this marriage thing. It has only been seven years but I have experienced seasons where it was our friendship, not being in love that kept us going. I may be wrong, maybe it’s just me, I am no marriage counsellor nor love professor, but I do have an observant spirit, and I love to muse and stir.
What friendship means in a “perfect marriage”
The phrase “I married my best friend” is used loosely these days. It completely undermines what it truly means to be great friends before the “best friend” bit. Let us breakdown what it means to be in a friendship. This may sound mundane, but the rate at which marriages are falling apart is an indicator that we need to go back to the basics. Friendship is based on liking someone, not being in love with them. Meaning that you may fall in love with someone only to realize years later that you do not like them. A good example is the old divorcee couple I mentioned earlier.
They are too loud! Why does he/she chew like a cow?! They talk too much! They are such lazy humans! You know, all those little annoying attitudes which we all have, but you would not care about if you liked them in the first place. Friendship according to Wikipedia is a relationship of mutual affection between people. Its characteristics include –
- The ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings, make mistakes without fear of judgement
Friendships translate to togetherness
Based on the above, I believe great friendships always translate to a deeper more meaningful degree of togetherness. Seeing yourselves and your marriage as a team effort in this thing called life. Having an “us against the world” kind of mentality. Not you, your siblings and parents against your spouse. Not you and your homeboys/homegirls against your spouse. You seek each other’s opinions and approvals first before any outsider’s. All the while, working together to grow individually. You let them be their own person before becoming one with you.
Once this foundation has been laid, couples will always find common ground, seek togetherness. They may have different approaches, but the same goal. Both may have had two opposite upbringings, but now are together for the long haul. They may not always agree, but that togetherness would ensure they agree to disagree, respectfully and compromise a lot. I know a couple who flew to their home country for their wedding on separate airlines and on separate days. When I asked why that was, I learned the wife did not want a cheap flight (of course she is within her rights to choose), and the husband could not afford an expensive flight. So, Chacun pour soi! In my mind, I am like what kind of marriage do you hope to build if you cannot compromise on a flight to be together?
Friendships build team spirit
Having a team mindset is powerful beyond words! When there is an undeniable team spirit, it does not matter what a couple is dealing with. They will always realize that they are on the same team. For starters, it will propel an individual to work on themselves so they do not pull their teammate down with whatever baggage they carry. Because we all have some sort of baggage. Secondly, they are a united force against outside opinions and judgements. For instance, your mother/sibling/friend may not agree with your wife’s/husband’s child-raising techniques. You may not necessarily agree, but you have had conversations and understand where they are coming from. So it is a closed case. The moment, however, you start to side with outsiders, you have created room for friction in your friendship.
Team spirit reflects in how you as a team handle personal challenges, individual interests and passions, individual histories and approaches towards life in general. How do you view his/her individual viewpoints? Are you altruistic enough to understand your partner’s take or are you dismissive based on your personal chagrins? Are you honest enough to admit that you are both two flawed people trying to create something beautiful? When one person thinks they are perfect and the other is flawed, that is a recipe for irreconcilable differences. Team spirit is based on trust and empathy. Seeing the world through your partner’s lense every now and again. Understanding the experiences that have shaped them into the people they have become, and willing to walk with them to become all that they could possibly be.
If you are prone to judge people, you would not judge your wife/husband. You may judge every other person in the room, but your partner is your team member, it is you both against the others. If you are an unforgiving person, you would find ways to forgive them, ‘cos again, team member. In other words, you may be the meanest most selfish person to the rest of the world, but when it comes to your partner, your teammate, a different set of rules abide (this is not me approving bad attitudes, as stated before, do work on your baggage). As a team, you should want to see each other do better, be better humans.
I know a couple whose marriage is as solid as a rock (well, from the outside looking in). Siblings swear the wife is Jezebel’s granddaughter. The husband is very much oblivious to those claims. He worships the ground she walks on. Hailing her every opportunity he gets. They are a strong team celebrating each other daily. You have to applaud couples like this. No matter how much you love your siblings, it is your wife/husband you go back to at night. Build that team with them. A quick note here, I am in no way, shape or form supporting daughters of Jezebel. My point is, stick to your spouse.
“A perfect marriage” requires work
Every marriage has its unique dynamics and fair share of ups and downs- What one person considers a great marriage may be a horror story to someone else. I have seen dozens of couples madly in love with each other call it quits. Not because they aren’t in love, but because they lost that badly needed friendship. They are no longer on the same page and the friendship is broken. Lack of empathy is the new order. Trust is destroyed as one has sided with outsiders. On the other hand, I have seen couples with strong friendships, find ways to fall in love over and over with each other and make their marriage work. The moment one person in a team gets individualistic, that marriage is doomed.
A “perfect marriage” requires work from both parties. Work means choosing each other every day. Life generally is messy with a lot of grey areas and seasons of uncertainty. There are a million and one complexities which may put a strain on a marriage. Career choices, extended family, personal growth, finances, having and raising children, you name it. You have to decide every day to be each other’s friend. To stay honest and communicate as clearly as possible. To be affectionate and show kindness. You have to be intentional about creating beautiful spaces to be yourselves with no fear of judgement. Above all, laugh together. Great friends laugh a lot- they laugh at themselves, they laugh at their children, they laugh at other people. Laughter is medicine to the soul. A happy marriage is filled with laughter.
There is really no formula for a “perfect marriage”. But I believe having a friendship, aside from being in love, makes so much of a difference. But first, we fully need to grasp the implications and layers that exist in a friendship. I hope this generation can turn the ship around on not just having long marriages, but blissful and exciting ones. Consider building a solid friendship with your partner.
Even in that friendship, find ways to fall in love anew
While having a great friendship is important, find ways to fall in love over and over again with your partner. Don’t stop chasing your spouse. Find opportunities to spice and shake things up. Keep the fire burning.
I look forward to reading your thoughts on the hypothesis. Do you consider friendship more important than being inlove? What matters most to you?
” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres”. 1 Corinthians 13