In December Keith and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I thought this was quite a milestone to reach until I met with some former neighbours. In the same week as us, one celebrated 43 years, another 37 and the third their 40th. This made me feel positively youthful! We did a number of fun things together during our week away, one of them was to sit on this bench with books and watch several families of ducks use this pond.
In the last year, a number of books have been published about marriage. I have not read them all, indeed I don’t even own them all. The latest one, by Mark Driscoll, apparently talks about the importance of friendship in a marriage. (See this interview with him in Christianity Today.) According to him, not one of the 187 books that he and his wife read about marriage even mentioned the notion of friendship in marriage at all. He said “If you have a solid friendship that you’re working on, the rest of the marriage is going to come together. The sex is going to get better. You’re going to work with your sin. You’re going to deal with tragedy in a way that is more hopeful than if you’re just business partners doing stuff together.”
John Gottman has written wisely about marriage – he has spent most of his life researching married couples and from his research he says that those marriages that last are the ones based on a deep friendship – couples actually like each other, they treat each other like good friends and when they have conflict they handle it in gentle positive ways.
Yes, we had a time of celebration, but marriage is not about sitting in beautiful places, reading books and having pleasant times. Eventually, we have to come home from celebrating and get on with the realities of life – some of them good, some of them not so good. The quality of our marriage will not necessarily be enhanced by reading a book. Indeed you could read the pile of marriage books sitting beside my desk and they might be encouraging, be inspiring, but in and of themselves they won’t change the fabric of your relationship.
Early in our marriage, Keith and I would take a book on marriage away on holidays each year to read and use to discuss our relationship. This was not always helpful. In fact, a couple of times it was positively unhelpful. One holiday, I made the flippant suggestion that we abandon our book reading and simply have fun together. Well, it worked a treat. We had a fabulous holiday and the few weeks of positivity helped us rediscover our friendship and enjoyment of each other.
One of the best things you can do to enhance or improve your marriage is to work on your friendship with your partner. What do you like about them? If that is to hard to answer, try and remember how you felt about them before you got married – remind yourself of those qualities that attracted you to each other. Then, tell them what you appreciate about them. What do you enjoy doing together? Schedule time into your life doing some of these things – watching movies, a walk in the late afternoon, a coffee outing, reading a book together – these are the things that will help your friendship blossom. It is small things often that will make the difference.
Pray together each week day – just make it small – share what you are doing in your day and then pray. While praying, give thanks to God for something about your partner. This is a good habit to form. If you have to work hard at thinking about something to be thankful for, it might be a warning sign that work needs to be done.
Small habits such as these will cumulatively work for good. I am back home this week with no adult offspring in sight. However, our lives will soon resume the chaos of normality and there is no room for complacency about a relationship as significant as my marriage.