Monday, October 4

Lasting Marriage: Friendship

I don't know about you, but before I got married I loved observing happy couples. I liked it when I saw a couple who looked very comfortable, smiling, joking and playful with each other, regardless of how long they have been married. I've seen enough miserable-looking married couples and I never wanted my marriage to be like those. So whenever I saw a happy couple, it often felt like a breath of fresh air. I would look at them and wonder what makes them tick. I wanted to know what they are doing right that is sustaining their level of friendship and enthusiasm for enjoying each other's company. And I wanted to emulate that in my own life when I got married. I wanted to retain that freshness and excitement in my marriage whether I was a newly-wed or an old married woman at the age of sixty. So I started to ask questions. I observed even more couples. I read loads of good books on the joys of a happy life-long marriage and how to achieve it. I prayed and asked God to help me to be wise. And I listened to advice from people who had got it right.

In other words, I did something very deliberate.

About a week ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is getting married soon. He said he was looking forward to marriage, but dreading the inevitable.

I asked what was inevitable?

He said something like: "You know that after the first two years, everything goes downhill. Love and happiness doesn't last for so long once a couple get married."

I was a bit sad to hear that and I told him: "That's not true. I've been married for five years and I'm happier and more in love with my hubby than ever before, and enjoying my marriage more now, than I was in the earlier years. And I'm sure he will say the same too."

The next thing my friend said was: "Well you know you are not normal, you might just be lucky, so I'm not going to raise my expectations based on your own experience."

I was quite shocked. I thought; is that really what most people think about marriage? That after two years, the joy and happiness fades away and you are left with nothing but a miserable existence? That except for the "lucky few" who somehow stumble into lasting happiness, the rest of us are doomed into living in a boring prison for the rest of our lives? So what happens to the fun and excitement after a while? It goes away and can never be recaptured?

I think that's such a sad and pessimistic view of marriage, and it's not helped by the statistics and things we see around us. Many people have this wrong view of marriage because they are not prepared to see things in a long-term view. We have swallowed the hype of "hollywood romance" and "fairy-tale happily ever after" that lets us believe that once we have fallen in love, the euphoria of the early days will continue endlessly and we would never have to make the effort to keep it going. However the reality is, those feelings of euphoria are terribly unreliable and they tend to come and go. So when the euphoria dies down, Hollywood leads us to believe that we are now doomed to be unhappy forever, unless we can recapture those feelings with a new person.

Nowadays, we have this "throw-away" mentality, that is, if something is broken or not working, we would prefer to throw it away and buy a new one rather than trying to fix it. Sometimes we carry over this attitude into marriage and so when things start getting a bit boring, instead of thinking of creative ways to spice things up and rekindle our romance, we can fall into the trap of thinking that there's nothing we can do, apart from quitting or putting up with it. This mentality is what leads to broken marriages and affairs.

I once saw this status on somebody’s profile on Facebook: If we see a smile on a newly-wed man’s face, we all know why. But if we see a smile on a man who has been married for ten years, we all wonder why.

But let's go back to the original design for marriage. Whose idea was it? Marriage was God's idea. And He designed it to be a long-lasting lifelong and secure commitment where two people become one, until death parts them. So if the world’s view is that two years into the marriage, there is no more fun, excitement, love and happiness, does that mean that God’s plan was for us to live miserably for the rest of our married time on earth? I would say a resounding "NO!". Of course not. It is we who need to re-align ourselves with the truth - marriage is meant to be fun and joyful all the days of our lives. And we need to make sure that we constantly put the effort into our relationships to keep them strong, happy and beautiful. But how?

I'll talk about three important things: friendship, quality time and forgiveness.

Friendship: I know that in these days of social networking, the term "friendship" has taken on different meanings. But I want us to think about friendship in a true sense of mutual trust, closeness, openness, kindness, acceptance, caring and love for each other. Friendship is one of the most basic needs that we have as human beings. We were created to need companionship, support and encouragement from other people. And this is one of the reasons why God ordained marriage in the first place - for companionship. We marry so that we can have at least one person in the world that we can call a friend. 

Now most of us have many acquaintances but very few true friends. But the few friendships we have, we know that we have to nurture them to keep them going. If you have a friend you don't see, you don't speak to, you don't hang out with or keep in touch with, what's going to happen? Sooner or later, that friendship will wither and suffer and probably die a slow death. And it's the same with marriage. 

I know many couples who work long hours outside of the home, have to raise young kids and look after so many other responsibilities that their marriage inevitably suffers for it. By the time they get home at night, they are too tired to do anything apart from having dinner in front of the TV and falling asleep. If all you do with your husband or wife is see them first thing in the morning on your way out and last thing at night before you sleep, what will that do to your friendship? It will be choked to death! The fact that you live in the same house doesn't mean anything - even enemies can live under the same roof. You have to be very deliberate about talking to them (and not just about who paid the last water bill), listening to them and having fun with them without the distractions of everyday living. Basically, you have to rearrange your priorities so that your marriage doesn’t suffer due to neglect.

Friends never run out of things to say to each other, and it should be the same between husband and wife. Some couples talk to their friends and colleagues at work more than they talk to each other! I heard of a woman who said she’s dreading retirement because she doesn’t know how she'll cope with being at home with her husband all the time. Over the years, they didn’t maintain their friendship and now they don’t have anything to say to each other anymore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I think it’s very important for couples to keep the lines of communication open all the time. Make conversation an essential part of your day. Talk, talk, talk and keep talking. You can talk about any topic – politics, world affairs, your plans for the future, a book one of you is reading, what happened in the office today – anything. Just don’t let a single day pass by without having an interesting conversation with your spouse. It is surprising how much bonding takes place over a stimulating conversation.

But this sounds easy in theory. In practice, sometimes you have to make hard choices: like you may have to choose between attending a friend’s wedding and spending the only free weekend you’ve got at home with your spouse. Sometimes it may mean missing your favourite TV show and going for a walk/drive/quick meal outside with your spouse instead. It may mean banning the laptop/TV/long telephone calls for a while so that you can enjoy some time together without interruptions. But those little acts add up to something far more rewarding. I think it's better to miss a TV show than have a neglected spouse. That closeness and connection with your spouse will more than make up for the effort you put into maintaining your friendship.

For me, recently I was reminded of an episode. It was a Saturday night, the end of a very busy day. Hubby and I had been out all day running errands, shopping, visiting relatives and all that. We didn’t get home until very late, and we were both tired. As soon as we got in, he wanted to unwind and spend some time gisting with me in the living room before we retired to bed. But as soon as I stepped in, all I saw were the pile of chores I hadn’t done, and I immediately went into the kitchen to start washing the dishes. Hubby called me several times to leave the sink to come and relax with him and I kept saying – give me 5 minutes. In the end, I didn’t stop my chores until the kitchen was spick and span but by then I was too tired to spend any time with him and I just went straight to bed.

It wasn’t until a few days later that I realised how selfish my attitude was. The dishes could wait – of course they could. But I had made them a priority, instead of time with my husband. All too easily, I took it for granted that he would still be there no matter what, and that was wrong. If I put myself in his shoes, I would have been quite upset if I wanted to spend time with him but he preferred to devote time to his own chores instead. I have since made a note of this, and resolved that I would re-order my priorities. House chores can wait, hubby comes first.

So to sum up, we have to continually work on keeping the friendship with our spouse alive by making sure we put them first in our minds, with our words and the activities we do together. The rewards are soooo worth it!

That’s all for now, I’ll talk about the other two points in my next post. I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Staying together in marriage is not by accident, and it’s not luck. The harder you work at your marriage, the luckier you get.”

Have a great week!

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