Why Can't We Be Friends?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but soon after you enjoy your wedding cake, there will be (or there began) a decline in the felt level of friendship between you and your spouse.
I admit that sounds a bit bleak, and possibly a bit too universal, but in some way, at some level, I dare say that most married couples will experience this phenomenon. It's not a harbinger of bad things to come, so don't be dismayed or discouraged, just yet. Instead, the fact of the matter is a reminder of our sinful estate, and our inability to maintain the euphoria and mountain top experiences of romance.
Marriage is a sanctifying institution, one in which, over time, you will be made keenly aware of both you and your spouse's unique struggles with sin. As the years pass by, the need for each of you to cultivate and give away the fruits of the Spirit will become more apparent, as the bond of your covenant with one another is put to the test in ways it likely never was during your days of dating and engagement.
This is God's design for you. It's one of the many mechanisms by which he makes you both into the image of Christ, and fulfills his purposes for your marriage.
A Theological Endeavor
Joel Beeke, in his book, "Puritan Reformed Theology," reminds us that, "We learn form the first three chapters of the Bible that friendship in marriage has a theological foundation" (p.694). I always work hard to remind couples of this overarching truth, in order to re-connect them to the only fountain of living water for what has often become the dry land of married life.
I want to say it again: Marriage, and the friendship that's so critical to its flourishing, is always a theological endeavor. And, why should we be persuaded to think otherwise?
In our understanding of God as Creator, we learn that God created all things, including mankind and human marriage, for his own glory. Consider the opening words of the Westminster Confession of Faith (4.1):
It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein.
The "all things" of that brief statement necessarily includes your marriage, and the friendship that exists (or that ought to exist) between you and your spouse. Consider the power of that statement! Your marriage was designed by God to be an instrument in his hand that will glorify him, and proclaim his truth to the world around you. When people look in on your marriage, God intends that the world would see something of himself (Eph. 5:32).
When couples find themselves in hard places, they often ask, "Why did we get married in the first place?" Scripture provides a most powerful answer to this journey through doubt and despair.
But, what about this matter of friendship? Can't we just cut through all the theological red-tape and get down to what's "practical"? Why do we need to talk about "theology"? Just give us a check list of things to do that promises us a new marriage by Friday!
Unfortunately, for the impatience of suffering, there are no shortcuts to the building or re-establishment of biblical bonds in marriage, anymore than there are legitimate shortcuts to our own glorification. Progressive sanctification is always the way.
I cannot even begin to communicate all that is involved in this work in the space of a blog post. I intend this to be an appetizer toward the main course, as it were. I do want you to know, however, what some of the more important "big picture" pieces of the puzzle look like. And, one of those will be an understanding of the biblical category of marital friendship, a key that too often is either assumed, or lost among all the other pieces.
Beeke helpfully reminds us that, "The beauty of this communion was marred by the fall and obscured by the curse of sin, but friendship in marriage can be restored and renewed by faith in the promise of a Savior" (p.695).
So, don't fear the wedding cake.
The Father has both prepared the way and the means by which you and your spouse can build, maintain, or, if necessary, re-establish the most unique earthly friendship either of you may ever know.
Shed Some Light
We learned in this post that marital friendship is a theological endeavor, first and foremost. This means that we do well to look to Jesus, who is to us our "husband," to learn from him what it means to move toward our spouse in ways that grow our relational bonds.
When you consider who Jesus is according to Scripture, how do you see him loving his bride, that is, the church, as the most prized and special friend anyone could ever have? What do you learn from him in this way that you can export into your marriage for his glory, and the joy of your spouse?