--The Secrets of Drawing Closer
--Jerry & Mary White

         "Beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God & this company to unite these friends as husband & wife."
         If we heard this statement opening a marriage ceremony, we would immediately know the standard lines had been altered. But such a statement really makes sense. Marriage should be built on a growing friendship. People who marry strangers (those who aren't deep friends) take a risk.
         Too many people, Christians included, marry because of physical attraction. This overrules other considerations such as intellectual, emotional & social compatibility, which at the time seem mundane. Then after the flurry of wedding preparations, ceremony, & honeymoon dies down, they discover a depressing fact. Flowing hormones won't sustain a marriage over a long period of time. If the marriage is to flourish, they must establish a durable, enjoyable friendship to undergird their relationship.

Why Some Marriages Lack Friendship. Certain problems seem to give particular trouble to a marriage friendship.
         1. Lack of intellectual & emotional interaction. We live in such a fast-paced environment that sometimes husbands & wives find they have not time to communicate except on the most functional level of daily living. "Can you take Sue to her piano lesson?" "What time will you be home from work?" "Remember to renew your driver's license."
         Communication like this is essential to a relationship & we can't carry on our daily business without it, but it doesn't reveal hearts & thoughts. It doesn't draw husband & wife together in intimate communication. To enter that realm of interaction takes time, interest & privacy.
         We need to work hard, in fact, at stimulating communication of the mind & heart. If this is not a part of your life with others, it will not come easily in marriage. Too often we retreat into the easy zone of small talk or functional conversation.
         2. Taking each other for granted. Another block to marriage friendship builds when one or both partners takes the other for granted. What does that phrase mean? It defines a pattern of presuming on the love & faithfulness & tolerance of the other partner. Taking another for granted means that there is a selfish concentration on personal needs with a lack of consideration for the thoughts & needs of the other person.
         3. Unresolved day-to-day conflict. Why do we often feel at liberty to place the stress of conflict on our marriage? Maybe because we are legally bound together & our spouse can't easily desert us. But certainly that is a weak excuse for straining the most important friendship we have.
         Some issues require serious discussion because of genuine differences of opinion. Marriage partners usually come from different backgrounds with differing habits, customs, values, ideals, prejudices & patterns of living. These differences can lead to conflict unless they are calmly & lovingly discussed. A healthy respect for other views is absolutely vital to reducing conflict in marriage.
         Much conflict, perhaps most, is based on a selfish determination to prove a point or to have one's own way--to be "the winner". And much of it erupts over nonessentials. Who cares whether he hangs his jacket over a chair instead of in the closet? A wife who has been taught to venerate tidiness cares, that's who! What difference does it make if she is usually 5 or 10 minutes late when they are going somewhere? It makes a big difference to a husband who strongly believes in absolute punctuality. And by such conflicts is a good marriage friendship tested.
The Basis for a Marriage Friendship. Building a strong marriage relationship takes time. The process must begin during courtship & continue throughout a lifetime of marriage. The basis of friendship in marriage contains several key elements.
         1. An early start. It is easy for courting couples to become so preoccupied with the delights of being together that they fail to reveal themselves as they might to a friend. They are strongly tempted to present only the very best qualities, to avoid subjects that will cause conflict & to agree in periods of potential disagreement in order to maintain harmony. But "peace at any price" won't foster a secure marriage. Learn to communicate honestly early in the relationship.
         2. Lifetime commitment. Another essential for a good marriage friendship is mutual commitment. We need to enter marriage committed to each other for a lifetime, without thoughts of alternatives or escape.
         3. Respect & courtesy. Mutual commitment combined with mutual respect gives friendship in marriage a chance to grow. Respect develops admiration & esteem. It allows no room for prejudice & sarcasm.
         4. Mutual interests. When a friendship begins early in the relationship & is marked by commitment & respect, it can be further strengthened by activities that both enjoy. When we speak of mutual interests here, we don't mean just interests in the children, church activities, house maintenance & work schedules!
         5. Good communication. Common, enjoyable activities need communication to bring the marriage friendship to full flower. And between husband & wife, communication should move to communion. Communion includes the exchange of ideas & thoughts & the sharing of feelings & emotions.
         Communication is the need both to speak & be heard. Sometimes people who have been married for a long time tend not to bother with conversation because they think they know what their partner is going to say. But we must never assume that our spouse has nothing new to say. We all change in outlook & thinking, & our conversations should reflect that.
         Mary & I have grown to really enjoy talking to each other. Of course we have times when conflict, busyness or fatigue make it harder. But when we have not "just talked" for several days, both of us feel the strain & deprivation. Mary is my best critic. She helps me sift ideas. She makes me laugh. We help each other as we talk through the issues of helping our children grow & mature. And we don't always agree on how that should be done! We have found that writing together has given us extra communication in a more neutral setting, where even a good argument is helpful.
         6. Encouraging personal goals. In any friendship, it is helpful to know the goals & aspirations of the other person & to contribute to their fulfillment in whatever way possible. This helpful role is doubly necessary in the marriage relationship. You may have mutual goals for your marriage & home, but each partner should have individual goals for personal growth & development. If you know what they are, you can help support & encourage your spouse in reaching them.
How to Build or Improve Friendship with Your Spouse. Now that you know what can get in the way of friendship with your spouse, & what you need as a basis for that relationship, consider the following practical suggestions for building up a weak marriage relationship or improving an already satisfactory one.
         --Review the past privately. Openly discuss problems without defensiveness & criticism. Listen carefully so you can learn about yourself & your spouse. If necessary, discuss problems & issues that have stifled friendship in the past.
         --Set aside time to talk. Don't let many days go by without enjoying a free flow of conversation.
         --Renew your lifetime commitment to each other. Begin doing fun things together. Select one activity you both enjoy & can anticipate with pleasure.
         --Pray daily for your marriage partner.
         --Read the Bible & pray together daily. This one factor can strengthen & reinforce your marriage.
         --Guard against divisive influences, such as too many unilateral decisions, excluding your spouse from different activities, & differing levels of spiritual commitment.
         --Consciously strive to keep the friendship fresh by remaining an interesting person who is enjoyable to be around. Don't allow yourself to stagnate.
         --Keep respect & courtesy at the core of the friendship. Refuse to take each other for granted. It's never too late to improve a marriage friendship.
         The Apostle Paul's practical definition of love can help us in fostering the best of marriage friendships. By substituting "a friend" for "love", we gain a clearer perspective of the attitudes & behaviour that married friends should have:
         "A friend suffereth long, & is kind; a friend envieth not; a friend vaunteth not himself, is not puffed up. Does not behave himself unseemly, seeketh not his own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (Adapted from 1Cor.13:4-7)

Children. John & his son Chip set aside one week each year from their jobs for fishing. They shrug into backpacks loaded with sleeping bags, fishing gear & food & hike a torturously long way into the mountains where they claim the fishing is unsurpassed, &, better yet, no one else is around.
         Myrtle visits each of her daughters once a year for two weeks. Each daughter pleads with Myrtle to stay longer, but at the end of two weeks of fun & visiting & laughter, she hugs them warmly, climbs on a plane & goes home.
         Dan entered his father's law firm after college. Although they work together every day, after the secretaries leave the office for the day, Dan & his father brew another pot of coffee in the waiting room, loosen their ties & talk for an hour before heading home.
         What do all of these people have in common? They are more than parents & children. They have moved to an expanded dimension of adult friendship.
         Dr. Joe Aldrich, President of Multnomah School of the Bible, stresses in his seminar on child raising that parents must move from a point of correction to a point of counsel with their children. And as the child strikes out on his own, parents must move out beyond the point of counsel to the fullest extent of the relationship--friendship.
         If you are a parent, there are several things you can do to make this transition from counseled child to mature friend possible.
         --Be willing to release your children from your directive care. Friendships never mature when one person perpetually governs the other.
         --Take a genuine interest in the affairs & viewpoints of your children.
         --Recall only positive memories from the past & set the tone for your children to do the same.
         --Offer advice & counsel only when asked, except if you see your child entering into sin. Then this principle of Scripture applies, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in a spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."--Gal.6:1.
         --Even if you've been a nosey, interfering parent in the past, resolve to change. Allow your child time to realise the emergence of a new you.
         --Pray faithfully for a lasting, rewarding friendship with your grown children & their families.
In-laws. Rare indeed is the person without in-laws. If marriage doesn't quickly plunge us into the world of in-laws, our brothers & sisters bring them to us. Harmonious relationships require a warm, friendly merging of in-laws into your family.
         If any word should characterise the treatment, as well as the behaviour, of in-laws, it is tolerance--then more tolerance--and still
more tolerance. In-laws aren't wrong, just different. Backgrounds vary, experiences differ, personal preferences diverge, but they need not split a relationship. With tolerance & time, in-laws can add a fresh dimension to a family as friends & relatives.
         Dwell on the positive aspects of your in-laws. Withhold comparisons & criticism. Allow time for acceptance & friendships to develop. Enjoy your role as an in-law & anticipate warm friendships with the in-laws that enter your family.

         The mystery of human attraction continues to puzzle scientists & psychologists. The magnetism between two distinct personalities defies description both in romance & in friendship. All the computer analysis in the World will never solve the matching chemistry between two human personalities, because the most unusual friendship can develop in spite of differences in personality & interests. Yet certain characteristics do play a significant part in
initial attraction, especially between believers & unbelievers.
         Have you ever noticed how some people possess a charisma that draws people to them? Some people have it & some don't. But as you go beyond the issues of personality, some common threads of attraction begin to emerge.
Christlikeness. "When they saw the boldness of Peter & John & perceived that they were unlearned & ignorant men, they marvelled, & they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."--Acts 4:13. We become like the person we spend the most time with. As we spend time with Jesus, we become like Him, & people sense it. All our efforts to attract others are worthless if Jesus is ignored in the process. The aroma of Christ in us attracts people in a way that surpasses all others.
         But to be Christlike we must do those things which build Christlikeness--a personal devotional life, obedience to His Word, study of His Word & fellowship with other Christians. Do people see a difference in your life? Do they observe you & take note that you have been with Jesus? This is the master magnet of a truly attractive life. Build it at all costs.
Honesty. In a World where honesty & ethics often take a back seat to expediency & opportunity, a truly honest person stands out above the crowd. The way we speak, work or do business makes a definite impression on people. As people grapple with issues of ethics in their work, others watch how they respond, fully expecting them to opt for their own selfish interests when the opportunity exists. A Christian who refuses to lie, stretch the truth or falsify a document certainly attracts notice.
Generosity. People love a generous person. One who truly gives time, money or help will always attract friends. Adopt a giving spirit & you will be rewarded with the pleasure of helping others as well as with the satisfaction of drawing others to you.
A strong marriage. As marriages crumble around us, the stable, happy marriage shines like a spotlight on a black night. As non-Christians struggle in their marriages, they grope for answers but rarely know where to turn. A truly happy couple appears unique. Is your marriage attractive? Can people see contrasts to the World's standards in your marriage? They should.
         May God grant us the heart & the vision to befriend the lost of the World, & to befriend each other as we draw closer to Him.