This is part two of a series about the more difficult parts of marriage. To read part one, click here.
I remember the first time Chad and I ever hung out as friends. I went to his apartment one January afternoon in 1996 to watch the Dallas Cowboys play in the Superbowl. I showed up in the Cowboys sweatshirt I had been gifted out of my great-grandmother’s closet when she died. Obviously I was dressing to impress. My friends and I sat nervously at the little table in his kitchen, and he and his roommates barely noticed we were there for the majority of the evening as they cheered the Cowboys on. But, something happened that left quite an impression on me that day.
Chad had offered all us girls water to drink. If I recall, the guys were serving tap water and gummy candy at their Superbowl party. Well, at some point in the game, I managed to spill my water all over the table and the floor, and when it happened I was utterly humiliated. But, Chad jumped up, grabbed some paper towels, and immediately reassured me while he was cleaning up the mess I had made. I remember thinking, He’s a kind person.
The more I got to know him, the more I wanted to be around him. He was kind. And smart. And funny. He was thoughtful and tender. In the end, Chad and I were buddies for two years before we ever went out on our first date. By then I was already pretty certain that I could live with him for the rest of my life. Because I genuinely liked him as a person before we ever got all tangled up in romance.
But, how do you maintain that friendship as the years go by? After all, people change, and Chad and I certainly have. The distractions in life get louder and more frequent with every child that’s born. As your responsibilities grow, so do the commitments that rob your spouse of your time and energy. It’s easy to look up one day and realize that you don’t have much of a friendship with your husband or wife any longer, especially when you feel like you’re just barely surviving your day-to-day tasks. Resentment can grow. And, before long you can’t even remember what you ever saw in each other.
None of us wants to see that happen in our marriage. We want marriages that are fulfilling and dynamic and that enrich our lives and our faith. So, how do we remain friends through all the ups and downs of life together?
First, we have to remember who we married. Chad is different in lots of ways from that twenty year old boy that I met all those years ago. But, the core of who he is is exactly the same. He’s still kind, smart, funny, tender and thoughtful. I could let petty annoyances cloud the truth that he is still the best person that I know. In my self-centeredness, I could get worked up over things that are of no consequence and miss all of the evidence in our life that he is pretty wonderful. When I focus on the things that I love about him, the very things that drew me to him in the first place, I find that I can offer more grace, overlook the little things that could cause strife between us, and appreciate him more.
We also need to remember who our spouse married. We have to examine ourselves and ask if we have pulled a switcheroo on our husband or wife. When Chad and I were dating, I laughed a lot. I had a positive outlook on life. I encouraged him and built him up at every opportunity. I was playful and fun, and I was pleasant to be around. I want to make it easy for Chad to remember why he fell in love with me. But, I make it a lot harder for him if I’m moody and grouchy, negative, belittling, and discouraging. Chad and I have fun together because we enjoy being around each other. No one looks forward to coming home to a grumpy complainer. But, if both of us are trying to be enjoyable people, then we can have fun just hanging out in our living room after the kids are in bed. No big plans or elaborate dates necessary, and no punishing each other with the silent treatment or constant nagging.
Another way to maintain friendship is to cultivate an atmosphere of fun in marriage. You might be surprised how easy this is to do. Inside jokes are a cheap and simple way to have secret fun with your spouse. Chad and I have have some inside jokes that we have been referring to for almost 20 years. Something can be said in a crowded room that will cause us to immediately look at each other and grin, and no one else in the world knows why we’re suddenly so entertained. Flirting is low-effort fun. It’s so easy to wink at your husband or wife, to send a suggestive message during the day, or to figure out ways to get alone together without being discovered by the kids. Chad and I enjoy going places, just walking around at the mall window shopping with all the kids in tow or driving to a neighboring town to eat tacos just because we feel like it. Our mantra on most days is, Why not? We’re grownups. We can do what we want. And we load the kids up and take off, usually enjoying interesting conversation on our drive.
Chad and I almost never go on date nights. We rarely spend big money on a meal or take trips alone. We live a simple, imperfect life filled with more dirty laundry and messes than we care to admit. Every day isn’t the most memorable day of our lives. But, we both readily agree that there is no person in the world that we would rather hang out with, because we are friends first and everything else second. I pray that we will be able to maintain our close friendship for the rest of our lives. As long as I remember who I fell in love with and I strive to be who he fell in love with and he does the same for me, I think we’ll be able to giggle together all the way to our rocking chairs. I’m grateful to have married a true friend, and I won’t forget it, even when he forgets to pick up his socks. After all, a friend loves at all times.