Treating Your Spouse as a True Friend

True friendship is rare; much more often, we have friendships that are merely useful or pleasant. Our marriage should be the rarest kind of friendship, the friendship of man and woman, and when it isn’t, it’s pretty obvious.

We need useful friendships– the kinds of relationships that make for good business partners, helpful neighbors, a functioning polity. We need pleasant friendships– the kinds of relationships that provide solace and comfort, that help us recreate and play, that make life more enjoyable.

Those kinds of friendship aren’t bad, but they’re not enough. Those two, the useful and the pleasant, are all about what we get from the relationship. We also need a kind of friendship that draws us out of ourselves, and the thing that can draw us out of ourselves is the goodness of the other. That’s what happens in a true friendship, also called a virtuous friendship. The good character of the other inspires us to be better, and to help them in their growth.

Marriage, at its best, is this kind of friendship. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t, on the whole, be a useful arrangement to share life with someone else, and often marriage is a pleasant arrangement. A virtuous friendship doesn’t negate usefulness or pleasure, it just doesn’t depend on them to keep going. But marriage isn’t fundamentally a relationship of use or pleasure; otherwise, we wouldn’t have baked into the vows references to suffering and poverty.

A really easy way to tell how I view my marriage is what I let bother me. If I get bothered when my wife isn’t as useful as I would like, or if I get frustrated when our relationship isn’t as pleasurable for a season, these are signs that I’ve viewing my spouse as merely useful, or merely pleasurable. I’ve lost sight of her as a person, whose character draws me out of myself, and I’ve fallen into a pit of pity.

It’s easy to distance myself from my spouse. It’s easy to focus on my needs, and my growth. But marriage isn’t about what’s easy, it’s about entering a larger, more beautiful life with someone else, someone who is entirely other, who is loveable for their own sake.

If in your marriage you’ve drifted into seeing your spouse as a useful companion or as a pleasant housemate, may we suggest you take a step back and see them as they are: imperfect yet loveable, someone worth giving time, prayer, and effort to helping become the man or woman they’re called to be.

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