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By Kevin Galbraith
From my study of marital relations and from personal experience, I have come to learn that nurturing friendship in marriage is critical to building a strong, healthy marriage. This conclusion is so simple, yet too often neglected in marriage.
I have observed that the breakdown of friendship is one of the primary reasons why so many marriages end in divorce today. Most marriages slowly deteriorate over a period of time. The breakdown occurs quietly and subtly, often times without a couple fully recognizing the gradual process within their own marriage. In fact, the marriage may not even be characterized by high amounts of conflict or contention, yet if the friendship is not nurtured, with time the couple is likely to become emotionally distant and slowly drift apart.
Given the many demands and pressures in life that consume our time, energy and attention, nurturing the friendship in marriage can be challenging, yet is critical to the health of the marriage.
When it comes to marriage and family relations, I have learned that the little things become the big things. The friendship in marriage must be nurtured daily through little expressions of love, appreciation and acts of kindness. Every day, a couple needs to connect emotionally and renew their friendship.
There are many ways couples can do this. My wife and I enjoy going on walks, working in the home or yard together, spending time with our children, laughing, joking and talking with one another. We also look forward to a weekly "date night."
Date night is our time to enjoy one another for an evening. Through the years we have learned to be creative with our date nights. For example, while attending school and having very little money, we were not able to afford a babysitter for the children, so quite regularly, we made $6 stretch by picking up a pizza, putting the young children to bed and spending time with one another at home. Another favorite date night is regularly attending the temple together. When we were students and didn't have money for babysitters, we regularly traded off watching the children of other young couples and went to the temple together.
I have also learned that when couples neglect to renew their friendship, not only are they likely to become emotionally distant, but also more likely to become contentious or critical of one another. In other words, friendship not only builds emotional closeness and appreciation for one another, it creates a buffer or protection against the negativity that can wear down a marriage.
To nurture friendship, couples would benefit from taking note of a few important points.
First, the critical element needed to nurture friendship in marriage is to connect emotionally. This is one of the reasons why open communication is so important. Open communication has a way of building a sense of understanding, appreciation and closeness to one another?
Second, sometimes couples can't get past the negativity to connect on an emotional basis. If this is the case, during moments when the friendship is being renewed, avoid bringing up problems or solving conflict. Conflict must be addressed by couples; however, there is a time and place to do it. If it is spilling over into the little "special moments," it can sabotage and discourage efforts to turn toward one another and nurture the friendship. Take courage in knowing that as the friendship is strengthened, your ability to effectively manage conflict will increase.
Third, be cautious about distractions or ruts that rob your marriage of time and energy needed to grow and develop. For example, TV, the computer, video games, personal hobbies, working many hours, etc., can keep couples distant. Take inventory and identify the distractions that may affect your friendship with one another. Have the courage to make needed adjustments.
Fourth, as you take the initiative and make a concentrated effort to reach out in little nurturing ways to your spouse, your efforts will act as a change agent and are likely to affect your spouse and the marriage in positive ways.
And fifth, friendship in marriage is vital to a happy marriage. If for some reason you have made a sincere effort and are having difficulties building the friendship, get help from someone in a position to help. Your marriage is worth the effort.
In conclusion, I would like to extend an invitation to those who are married. For the next week, you be the one to initiate positive changes in your marriage. As you do, note the little ways in which your love, appreciation and friendship begin to grow.
Kevin Galbraith is a member of the faculty in the Department of Home and Family at Brigham Young University - Idaho