Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Real Love Story: Friendship First

This post is a continuation of the #RealLoveStory series in which I'm telling the truth about love, relationships, and marriage. As we're heading into a holiday focused on romance, I want to write about love in real life.

I die a little bit inside every time I hear someone dismiss a relationship because they're "too good of friends" with someone to start dating them. Whoever sold that lie should be forced to publicly rescind it. It was probably the same person who coined the terms "fall in love," and "follow your heart." These ideas have been misguiding people for years and it's time to make it stop.

I grew up hearing that you should marry your best friend, but I never really understood what that meant. It can be hard to comprehend something when you can't get a solid picture of it. Society makes love look like sex, romantic helicopter rides, and unreal moments that take your breath away. It's a pretty sad picture when you hold it up to real love. Sadly, real love doesn't get the representation it deserves.

The first time I finally, fully understood what "marrying your best friend" looked like was on a trip to Dallas to visit my best girl friend. She had recently married her best guy friend from college, a relationship that was platonic for a long time before it finally turned into a romantic relationship. That time of friendship set a solid foundation on which they could build their marriage. And their marriage was hands-down one of the most desirable marriages I've ever seen.

Strong friendships are the most underrated determinant for lasting relationships. The world instead likes to look to appearances, chemistry, and again, feelings. All things that are nice, but can and will fade with time. Friendship, however, spans oceans and decades, fights and family crises, beauty and pain. It is through friendship that we learn how to be there in the best of times and the worst of times. It's where we learn to give of ourselves for another, despite their deepest, darkest secrets and hidden wrongs. It is where we can know and be known for who we are right down to our soul.

Friendship is a level beyond romantic feelings and pretty faces. It takes us to deeper levels of intimacy than sex alone. It is stronger and more fortified than temporary attraction. I maintain that friendship is the singularly best way to build and form a relationship that leads to marriage, and this is why.

Friendship leads to knowing and understanding someone.

Who doesn't want to be known and understood at their core by the person they're going to spend their life with? Friendship is the gateway to truly knowing someone for who they are. Friendship often removes the barriers that we put up in romantic relationships because we're not worried about impressing anyone. We're just ourselves, and when a friendship forms, we're enabled to continue being ourselves because we know we're liked for who we are.

In my friendship with Nick, I felt free to admit to who I was. I knew if things ever turned into a romantic relationship, I'd rather he know about my past mistakes before things got too serious. I figured he should know what he was getting into. Having six years to get to know each other, we didn't have a lot of questions going into marriage. We knew we were like-minded on important things like family and marriage, religion and theology, life goals and expectations. It was an awesome transition to go from being long-term, close friends to being in a relationship.

Friendship leads to reliability and loyalty.

I don't know about you, but I am loyal to a fault to my friends. I don't care what the situation is, I will stick up for any friend who is being mistreated. I am always going to be on their team, supporting them to the best of my ability. Friendship teaches us how to consistently be there for someone, not just in the good times, but also the bad.

Having that as a foundation will absolutely help in marriage. You want to marry someone who will always be in your corner, loyal and dependable. You want someone who will show up, everyday, and fight for your relationship. Loyalty in friendship can be stronger than loyalty in romance, when feelings can fade and desires can change. Friendship can help you weather those storms.

Friendship leads to commitment and dedication.

Similarly to the point above, friendship compels us to remain dedicated to the people we are close to. There is a desire, not a compulsion, to remain a dedicated and true friend. That leads us to sacrificing some of our wants and desires for the betterment of our friendship. Friendship can help you stay committed to your spouse in the hard seasons when you may feel tempted to stray. If you can't walk out on a friend, you can't walk out on your spouse who is your friend. That close, friendship-level commitment can help you keep the vows that you make on your wedding day. The ones that go, "for better or worse, in sickness and in health."

Let's be totally honest here for a moment. Life can get boring. Marriage can get tiring. It's not always exciting and full of romance and good feelings. There are absolutely dry seasons where you're just waiting for something good to happen. There are days when all you do is watch TV on the couch in your pajamas and never see the light of day. In those times, you want to be spending your days with your best friend. You want to be able to enjoy life as it is, stripped of all the excitement and hoopla. Regular old life is still special when you get to spend it with your closest and dearest friend.

Friendship leads to acceptance.

Friendship teaches you to accept someone for who they are, not who you want them to be. There's typically no pressure to try to change for someone because in friendship you can simply be yourself. Granted, there can be times when you want to impress a potential friend, but usually that's not a solid, deep friendship. Solid friendships typically form around the people with whom you are most comfortable, and able to show your true self. These types of friendships enable us to be vulnerable, to open up about struggles, fears, and insecurities. They teach us how to be present, to care for others, and to listen, all qualities that contribute to a solid marriage.

Friendship is solid in the midst of trials.

Hard seasons and difficult times are often what rock marriages. And it's understandable, many of life's hardest experiences can come about during that season of life. It can be hard to communicate, to understand, and to stay strong in life's hardest times. A foundation of friendship can help you weather the impending challenges you will face. You've already learned how to communicate, how to remain loyal and committed, and how to understand your spouse. No, it won't be easy, but you can come out stronger as a couple.

Nick and I have only been married for a couple years, we haven't faced huge, earth-shattering challenges yet. But we have had to overcome some obstacles early in our marriage that would be tough for anyone to deal with. We had to tackle getting married, moving in together, losing a job, getting a new job, moving to a new city, losing two more jobs, financial struggles, health issues, and getting another new job, all within the first year of marriage. It was challenging most days and I struggled with identity a lot that first year.

I was thankful that Nick and I had already learned how to be there for each other in challenging situations. We had spent a majority of our relationship long-distance, which taught us how to communicate well. We had helped each other tackle different problems that sprang up in our lives when we were just friends. And with the time that it had taken for us to finally reach the point of marriage, we knew this was right and were ready to fight for each other.

I don't think our lives will be perfect from this point on. I don't think we'll be a perfect couple and never encounter marital problems. So please don't read that in what I've written. But I firmly believe that friendship, after God, has been the biggest factor for the good that has happened in our marriage. I want other people to experience the benefits of a marriage built on friendship, which is why I am and will continue to advocate for it.

Thanks for checking out the #RealLoveStory series! As always, I welcome your feedback and questions. If you have a topic you would like to see covered, you can suggest it below or shoot me an email.

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