FAMILY AND MARRIAGE: Becoming best friends with a spouse
Becoming Best Friends
“A friend is someone who knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” — William Shakespeare
“There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved [phileo].” — Bible
Bill and Beatty were madly in love when they married. They looked forward to a life of bliss together. Shortly after the wedding they both settled into their careers in the business world. Then Beatty became pregnant – several times. Years later, when the children were essentially gone, Bill and Beatty realized they were strangers. They didn’t really know each other at all. Just two people with the house and children in common, and not much else.
Last week we talked about agape love, one of the four types of love found in the Bible. Agape love is that unconditional love shown to us by God and expected of us toward one another. Bill and Beatty may still have agape love toward one another, but they were in need of another type of love, called phileo love.
Phileo love can be defined as the love one feels for a cherished friend of either sex. Dr. Ed Wheat, in his book “Love Life for Every Married Couple,” says “none of the loves of marriage offers more consistent pleasure than phileo. …The camaraderie of best friends who are also lovers seems twice as exciting and doubly precious.”
However, Dr. Wheat points out that phileo love is no sure thing. Phileo love is emotional and can’t be forced, but it can be developed. It is selective, based on qualities in another person and requires enjoyable interaction. Phileo love, unlike agape love, expects a response from the other person. It is based on sharing yourself with another.
One of the benefits of a fairly lengthy courtship before marriage (and without the erotic love component of sex before marriage) is that the development of phileo love can make significant progress before the wedding takes place. Dr. Wheat suggests three phases of phileo friendship that we need to develop in our marriage.
The first phase is the Relaxation Phase. We learn to be comfortable with one another; find activities that we can enjoy together; invest enough in the relationship that we might even make some initial sacrifices in order to find common interests. We develop common goals and plans for the future, both near-term and long-range. We look for meaningful togetherness.
The development of trust is a key component of the Relaxation Phase. We know our spouse has our back. We aren’t worried about rejection. Dr. Wheat sites a Psychology Today survey asking Americans what was most valued in a friend (phileo). The top three were (1) the ability to keep confidences; (2) loyalty; (3) warmth and affection.
The second phase is the Rapport Phase. We take advantage of the trust we have built and we share aspects of ourselves that are precious and vulnerable. We truly give ourselves to our spouse; we are intimate not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
The Rapport Phase is typically more difficult for the husband. Rapport by definition is “close and harmonious relationship in which people understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” Understanding and communication go hand in hand. As we discussed in the past, women are better connectors than men. And yet in the Rapport Phase the husband must learn to communicate openly and vulnerably to his wife. Feeling accepted is a necessity in the Rapport Phase, and silence can negate acceptance.
The third and final phase is the Revelation Phase. Husband and wife are freely open to one another. “Both have gladly exchanged the original state of independence for an emotional interdependence that is unafraid to lean, to trust, to seek fulfillment of personal needs and desires.”
Dr. Wheat provides a warning about this phase, however. Phileo love feeds on response and if the marriage becomes as comfortable as an old shoe, the phileo love may be taken for granted and neglected. Phileo love must be continually nurtured.