“So what do your friends think of your engagement?”
This is a question my husband, Ted, and I ask often as we mentor engaged couples, while sitting on the back porch of our Georgia home. It may seem trivial, but we’ve found that this question can be very telling of the overall health of the couple’s relationship.
Most often, the answer is, “Oh, they’re thrilled. They love him,” or “A close friend is the one who introduced us!” They tell us of godly friends who support, encourage, and build up their relationship — who offer them accountability, prayer, or simple words of encouragement. These are the stories we love to hear.
Sometimes, though, we hear something different. He tells about how a particular friendship wears negatively on their relationship. She tells of friends who lack clear boundaries or don’t view marriage as having strong value. It’s these stories that give us cause for concern.
Why do we think friends are so important? It’s quite simple really. The community of friends a couple surrounds themselves with can make or break the relationship.
It beckons back to that “choose friends wisely” mantra most of us heard from parents, teachers and youth leaders during our middle-school days. These people reminded us that our friends influence our decisions … and we want to make good decisions, right? The logic follows that we should carefully choose those with whom we spend our time.
The same is true for men and women pursuing romantic relationships. As Ted and I navigated our own romance, more than a few years ago now, we discovered that the attitudes and opinions of those we chose to confide in mattered. A lot. What they thought, believed, and said about our relationship rubbed off on us and influenced our interactions with each other.
Step 1: Choose the Right Friends
Perhaps you’re currently in a relationship, or maybe you’re still in the “hoping to be someday” chapter of your life. Either way, the same is true for you and your friendships. The close friends you keep have the potential to affect how you perceive and live out what it means to date and to one day marry.
How can you ensure that the friends you keep will have a positive influence on your romance? Here are three suggestions of qualities to look for in your close friendships.
1. A Respect for the Opposite Sex
It’s no secret that we live in a society where male bashing and female degradation are common. This is one reason surrounding yourself with people who have a general respect or positive regard for the opposite sex is important. Unlike popular culture, their affirming attitudes can influence a relationship you’re in for the better.
When we were dating, Ted and I had our share of disagreements. Fortunately, we both surrounded ourselves with friends who had a general respect for the opposite sex. They understood that sin is a human problem, not a male or female problem. As a result, when we encountered conflict, they sought to encourage us toward reconciliation, rather than resort to statements like, “Well, I’m not surprised. Men can’t be trusted,” or “Women are so confusing, don’t even bother trying to understand her.” For those of you currently in a relationship, a friend like this can do the same.
What if you aren’t dating anyone? Don’t discount the importance of this type of friend. Even now his or her positive regard for the opposite sex can influence you, serving to prepare you to better love and honor your spouse someday when you are married.
2. An Esteem for Marriage
Just as a friend’s respect for the opposite sex may impact your current or future relationship, his or her thoughts and beliefs about marriage can also influence you. If those close to you value this lifelong covenant, you’re more likely to also.
If you’re single, this means your friends will encourage you to seek out godly relationships that have the potential to result in marriage, rather than date without purpose. Why? Because they see the value in a lifelong, committed union. For those who are in a serious relationship or engaged, these types of friends will advocate that you maintain sexual purity in order to more fully live out God’s desire for marriage.
Should these friends have an over-the-top, idealistic view of marriage? I don’t think so. Rather, gravitate toward those who are realistically hopeful. This translates into an understanding that marriage is a highly rewarding union, yet it’s also one that requires hard work, perseverance, and a “never give up” attitude.
3. A Willingness to Say “No” to Being a “Yes” Person
Proverbs 27:6 tells us that “the wounds of a friend” are faithful. In other words, a good friend will lovingly tell it like it is. He or she won’t simply affirm you with soothing words. This can benefit your romantic relationship in a couple of ways.
One, these friends can help keep you accountable in areas of sin that may negatively affect your current or future relationship. For men, this could be a friend who encourages you to filter your Internet access to guard against porn. Women, for you, it may be someone who refuses to engage in gossip and challenges you to also be careful with your words.
Two, if you are currently in a relationship, in addition to providing accountability, an honest friend won’t always take your side if you encounter conflict with the person you’re dating or engaged to. Rather, he or she will offer you correction if you need it.
No matter how nice it feels to have your ego built up at times, a friend who won’t point out where you could do better isn’t going to help you or any romantic relationship you may have grow.
Step 2: Keep the Right Friends
Here’s the thing, though: When it comes to achieving the perfect mix of friendship and romance in your life, choosing good “bosom friends” (as Anne with an “e” might say) is only half the equation. After all, healthy relationships aren’t one-sided.
What does this mean for you?
Simply put, this: If you’re seriously dating, engaged, or newly married, be mindful not to neglect your friends in the pursuit and nurture of love. It’s easy to do unintentionally, but that doesn’t make it less hurtful to those who have consistently supported, encouraged, and loved you over the years. Here are some practical ways not to go MIA … or perhaps I should say MIR (Missing in Romance).
1. Prioritize Godly Friends
Adding a romantic relationship to your life means that you won’t have as much time for your friends as in the past — that’s just reality. However, spending time focusing on your relationship doesn’t mean you can’t still prioritize your close friends. Take some time to determine the friends with whom you want to spend consistent time.
2. Schedule Friendship
Once you’ve identified the friends you want to keep in your life, do something about it. Even if you have the best of intentions, a full calendar plus a romantic relationship can result in weeks going by without seeing a friend. This is why scheduling coffee or a game of basketball on a weekly, or perhaps a twice-monthly basis, is helpful.
3. Include Your Friends in Your New Reality
If your current relationship leads to marriage, both your spouse and (most likely) your close friends are going to be with you for the long haul. Create ways to spend time with both, and encourage your love interest to do the same. Plan a once-a-month dinner where you all gather, or have a viewing party for an awards show or big game.
Most of the time, our back-porch conversations about marriage, community and friendship reveal that the couples we chat with are off to a strong start. They’ve surrounded themselves with close friends who make great supporters, confidants and cheerleaders for their relationship. I hope you can say the same. If not, it’s never too late to seek out those godly influences to make sure that — in your life and relationships — friends and romance mix.
Copyright Ashleigh Slater 2016. All rights reserved.