Last week I shared some thoughts on how God uses friendships to restore wholeness in us and why we need to be intentional in how we journey with our friends. I want to continue that conversation this week, but in the context of relationships.
There’s a lot of hype about romance in relationships but friendship counts for something too, and in a big way. One of the most solid pieces of advice I’ve come across when it comes to dating and marriage is the importance of establishing a friendship before a romance. With all the ups and downs that come with relationships and life in general, it’s really important for you to be able to talk and laugh your way through different circumstances.
There are plenty of relationships and even marriages that come to an end because the two people involved either forgot they were friends, or were never friends to begin with. This means that if you take away the lovey dovey feelings, there’s nothing left to hold the relationship together.
Emotions are a terrible permanent glue for relationships because they’re fickle, they come and go as they please and can change half a dozen times in just one day. If you have a friendship in place, then you have something that can tide you over when you’re not feeling all that romantic towards each other, especially when there’s conflict. It also makes it more likely for you to treat each other like team mates on the same side trying to resolve a common issue rather than sworn enemies each striving for their victory at the expense of the other.
Not to mention, building a friendship without the pressure and expectations of dating allows you to get to know a person pretty well. By the time you’re saying yes to a relationship, you have a much better idea of what you’re getting into than you would if you dove into a relationship the moment you met. The foundation of friendship also gives you insight on what it looks like for you to steward that person’s heart in your current friendship and in your potential relationship.
Yes, there’s the possibility of them pretending their way through the friendship phase into a romance. But that’s what discernment and the Holy Spirit are for. 😉
And yes, I know there’s a lot of back and forth about whether men and women can genuinely be friends. As I’ve said before, just because boundaries have been abused on one extreme end doesn’t mean we pivot to the other extreme end and behave like we’re not co-existing as men and women in the same social circles and spheres of life. We need to learn how to relate with the opposite sex in a healthy way in different life contexts. Whatever label you want to give that, friendship or something else, is what I’m pointing to. This won’t happen when our focus is solely on leaving the proverbial space for the Holy Spirit between us. Ha!
Ideally, it should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway for the avoidance of doubt. My advocacy for friendship doesn’t mean boundaries go out the window and we lose all sense of propriety. There are levels of intimacy and exclusivity that are the sole preserve of a dating couple and others that are for they that are married. Not knowing how to differentiate what to give to a friendship and what to give to a romance is how people end up in situationships with unhealthy mental, emotional and even physical ties to one another.
When you cultivate a friendship in the midst of your peers and with the necessary accountability checks in place, you learn how to identify and establish necessary boundaries based on general principles of wisdom and unique needs you may have in the form of vulnerabilities or even weaknesses. By the time you get into a dating relationship, you have a decent grasp of how boundaries work for you and how to enforce them to protect yourself and your relationship.
Romance is indeed a fundamental thing to have in a relationship. But so is friendship. One pillar alone isn’t enough to carry the full weight of the needs you’ll have as a couple. So here’s to being both lovers and friends.