Friday, April 19, 2013

"My Beloved,my friend..." Cultivating Companionship Within Your Marriage

"His mouth is most sweet, yes he is altogether lovely.This is my beloved, this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem." - Song of Solomon 5:16

Friend:  favored companion, one attached to another by affection or this you? Are you attached to your spouse by more than a ring, some vows, and a handful of kids?....

   I wanted to start off with this topic because close companionship is so integral to a glorious marriage. It should really be the foundation on which all relationships are built.I hope that all of you were able to become friends with your husbands before you became lovers, because a good solid friendship will be what's left holding on when romance dwindles.

Proverbs 17:17 says -

"A friend loves at all times..."

The word "friend" here is the same one used in the above verse from Song Of Solomon.I found it interesting when i looked up this passage, that is cross referenced back to Ruth 1:16 where Naomi has told her daughters-in-law to return to there own people and let her go her own way.It pointed to Ruth's famous response:
"Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go i will go; wherever you lodge i will lodge,your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die i will die and where you are buried i will be buried.The Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts you and me."
Wow, i thought, what a poetic picture of a truly beautiful, devoted friendship! This is the kind of friendship that we want out marriages built on! I had to laugh a little too because this passage reminded me of a kind of running joke that Michael and i have; if i threaten to do something that he doesn't like, he will teasingly counter threaten to go sleep in the car or on the couch ( i can't stand to sleep without him) and i always tell him "well, it's going to be awfully cramped because i'll be right there in the car or on the couch with you" and he knows it's the truth. I would be there in a heartbeat! 
So, companionship; it's foundational.
   I also wanted to start with this topic because i feel that it's one of those things that is very easily, and yet unconsciously lost. We date and get married and it's all about you and your significant other and your increasingly close and personal relationship.Then we get busy and we start to plateau. Then we have kids and suddenly the world revolves around them and we're pulled this way and that and we have to sacrifice so much of ourselves.Then slowly and silently your companionship with your husband falls into the mix and we start to back pedal without even meaning to or realizing it, until you wake up in a few years after things have settled down a little, roll over, and don't know who you're in bed with. I spoke to a woman once who was struggling with this, and she said that for the last few years she and her husband had spent all of their time and energy being parents and had forgotten to be partners.Now that their kids were a bit older and more independent,  they were left trying to figure out who they were as a couple again. Maybe it doesn't get that bad, but you get to the end of the week, end of the month, and realize that you haven't had a legitimate conversation. Michael and i went through a brief period of this where we got busy and stressed and at the end of the day all we wanted to do was veg, so, we would turn on the TV , sit next to each other, and mentally check out. This is a deceptive trap, because we were technically "spending time together", but it wasn't emotionally clocking in that way because we weren't engaging one another. It's very easy to form a habit of disengaging and then not know where to pick back up again, so you just avoid trying altogether because it's easier and keeps the peace. Or, maybe you try, but fall short because you are at a loss for ideas on how to spend those few moments of quality time together that fit within your time constraint, budget, common interests, etc.This is where we're really going to focus here, because a lot of times, all you need is that one great topic to spark a conversation, or one entertaining game or activity and the rest will just naturally fall into place. So, we're going to break down the simple, ground level basics of how to build a good friendship/be a good friend in general, and then figure out ways to apply those concepts in our already established marital relationships.

Step #1: Get to know each other
This may seem a little redundant at first - "Yeah, been there, done that.Kinda why i married the guy...."
but since we as human beings are constantly changing, learning, growing and evolving throughout our lives, i am of the opinion that no matter what type of relationship, or phase of that relationship we are in, we need to be vigilant in pursuing the latest version of both ourselves and those we are in relation to. A really simple and fun way to do this is to learn to ask questions.Think back to grade school; you see another kid on the playground who looks interesting, so you wander over and immediately and unashamedly begin firing : "What's your name? What's your favorite color? How old are you? Do you have any pets?..." And thus a friendship is born. It's the same as we get older, only the  gravity of the questions changes a bit: "What do you do for a living? How many kids do have? Where do you go to church?...". Being that we've all been with our spouses for some length of time, we just have to get a little more creative with our questions.Think you know everything there is to know about your man? If he were to have a statue erected in honor of himself, what would he want it to look like? If he could take credit for any one invention, what would it be? If he could open a restaurant, what would it be called and what type of cuisine would it serve? These may sound like silly or superficial questions, but the answers all reveal a tiny part of their personality or character, and often, one random question can lead into a more extensive, meaningful conversation that would not have otherwise taken place. I had a close guy friend that i corresponded with during his college career, and we began this little tradition of asking a random question at the end of each letter.It became a highlight of my week to get his letters in the mail, and i began to learn little personal tidbits about him that i never knew. It eventually led to us dating for a short time. Now, Michael and i love to play this game on long car rides after the usual conversations have faded. Need some fodder for creative questions? Check out the "Chat Pack". A tiny deck of cards with a plethora of great conversation starters. Or , try googling "would you rather...".( a note of caution here; be aware that you will have to deal with the usual onslaught of "dirty" versions to this game. Although, given the right time, place, and mood...but that's another topic altogether  ; )   ) There are also books available for this one. 

Step #2 Spend Quality Time Together
This is the area in which i mentioned earlier that Michael and i fell into a brief rut.For most of us, if we feel like we don't have any quality time with out husbands, it's not for a lack of time so much as it is a lack of redeeming the time we do have in a meaningful, intentional way. The TV can be a real hindrance here.We have a few shows that we like to watch and we enjoy doing that together, and sometimes, you do just need to sit back and relax in bed with a good movie, but for us it was becoming a first resort far too often. So, we decided to pick specific nights to watch TV or movies, and on the rest it was off limits.
Another pit fall is not having ideas ready when the time to use them arises. We spend several painfully boring evenings sitting around asking each other what the other one wanted to do, and in the end, that's all we did! So, being the "action plan" type, i decided to store up some ideas for future use when we needed them. I took a pretty old jar that wasn't in use, and on several small pieces of paper wrote down ideas for spending time together.Then i gave Michael the same number of papers and had him do the same. Neither one of us shared our ideas, we just put mixed them all up in the jar to draw out at random. I drew my ideas from a variety of things;  pastimes we enjoyed when we were dating, games that we hadn't played in a while, a few romantic ideas, and some new things that i'd been wanting to try. It has been a huge hit so far! ( This was our project for the meeting. See below for specific ideas and tips for doing this yourself) 

Step #3: Find Common Ground
Now i should hope by now that you and your husband know what interests you have in common. But maybe that's a short list.Maybe some of those interests and activities aren't currently available or feasible. A great way to build some awesome memories and expand the common ground between the two of you in to discover new interests together.Michael and i come from very different backgrounds. By the time we met he had traveled the world and had, in general, just experienced life on another level completely. So when we began to share experiences together i made it a point to find new things to do that neither of us had done, in addition to us sharing some of our tried and true personal favorites.Some of our best memories so far have been made this way- when there is an even experiential playing field and you embark on a journey through completely uncharted territory together. Think about it; that's one of the reasons that dating is so fun! Everything is new - there are so many "firsts". It is surprisingly simple to recreate this atmosphere within the marriage, and it is incredible fun and rewarding. The range of experiences and activities you can create and enjoy is very broad; if you have the time freedom and money, traveling to new places is always exiting and rejuvenating for a couple. But even something as simple as learning and playing a new game together can create a spark. One of the papers i put in our jar said -
"Learn a new card game." 
We love to play games, but sometimes get burned out on the two player variety that we own, so, i did an online search for two player card games and found one that looked easy and fun. Let me tell you, we have played that game over and over since then, and it's been a blast! 
  Starting projects together is more fun than it might sound like as well.There is something about working together side by side that draws people together like nothing else. Want to feel like  you and your husband are a team again? The definition of a team is - 
"A plurality of persons working together to achieve a common goal."
Find a "common goal" outside of raising a family and basic survival. It could be something that you've wanted to do around the house for a while, maybe something that you might have otherwise hired someone else to do.Maybe it's a small business venture, some type of art, or something completely new and out of the blue. Neither Michael or i know jack about cars, but we have this bucket list idea that one day we're going to buy a beater jeep or bronco and fix it up ourselves as a road trip/ weekend vehicle. I can't wait to learn alongside him! 

Step #4: Learn about/get involved in the other person's interests/hobbies
Imagine you have a friend who is great about inviting you out to do things with her.She takes you to her favorite stores, cooks you her favorite foods, shows you her favorite movies, and just really seems to enjoy your company overall.So you begin to reciprocate by trying to introduce her to your world, but suddenly she seems to always have other plans, or a better idea on where to eat or how you should spend your time together.Maybe she openly expresses disinterest in your preferences, or laughs at your tastes.... how would that make you feel? Would you consider it to be a balanced friendship? Would you continue to think of her as thoughtful and considerate, or rude and self serving? 
Ok, now; how many of your husbands are into sports? Now how many of you actually sit down and watch sports with them and are well informed enough about the rules of the game and details about their favorite teams/players to carry on an intelligent conversation? if someone is important to you as a person, and you want happiness for them, then shouldn't you put some priority into what's important to them and makes them happy? This is a great, selfless way to show someone that you care about them. Have a husband who doesn't ever want to do what you want to do? An added personal benefit to showing interest in/ getting involved in his interests and activities, is that he will be more likely to entertain your tastes in the future. When i was running this topic through Michael, i asked him how it made him feel personally when i was willing to do do something with him that he knew i didn't care for, just for the sake of pleasing him. The first thing he brought up was the movie "The Hobbit". Fantasy/sorcery/Lord of The Rings type movies hold ZERO appeal for me. Michael on the other hand finds them riveting. When the previews for The Hobbit started to air, he was ecstatic. So, on our next date night i surprised him by announcing that we would be going to see it at the movie theater. True to form, he loved it while i felt like i had wasted a VERY long 2+ hours of my life; but, this little act of deference meant the world to him. And, he added, next time we watched a movie, he would be more willing to concede to my preferences. I feel the same way when he takes me dancing. This is a passion of mine and something i did a lot of before we were married. He doesn't particularly care for it and i know that, so when he takes me, i know he is sacrificing what he would really rather be doing and that makes me feel special, cared for, and loved.

Step #5 : Be playful! Have Fun!

At our meeting i shared an excerpt from my favorite marriage book - Created to Be His Helpmeet entitled "My Jolly Playmate" in which Debi tells the story of a practical joke that she played on her 60 something year old husband, and the hilarity that ensued. It is too long for me to post here, but i encourage you to read it for yourself - along with the rest of the book! It is just a sweet, funny reminder to keep laughter and fun present in our lives. There is already so much negativity drawing us down on all fronts, our relationships should be a light in that darkness; a pleasant respite from the cynicism, bitterness, depression and strife that the world has to offer.We all need a playmate, you can never get too old or too mature, and if you're just so serious that that sounds silly, then you seriously need to lighten up! Your husband will spend his time and share his fun with someone - don't you want that someone to be you? Be his best playmate!

Step #6 : Keep in touch

No one puts time, energy and emotion into developing a valuable friendship, only to reach that point and walk away saying, "Well, that was nice.See you 'round..."A good friendship is something to be treasured,protected and preserved, and that is only accomplished though intent, diligence, a sense of purpose, and grace. Even though your marriage is progressing in the realm of time and space- by weeks and by years, your friendship with your spouse, that invaluable state of companionship, coud be stagnating.Protect against this ladies; be on your guard! Remember, friendship is foundational. If the foundation to a house is weak it may not fall, but it will creak and sag and even crack in the places that it is not well supported. You could also see it like the roots of a plant, the deeper and stronger they are, the healthier and more fruitful and beautiful the plant will be altogether; and plants with strong roots will weather the storms much better than those whose roots are shallow or stunted.

So, how do we put all of this into practice? Since we outlined six steps for building/maintaining good friendships, our challenge will have six corresponding parts:

1) Find out something about your spouse that you didn't previously know.

2) Start a project together.
3) Find some new common ground.
4) Pick one hobby/interest of your husbands and learn a little about it, then share it with him.
5)  Be playful!
6) Designate one night a week for the two of you to just reconnect.

Project: Quality Time in a Bottle

Find a pretty jar or container of some sort and write down six ideas for ways to spend those evenings together. Have your husband do the same. Don't share your ideas - it makes it much more fun to pull a surprise out of the jar! A couple of thoughts here; you may want to have a couple of different categories and color code them. For instance, things that you can do at home, things that cost money, things that require prep work or planning ahead ( to be pulled out a couple of days in advance) etc. Also, it may take your hubby a little while to get the creative juices flowing.Explain the objective, give him the papers, and give him some time. He'll get into it eventually!
Here are some of the specific ideas that we talked about at the meeting:

-Cook a meal together

-Learn a new game
-Learn a new dance step
-Take a shower together
-Take a walk
-Go get coffee
-Set up a pup tent in the back yard and have a pretend camp out
-Turn your back yard into a drive in with a movie projector and an old sheet or cheap pull down blinds.
-Get a new book and read aloud to each other
- Start an audio book
-Do a puzzle or some brain teasers
- Online personality tests ( )
- Give each other massages

Well,that's it for this time. Join us at my house on Wednesday April 24th at 7pm where we'll be discussing the topic

  "Don't Kiss Dating Goodbye"
 Until then, have fun! Be blissful! Be blessed!
~Love, Georgia

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