A book by
Monsignor Philip D. Halfacre
With foreword by
Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.
Why is Friendship Important
Many people measure their happiness by the quality of their personal relationships. No one relates perfectly and even those who relate well can see from time to time that they need to improve. This book offers insights to help the reader do precisely that.
In all of our interpersonal relationships - especially in the family - we create an environment or a culture. Ideally, we create a culture of love - one where people have the experience that they are loved and that they matter, that they are accepted for who they are and that they are forgiven. But friendship entails more than warm feelings and personal sharing. Sustaining such relationships, and fulfilling the expectations that are naturally a part of them, requires real strength of character - especially if we are to persevere in them through the years.
When we succeed in creating a culture of love, people have the experience of being truly united with each other. And whether it is with a friend, a spouse, or with God - it is the experience of intimacy. We naturally desire it because we were made for it.
Father Benedict Groeschel wrote in the Foreword, "This book is based on the fascinating idea that in all of our personal relationships, including marriage and our relationship with God, there is a basic underlying friendship that unites the persons involved. The quality of these relationships is determined by the way in which that underlying friendship is lived out. This is the genuine friendship that this book is about."
"Very insightful! The examples and illustrations make it easy to understand."
- Mrs. Tanya Thompson
Wife and mother of four
"The purpose of this book is to explain the basic framework of interpersonal relating, while giving practical suggestions for relating better. The author has done his work in a very competent and imaginative way. I have been studying relationships all my life, and I learned a number of things from this book. ... The underlying message of the book is that we can indeed grow in the ability to relate well and communicate love. It is full of stories and examples that will inspire you to do just that."
- Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.
From the Foreword:
"This is a great read for anyone who is interested in the subject of friendship - as I am. It's engaging and thought provoking. The reader is taken on a wonderful tour of the intellectual history of this most important element of human flourishing while being led to new and important insights. Msgr. Halfacre gets at the heart of why character is essential to friendship and why we really can't be good friends or spouses or religious or priests without it."
- Msgr. Stuart W. Swetland, S.T.D.
Vice-President, Mount Saint Mary's University
Former Newman Chaplain, University of Illinois
We Were Made for Love
Genuine Friendship is a book about relating. It is about the art of friendship considered broadly, including the friendship between a husband and wife and the friendship between God and His people. Most people value their close personal relationships more than anything else in life. In the Scriptures we read, "A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence." (Sirach 6:14-15) It is interesting to note that the "faithful friend" is described as a "treasure." We usually use that word to describe something that is not only very good but also somewhat rare. Since antiquity the true, faithful friend has been viewed as something rather uncommon. Aristotle, who saw genuine friendship as a virtue, said that this type of friendship is rare because this type of man is rare. How many really virtuous men or women are there? C. S. Lewis made the same point: "few value it because few experience it."
Even those who are not blessed with many friends or with particularly good friends recognize that friendship is an important part of life. When asked what he or she values most in life, most will answer something like, "The people I love." Our greatest joys in life are our associations and relationships with people. Whether it is our spouse, our children, God, or our best friend, our lives are centered around other people. We need them. The things in our life simply won't do. And the reason for that is simple - things can't love us. We want to love and to be loved. It is the way we were made. We were made for interpersonal union - made to give ourselves to others and to receive the gift of others. And this sharing in the life of others is an integral aspect of our fulfillment. We find ourselves only by the sincere gift of ourselves. While some seem to live this way with the greatest ease and naturalness, many find this is the greatest struggle of their lives.
The good news is that we can improve in the way we relate to others. Healthy relating is both an art and a science. You can't read yourself into good relationships, but you might pick up an insight or two. And if that insight gives rise to better relating, then the time spent reading Genuine Friendship will be time well-spent. You can read more about these things in the first chapter, "We Were Made for Love." Some of the topics include:
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
Why People Feel "Disconnected"
In my life as a priest, I encounter people both young and old who express a desire to have deeper and more satisfying relationships. Many feel disconnected from others. High speed Internet access, instant messaging, e-mail, and cell phones have become a permanent part of our culture. Yet, ironically, people today seem to be less connected in the deeper, substantial, and more personally satisfying ways. It is as though technology is rebounding back on us. People claim they have no time. Think of the last time you wrote a letter - or even a note. Written - not typed. There is something about a handwritten note that is different from one that is typed - much less an e-mail. It is a personal communication in a richer sort of way. One might ask, "Who has time for a handwritten note today?" That's our problem. We don't have time today. Is it that we don't have time or that we don't make time? There has been a cultural shift in the way we communicate, and that, in turn, has had an effect on our relating. We have traded substance and depth for speed and convenience.
Looking at the state of affairs in the world today, we might easily conclude that there is a crisis in interpersonal relating - in both friendship and in marriage. Is "crisis" too strong a word? I'll let readers decide that for themselves, but one should take careful note of the findings that were reported in the June 2006 issue of the American Sociological Review. ASR is the flagship journal of the American Sociological Association. Though primarily a journal for professionals in the field of sociology, ASR also publishes articles of general interest. The June 2006 issue featured an article that was widely covered by the national news media. Researchers at the University of Arizona and Duke University conducted a sociological study that replicated a study done twenty years earlier. The participants were asked to give the first name or initials of all the people, including family members, with whom they discuss "important matters." When this question was asked in 1985, the respondents, on average, said they had three such people. When this same question was asked in 2004, the average had dropped to two. What I find particularly alarming is that one fourth of the participants indicated, even after further probing by the researcher, that they had no one with whom they could discuss important matters. Twenty-five percent of the population has no one to talk to about the things that really matter to them - not even a spouse or some other family member.
The experience people have of feeling disconnected affects more than friendships. Relational difficulties affect family life as well. How many people there are who want to end the relationship with the person with whom they were once madly in love! Perhaps the real problem lies in the misunderstanding of genuine intimacy, and experience thereof. People today seem confused on what real intimacy is, and too often simply equate it with sex. Intimacy is a matter of really connecting with another - two persons deeply sharing their inner selves. It happens between two close friends, and it should happen between a husband and wife. But it often does not happen. The crisis in genuine friendship is particularly visible in the casual sexual relationships and casual marriages that are part of today's culture. It is not uncommon to hear of marriages ending after one or two months. How can this be? Certainly relationships vary in intensity and depth. But if one's deepest friendship and greatest intimacy is with one's spouse, how can that relationship end after only a few months? It is incomprehensible. Where is the friendship? And where there is a lack of genuine intimacy in marriage, people can begin to look for other ways to meet their need for intimacy, perhaps repeating over and over their superficial or unhealthy or dysfunctional patterns of relating that only deepen their isolation and increase their loneliness.
The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. We are capable of making improvements. Successful interpersonal relating - including the relating that is an integral part of marriage - is both an art and a science. God has endowed each person with gifts and talents, as well as with a temperament. That's the "science" part. But there are also skills of interpersonal relating that need to be acquired and, to some degree, perfected. That's the art side of it. I am convinced that the art of friendship, including the friendship of marriage, and friendship with God, offers each of us opportunities for growth. All of that, in a nutshell, is what this book is about.
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
What is Friendship?
What does it mean to be a friend? We have numerous people who enter into our lives at one level or another: neighbors, co-workers, players on our softball team, etc. Some of them are merely acquaintances - people whom I have met. We have more interaction with others, but not enough to call the relationship a friendship. Perhaps we could call these people "casual friends," "buddies," or as C.S. Lewis called them - "companions." Though we may spend a good deal of time with these people, true friendship entails something more than that. Friendship involves a quality of interaction that is missing in these other relationships. I'm not implying that the "buddy" relationship is not an important one - but it isn't friendship.
Marriage is a type of friendship. If we look for a moment at married couples, we see some interesting things. Some couples interact as the best and dearest of friends - but clearly not every married couple relates in this way, and some spouses have a marital relationship that bears rather little resemblance to friendship. What is friendship, and what can we do to improve the friendships we have - including marital friendship?
People have been talking and writing about friendship since antiquity. In the ancient world, people like Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca wrote about this subject. In the Middle Ages, Augustine and Aelred added their thoughts to the conversation. Michel de Montaigne composed an essay "On Friendship" in the Renaissance. And in modern times, C.S. Lewis is arguably the most commonly recognized author on this subject. His celebrated book, The Four Loves, was written about fifty years ago.
Though people have been writing about friendship for a couple of millennia, it is interesting to see how much these acclaimed authors disagree on the topic. One who studies the subject expecting these writers simply to rehash the ideas of their predecessors will be in for a surprise.
We all have an intuitive sense of what friendship is. A friend is someone I am close to - someone I trust and with whom I experience a sense of harmony. Friends have some things in common that in some way bring the two of them together, either because it entails them doing things together (like fellow golfers) or because they tend to see things in the same way because of their similar values. But when it comes right down to it, what is at the heart of friendship? Is the essence of friendship primarily the affection that friends have for each other, or is it more a matter of the loyalty they have to one another? Is friendship fundamentally a matter of having common interests, or is it more important that they have personalities that "click" with one another?
What about the issue of character strength and virtue? You don't have to be a good man or a good woman to be, say, a good cook. Do you have to be a good man or woman in order to be a good friend? The way you answer that question says a lot about your philosophy of friendship. People like Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine believed that character strength was essential to friendship - so much so that, as they saw it, one cannot truly be a friend without it. C.S. Lewis, on the other hand, thought virtue was irrelevant to friendship. As he saw it, friendship "makes good men better - and bad men worse."
Friendship, as I see it, is a habitual way of relating to a person. People are friends because they choose to be. What unites them as friends is not - as C.S. Lewis thought - their mutual interests. Rather, as I see it, what unites people as friends is their mutual interest in one another. And because of this mutual interest they have in one another, they choose to relate to one another as friends. In choosing to be friends, we choose to share our lives with one another in personal and meaningful ways - in ways that involve some sort of vulnerability inasmuch as we share with our friends the things we don't share with others. Many people know my face, but my friend knows my heart.
As the relationship of friendship develops, a couple of things begin to happen. First, we begin to assume some degree of responsibility for one another. It doesn't have to be a lot - but we no longer interact as mere acquaintances. Naturally, closer friends (including spousal friends) assume more responsibility for one another than do those who are merely casual friends.
Besides assuming responsibility for one another, we also begin to have expectations of one another. If I tell my friend something in confidence, I have the expectation that he or she won't reveal my secrets to others. That's just one example of the expectations we have of friends. One can easily think of others.
In The Four Loves, Lewis seems to be saying that what makes people friends are their common interests. While I respectfully disagree with Lewis on this point, I do think friendship is lived out through common activities and common interests. Doing things together doesn't make two people friends, and having common interests doesn't make them friends either - but those who are friends do things together, often because of their similar interests. These shared activities are important in that they provide a context for the friendship to be lived out and experienced. Whether it is playing golf, working on a project, having lunch, or simply talking on the telephone, friends need a context for their friendship to be lived out. Without such favorite common activities, we won't establish new friendships nor sustain the ones we have. Lewis had an important insight in this regard. He wrote, "Those who have nothing, can share nothing; those who are going no where can have no fellow travelers."
You can read more about these topics in chapter two, "A First Look at Friendship" and in chapter three, "The Love That Is Friendship." Some of the topics in these two chapters include:
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
Why Character Strength and Virtue Are Important
Every personal relationship, whether casual or deep, entails some sort of commitment. Once people are committed to each other, they can no longer relate as strangers, and to do so would be odd. Indeed, the degree to which we are willing to commit ourselves determines the nature of the relationship and its depth.
What is the commitment we make? At one level, we commit ourselves to a person by committing ourselves to fulfilling the duties and expectations that are inherent in the relationship. Every relationship has them. Many of these expectations are more or less vague, and duties are rarely spelled out. Yet we have an intuitive sense when a certain something is due to someone in our life because of the nature of our relationship.
Suppose Katie and Ann live next door to each other. As two people who happen to live next door, they could relate more or less as strangers - as some neighbors do. Or, not wanting to remain strangers, they could begin to relate as neighbors and continue relating that way through the years. Katie and Ann indeed interact as neighbors - greeting each other and looking out for each other. Katie is going to be gone for several days, and she asks Ann to keep an eye on her place and pick up her mail each evening. That is a reasonable expectation of neighbors. One could say Ann has the duty to do this. There are some neighbors who do more - or even far more - than one could reasonably expect of a neighbor. They are more than neighbors, they are good or even great neighbors.
Every relationship has these expectations. There are duties or expectations associated with friendship, and the closer the friends, the greater the duties. There are fewer duties in a casual friendship than in a deep one. With a friend who is like your other self, there are a lot of duties. Take a simple example: A father just arrived at his daughter's wedding rehearsal when he notices the battery in his camera has died. He says to his dear friend who is also at the rehearsal, "My camera battery just died. Would you run to the drugstore and get me a new one?" Does the friend have the duty to do this? Given the context (it is his daughter's wedding rehearsal) and the friendship between them, I would argue that he does have a duty to do this. It is part of the nature of friendship. Friends not only share each other's joys and sorrows, they are committed to each other and desire each other's good, their well-being. We want our friends to flourish and to be happy, and we are willing to do what we can to bring that about. These are the duties of friendship. Closer friends have more duties than casual friends; still, some friends (close or causal) do more or even far more than their friendship would require. They are good friends, great friends, or even heroic friends.
The same can be said of marriage. In the Rite of Marriage, just before the couple exchanges vows, the priest says, "[The Lord Jesus] has already consecrated you in Baptism and now seals and strengthens your love with a special sacrament so that you may assume the duties of marriage in mutual and lasting fidelity." What are these duties of marriage? There are the obvious things like sexual fidelity, but certainly it includes more than that. One would be hard pressed, however, to come up with a list that spells them out. One is obliged to fulfill one's duties, and in so doing one is simply doing one's duty. One can also do more than one's duty, and in so doing one's love is greater because one willingly goes beyond the fulfillment of his or her obligations. Suppose Jessica develops a sinus infection and feels miserable. Does her husband, Tim, have a duty to go to the pharmacy to pick up Jessica's prescription? I would argue that he does. But Jessica also likes to have an attractive garden. Does Tim (who cares little for flowers) have a duty to spend every Saturday in May planning, buying, arranging, and planting the garden? I would argue he does not. He may nevertheless choose to do so, and if he does so choose he is doing more than his duty. Every relationship is this way: we have things that we have a duty to do, and if we do more we move into the realm of generosity. Jesus said to his disciples, "When you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" When we enter into a relationship with someone - whether it is a professional relationship, a friendship, a marriage or parenthood - we willingly assume duties. We must not think of ourselves as generous because we do that which we are obliged to do.
So every personal relationship naturally gives rise to expectations - either arising from specific commitments or from the nature of the relationship itself. We expect people to keep their commitments, and their doing so is one measure of their maturity and their character. That being said, all us know people who simply don't do a very good job at fulfilling the reasonable and realistic expectations that others have of them. They let people down. Presumably they don't mean to, and perhaps they are not even aware if it - but they disappoint people nonetheless. This happens in friendship and it happens in marriage - it happens in all of our personal relationships.
Virtue is the inner strength or power that enables us to do what we should do - following through on commitments and fulfilling the reasonable expectations others have of us. Virtue, as Benedict Groeschel stated in the Foreword, "is the inner strength we need to overcome our narcissistic and self-indulgent tendencies." Character strength and virtue give us the capacity for friendship. Without real strength of character, we will never be capable of genuine friendship - including marital friendship.
You can read more about character strength and see illustrations of the ways it bears upon one's capacity for friendship in chapter three, "The Love That Is Friendship."
For more information, click on the Table of Contents.
We Establish a Culture in Our Relationships
If we had to choose between all goods of the world and having true friends, we would choose to have friends. The reason is obvious enough - silver and gold can't love us, but our friends do. We naturally desire friends - people who love us - because we want to love and to be loved. In friendship, especially spousal friendship, we create a culture of love.
The word "culture" is used in many different ways. When I use the word, I have the following notions in mind. A culture is the particular way of valuing, and acting, that is characteristic of some specific group. There is, for example, the culture of one's work environment. One could think of nurses on a given floor at a hospital, who as a group have embraced certain values regarding the way they provide healthcare and the way they relate to one another. When new nurses come to the department, it would be communicated either formally or informally, "This is the way we do things here."
This idea of culture is seen more clearly in the context of a family. The values embraced by the family members heavily influence the way they live family life. For example, the parents might have the expectation that the children are home for a family dinner on specific nights of the week. Another aspect of the family culture is the way they communicate approval and disapproval. Hopefully, each family member does his or her part to create an atmosphere - a culture - where everyone in the family feels at home in the family home and knows that it is a place where love and acceptance are the operating principles. These things determine the way they live family life. It is the way they do things, and it is based on the values they have collectively embraced as a family.
Friends also create a culture in the way they interact and communicate. In a way that is similar to flourishing families, friends establish a culture of love. It's as though friends say to one another, "I know that I am at home when I am with you." The closer the friends are to one another, the more this will be the case.
The creation of a culture of love doesn't happen automatically. It doesn't always happen among friends, it doesn't always happen with people who are dating, and it doesn't always happen in a family. But it can happen, and it should. When it does occur, a climate is created where people know (because of their continual experience) that their family/friends are interested in them, that they matter, that they are accepted, and that they have their approval. As the philosopher Josef Pieper put it, we communicate to those we love, "It is good that you exist!" This habitual way of relating gives our friends the experience that we are attentive to them. We know what is going on in their lives and we respond to them accordingly. We are not in their lives as a spectator - but as a participant.
In creating a culture of love, we form mental and emotional associations. Perhaps you can recall some specific place where you had a very negative experience, causing you much stress. It could have been the ice cream parlor where you broke up with your boyfriend, or the art room of your grade school. Because of the power of association, you can experience stress by returning to those places even years later. "I don't like coming back here. I have bad memories tied to this place." But it works the other way too, with positive associations. We can have a restaurant with powerfully positive associations connected with it. "My best friend and I have had many meals here and shared with each other the stories of our lives." Most importantly, positive associations connect us in a good way with persons - the persons who love us most. Just being with them, even when very little is said, is an experience of an established culture of love. This culture of love is precisely what enables people to flourish, and it gives people a healthy confidence in their interpersonal relating.
We were made for love. When we see that we matter to the important people in our life, that they take an interest in us, that we have their acceptance and approval, that they rejoice in our friendship - all of this taken together gives us the experience of solidarity. This is the exact opposite of feeling alone. When I know that I am loved, I know that I am never alone - our friends are with us even they are absent. In spousal friendship, an abiding solidarity can arise from the raising of children, the living of family life and, of course, in the experience of their marital affection and erotic love. Friendship, affection, and erotic love coming together all at once can create an experience of romance. When marital love is lived well, the spouses know they are never alone. Some have spoken of their marital friendship continuing even after a spouse has died. As one aged widow put it, "Now that he has gone to Jesus, he is with me all the time. I talk to him many times every day. Before long we will be together again in the Kingdom."
You can read more about how we establish of a culture of love in chapter four: "Friendship Is Experienced as a Culture of Love." Some of the topics in chapter four include:
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
What is Intimacy?
As we continue our conversation about friendship, about the relationship between two people who genuinely care about each other, we turn now to the topic of intimacy. In a certain sense, Genuine Friendship, more than anything else, is a book about intimacy. When any two people enter into each other's lives in such a way that the experience for each of them is not "I" and "thou" but rather "we," they have at some level established intimacy. We know that we cannot be fulfilled by ourselves. Only by mutually entering into the life of another, or others, will that love for which we were made begin to be realized in us.
The word intimate comes from the Latin word intimus, which is the superlative of intus, meaning "within." Intimus is that which is deepest within me. Intimacy is about sharing your life and letting another see what you are really like on the inside - your joys and hopes, your fears and anxieties. The idea of letting someone get to know me "on the inside" can be frightening inasmuch as it makes me vulnerable. But this interpersonal sharing of people's lives gives depth to our loving. It is part of our human nature that we desire to be loved, to be accepted, and to be appreciated. If I am to be loved deeply, I must let myself be deeply known. This is what intimacy is all about.
Intimacy, properly speaking, is more than an emotion. It is a spiritual reality, inasmuch as it involves the union of two persons. The degree to which two people are intimate with each other is measured in terms of how much they enter into and share each other's lives. If we open ourselves to each other, we know how the other thinks and feels. If we can reveal the secrets of our heart to each other without fear, and if this relationship has endured over time, then we have an intimate relationship. There will be moments when this intimacy will be felt - moments when I feel particularly close to you. It is an experience of oneness, of interpersonal union, and this experience of intimacy is a profoundly positive one. Some would argue it is the most positive experience one can have. "I feel connected with the one I love. I am not alone."
However, the intimacy itself is something larger than the feeling of intimacy. When two people intimately share their lives the relationship is, in fact, an intimate one. Sometimes the intimacy is felt, and at other times it is not. A few parallels may help to illustrate this.
There is a difference between being sick and feeling sick. Suppose you wake up in the morning, and you just don't feel right. The barometric pressure is low, and you didn't get as much sleep as you needed. You aren't sick; you just don't feel very well. Compare that with the man who feels fine but has some peculiar symptoms. He goes to the doctor and is told he has cancer. He feels fine, but he is not fine. He is sick.
A mother gets a phone call at midnight from her son, who is calling from the county jail. He has been arrested for drunken driving. The mother is angry, she is hurt, she is embarrassed. She doesn't love her son any less at this moment, but she doesn't feel particularly close to him right now.
It works the other way too. Two people can relate physically, sexually, in a very intimate manner and in a way that carries with it very highly charged intimate feelings. Yet there may be very little true intimacy between them. It feels very intimate, but the feeling is an illusion. There is an insight here. What we want is real intimacy.
People differ in the way they communicate and experience intimacy. It seems that some of this is determined by one's temperament, as well as by one's maturity and life experiences. Some connect very quickly with people. They are inclined to trust, and to communicate freely. We get to know them much more quickly than those who are more reticent and taciturn. It may take a long time to get to know them because they are not inclined to reveal much of themselves, at least not right away. But generally, the more one experiences acceptance and love, and the less one has the feeling of fear and anxiety, it is increasingly likely that he or she will be open to the self-revelation that is integral to intimacy.
The sense of connecting with another can be experienced in a variety of ways. It can happen through our conversations, or in the things friends do together. When a friendship is firmly established, any common activity done together has a way of uniting the friends. This is true of spouses as well. Suppose it is Memorial Day weekend. Jake and Anne spend the day working outside in the yard, mowing the lawn, trimming the hedge, and planting flowers for the summer. The nature of their activity was not, in itself, intimate. But two things enabled them to experience solidarity. First, a foundation had already been established in their relationship - in this case, they are happily married. Secondly, they had the sense that they were doing something together, not simply doing things at the same time.
In a relationship, people experience the unity of intimacy by being aware that they have each, to one degree or another, assumed responsibility for the other. They have a shared history and an anticipated future. This plays a large role in people feeling connected with one another. Even when people have rather infrequent contact, strong bonds forged years ago can continue to bind them together. It is not just our past that binds us, we also are connected to people by our confidence about our relational future. As I look at my life, imagining how each of us will continue to assume the responsibilities of friendship - that awareness of our future gives me a sense of our unity here and now. This is clearly the case in the commitment-for-life of a husband and wife.
At the beginning of this section, we saw that the word "intimate" comes from a word meaning "within." It is essential to intimacy that, in some way, I communicate to you the matters of my heart - and that you respond appropriately. We communicate a great deal through bodily language - through a pat on the back, playful activity, a hug, a kiss, or lovemaking. And the things we do for each other communicate our love as well. But the ones who really seem to flourish in their intimate relating also have the ability to communicate their love verbally. Conversation is an important part of intimacy. Not surprisingly, those who have difficulty communicating verbally often experience relational inadequacy as a result, wondering whether their loved-ones really know just how much they are loved.
You can read more about the topic of intimacy in chapter five, "The Intimacy of Friendship," and in chapter six, "Intimacy between Men and Women." Some of the topics in those two chapters include:
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
Friendship between Spouses
The spousal relationship is an intriguing phenomenon to observe since the many elements that go into marriage create broad differences in the way people live out their married lives. Not every culture sees marriage as a kind of friendship, though we in the West generally do. At the very least, married people have the hopeful expectation that they will interact as friends. I once mentioned to a middle-aged woman that I had written something on marital friendship. She jokingly responded, "You mean I have to be friends with my husband?" While it is plainly obvious that some marriages bear rather little resemblance to friendship, many married couples do indeed relate and interact as the best and dearest of friends - and I think they are happier because of it.
Marital friendship differs from ordinary friendship in at least four ways. The first difference stems from the simple fact that men and women are different from one another. And as an old professor of mine used to say, "It's more than simply a difference in plumbing." Masculinity and femininity complement one another - but with this difference comes the possibility for conflict. Men think like men; women think like women. I don't want to overstate this difference, but it is a real one. The second rather obvious difference between marital friendship and ordinary friendship is the sexual nature of marriage. Thirdly, spousal friends live together under the same roof and naturally spend a good deal of time together. This can be experienced as a challenge from time to time. And finally, spouses have to work together to run the household and raise their children. All of these things provide opportunities for the husband and wife to come together and experience a unity and harmony that is simply not possible in ordinary friendship. But each of these things also provides opportunities for disagreement and discord.
When faced with difficulties, we have a variety of ways in which we might respond - and not all of them are good. Some resort to domination or manipulation; others simply avoid conflict altogether. They essentially opt out of the decision-making process and refuse to deal with matters that really should be addressed. Other couples have good problem-solving skills. And through the years, they fine tune the art of working through the challenges that life brings, finding solutions that both spouses can live with.
On the day of their wedding, husbands and wives naturally desire to be good spouses who are devoted to their family. Marriage is like a multi-faceted diamond where many elements combine to make one a good spouse. Some people are very good spouses; others are less so. I think people relate along a continuum: a few are heroic and a few are horrible. Most are somewhere in between. As Fr. Benedict Groeschel wrote in the Foreword, "A lot of us more or less schlep through life, doing the best we can with the circumstances we face." But there are several areas where - by focusing one's attention - one can improve a marital relationship. Here are a few of them.
In every personal relationship, we have expectations of one another - most especially in marriage. I'm not talking about satisfying a spouse's whims and fancies - but the reasonable and realistic expectation that that one's spouse will be and do the things that are part and parcel of married life. In earlier sections, we saw how character strength and virtue give one the capacity to fulfill such duties and expectations. Naturally, when one lacks character strength, he or she will struggle to live married life well. If I am prone to giving in to my self-centered and narcissistic tendencies, I am hardly in a position to give generously of myself. Part of me may want to do so - but the inner strength that is at the heart of character and virtue is not acquired overnight. To the extent that one grows in this area, which is sometimes simply a matter of maturation, the quality of married life will likely improve - and the rest of one's life along with it. So that's the first thing people can do to improve their marriage - struggle to do the things one ought to do rather than simply doing what one may want to do at any given moment.
Secondly, if people are going to be happy in marriage, it is important that they have the experience of being loved. Each of us has our favorite ways of communicating love and our favorite ways of receiving love. In happy marriages, the husband and wife discover how their spouse likes to receive love, keeping in mind the husband's favorite way of receiving love may not be his wife's favorite way of showing love - and vice versa. Though this is a rather obvious point, it is often overlooked. Loving people in the ways they want to be loved, so to speak, keeps their "love tank" full. When we feel as though we are loved, valued, and appreciated, there is seemingly no limit to what we will do for our loved ones. But when we don't feel loved, even small things seem burdensome.
A marital friendship, like all of our personal relationships, is something that needs to be fed and nurtured. That is what we tried to communicate through the illustration on the cover of the book. The tree represents a relationship - which you can tell is young by the fact that it is braced. The man and woman are lifting the giant watering can in order to nurture the little tree. That is precisely what we have to do in all our relationships, including marriage - we must to work to nurture them.
You can read more about communicating and experiencing marital love and see some narrative illustrations in chapter six: "Intimacy between Men and Women."
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.
Can We Really Be Friends with God?
We become like our friends, and becoming friends with God entails our becoming more like Him. It is the process of conversion. It can have dramatic moments, but in reality, it is the work of one's whole life. For some, it begins by subtly hearing Jesus speaking to their heart, "Come follow me." Others are seeking deeper meaning in life. Still others, worn out by life, respond to Jesus' invitation, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
Human persons were made for love - for deep, interpersonal relating. We have looked at friendship and at what it means to be a good friend. We have also looked at marriage, which is a unique type of friendship. But this work would not be complete without taking a look at the most important of all our friendships - our friendship with God. I say that it is the most important because it is the reason for our existence. As I like to say, God did not create us simply to be "rule-keepers." He created us so that we might share intimately in His own divine life, and He extends that invitation to every person He has made.
God has revealed that He Himself is a trinity of persons - a divine family existing eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though completely fulfilled in what He is, out of His infinite goodness and love, He created human persons so that we might share in His divine life. Admittedly this is a great mystery. Why would the infinite God desire an intimate relationship with human persons?
"Why does God love you?" It is a more profound question than it may seem. I often ask that question of my students, and the most commonly given answer is, "Because He made me." But that isn't really a very good answer. True, God did make us, but He also made my Labrador retriever and the tree in my front yard. God loves everything He has made, but He loves us differently. Only human persons (and angels) are invited to share intimately in God's inner life, as members of His family. We know that He loves us, because He has revealed this to us throughout salvation history. But why does He so love us? As I said, it's a mystery. He just does. Perhaps the closest explanation is that He loves us because we are His. We're His kids. Why does your dad love you more than he loves the kids next-door? Because you are his son or daughter.
Lived in its fullness, it is an incredibly rich relationship. He is for us far more than simply creator and judge. He has revealed to us that He desires to be our dad, our savior, our teacher, our friend, etc. Jesus didn't come to us simply to give us information. He came to heal the relationship with the Father that was broken by sin. In His words and deeds, He reveals the love of the Father.
In ways that are often mysterious, God offers to every person He has made the invitation to an intimate relationship. The drama of every person's life is the way he or she responds to God's invitation. Because of the nature of intimate relating, because it involves self-revealing and self-giving in a deeply personal way, it is always a fruit and an expression of freedom. No one can make me do it - I do it freely, and I do it by degree. Looking at the relationships we have with people closest to us, we see how our lives become intertwined. Growing in holiness means our life is increasingly intertwined with God's life, and intertwined with each other through, with, and in Him. At any given moment in our life, we can discover the beauty and desirability of such a relationship. By accepting, embracing, and fulfilling the will of God in all things, our lives - individually and collectively - come together as a marvelous tapestry. And to the extent this happens, we become powerful instruments in the hand of God. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches, bearing much fruit for the Kingdom.
You can read more about this in chapter seven, "Intimate Friendship with God." Some of the topics include:
For more information, see the the Table of Contents.