We have all heard (or even experienced first-hand) the romantic tale of a friend swept off her feet; of couples falling head over heels in love; of love at first sight. Fairy tale romances? Perhaps, but loving someone and being in love are not the same thing.

Unless you’re Cinderella, you can’t build a family – a home – with the wave of a wand or the sprinkling of fairy dust. Marriage is challenging enough without building it upon a strong foundation. Just like the parable in the Bible of the two houses (Matthew 7:24-27), you need a “solid rock,” in this case, a strong friendship, upon which you and your future spouse will build your marriage.

Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock. Matthew 7:24 KJV

We go through great pains to prepare ourselves for most aspects of life. First, we go to school. We take the time to study, go to classes that get progressively more difficult, do research, all while following a carefully laid out academic plan.

We often begin our careers “at the bottom” and then diligently pay our dues as we work our way up the proverbial ladder to success. We carefully choose our homes, researching communities, amenities, giving great consideration to the number of bathrooms or square footage––even closet space. Shouldn’t we pour the same amount of time and effort into learning about the person we plan to spend the rest of our lives with?

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock —Matthew 7:25 KJV

No marriage escapes stormy weather. Better to learn to weather the storms together as friends first, than to struggle later to stay afloat in a marriage flooded with challenges.

And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand —Matthew 7:26 KJV

It’s hard to hear the voice of wisdom and reason when you’re in love, especially when your family and close friends are questioning how well you really know the other person.

And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it —Matthew 7:27 KJV

We live in a world where gratification is instant and deals are made to be broken. Couples get engaged and then spend the time – sometimes years – getting to know one another only to find that the relationship “is not working out,” calling off the engagement. This is because the worldly view is that a proposal is a deal that can be broken, rather than a promise to one another and to God to spend the rest of their lives together as a family.

Many of the steps outline by Alyson Weasley in her Focus on the Family article “Twelve Steps to a Deeper Friendship with Your Spouse” can also be applied to developing a strong friendship before marriage.

Recognize that friendship building takes a lot of work and time, Weasley suggests, adding that it’s important to explore each other’s interests. Find out what your partner is passionate about and join him or her in those activities, even if it means sacrificing something you want to do. Find common interests and spend your time together on them.

Learn from conflict, hold each other accountable and work to respect one another. Pray together. Talk to each other and be intentional about sharing what you like about the other; affirm each other. Be honest, open and transparent. Communicate, Weasley emphasizes, adding that most experts agree that regular communication is key to weathering life’s storms and challenges.

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