“He’s more like a brother to me than anything,” Katie said during a recent counseling session, referring to her boyfriend, Sam. She appeared sad and detached.
“Why is that?” I asked, as she tugged at her sweater buttons nervously.
Katie and Sam had been dating for two years, and already the luster of new relationship had worn off. They sat apart from each other, barely even looking at one another as they spoke.
“What has happened, folks?” I asked incredulously. “You were madly in love not long ago. What has taken place to cause such distance?
Now they finally looked at each other, yet still appeared perplexed.
“His work,” Katie said. “My work. We’ve just drifted apart and now I can’t honestly say that I love him anymore. But, I’d like it to work.”
“How about for you, Sam?” I asked.
“I guess I’d say the same thing,” he began slowly. “I’ve invested a lot of time in my work. Graduate school. We’re both busy in our church. When we do find time for each other, it seems that we’re both kind of on edge.”
As I listened to Sam and Katie talk about their life, it wasn’t hard to notice that they didn’t talk much about each other. They didn’t talk about their connection or any friendship with each other. I needed to explore what they were doing, if anything, to cultivate their friendship.
“So, what do you do with each other?” I asked.
“We go to church together,” Katie offered, “and see each other once or twice during the week. Not much else besides that. That’s why we’re here. We were so close at one time, and somehow we drifted apart. We know we have to change things, but we’re not sure how.”
I pondered their situation. Their complaint—lacking any friendship or real connection with each other—is a growing complaint in my clinical practice. Couples often find themselves wrapped up in the busyness of their lives, the demands of work and even church obligations. Various pressures seem to absorb remaining energies, making friendship with mates take a back seat to these responsibilities.
I listened to Katie and Sam talk about their sadness and irritation with one another. When friendship fades, irritability often steps into the gap. We find ourselves acting impatiently, feeling frustration and a sense of sadness about the love that is covered with obligation and responsibility. All of us long, however, for connection, and that was certainly true for Katie and Sam. Together we mapped out a plan to bring back the vitality of friendship both were desperately missing.
One, friendship doesn’t just happen. While it may come easily during the early stages of a relationship, after time other responsibilities crowd in and friendship requires greater time and attention. You cannot passively sit back and expect friendship to appear, any more than you would with other relationships.
Two, friendship requires time. We may say that friendship is important to us, but if we don’t give it the time it deserves, it simply won’t happen. Friendship is, after all, a dynamic, ever-changing relationship. It never stays the same.
Scripture has much to say about friendship, and in fact is filled with stories of friendships. None are perhaps more poignant than the story of Naomi and Ruth who cared for one another in a deep way. What is so touching to me about this caring relationship is the time and energy both invested in each other. They made sacrifices to be with each other, dedicating their lives to meet emotional and physical needs. We must model our friendships after their patterns of interacting.
Three, friendship can always be cultivated and renewed. It is never too late to cultivate, or re-cultivate your friendships. Do this by taking an active interest in your mate. Ask questions about their day, anticipating the issues concerning them and the excitements that they carry in their hearts. Care enough to know what your mate is passionate about. Seek to understand them.
Four, friendship requires fun. Break out of your routines and do something spontaneous with your mate. Boredom is the product of doing the same things, in the same ways at the same times. Dare to shake things up a bit. See some new sights, eat some new foods, and take in some new activities. Discover new friendships to add to your friendship with each other. Have some fun.
Finally, friendship requires that YOU be friendly. How friendly are you? Are you an interesting person? Do you show enthusiasm to your friends? Don’t forget that while friendship requires big events occasionally to highlight the friendship, relationships are also built upon the small things of everyday life. Don’t forget to smile at your mate, encouraging them at key moments, laughing about the craziness of life. Be a friendly and interesting person and your mate will likely be one back.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at TheRelationshipDoctor@Gmail.com and read more about the counseling I offer at The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.MarriageRecoveryCenter.com and YourRelationshipDoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.