Taking a cue from the classic rom-com, When Harry Met Sally, an article at RealClearReligion.com argues that husbands and wives should not expect to be each other’s best friend. The author, Mark Judge, writes,
“I married my best friend.” You often hear this said, from new brides to celebrities. Even the President of the United States says he married his best friend. As nice at it may seem, a man should not marry his best friend. He should marry his wife, who should understand that she is not his best friend. A man should have a male friend who is almost an equal to his wife.” (Read More).
I’ll be frank. In my opinion, Judge’s assertion amounts to a lot of dangerous rubbish. Strong words? Absolutely. Here’s why I feel so passionately about this. Marriage is the foundational unit of the family and family is the basic unit of civilization. If you get marriage wrong, you get everything wrong. That’s why St. John Paul II was so concerned with promoting a healthy vision of marriage as the cornerstone of his plan of evangelization in the Third Millennium.
I would argue that “best friendship” is at the heart of the Catholic vision of marriage. Understanding this is critical on both a psychological and theological level. For the Catholic, marrying one’s best friend isn’t just a nice thing. It is an imperative. I would have to write a book to explore this idea in depth, but here are a few thoughts….
1. What is a “Friend”?
It might be helpful to consider what a friend actually is. Jesus says, “I call you friends” (Jn 15:15) and just prior to that, in Jn 15:13, Jesus tells us that the heart of true friendship is a willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friend. Friendship then, is a radical commitment to work for the ultimate good of the other, even to the extent that one is willing to dedicate one’s entire life to doing so. What better image of this kind of friendship is there than marriage where husband and wife are called to spend their lives perfecting each other (Eph 5:25-26) so that they might, one day, be ready to celebrate the Eternal Wedding Feast in Heaven?
In Ephesians 5:31, St Paul reminds us that marriage is THE primary image of Jesus’ friendship with his bride, the Church, and asserts that a husband must be willing to lay down his life for his wife just as Jesus Christ–our friend and bridegroom (c.f., Jn. 15:15; Rev 19:7-9)–does for each of us, his bride (Eph 5:25). In doing so, we see an image of marriage as the ultimate friendship, THE friendship that most perfectly images the nature of the unitive relationship God desires with his friend & bride, humankind.
2. My Sister, My Bride
The Song of Songs 4:9 says, “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.” This is just one of several places
the author of The Song of Songs refers to this couplet of “sister” AND “bride” to define the nature of both ideal marital and divine love (remember, the Song of Songs is not just a love poem between a bride and bridegroom, Catholics see this as an intimate description of the nature of the relationship God desires with each of us, his bride).
When St. John Paul II, considered marriage in the light of this passage, he asserted that for marital, erotic, love to be properly ordered, it has to be rooted in a recognition that one’s spouse is a person who deserves to be supremely loved and cherished before being desired. Calling his beloved both sister and bride, the bridegroom in the Song of Songs asserts that he desires his beloved because she is his best friend–his “sister”– first. It is this platonic and filial love for one’s spouse–i.e., the depth of the friendship one has with one’s spouse–that makes sexual love holy, redeeming it from the clutches of lust, which is merely the desire to use another person as an object of satisfaction.
If your spouse is not your best friend, then your sexual life with your spouse will, de facto, be shallow and disordered, drawing its life more from lust (which is desire deprived of friendship) than from true love.
3. Sacrament and Covenant
Even worse than having a shallow and disordered sexual relationship is the fact that failing to be your spouse’s best friend may well serve as an obstacle to the covenantal and sacramental functions of marriage. A covenant dictates the very nature of the relationship between two people. What is the nature of God’s covenant with his people? It is spousal. “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion” (Hos 2:19).
Likewise, to say that marriage is a sacrament is to say that marriage is not just intended to sanctify the husband and wife but to call the world to sanctity by inviting everyone into a deeper, covenantal relationship with God. But if one isn’t one’s spouse’s best friend–or worse, isn’t even trying to be–how can marriage be God’s sign to the world of the intimate friendship, indeed, the “best friendship,” Jesus Christ desires with his bride, the Church? Being best friends with one’s spouse–or at least, actively striving to become best friends with one’s spouse–is, I would argue, a necessary part of fulfilling the sacramental call of marriage.
My point above about sacrament and covenant is one of the reasons I think articles like the one I’m responding to are so insidious. I get that a lot of husbands and wives aren’t each other’s best friends–I’m a marriage therapist for heaven’s sake! But to argue that husbands and wives shouldn’t expect to be each other’s best friends or shouldn’t strive to become each other’s best friends simply damns couples with low expectations (which would be bad enough) and does so in direct contrast to the rather high expectations both Christ and his Church tell couples they have the right to have! Gaudium Et Spes asserts that marriage is an “intimate partnership” (#48). What is an intimate partnership if not best friendship?
To be honest, I have a hard time feeling like people who argue this aren’t simply engaging in a bit of sour grapes. It is easier to say, “Husbands and wives shouldn’t expect to be best friends” than it is to admit, “I don’t know how to be my spouse’s best friend.” The thing is, that’s a problem that can be solved if a couple is actually taught, first, that it is a problem and, second, how to solve it. Making a problem go away by claiming it was never a problem in the first place is, to my way of thinking, insidious.
5. In the Beginning
To get back to the meat of the argument though, when we want to know what God’s intentions for our life and relationship are, Jesus tells us to go back to the beginning. St John Paul II makes this point when he observes that, when questioned about divorce, Jesus said, “Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of your hearts, but in the beginning it was not so.” In other words, if you want to know what God the Father’s intentions for humanity are, then you have to look at the way the world was before the Fall, before sin hardened our hearts to living out God’s intentions.
So, what was God’s intention for man and woman in the beginning? Well, whom did God create to be Adam’s helpmate? About whom did Adam cry, “At last, this is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” I have news for you. It wasn’t his fraternity brother, comrade-at-arms men’s group leader, or drum circle confrere. It was Eve, his bride; the very person whom God ordained from the beginning to be his best friend. Eve was the person to whom Adam could relate to understand as intimately as he understood his very self. Eve would always stand at Adam’s side because she was created from his side.
6. The Two Shall Be One Flesh
Which brings me to my final point. All of the sacraments exist to restore the original unity that existed between man, woman and God before the Fall. Marriage makes man and woman into one flesh so that God can restore the intimate union–the best friendship–between man and woman that existed before sin entered the world and frustrated that friendship.
Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Mk 12:31). Jesus’ presumption here is that we love ourselves best, and our friendship with others should be akin to our desire to work for the good of our own flesh. Well, in marriage, our spouse becomes one flesh with us. “The two shall become one” (Mk 10:8). Through marriage, my spouse becomes myself. “Husbands should love their wives as they love their own bodies. He who loves his wife, loves himself.” (Eph 5:28).
If husband and wife are one flesh how can they fail to be anything but best friends to one another? Whom do I know better than myself? Whom do I love better than myself? My wife is called to be the other part of my very self and vice versa. We are one flesh. Why should we expect to be anything but best friends to each other? Why should we not respond to any obstacle to that friendship as anything but sin, or the effects of sin, that we were obliged to strive with all our might to overcome?
Call To Action
Again, I get that husbands and wives are often not each other’s best friends. That’s to be expected given our fallen nature. But to suggest that husbands and wives shouldn’t expect to be each others best friends or shouldn’t strive to overcome whatever obstacles stand in the way of that friendship seems, to me, to be a lie of Satan aimed at the heart of the Sacrament of Marriage. As for me and my house, given the opportunity to take marriage advice from either When Harry Met Sally and John Gray or St. John Paul, St. Paul, and Jesus Christ, we will serve the Lord.
In an age when people would like to redefine marriage into non-existence and trash it in every way imaginable, it seems to me that Catholics need to be bold about making more of marriage, not less. The Catholic vision of marriage is one that proposes a radical, one-flesh, best friendship. It proposes a best friendship that is ordained by God to do the impossible; to make two beings into one, to bring new life into the world, to be a physical reminder of the free, total, faithful, and fruitful love God has for each one of us, and to perfect the husband and wife in grace so that they might be ready to spend eternity celebrating the Heavenly Wedding Feast with the Eternal Bridegroom, our best friend, Jesus Christ.
There can be no better friend than the one who can do these things with me. That is why my wife and I will always be each other’s best friends and strive to be even better friends to each other every day, so that God’s plan might be fulfilled in our hearts, our lives, and in the world. I join our Church in wishing the same for every married couple.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming your spouse’s best friend, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, Just Married: A Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage, and Holy Sex! The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving. Or, call the Pastoral Solutions Institute today (740-266-6461) to learn more about our Catholic tele-counseling practice.