Friendship in Marriage
by Rev. Peter M. Buss
Beautiful words. But a list of words seems to slip through our minds and we don't notice what they are saying, and are left with a general feeling that conjugial love produces a lot of happy states.
This list means a lot more than that. It starts with the deepest mind, and the most precious thing there is innocence, the willingness to let the Lord lead us. That absence of pride and self-love is the spirit of all good, and when we let the Lord guide us, we feel his love flow down, softly, gently, as peace. Two people who love each other truly have peace within, and in their lower minds they have tranquility: they are content with what the Lord has given them.
Innocence, peace and tranquility: these are the deep joys of marriage love as they inflow from the Lord. Below them is friendship and full confidence, and they are delights we can recognize and understand. They produce the desire of heart and mind to do the other every good.
The subject today is friendship in marriage, what part it plays in welding the hearts of two people into one, and how it deepens until it becomes superior to every other friendship. Friendship is love on a lower plane, and sometimes it is taken for the love itself, but it isn't. It is supposed to serve and give happy expression to what is in the soul and the deepest mind. True love is a wish to enter into the life of another (AC 2738). It is the molding together of two people on every plane of life. It is the innocence and the peace and the tranquility which are above friendship. It is the image of one, written on the heart of the other, so that the loved one is present in everything he or she wills or does. True marriage love is the human form itself, for two people, forever individuals, are made by that love into an angel of heaven.
Friendship, ideal friendship in marriage, is the garment and the face of that love. Love is the person himself. But a person has a face, and clothing (CL 214).
Clothing is supposed to be an attractive covering to the body, but no particular dress or suit is essential. There is a kind of friendship which is like a garment in marriage, and it is our enjoyment in shared activities. Married people do things together, they have fun together. They share cultural things or sports or vacation trips or social life. These things give them things to talk about, to communicate, to show interest in each other.
When they are first married, a couple has divergent interests. Their tastes in food or music or books might be different. Probably they will never share all these things, unless they try to force agreement, and that isn't healthy. Yet as they live together, and love grows up between them, there is a tendency to wear garments that attract the other. They develop those recreations they can share, and the ones they cannot tend to get discarded, like a once-pleasing dress which has lost its charm. As a couple goes through life they also choose new recreations and activities, and tend to find ones they can share.
They will not share everything, and in the things they don't do together their love is shown by taking an interest in the delight the other person has in something. The garment is the least important, and it is a pity that quarrels can arise from trying to force agreement on this lowest plane of mental joy. A man may be offended by his wife's lack of interest in something that is important to him. He might compare her unfavorably to someone else who likes that particular activity of his, implying she should. Such feelings are common even where there is love; but we should recognize that this is selfish and therefore destructive love, not true charity.
Friendship is the garment of love. It is also the face of love. The face doesn't change, it doesn't get cast of with the changing times and uses of life. Two people who are friends share their feelings and thoughts about things in life, and this is the face of love. Love itself is sharing our deepest, inmost thoughts, and that sharing is often communicated without words. But below that there is the ability to talk about the things of this world, and how we feel about them. We can communicate how we feel about life, here and now, and into the future. We can share our fears, our worries and insecurities with someone whom we can trust. We can share our joys and our successes and our hopes with someone who will always enter into them.
That ability to communicate freely is one of the most precious things in all of life, and it is learned. It is not there in a moment. That's something we know about friendship - that it grows slowly, and you have to learn it, but we sometimes don't realize that the same is true of love. People often think love is all there on the wedding day, and when it doesn't move them strongly ten years later they are disillusioned and don't feel bound by its laws. But we do know that friendship develops. We know that we care for our partners, yet find it hard, many times, to say how we feel and how we think. We may want to speak, but the words are wrong, or we seem too busy to take the time or we talk about generalities instead, or we are less than honest; or perhaps in times of cold we just don't want to communicate.
We know we have to work on friendship. As time goes on we learn how more easily to touch that other mind, what words or expressions or what kind of silence best conveys the thoughts of our hearts. We have to learn - and none of us learns it easily - that pride is a great barrier to real friendship. We have to learn when not to feel hurt, when not to read meanings into things; when to ask for help instead of standing back with injured pride, preparing to be affronted because our partner didn't see what we needed. We have to learn how to admit our wrong feelings and take a chance on his or her forgiveness, instead of finding some excuse. Then over the years comes a sharing of how we feel and think, an awareness of how the other will react in a situation, the ability to look across the room and know how she feels. This is the face of love. It is a complete friendship which often shows in the face of partners who are truly beloved and makes them appear similar, though the features are quite different. Swedenborg once saw a married couple in heaven and noticed a oneness in their faces, and he said, "'You two are one.' The man replied, 'We are one. Her life is in me and mine in her. We are two bodies but one soul'" (CL 75).
This is the ideal friendship in marriage. Yet friendship has its special use long before the ideal is reached, and the Lord has told us about that as well.
The love of two newly-married people isn't pure. It is full of wonderful idealism, and there is some innocence in it, a precious seed. But the love itself, that flame which starts marriage, is more of the body than the spirit. It burns down after a while, it's too intense (CL 162). When it burns down the business of marriage, the work part becomes evident.
When this happens a couple is far from perfect. They are still natural and earthly in their values, not ready to receive the holy love which the Lord is wanting to give them - even though the seed of it is deep in their souls. Their interests are too centered on the here and now. In this state of normal human life on earth, it is friendship which bridges the gap between the first love, and the true conjugial which will follow (CL 214; 162). As two people settle down to the business of living and the first excitement of marriage wears off, they are often held together by the fact that they are willing to be good friends. They wear pleasing garments - they spend hours in each others' company, and work together, building and furnishing a home, feeding and clothing and raising children and struggling to balance their budget. They relax together, take vacations together.
They also have the face of love, for they talk of these things, and share the problems of living. They succeed together, and share that; and fail and share that too. Most of the time they are friends. It is only a few times that they remember and love the total ideal, or touch the heights when the Lord opens their spirits and lets them look at the tranquility and the peace and innocence that are to come.
What they have most of the time is not the true, everlasting love of heaven. It is a good, orderly contented state, and if two people work on their friendship, it gradually introduces them more and more into conjugial love itself. For remember that marriage love is simply charity. It is the responsibility to show kindness to a particular person - your wife, or your husband. Sometimes we think that we are free to fight with and show unkindness to this person just because we love him or her - that love sets us free from the bonds of common kindness. The laws of charity are pre-eminently the laws of marriage.
As two people try to walk the path of religion, practicing charity more at home than anywhere else, their hearts are opened to each other and they begin to know the inner blessings of love. Then too the first fires of love come back in a different guise, refined, purified, and stronger than before, because now they are the fires of true love (CL 214).
Friendship introduces a couple into the true love of marriage. This is its holy use. It is the bridge between the honeymoon state and heaven itself, the happy walking on earth while our eyes are uplifted to heaven; and slowly as we walk we are lifted up to that heaven. Then friendship itself changes. It is purified, made more gentle and wiser from the warmth that is in the soul and mind. The fire of love that has been burned into the heart softens the outward show of love, and conjugial, or inmost friendship is born. That is the true face of love. It is because of this use of friendship that wives are especially delighted with it and foster it with their husbands (CL 155a:3; 355). Because friendship is such a sponsor of true love it endures into old age too, and two people who have been married for decades find contentment in the care and communication with this closest friend in the last years of earthly life. Old age is a time when friendship is especially important, and if a partner has gone early into the other world, or if someone has not been married here on earth, the warmth of relatives and friends is a necessary replacement.
Finally the Writings unite friendship to full confidence. Confidence implies two things - the willingness to confide, and the ability to trust that other person. Trust is something we often want to require of a friend, but it cannot be forced. When two people marry they want to trust one another, but in many things they can't; for without knowledge of the other person, and without experience and maturity, and especially without repentance, it would be foolish to put our most precious and tender thoughts into our partners' hands. At first these things would be treated harshly, used against us in arguments, maybe scorned. But after years of living together, trust deepens and become not just a wish but a reality. At first our confidence in our loved one is often shaken, for we are all human, and we are all tempted to use our partner's feelings against him or her, - abusing trust. But sincere people regret these things and try to make amends, and learn to treat with reverence the precious feelings entrusted to him or to her. Then the partner sees that effort, and accepts an honest apology when offered, and sees the growing strength we have in resisting the impulse to hurt by means of what we know of another's weakness. Trust is born; and slowly, it grows up.
Conjugial love is a gift from the Lord. We cannot create it, the Lord gives it to us when we can bear it. We can build friendship. Every day we can decide to think first of that person we have married. We can choose to say a kind word or an angry one. We can praise and support or censure and complain. A hundred times a day we have the choice to show friendship or to withhold it.
Yes, we can do a lot to build friendship. It is on this earthly plane of giving and sharing that we turn to the Lord, and into this friendship He causes everlasting love to be born. That is His creation, and we can only marvel when finally it touches us and makes our friendship conjugial also.
Conjugial love is to think and to will as one, to dwell together in all things, even to the inmost. Conjugial friendship is the delight in speaking our hearts to our partners, joy in that free interplay between two minds which have no barriers left, for they have nothing left to guard against. They may put themselves in their partners' hands, and know that no harm will come to them. This trust too is a gift from heaven, the confidence of two people who both know that they are trying to be faithful to the laws of love from the King of love. Of such is the kingdom of heaven.
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General References to Friendship in Marriage
1. Its use, especially in the first years of marriage: CL 162; 214; 334.
2. Wives preserve friendship and confidence in a marriage: CL 155a:3; also love with inmost friendship is with wives as wisdom and its delight is with husbands CL 355.
3. Listed as one of the lower delights of love truly conjugial CL 183.
4.Sometimes friendship can continue when what is eternal has departed from the thought of the partners. CL 216; cf. chapter on causes of apparent love, favor and friendship.
5. Those in conjugial love have continual inmost friendship. SD 6110:29
6. The chaste love of the sex is spiritual friendship CL 55. cf. how the wife moderates friendship with any other woman CL 75.
7. Friendship between men and women enter deeply and conjoin because a friendship of love with understanding. Friendships between those of the same sex cannot enter deeply in the same way. CL 55.