The Friends We Keep

Do the friends I keep really make a difference in my marriage? Absolutely. Just ask the apostle Paul, who quoted the Greek proverb, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33, NLT).

As a whole, my friends are wonderful, law-abiding citizens. Sure, some of them may have points on their driving records, but so do I. Writing them off as “bad company” seems a bit extreme. Yet if they don’t seek to encourage me in my relationship with my husband, Ted, could their attitudes negatively affect the ways I think about my marriage? I need to be cautious about turning to them as confidants, as influencers.

So how do I decide which friends in whom to confide? I’ve learned to separate casual friends from close friends by doing what I call a “friendship inventory.” I ask myself three questions.

1. Do they esteem marriage?
One thing that kept our marriage intact during some tough years were the friends who spurred us on to finish strong together. Friends who esteem marriage do this, not people who belittle it or question its value.

I determine if a friend esteems marriage by listening to her words. If she’s married, how does she speak of her husband when he’s not around? Is her tone generally positive and respectful? That doesn’t mean she has to be reverent and serious all the time. I tease Ted regularly, yet my lighthearted banter strengthens our bond with a wink, not weakens it with an eye roll.

I notice her actions, both in person and on social media. What type of memes and blog posts does she share on Facebook and Twitter? Does she paint an overall encouraging view of marriage, or does she mock it?

This doesn’t mean all my close friends are Pollyanna; I have friends who have hit a point in their lives where it’s difficult for them to view matrimony positively. That’s okay—as long as it’s a “seasonal” attitude, not a “life” attitude.

When it comes to those I confide in—married or not—I don’t expect an over-the-top point of view. That’s not real. That’s not authentic. I don’t want my confidantes to sugarcoat the difficulties and challenges marriage can bring. What I do expect is that realism always be offered with hope.

2. Do they view the opposite sex with respect?
It’s important for me to choose close friends whose default view of men is one of respect — friends who can acknowledge the good ones amid the not-so-great, remembering that sin is not a male problem, it’s a human problem.

Why does this make a difference? Jesus said, “for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). How someone perceives the  opposite sex in her heart will find its way into her words.

For example, I have a friend who believes all men, not just some, are by nature untrustworthy. If I share with her a challenge Ted and I are experiencing in our marriage, she’s likely to question his motives and actions in a way that encourages division between us. She may not do this intentionally. She may like Ted and want the best for our relationship, but her deeply rooted convictions drive her understanding of the situation.

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Say, though, I have a friend who has an overall positive, respectful attitude toward men. She’s more likely to believe the best of Ted. When I come to her with a marital issue I need advice or prayer on, she’s going to direct my affections toward Ted, not away from him.

3. Do they build up my marriage and not just me?
A good friend  tells me like it is—not in a mean sort of way, but in a loving, life-giving manner. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6).

While it’s rarely easy for me to hear hard words, I’ve learned to value this kind of friend. Why? Because her willingness to offer me honest correction helps me grow. Sure, she offers me an empathetic ear, but not in a way that excuses me to stay the same and keeps me from achieving real resolution.

A friend who loves me enough to help me see my part in an argument and points me toward reconciliation with Ted is priceless. A friend who always affirms me, always takes my side, and always points the blame toward Ted is one I should be cautious about confiding in.

When a Friend Flunks

What happens if you do this inventory and one or more of your close friends doesn’t fare so well? Maybe she is even 0 for 0? Then what? It depends on your level of friendship.

If this person is a new acquaintance, it’s simple: You can keep her at a casual level. Have coffee, hang out, but don’t send her a text in the middle of the night asking her to pray for your marriage.

It’s with the friends you’ve known longer that it’s harder. This isn’t as simple as “unfriending” someone on Facebook. You can’t approach this carelessly.

I recommend an old-fashioned heart-to-heart talk. Not one where you point out how she’s “failed” you in her attitudes toward marriage. Carefully use praise and affirmation to sandwich any criticism. And give your friend an opportunity to rise to the occasion. If your comments are offered in kindness and love, I think a true friend will come out of this talk ready to take on the challenge.

Close friends concerned with the well-being of both Ted and me make the best supporters, confidants, and cheerleaders for our relationship. They’re the kind of friends who not only pass the inventory with flying colors but remind me that the attitudes and opinions of those I spend the most time with matter–not only to me personally, but to my marriage.

Adapted from Team Us, © 2014 by Ashleigh Slater. Used with permission of Moody Publishers.

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