The Language of Friendship

Seven years ago I was with a friend, Michelle, in her kitchen. She was cooking up a nice meal for us to share as we were casually hanging out and connecting. She had become a good friend over the past two years and I valued these casual times together. In fact, I loved these times together because I had grown to love her as a dear friend. After a several years of closing myself off from true friendship (which I thought would only end in hurt) I was stepping out in trust and vulnerability again.

Unfortunately my season of keeping people at a safe distance had made me a little awkward and rusty in the friend department. Michelle was cooking away, we were talking about nothing in particular. I suddenly blurted out, “Michelle, you are my friend!!” It had the urgency and awkwardness of a pimply tween in Junior High. Confused, Michelle paused, “What?”. “Well,” I replied, “you are my friend and I just wanted you to know that.” She was gracious and smoothly moved the conversation forward.

Since that awkward lunch I’ve thought a lot about that blurted declaration. This came up as I was chatting with a long-lost friend. We began talking a lot about friendship. How are friends made? What do we value in a friend? What is the language we use when a friendship means something to us?

When it comes to romantic relationships, most cultures have a language that we use to identify the stages and seasons of this type of relationship.

“No, we are just friends.”
“We are friends with benefits”
“We are dating but it’s not too serious”
“We are in love.”

All these phrases are ways we identify what a person of the opposite gender means to us. It shows how intimate the relationship has become. We even have words for these conversations. “We are going to talk tonight to define the relationship” or “We have yet not told each other ‘I love you'”.

But, when it comes to friendship, especially same-gender friendship, we have none of this. So, we resort to adolescent categories. We have a “best friend” and everyone else is just dumped in the same pot. In fact, I Googled the term, “You are my friend” and every single hit came back with the phrase, “You are my best friend”. Even Google doesn’t have a language of friendship!

In counselling, they often talk about “circles of relationship”. The different levels ofCircles of Frindship friendship that we have in our lives. In the “inner circle” of close friends we generally have 3-5 people that we consider our most intimate and trust relationships. The next circle out from that is generally abut 12-15 people. Yet, there is no expectation that we have ever actually told those people that they are our dearest, must trusted friends.

The reality is that Michelle was moving from my outer circle towards my inner circles. I wanted her to know that. I had never seen or heard of someone telling another about this but I figured it needed to be said. I wasn’t just saying, “you are my friend”. I was telling her, “You and your friendship means more to me than most. Because of that I value you but also feel that you could hurt me more deeply than most if you wanted to.”

There are less-awkward ways this conversation could have happened. But, don’t we need a language for friendship? Doesn’t there need to be a conversation about how this happens? Isn’t it strange that we can have some of the most intimate and trusted relationships yet we rarely ever look the person in the eye and tell them, “I need you to know, you are in my circle”. It’s not expected and we have no language to even express what is going on.

This my question for you:
Do you feel you have a language for friendship?
How could this make us more connected instead of disconnected to one another?
Do you tell friends what they mean to you?

How can we develop a conversation around the friendships we have and what we hope them to be?

4 Simple Questions for Marriage Health

My husband and I are about to celebrate 12 years of marriage. We are not typical “romance” people. Our anniversary generally doesn’t involve me getting flowers, jewelery or chocolate. I don’t buy him… well, men are hard to shop for so that’s my excuse.

For us, an ideal anniversary involves the two of us being alone, away from the kids, overnight and with… wait for it… UNINTERRUPTED CONVERSATION. It is a rare thing but it does exist!

Since our first anniversary, we have a tradition of spending some time to just ask questions of each other. Questions that don’t normally get asked in the day to day of life.

If you don’t do this in your marriage, you should. Asking questions and then truly listening is one of the most powerful communication tools to keep a whole and healthy marriage.

Here are 4 simple questions on 5 important areas. Pick a topic, ask and listen.

4 Questions on Your Friendship:

Do you feel that we are having enough fun and light hearted moments together?
What events or dates could we plan that build our friendship?
Do we have any hobbies together? If not, what hobby could we do together?
Do we have mutual friends that we both like to hang out with? If not, who could we pursue?

4 Questions on Communication:

Do you feel I truly listen to you?
Do you feel that my words and tone show that I respect and value you?
Are there times that our communication struggles? What are those times?
Are there topics or areas you wish we would communicate about more?

4 Questions on Sex:

How is the frequency for you?
Are you feeling loved and cared for in this area?
In what ways could we make more time for it?
What could we do to make this area better?

4 Questions on Parenting:

How do you feel we are doing in being loving parents?
How are we doing in being consistent and following through?
What “season” do you think each child is in?
How are our family times, are they bringing us together or apart?

4 Questions on Spiritual Health:

What is God teaching and growing you in, right now?
What areas do you feel spiritually weak in?
What things do you do that feed your walk with Jesus?
What ways could I support you in your walk with Jesus?

More resources on question asking and date night ideas:
4 Types of Date Nights
Date Night on the Cheap
20 Ways to Take Initiative in Your Marriage
Questions to Take You Deeper in Friendship or Marriage

The Sex-Starved Marriage

If you are married, do you have enough sex?
How much is “enough” in marriage?

These are big questions that many women wonder about and most are afraid to ask. I have been in many, many discussions with married women on sex. Informal, just amongst friends type of discussions. This topic often dances on the edges of our conversation and generally never get’s brought in to the center. It can feel too personal and daunting to openly discuss. But it seems to be the conversation many of us want to have.

This is especially relevant for “sex-starved couples”. These are couples where one is wanting significantly less sex compared to the other. The other spouse feels unloved, shut-down or frustrated with the lack of sex in their marriage. They go weeks and weeks with no sex. Perhaps the couple started marriage with a commitment to talk openly about sex and have it often! But, reality, is a different story.

I recently came across Michelle Weiner-Davis and her TedTalk on The Sex Starved Marriage and this article she wrote. I would highly recommend you look at both!

Here are my thoughts on this important topic with a few stolen ideas from Michelle Weiner-Davis.

Who wants sex?

It is generally assumed that women have a lower sex drive than men. But this is not always the case. Many times it is men. Often, women want lots of sex, equal to or exceeding their husband. For this discussion, I’m going to talk to the women. Whether you are going through a season of wanting much less sex or it has always been that way, here are some thoughts to consider.

4 Reasons Women Don’t Want Sex

Season of Life

Young children, those precious little angels. Eating us out of house and home and consuming our desire for sex along with it. Let’s be honest, young children can be a huge killer of sexual desire, especially for women.

I remember when our boys were younger. They were energetic, loud and 18 months apart in age. They were up in my grill ALL the time. The only thing I wanted at the end of the day was no one to look at me, talk to me, touch me, or ask me for anything… basically I wanted to be on a planet where no other person existed. Just me, an episode of Good Wife and popcorn. That’s it. I hated to break the news to my husband that he was not wanted on my planet called “Just-me-and-no-one-else-including-you”. Sound familiar?

Children, specifically young children can suck every bit of sexual desire out of you. Other things can do it too. Perhaps job stress, financial hardship or personal crisis. It is good to recognise and communicate this in order to make a plan for your season of life.

Your Stages are Reversed

Sex has four stages: 1. Desire (mental desire for it), 2. Arousal (physical excitement and desire for it), 3. Orgasm (no explanation needed!) and 4. Resolution (back to normal). Previously, it was believed that these stages also went in this order. More and more research is happening that for many women, Stage 1 and 2 are reversed. Desire only comes after physical arousal.

Practically, this means that many women don’t feel like having sex until they have actually started having sex. When it comes to women and sex Weiner-Davis says, “Just Do It”.

If women wait until they “feel” like it then they will never have sex because “feeling like it” only comes after they have started doing it. This is why so many women say, “Well, I didn’t feel in the mood when we started but by the end I really enjoyed it! We should do this more often!”

I have recently been sharing this with women friends to see their opinion. I found that almost every single woman said they completly identified with this the majority of the time.

Intimacy Avoidance

Having very infrequent sex can be a sign of something deeper. It can be a way of avoiding intimacy because of hurt, pain or some other dysfunction. Some reasons:

  • Undealt with hurt or pain in the marriage.
  • Undealt with hurt or pain in your personal life. From a past relationship, abuse or other situation.
  • Immature intimacy skills. Some of us simply never learned how to be intimate with others. Perhaps our family of origin was extremely unhealthy or we had emotionally immature examples all our lives.
  • Current dysfunction in the marriage. If we are keeping secrets, harbouring unknown addictions or being emotionally unavailable then these will all affect the sex life.

The only way to deal with this is to get outside help! Find a trusted mentor, counsellor or married couple that can explore these issues with you.

You See Sex and Love as Two Different Things

What if you you replaced the word “sex” with “love”? How would that change the conversation for you?

Saying, “I don’t feel like loving you tonight” might be an honest admission but what if you said it every day? Suddenly you would feel selfish or a little unsure about your words. This is what our spouse often hears with repeated avoidance of sex. We can’t make sex and love two totally unrelated issues.

No one should be forced in to having sex, that’s not what we are talking about. Consistently denying sex to your husband might feel like a holiday to you but it feels like a rejection to him. It feels like you don’t love him… no matter what you say otherwise.

Scientific studies show that rejection is felt the exact same way as physical pain. That is how men’s brains process sexual rejection. It is like a physical wound.

Sex, mutually given in marriage, is an act of love. It is not optional extra benefit some people get. The love, when given, is received deep in to our souls. When withheld it is a rejection of something deep in our souls… in our husbands souls. Sex and love are not two different things.

I’m not saying this to cause guilt. It is just reality and we do well to take the care to say, “Let’s look at this because I love you too much to just pretend it’s a trivial issue.”

4 Things to Do:

  • Talk about it. Simply ask your spouse, “Do you think we have enough sex?”. That little question should get the conversation going fairly well!

  • Change the language: Stop asking “Am I in the mood?” or “Do I feel like sex?”. Start asking, “Have I loved my spouse recently?” or “Can I give love to him tonight?”

  • “Just Do It” Women, you will be surprised how the initial “I don’t feel like it” turns in to “That felt great” more often than you realise. Make a pact to “Just Do It” more often for your own enjoyment and his.

  • Make it mutual. If one is wanting sex and the other doesn’t, what do you do that night? Make it a practice to mutually serve one another. Some nights you “just do it” and other nights you just don’t. Just make sure the the “no’s” aren’t winning all the time. If you have said “no” too often in the past you might need to ask the above question to get things started again.

4 Types of Date Nights

These days, date night is considered an essential component of a healthy marriage. I personally love any excuse to spend time with my husband. We’ve practiced it in various forms over the years but not always consistently. Marriage author, Ted Cunningham, suggests practicing a “daily delay, a weekly withdrawal, and an annual abandon”. These are three connecting points that build friendship and intimacy into a marriage.

The “daily delay” is simply finding a point in each day to connect, catch up and share how the day is going. The “weekly withdrawal” is what most of us call, date night. The “annual abandon” is scheduling a yearly trip of two or more nights… just the two of you.

types_date_nightsI love this grid and want to look at it with my husband to see how we are doing on each of these connecting points. When thinking about date night, there are many obstacles to having a weekly, deeper, connecting point. Many people have obstacles such as young children (all the more reason it is needed!), lack of finances, or simply not feeling that the date makes a meaningful impact on their marriage.

If you are stuck in a dinner and a movie rut then here are 4 types of date nights that can make dates more meaningful and fun.

Stay At Home:

Having a date doesn’t have to be expensive nor involve going out! Sometimes, for us, the thought of getting all dressed up, going to a noisy restaurant, navigating traffic just doesn’t seem romantic or relaxing. Stay at home dates can be relaxing, cheap and meaningful.

We often would feed our kids early, put on an audio book and put them in bed early. Then, we would cook a nice meal for just the two of us and eat in the quiet (!) house. Set the table nicely, light a candle, play some music in the background, open a nice bottle of something. The bonus of this is the bedroom is right down the hall for a great way to end the evening!

Taking Turns:

Why not take turns planning the date? Each week a different spouse gets a turn to plan something fun or nice. This way, you get the creativity of each person. I highly suggest to put a ban on movies for dates. I personally think movies are great for mindless relaxation but terrible for an evening of connection.

Often, date night gets relegated to last minute planning and doesn’t feel special or well planned. This way, each person know they are on for the week and take a few extra moments to put some thought in it. The other person gets to just relax and show up!

I know couples that do this and it is motivating to add a special twist for the week you plan! This works well, especially, for couples who are a bit competitive and love to out-do each other.

Digging Deeper:

This is one of my favourites. Periodically you can use this time to invest in your marriage. The idea is to get some sort of input which you use as a launching point for deeper discussion, growth and intimacy. Perhaps you sign up for a marriage course at your local church. You could read a marriage book, together. Use what you have read as a point of conversation each week. Most marriage books have guided questions at the end of each chapter.

One year we took an 8-week period where we did weekly stay at home dates. The kids were in bed early, we had a nice dinner together at home and then we watched a video series together. A friend had given us the “Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage” series. We watched one episode a week and then discussed it for a few minutes afterwards. It was funny and a great little marriage tune-up.

Adventure Dating:

Boredom is weight on a marriage. If you think back to your “falling in love” years, part of the allure is the newness and adventure of your relationship at that time. You are always doing or discovering something new together. That’s one reason I enjoy watching new love… they are constantly out exploring new parts of our city, finding new things to do, new live music venues to enjoy, new bookstores no one knows about. Young love is full of newness and adventure! Be purposeful to add some of this to your marriage.

I know some couples that go to dance classes together. I’ve heard of others that have taken a cooking course on their weekly dates. One couple tries to eat a different type of ethnic food all the time. It’s small but a fun little exploration that they do together through the years. We have a hobby of always finding new speciality coffee shops. We are always on the hunt for a good coffee roaster we have never been to before. Perhaps you go for a walk or hike in a new place. Or is there a part of your city you have never explored? What could you learn, do or discover together this week?

Read More: Cheap Date Night Ideas

Dates don’t have to be expensive or cost at all. The traditional date often brings three expensive items: babysitting, restaurant food, movie tickets. Dump the traditional date. Here are 10 ideas on making a date as cheap as possible.

Question, listen, repeat.

It is interesting to think about and ask others, “what makes a good friend?” All sorts of qualities come out which encourage me to be a better friend to those around me. One thing that often comes up is this, “Good friends ask  great questions and really listen”.

Wouldn’t you agree? We have these people in our lives that ask questions which go beyond the surface. Questions that help us think about God, others and ourselves in deeper ways.  No matter how healthy we are… sometimes we just need someone to ask us some good questions to draw out our thoughts.

I’ve been thinking about some questions that I could ask people in my various relationships: marriage, children and friends. Questions that go beyond the standard, “How are you doing?”  I thought I would share them with you. Take time to sit down with your spouse, child or friend.

Obviously, going through list might feel like an interrogation more than a good conversation. Grab a cup of coffee and find natural ways to dig in and really enquire into the heart of those around you. Choose to go deeper by being “that friend” that asks good questions!

5 Questions to ask on a night out with your spouse or friend:
1. What part of life are you enjoying the most right now? What makes it so enjoyable?
2. What part of life are you enjoying the least? Why?
3. Who would you consider your closest friends right now?
4. Right now, what do you need more of: personal or social time?
5.  If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be? What’s preventing that?

5 Questions to ask on your marriage anniversary:
1. What have we done well this year?
2. What have we not done well this year?
3. What are 1-3 things I could do this year to show you love?
4. Is there any area we need outside help with? (in the form of advice, wisdom, prayer, counsel, etc)
5. What could we do to improve our friendship in the year ahead?

6 Questions to ask your spouse/friend on their birthday:
1. In what areas have you felt the most successful this year?
2 In what areas have you felt the most disappointed or discouraged?
3. What have been your highlight events or moments this past year?
4. What are your biggest struggles right now?
5. What are your hopes for the year ahead?
6. What could I do for you to make this next year a great one?

6 Questions to ask your child to learn more about them (ages 3-10):
1. What is your most precious possession right now?
2. When friends are nice, what do they do for you?
3. What makes you the most sad or frustrated?
4. If you could plan a perfect day, what would it look like?
5. What is one thing you wish Mommy and Daddy did differently?
6. What is one thing Mommy and Daddy do well?