Absence Makes the Heart Grow Colder
by Shaunti Feldhahn
This is my beloved, this is my friend ..." Song of Solomon 5:16
Most couples call each other "beloved" and "friend" when they stand at the altar. But as the years roll along, it's easy to take each other for granted. A joy of marriage is being able to relax and not be "on" all the time. But problems arise when one day we realize our marriage relationships aren't as close as they used to be.
This change can happen in any of our relationships — including with the Lord. It's so easy to wake up and discover we still love God, still love our spouse, our relative or our friend ... but there's a little distance there.
Thankfully the rest of Song of Solomon provides a hint to the solution: This couple spent a lot of time together. And a lot of intimate time together, at that! When I was doing the research for my book The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, I learned the primary factor in creating close friendships isn't shared values, similar interests or compatible personalities: it's geographic proximity. You are closest to those you spend the most time with.
If you've ever had a dear friend move away, you've discovered that truth. No matter how much you want to stay close, it just isn't the same. It works the same way in all our relationships. In my interviews with the happiest couples, I kept hearing the same thing: these folks were simply hanging out a lot. Not just formal date nights, but going to kids' activities, sharing a hobby or even watching their favorite TV series together.
These happy couples acted as if their marriages were first and foremost friendships. Friendships they wanted to keep vibrant no matter what.
One husband told me, "For me, getting married was because I wanted a lifelong companion. It wasn't about the physical relationship or the tax write-off. I wanted a built-in best friend for the rest of my life. Most people probably do. So you need to look at the reasons you want to be in a relationship in the first place, and be intentional to make it happen."
And that is what suffers when we begin to take God, our spouse, a friend or relative for granted — we stop being intentional. We stop spending as much time together. We get so busy with other priorities and don't make room for our main priority. Then as we become more distant, little irritations become bigger frustrations.
And what do we do next? We spend even less time together. Our parents irritate us so it seems better not to have dinner together for a while. We're tired of marital conflict so we avoid our spouse. Or we are mad at God because a desperate prayer wasn't answered the way we wanted, so we stick our prayer journal in a drawer.
All of those solutions are tempting, but they ensure that while we may still call the other "beloved," we will no longer feel like "friends." And after a while, "beloved" may become a casualty too.
Do you want to be closer to your spouse? Are you irritated with a friend or relative? Feeling distant from God? Emulate those who enjoy their relationships the most — by hanging out more, not less. You may just find enjoyment welling up again in your relationships too.