In the early days of our marriage, Grace and I had a relationship that was functional but not much fun.
We were planting Mars Hill Church, and I was working a lot as the only paid staff member. Grace was working full-time, and then after having our first child, stayed at home to take care of the home and our family.
We worked on most everything else first, and tried to work on our marriage in the cracks of life—late at night, catching a few minutes to talk here and there. The lines between home and work, family and church got blurred.
Outwardly, everything looked good in our marriage, but truthfully, we were drifting apart, had a lackluster sex life, and were in a very difficult spot due to some very trying times, which we share in our book, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, & Life Together. By a miracle of God’s grace, we stayed faithful to each other in our marriage, without infidelity of any kind.
We really did love each other and wanted to connect, but often did not. We kept date night every week and checked the dutiful boxes of a decent respectable Christian marriage that would not disqualify us from ministry. We were together but both very lonely.
For us, a big revelation was that, though we were once great friends, we were no longer soulmates and instead roommates working together to fulfill the duties of marriage without experiencing the joys of marriage.
In order to save our marriage, we had to repent of much of our sin toward each other, rediscover our friendship, and move from roommates to soulmates again.
Three Types of Marriages
For us, a helpful matrix to accomplish this was to think of marriage in one of three ways: back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder, and face-to-face.
A back-to-back marriage is one in which the couple has turned their backs on each other. As a result, they live separately and do not work together (shoulder-to-shoulder) or draw each other out in friendship (face-to-face). In such marriages, the partners range from strangers to enemies, but are not friends.
Though Grace and I were not always back-to-back in our marriage, there were times when this was true, especially in some of the worst moments. The result was a growing emotional separation that poisoned our relationship and destroyed our friendship.
A shoulder-to-shoulder marriage is one in which the couple works together on tasks and projects, such as keeping the home, raising the kids, growing the business, and serving the church.
For the most part, Grace and I were in a shoulder-to-shoulder relationship. I was working on our growing church and helping with the house and kids, and Grace was tending to the home, caring for our children, and serving in the church in many ways. Everything looked fine on the outside, but if the projects we worked on went away and we were left with just each other, the marriage would have declined as there was not sufficient depth to our intimacy and friendship.
A face-to-face marriage is one in which, in addition to the shoulder-to-shoulder work, the couple gets a lot of face-to-face time for conversation, friendship, and intimacy.By God’s grace, we realized our need to become friends again and not be glorified roommates. We began working hard on our marriage and our friendship and got our priorities straight. In the process, we learned valuable lessons about how men and women relate.
The Differences between Men and Women
As a general rule, men commonly have shoulder-to-shoulder friendships around shared activity. Most men recall boys they played with on a sports team and guys they worked with on a job. But they often know very little about these guys they called friends, because their tasks consumed their time and conversation, as they talked about the task in front of them rather than the emotion between them.
Conversely, women’s friendships tend to be face-to-face and built around intimate conversation. This explains why women do the sorts of things with other women that most men do not do with other men, such as going out to lunch or coffee just to talk, sharing deep intimate feelings while looking each other in the face without a task bringing them together.
How to Move from Roommates to Soulmates
In order to move from being roommates to soulmates, a husband and wife must work hard to relate to one another in a way that is both shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face. This takes stepping into each other’s world to enjoy each other and enjoy a variety of things that each person enjoys.
Wives, to be a good friend, learn to spend some time with your husband in shared activity. If he’s watching a sporting event, sit down and share it with him. If he’s working on a project, hang out nearby to help or at least ask questions and be a companion if nothing else. For a wife to build a friendship with her husband requires shoulder-to-shoulder time alongside him.
Husbands, to be a good friend to your wife, learn to have deeper and more intimate conversations. Open up, tell your wife how you’re doing and ask her how she is doing. Listen without being distracted by technology or a task (put your cell phone away), but instead focus on her, looking her in the eye for extended periods of time. Draw her out emotionally, and allow her to draw you out emotionally. Keep your advice to a minimum and learn to listen, empathize, comfort, encourage, and in so doing resist the constant urge to find a problem and try and fix it. For a husband to build a friendship with his wife requires him to grow in face-to-face skills.
By God’s grace, engaging each other on shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face levels changed our marriage and saved our friendship. I can honestly say that today, Grace and I are best friends. It’s our prayer that those whose marriage is more like glorified roommates will rediscover your friendship by doing the same and once again become soulmates.
Real Marriage Sermon Series
This is not your average sermon series on marriage. We won’t give you five steps to happiness. We won’t talk about sex in code. We won’t talk about how you can fix your marriage. No, this is a sermon series about Jesus—and what he has to say about marriage through the Bible.
Watch the sermons.