Every so often on a Saturday or Sunday night you'll find me cuddled up under blankets on the couch, reading a novel, or surfing Netflix, or watching Masterpiece Mystery (and maybe eating a bag of jalapeño kettle chips, but let's keep that part between us). Other than the kids upstairs in bed, I'm alone in the house . . . and it's a great thing for our marriage.
Because on those every-so-often evenings, my husband is out with friends—meeting some buddies at a Southside pub or hanging out at a friend's house. And I'm okay with that. In fact, I'm great with that.
It's not that I'm desperate for time alone or I want to get my husband away from me—I just believe that having an occasional guy night is good for him. And thus, it's good for us.
Friendship is one of God's very good gifts to humankind. And I treasure it. I'm refreshed and invigorated by time spent with women I can be real with. My friends help me sift out the chaos and stress of my life and get back down to who I really am. My friends help me see clearly. My friends help me see God even in my pain or failure or brokenness. My friends help me grow a deep-rooted faith.
Along with accountability and spiritual encouragement, friendship can offer us fun. Laughter, joy, de-stressing, letting our guard down, telling dumb jokes, enjoying good food, revisiting old memories, and building new ones together—these light-hearted aspects of friendship are also part of God's good gift to us.
We see the powerful example of committed friendship in David and Jonathan; in Ruth and Naomi; in Jesus and his close friendships with people like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Friendships like these strengthen and shape us. These important and enriching relationships deeply bless us and better us to face the tough road of life. And our need for them doesn't evaporate when we marry. Sure, things change—and they ought to! But we lose out, as individuals and as a couple, if we think marriage somehow supplants all our friendship needs.
Follow the Golden Rule
I know I'm a better me when I'm connected with friends. But when I'm lonely or isolated or disconnected from community? Let me be honest: In those seasons, I'm more stressed, I'm crabbier, I'm impatient, I'm critical, I'm less happy. And I'm less me. While friendships enrich, loneliness depletes.
And this is why I, every so often, kick my husband out of the house: because he, too, has a deeply-ingrained, God-given need for friendship—a need that isn't suddenly erased by marriage.
Jesus encouraged us, "Do to others as you would like them to do to you" (Luke 6:31). In the spirit of the Golden Rule, just as I hope my husband understands my need for female friendships, I choose to support and encourage him in his desire to spend time connecting with his guy friends.
And just like I'm a better me thanks to connections with friends, my husband is a better him. I want my husband to have healthy and strong male friendships because those relationships of fun, camaraderie, laughter, good conversation, and prayer build him up and refresh him. They give him a sense of who he is in a way that's different than I can as his wife.
Unfortunately, while friendship is a God-given gift and a lifelong need, it can also be pretty tricky territory for couples to navigate. For example, if one spouse is constantly going out with friends while the other stays home, obviously that's unhealthy. Or if outside friendships are prized above the marital friendship, obviously that's unhealthy, too. And just as unhealthy is when a spouse denies another's need for outside friendships; when a couple places an unhealthy burden on their marital relationship, expecting their union to meet all their relational needs. Or, even worse, when one member of a marriage has many friendships (often the wife), while the other member (often the husband) isn't "allowed" to spend time with friends. (Sadly, I've seen this scenario way too many times.)
I certainly wouldn't be happy if my husband went out with friends too much, nor would he be happy to sit at home alone (with the children), weekend after weekend. In the give-and-take nature of marriage, it's best to try to strike a balance of taking time out to spend with friends just enough to build us up but not so much that it takes away from our time together. And with our three children in the mix, family time is a priority too. So, for us, time out with friends might be a monthly or bimonthly occurrence—but it's one we prioritize.
Be his partner (not his "mommy")
In fact, I don't want to just prioritize it—I want to bless it. While we may occasionally jibe, "You're ditching me? You get to go out and have fun while I sit at home!"—it's nothing more than a joke. In reality, I want my husband to know I support him in his friendships—and I do so as his life partner, not as his "mother."
Sadly, a scenario often depicted on TV sitcoms is regularly played out in many Christian marriages: a husband has to grovel and beg, asking his wife for permission to spend time with friends, while she rolls her eyes, annoyed at his childish antics. She may say no, offended that he even dared to ask. And if she does grant permission, she may yet text and call him throughout the night, checking up on him like a little boy. And of course she'll enforce a curfew.
This is not partner behavior—this is "mommy" behavior. And the Golden Rule calls us on it. Certainly, none of us would want to have to beg to spend time with a friend, waiting to see if our husband would shame us for asking! No, Jesus' urging to treat others as we would want to be treated calls us to a higher standard here: honoring our spouse's need by supporting and blessing, rather than nagging or shaming.
While we've forged our own best-friendship over nearly 15 years of marriage, I know I cannot be a "guy friend" to my husband and he cannot be a "girl friend" for me. And so he's enthusiastic about my every-so-often nights out or lunch dates with a childhood friend. (It doesn't hurt that I bring home his own serving of Thai green curry!) And I've learned to look forward to the occasional nights when I kick him out of the house—because I know we both reap the benefits from the refreshment he finds with his friends. (And let's just keep those jalapeño kettle chips a secret, shall we?)