“Good sex = good marriage.” That’s a commonly accepted line of thinking in our culture. You see it in movies all the time. Recently, my husband Tim and I watched Hope Springs with Meryl Streep. The general plot line went like this: a couple sits in a counsellor’s office on opposite ends of the couch and admit they can’t remember the last time they had sex. Over the course of the movie they reconcile their relationship and at the end, they fall into bed in ecstasy.
Well, “good sex = good marriage” is only half true. At least that’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at. Good sex is an indicator that a marriage relationship is strong. But good sex does not determine whether a marriage grows or withers.
When Tim and I were preparing for marriage, we met several times with a more experienced couple for premarital counselling. They helped us think through some of our areas of difference and gave us a safe place to ask our questions and air our concerns. They shared from their own experiences and gave us some really helpful pieces of advice.
In one of the final sessions before our wedding, we talked about sex. I don’t remember the details any more, but I definitely remember walking away from that conversation knowing that we would have to work on making it good and that it wouldn’t be anything like what we see in the movies. It was during those premarital counselling sessions that I got a hint of what really made marriages strong.
So if it wasn’t a thriving sex life, what was the key? The (somewhat surprising) answer: friendship.
As I thought about it and observed my own marriage, I realized this: more than working on communication skills, more than having common interests, more than satisfying sex, the quality of friendship between a husband and a wife is what makes or breaks a marriage.
Now that we are almost five years into our marriage, I can see the truth and wisdom in that. Life, with its rhythms and interruptions, naturally brings periods of abstinence into marriage. There will be times when a couple will be apart from each other or when sickness makes it impossible. Sometimes those seasons are prolonged. After giving birth there is quite a stretch of time when the woman is physically unable to have sex (and medically advised against it, too).
If a couple bases the strength of their relationship on sex, when those times hit, they begin to flounder. If, however, they focus on investing in their friendship, they have hope.
Fostering mutual appreciation, creating memories, taking time to enjoy each other’s company, and laughing together are all ways that a couple can keep building their marriage even when physical intimacy cannot be had.
I know for Tim and me, continuing to build on our friendship after Allie was born helped us get through that time and emerge with a stronger rather than weaker bond. Interestingly enough, if we feel close as friends, it naturally spills over into our physical relationship. So growing the friendship actually positively impacts what happens in the bedroom. And when (God willing) we both reach our golden years, friendship is the real treasure we will get to keep.
I’m not saying that sex is unimportant in marriage. It is very important and you can often tell how well a couple is doing by how healthy their sex life is. But sex is more of a reflection of the health of a marriage, not the determining factor.
Not many people will tell you this, but friendship, not sex, is what determines the strength of a marriage. So go ahead and work on your sex life. But more importantly, keep becoming best friends.