This post is part of a series of six focusing on the Catholic church’s teaching on marriage and how it fosters the goods of: economic life, the church, civic society, fidelity, unity, and procreation.
Friendship is one of the greatest joys in life. It is a bit surprising, then, that when C. S. Lewis discusses friendship in his Four Loves he says that every real friendship is “a sort of secession, even a rebellion.” Friends, for Lewis, become exclusive not maliciously but because they become bound together in some common pursuit or interest. Lewis explains it this way,
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). . . . It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision—it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.
While he is describing the emergence of friendship, he could just as well be describing the beginning of a romantic relationship, one that ends in marriages. Marriages of their very nature have unique treasures and burdens. While there are any number of interests that bring two people together in marriage, the result is a commitment to a life together and to managing a home. A recent Pew study discusses some of the treasures and burdens found in marriage.
In “Raising Kids and Running a Household: How Working Parents Share the Load,” the Pew Research Center noted how couples with kids struggled to balance work and family, how they wanted equality, and how often women carried more of the load. While these are neither the only struggles facing couples nor the only reasons couples come together, these struggles are some of the common pursuits of married couples, pursuits that bind them together. Negotiating struggles like these in ways that keep two people together contributes to the success of a marriage.
It is not that they cannot or do not have other friends, but their commitment together, the vow to live a life in common, gives them a unique interest only shared between them. Such a common pursuit turns two people into a married couple, makes them like a “secession”, and has them “stand together in an immense solitude.” In other words, it makes friends of the spouses. Married couples are often happy when they have this friendship. They not only experience the highs of the honeymoon years but also have consolation during the anxiety of the middle years of marriage. This companionship is the foundation of marital happiness so much so that the “well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend.”
This friendship is what Catholicism means by fidelity. It is the couple coming together in the “appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1643) If it is genuine fidelity, it operates with clear recognition of the “equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife in mutual and unreserved affection.” (§1645).
If it is genuine friendship, it also entails that the couple “grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.” (§1644) Bound together in a secession of joy and struggle, the two can grow together and pursue a common life. Each can become a gift to the other in pursuit of this common treasure.
Christians should care about the friendship of the couple because it can foster “communion in Jesus Christ” (§1644) in at least three ways.
First, for some, faith can become the common pursuit that binds couples together, so, as they work together toward a deeper faith in God, they become closer friends and closer to God.
Second, the friendship of spouses can foster communion with Christ because, as couples commit and work on their marriage, they learn a Christ like fidelity. Just as Jesus was faithful to God during his life, passion, death, and resurrection, couples can be faithful in good times or bad, for rich and for poor, and in sickness and health. In becoming people who are faithful like Christ, their friendship shapes them as disciples of Christ.
Finally, a genuine friendship between spouses is a love, and, because God is love (1 John 4:8), this is a real—partial and incomplete to be sure but no less real—experience of God. Through their loving friendship, spouses encounter God, become closer to God, and so are in “communion with Jesus Christ.”