Bride and groom in Paris

Marriage is forever. Or at least that’s what they say.

In reality, almost half of American marriages end in divorce. This means that the hands that place the ring on her finger in the beginning have a 50 percent chance of one day taking it back off. The result is grief, financial turmoil, and the tragic end of a relationship that was once forged out of love.

But, for men, there’s one question that has the power to save a marriage before it even begins. It cuts to the heart of what it means to be in a relationship, of what actually holds a couple together through all the changes that life brings.

That question is: “Can we just be friends?”

Now, this doesn’t mean ending romance in favor of platonic friendship. This question isn’t a request; it’s a thought experiment. It’s you taking a look at your partner and assessing whether or not you’d be willing to be friends with her if all the trappings of romance—her looks, her sexuality, and her romantic overtures—were stripped away.

And it’s going to revolutionize your future marriage.

The Problem

Our bodies tell us that romance is exciting. It also tells us, when it comes to the opposite sex, that friendship is boring. Culture reinforces this message, with terms like “friendzone” denigrating a focus on friendships between the sexes.

This question is a tough one for men, who are quicker to fall into—and be driven by—lust and excitement. Physical attraction often propels men through the initial stages of dating, engagement, and marriage, but when the heat begins to wear off, things can get rocky.

But the question of friendship is the core question of any relationship. Friendships are wholly voluntary. They don’t require sexual attraction to function. They don’t require financial obligation. They aren’t held together by financial necessity.  You choose your friends because something within them jives with who you are at the deepest level.

In a way, friendship is the purest form of relationship.

Without asking the vital question of “Can we just be friends?” many men dive headlong into marriages with incompatible partners, riding a temporary tidal wave of emotions that results in hardship for both parties when that wave recedes, leaving the debris of a wrecked marriage in its wake.

"The levels of dopamine and serotonin that exist within the brains of lovers are the same as the levels found in those suffering from obsessive compulsion."

Researchers have identified the key chemicals that are released within our brains when we experience that initial rush of romantic love and physical desire. The levels of dopamine and serotonin that exist within the brains of lovers are the same as the levels found in those suffering from obsessive compulsion. We, quite literally, become obsessed with our partners during the honeymoon phase of a relationship.

And, most importantly, we idealize our partners, glossing over those traits that we may later realize to be incompatible and molding our own behaviors to suit their desires.

If that’s all we have driving us toward marriage, we’re building a relationship on a foundation of sand.

A Stronger Foundation

When people either cheat or outright end their marriages, they often cite reasons such as a lack of support, interest, and understanding.

But let’s take a closer look at these lacks. Do you see the theme? They’re all things that are the opposite of what’s present within the context of true friendship.

Would you berate your best friend in public? Would you betray them? Would you suddenly stop being interested in them?

Not likely.

Men who select partners based not only on attractiveness—which is important, but not in isolation—and friendship compatibility create for themselves a relationship that is built to last. When the volatile parts of a marriage—sexual attraction and romantic excitement—enter into a state of flux, the more stable element of friendship remains the same.

This means that, even when life gets in the way of sex, romance, and fun, you’re still, at the core, friends. You support, cherish, and understand one another. That’s what’s left when all else is stripped away, and all else can be rebuilt atop it.

But if that foundation isn’t there, life can erode a relationship down to nothing. Building upon solid rock by asking yourself “Can we just be friends?” before marriage—and better yet, before dating—can help you to avoid that.

Be Intentional

So what does friendship look like, and how do you consciously select for it?

Think about what you do when you select your guy friends. While they may be very different from you in some ways, most of them will share with you what you consider to be your core values. They have similar goals, religious affiliations, and interests. They challenge you in some ways and are better at you in some areas. They motivate you, stretch you, and encourage you.

They fundamentally get you.

While this is important in a friendship, it is vital in a relationship.

If you’re already in a relationship, take a step back and look for these things. Do the two of you share core values—the fundamental beliefs about how the world works—that you both hold most dear? Do you share goals? Do you challenge one another in positive ways? If not, your relationship may be headed toward disaster after a few years of marriage.

You must explore your partner’s values before marriage, all the while asking the ever-important question of friendship. Ask questions. Get to know her as fully as possible. Do so with a purpose, and you’ll have a much higher chance of both weathering the harder parts of marriage and enjoying those parts which are sublime.

Friendship First

Be as intentional about who you choose to love as you are with who you choose to befriend. The fact is that if you marry someone with whom you don’t share values, you’re both going to face a number of difficulties. This doesn’t spell certain doom, but why take the chance?

Put friendship first in your relationship. “Can we just be friends?” is the most important question you can ask before marriage, and just might be the key to the happiest relationship of your life.

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