A few years ago, I attended a relationship panel offered in our community by a couple who was married for 10 years. These are always interesting, especially as a single woman in her mid-30’s who’s expected to be long done with dating panels by this time in life. But when asked what single women could do to prepare for marriage, this one couple astonished the crowd by saying learning to be a good friend right where they are. As I thought about this exquisitely simple piece of advice, I began to realize that there was something rather profound about learning to extend ourselves in friendship first before we can extend ourselves in a marriage relationship.

While women seldom have problems developing friendships, sometimes the depth and substance of many friendships is lacking because both parties may not be willing to invest the time and faithfulness required to cultivate a truly rich relationship. Learning to be a good friend is a great training ground for marriage. And you don’t need to have a man in your life to know how to become a good friend. Let’s look at some reasons why this is true.

Friendships…

Are built over time

Getting to know someone well requires the time to see how they respond to different situations through many seasons of life. Good relationships get stronger and deeper over time. Like any good investment a little interest sown over time can reap the blessings of a plentiful harvest.

Are established on trust and mutual respect

Healthy friendships are based on trust and mutual respect. Building trust is a long-term process which again takes time, and mutual respect is something borne of character. Friendships thrive on these two elements and it’s no wonder that these same two ingredients make a marriage flourish, too!

Teach us to be selfless and giving

Friendships teach us to go beyond yourselves and our immediate needs. Since healthy friendships require a constant ebb and flow of give and take, learning to become a good friend will require you to learn to give joyfully and know how to receive graciously.

Require relational maturity and honesty

As conflict will arise in any healthy relationship, a good friendship will navigate these with healthy patterns of dialogue, openness and forgiveness. Learning to practice forgiveness now will help you develop the skills to navigate marital conflicts and become a more seasoned conflict resolver. The skills acquired in learning to listen and resolve conflict will most assuredly prepare you for marriage.

Involve a degree of vulnerability

Friendship involves opening our hearts and sharing from deep within. The ability to trust is imperative when sharing, and the ability to keep confidence is important when someone trusts you with their heart.

Weather seasons of change

Life brings surprises that can level even the most prepared individual. Sometimes, friendships are the only constant in life when weathering through the storms ike depression, loss of a job, a death in the family, or divorce. Learning to be this kind of friend allows us to practice faithfulness in friendship, which is the basis of any strong marriage.

Bring out the best in us

Friendships have a way of humbling us so we don’t take ourselves so seriously. Friends can point out things we may miss because we suffer from tunnel vision. Friendships make life more fun and enjoyable and serve to pull out the best in us.

Sometimes our quest for romance can cause us to overlook the very characteristics that may lead us to a more satisfying relationship. After all the fireworks and romance dies down in any relationship, what’s left? If there was no foundation to begin with, the couple must begin to build a foundation of trust and friendship to keep the relationship healthy. If this doesn’t happen, then the couple could be in for quite an adjustment or even headed for a break up. However, a relationship built on friendship will continue to be strengthened by the bonds of shared experiences and the joy of companionship.