Marriage without friendship is a lot like the Earth without the Sun – survival may be possible for a short time, but ultimately, it is doomed to fail. If the partners we choose to spend most of our lives with can also be considered our friend, the trials and tribulations of everyday life can be a lot easier to get through. It’s little wonder then that the strongest relationships are those where friendship is valued and nurtured every day.
A healthy modern marriage needs something more enticing than financial security or an amazing sex life to stay strong. When it comes down to it, friendship – and the mutual respect found within all good friendships – creates the ultimate bond between couples. Like the sturdy roots of a tree, your marriage has a far greater chance of standing strong if it has a solid foundation to help it weather life’s problems – and friendship are those roots.
A 2014 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research into marriage and happiness found that people who think of their spouse as their best friend are reported to have twice the satisfaction levels in their marriage as other couples. These findings and similar studies are revealing something interesting about the changing values and re-shaping of the ‘traditional marriage’.
You probably know a couple with an obvious lack of friendship in their marriage. When you see them at a restaurant, they’re usually the ones who prefer to look at their phones than into each other’s eyes. Then there are couples who feel dutifully bound together for the sake of their children, but share no real intimacy behind closed doors.
The signs of a less-than friendly marriage are not as black and white as a couple who are bad at communicating with each other though. Most people will instinctively know whether their partners are also their friends. For those that don’t, here are a few basic ways of telling whether friendship is alive and well in your marriage. You’re typically…
- Spending quality time together
- Sharing common interests
- Trying new things together
- Regularly making each other laugh
- Celebrating each other’s success
- Not holding grudges; being forgiving
Just like a traditional friendship, it takes both people to make a consistent effort with the above qualities and when you have an established close friendship, a marriage has a good chance of succeeding.
Importance of Friendship in Marriage
According to Manhattan based marriage therapist Angelica Magana-Rossin, deep friendship and therefore deep commitment is what’s needed for a relationship to be successful. Rossin describes having a deep friendship in marriage as “being an implicit contract to work on something, even if it feels hard, even if it doesn’t feel magnetic or intoxicating anymore.”
When you think of the words ‘marriage’ and ‘contract’, it can make the idea of marriage seem like an old-fashioned and fusty transaction rather than what it should be – a celebration of love and commitment to another person. A contract, after all, is something we normally associate with a financial, unbreakable bond, and for some couples, this ‘romantic’ contract can quickly feel like a trap.
But if you start to apply Magana-Rossin’s idea of a ‘friendship contract’ in a marriage instead of the traditional one, then commitment and life-long companionship needn’t sound so scary! After all, the idea of staying close to your best friend your entire life doesn’t scare you, does it? It should fill you with warmth and make you feel wanted – which is why working on the friendship in your marriage is equally important.
So what is it that makes friendship so great in a marriage? Like a platonic friendship, it’s about having fun together and making each other a priority in your busy lives. The best reasons for cultivating a friendship in your marriage are things like…
When you think back over the greatest friendships in your life, both in childhood and in adulthood, what’s one quality that stands out about that relationship? As well as the closeness and inside knowledge you share with the other person, you probably also cherish the fact that they make you laugh. A lot! And this is key to friendship in your marriage too.
It’s no coincidence that so many dating profiles and lonely hearts adverts include “Good sense of humor” on their list of desirable qualities in a partner. Laughter keeps you going in the hard times and studies have even shown that married couples who laugh regularly together stay together for longer.
A recent relationship study by the University of California monitored older couples (from middle-aged up to 70 years old) at various stages in their marriage and discovered that as the couples aged, they became less likely to argue and more likely to laugh. Couples that learn to let go of their expectations of the ‘perfect marriage’ over time will learn to be more accepting of each other, which makes less time for criticism and more time for laughter!
Connection and Commitment
Think of the last time you observed two close friends together in a bar or restaurant. How did they behave with each other? Did they walk toward their table in stony silence, order their drinks without a smile and spend the rest of the night looking away from each other? Our guess is none of the above. It’s far more likely that they were engaged in energetic chat, laughing and swapping stories.
A healthy marriage will look identical to this scene when the emotional connection is there.
When you see your partner as your close friend and companion, it builds on your emotional connection with each other and gives your relationship a basis for existing beyond things like physical attraction or security.
Now, for a quick hypothetical – would you rather deceive a stranger or someone you know well? It’s probably more likely that you went with the stranger, (but whatever your choice, we won’t judge!).
Because we have little emotional connection with a stranger, the idea of betraying them may be easier to contemplate. And if you’re not a friend to your partner, you’re more like strangers, which is why relationships with a poor emotional connection are more likely to fail.
Shared Adventures Together
Our childhood friendships were all about sharing secrets, letting our imaginations run wild and playing games together. But while we lose a lot of this imagination and free-spirit as we get older, we still like to experience adventure with our closest friends and we should be experiencing them with our partners too!
When the physical attraction starts to fade, loving each other’s daily company is what can keep things sizzling and marriage experts urge that even doing some of the most mundane tasks like helping to wash the car or going for walks together instead of apart will make couples less vulnerable to separation and divorce. But in between sharing the mundane, it’s important to have a fun, shared hobby too!
Perhaps you both love the same sport or love to travel? Building fond memories from a fun vacation together will leave you excited to plan more of them in future, just for the sake of experiencing a new adventure with that person. Having outside passions is important too, but if you share no passions at all with your wife or husband, it’s probably a sign that you prefer to find friendship elsewhere and don’t see your spouse as your friend.
Nurturing Friendship in Marriage
So how do you go about creating and holding on to friendship in a marriage? Assuming both partners are willing to try, it’s never too late to start making the effort. And a good way to start is to talk more, listen better and make time for each other. So before you book an ill-advised ‘save our marriage’ type of vacation, take things back to basics. Here are a few good ways to start:
- Communicate more – it may sound obvious but talk more often to your partner! Silence builds up resentment in a marriage and if you’re not sharing, you’re just shouldering burdens until they implode. Simply asking how their day was each night and making plans for tomorrow is a great way to start.
- Try new activities – if conversation isn’t flowing too easily for you both, take up something new together. Take a class you’d both enjoy, go for runs, try couples yoga…anything! And while you do, don’t be afraid to tease each other and get competitive about it. Pick something that you know will bring out your silly side.
- Make your spouse feel prioritized – we get a rush out of feeling prioritized and important when our best friend singles us out for life advice or to confide in us and only us. Make your partner feel that way too. Do your bit every day to make sure their opinion counts to you.
By trying these things regularly, you’ll begin to discover what your common ground is and you can start to strengthen your friendship from there. As well as trying the steps mentioned in this article, it might also be helpful to take a free marriage assessment with your partner. This might help you see what needs improving. In the meantime, take a look below at some tips for becoming better friends to each other:
How Can I Be a Better Friend to My Husband?
- Re-frame criticism – when you have a bone to pick with him, pretend our husband is a male friend and ask yourself “would I criticize a friend for similar behavior or choices?
- Practice more tolerance – if he hasn’t made the bed or tidied an area in the way you would, be tolerant of his attempt and show more acceptance
- Take an interest in his hobbies – you don’t have to watch every game with him, but take the time to be more thoughtful about his interests. Ask questions and celebrate with him when his team wins.
How Can I Be a Better Friend to My Wife?
- Help out more with chores – A 2008 study from the University of Michigan found that husbands create an extra 7 hours of housework for their wives! As well as sharing more of the chores, why not throw a surprise dinner party with her friends and offer to cater? This simple act will make her feel like more than just mom and wife for the day.
- Use ‘we’ more and less of ‘I’ – if you’re the breadwinner, you may take charge of a lot of decisions and tend to use the term ‘I’ a lot more than ‘we’, but if you try switching to ‘we’ more often, it communicates to your wife that you are a team.
- Show support throughout the day – while it’s good to have space away from each other, women appreciate being thought of throughout the day, so send your wife a quick text or leave a note before going to work to show she’s in your thoughts.
Can existing best friends make good marriage partners?
You hear of best friends making a pact to get together if they still find themselves single 10, 20 years down the line, but is this a wise decision? According to Gary Lewandowski Jr, Professor of Psychology at Monmouth University, converting a long-term best friend into a romantic partner risks ruining your friendship. What’s important is finding a partner with your ideal qualities in a friend.
How can you tell if you’re ‘more than friends’?
Intuitive Dating Coach, Diana Dorell suggests that the signs that you’re falling for a friend are things like feeling hyper-aware of yourself. You will begin to feel self-conscious about your mannerisms, feel nervous in their presence and the big clue – you may start to imagine them kissing you or in similar romantic scenarios. If you notice nervous behavior in them too, they may feel the same way!
Can friendship with other couples improve your own marriage?
According to a 2018 study involving 123 couples, having friendships with other couples can have many benefits including a greater understanding of men and women and increased levels of attractiveness to each other’s married partner. The findings also revealed that those seeking couple friendships tended to be extroverted, so couples consisting of introverted and extroverted partners may be less likely to seek out couple friendships or report lower satisfaction levels.
Mike Zhang. Founder of FamilyLifeShare