Why happy marriages are about friendship
For a long, long time, I’ve wanted to answer a letter that goes something like this: “How do I become my mate’s best friend?” Especially in summertime, when so many marry, I want someone to ask how they can use friendship to make the honeymoon last a lifetime.
The only problem is, that’s the one letter that never comes. And I keep asking myself why.
Perhaps people don’t understand that Friendship—not Love— is the single-most important ingredient in happy marriages.
Any long-term relationship involves differences of personality and direction that create chronic, unresolvable problems. So *all* couples have many unsolvable problems. But the happy ones learn to nurture their Friendship. The Friendship, in turn, provides an insurance policy of sorts; it keeps problems and negativity from overwhelming everything good, true and core to why they got together and gave loving vows (as opposed to vile oaths) to begin with.
Simply put, without Friendship, Love passes; with it, Love lasts. And grows.
Or maybe most of us know Friendship is vital, but we don’t exactly know what Friendship *is*. Like Love, it’s such a well-worn concept that it’s a bit nebulous, really.
When I asked Facebook friends what they think Friendship is in a long-term relationship, answers ranged from the humorous (e.g., “Not asking any questions when they hand you a shovel and tell you not to worry where the body came from”) to the serious (e.g., respect, courtesy, listening, admitting wrongs, and spending time together). Yet even the Wisest answers –and my own, too—missed at least one of these four must-have, defining features of Friendship that cause unions to thrive:
How’s Your Love Map?
If you’re partnered, think back to when you were first dating. Half the fun was getting to know each other, right? You probably asked one another a lot of questions about what you each enjoyed, liked, thought, believed, dreamed. It’s likely you wanted to know all about what your sweetie’s day held in store, and at the end of the day, you wanted to know how it had all gone. Chances are, you knew their pet peeves, work worries, and the names of their best and worst friends.
In short, if your partner were a map, you knew that map blind-folded.
Somewhere along the way, though, most of us begin assuming we know all this already; we don’t need to ask anymore. And since all of us continue to change, grow and have new experiences through our lives, this means our maps become less and less accurate—much as cities are always adding and closing roads, so an old map is eventually useless.
Yet in longitudinal studies, happy couples get it that Friendship entails adding onto their Love Map *continually*. Every day, they ask what’s in store for their partner; how the day went; how and what their mate thought and felt about events from the miniscule to the sublime. They do less assuming and more asking.
Even better? Anyone can learn to do this. And science shows it takes about 5 minutes a day.
What Have You Done For Me Lately?
Each Valentine’s Day, much is posted about the usual tokens of affection: dinners out, flowers, candies, jewelry. Less is said about unclogged toilets, diapered baby butts, folded laundry, filled gas tanks.
Yet the latter is the stuff of life. And happy couples show Friendship in a very specific way: They notice and comment on the myriad daily, mundane, and by definition unromantic things their mate does for them.
They effectively find romance—or at least, a reason to say (not only think) “Thanks”—in all the little things that add up to a life.
Even better? Anyone can learn to do this. It takes moments per day and actually saves time on the fight you could have had instead.
Which Way Do You Turn?
You’re typing away on a project for work or school, and your honey-pie enters and says, “Hey, did you hear there’s a fund-raiser this weekend?” What’s your typical response?
a) Stop your work and warmly reply, “Tell me.”
b) Look up, smile, and say, “I’d love to hear about it—how about in 5 more minutes when I can catch a break?”
c) Say nothing and keep typing.
d) Snarl, “Can’t you see I’m working?! Leave me alone!”
Responses a) and b) are Happy Couple answers. These amount to turning *towards* your mate. But unhappy couples often turn away, ignoring their partner’s bids for attention. Or—even worse—they actively turn *against* their partner.
Life and love are made of the little moments, and it’s in those little moments that our partners ask for our attention with a word, a look, a touch.
If you choose, in those small requests, to turn towards your partner and make a small emotional connection, you’ll find your account at the Bank Of Love is so built up that when you need to make a really big withdrawal (aka Huge Fight), you’ve got the capital to more than cover it.
Even better? Anyone can learn to do this. And it takes about the same amount of time as ignoring or lashing out—while making life far, far more enjoyable.
What’s Your Batting Average?
Each of the defining features of Friendship needs to be done *every day* in order to really Work for relationship greatness.
Yet these steps take very little time—literally a few minutes per day, research finds. Even busy couples can therefore be happy.
And just as the greats in baseball seldom get a hit, you need not be perfect. Everyone—even Master couples—strikes out over 2/3 of the time, failing to ask their partner’s opinion; failing to listen to the reply; neglecting to say “You’re wonderful for taking the kids to the park”; tuning out when their partner interrupts their train of thought.
And that’s the best news of all. It means great relationships aren’t just for the lucky and the few. It means fabulousness isn’t just for the perfectly behaved—or even the mostly-perfectly-behaved.
It means we can all start making small steps in the right direction, today, and see positive results in our Friendship. And hence, in our Love.
I dedicate this article to my husband, Vic Hariton, who is a better Friend by far than I. He mastered these concepts much longer ago than I even knew about them, and I am the luckier for it.
The author wishes to thank the following scientists and sources:
Happy relationships—mine and millions of others—owe an inestimable debt of gratitude to
and Julie Schwartz Gottman. For over three decades, they have researched couples –childed and childless, straight and gay, married and not—and have scientifically discerned, distilled and shared not only what separates the happy from the mad, but how simple changes can bring happiness to most relationships.
I strongly encourage every reader with a relationship to own John Gottman’s book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work ”, and every reader who wants or has children to own John Gottman’s and Julie Schwartz Gottman’s book “And Baby Makes Three: Preserving Marital Intimacy and Rekindling Romance After Baby Arrives ”.