Lots of married people we know started their relationships as friends. Alan and I were part of a group of friends. We cooked dinners all together, went to church and school events, and met up at restaurants. It’s like we were a crowd that often participated in the same activities. Some in that crowd were dating each other, but not Alan and I. In the process we got to know each other without romance clouding our vision. I have always appreciated that we started out as friends.
According to John Gottman, as he explains in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.” He goes on to say,
By this I mean a mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. These couples tend to know each other intimately- they are well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes, and dreams. They have an abiding regard for each other and express this fondness not just in the big ways but in little ways day in and day out…
Note that Mr. Gottman says respect is mutual, and they know each other intimately. Friendship is a two way street and both parties must value and pursue the relationship for it to deepen. If you have a true friend, you know you can always be yourself; you are accepted and safe, as is your friend with you. You often do things intentionally to make your friend happy. This is the type of friendship that is a foundation of the happy marriages Dr. Gottman has observed.
Do you have that kind of friendship still or has it started to wane with time and stress? For most of us it does wane unless we cultivate it along the way. So how do we do that?
How about making your friendship with your spouse the focus of your date times? Whatever thing you decide to do with the time, always use it to know each other more intimately, or to express your fondness. For example, if you are going out for a cup of hot chocolate, talk about your hopes and dreams. If you are going to a play or concert, find out what your spouse thought about it afterwards. If you go for a walk together, hold hands and remember your courtship days. If you just stay home, give your spouse a back rub and talk about what happened that day. If your spouse needs to vent about a stressful situation, listen, empathize, and be glad he or she feels safe to vent with you.
Here’s a challenge: Do something in the next week specifically to build a positive atmosphere of friendship in your marriage that helps you keep the inevitable negative times in perspective. And have fun in the process!!