Two days after our wedding in Chicago, Les and I were nestled into a cottage on the Oregon Coast. We had nothing on our itinerary for the next five days except plans to enjoy the beach and each other, rain or shine.
Our first unexpected adventure occurred the day after we arrived. I was commenting on how the sun was trying to poke its way out of some clouds, when Les realized the keys were locked inside the rental car.
So, we walked two or three miles to find a pay phone and made arrangements for the locksmith to pick us up. Sitting on a curb, we waited. Saying nothing. Les was fiddling with a stick he’d picked up on our walk. Several minutes had passed, and neither of us said a word. It was an easy stillness. We were comfortable and content.
It was there and then that the thought hit me: I had married my best friend. This man loved me deeply, just as I loved him. I’m not talking about mere romance or passion, but an abiding love that embraces deep affection and friendship. Our love was grounded in companionship. We were allies. Comrades. Partners.
World-renowned marriage researcher John Gottman, of the University of Washington, told us: “Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.” We tend to agree.
Strangely, not much has been written on the topic. You’ll find countless volumes on romance, intimacy and passion in marriage, but not much on the simple practice of being good friends as husband and wife. It seems friendship, in the minds of many, is secondary to romance.
But get this: Research from the Gallup Organization indicates that a couple’s friendship could account for 70 percent of overall marital satisfaction. In fact, the emotional intimacy that a married couple shares is said to be five times more important than their physical intimacy. So it stands to reason that couples can ignite their love life by boosting the quality of their friendship.
Good friends are hard to find. And when found — particularly in marriage — we sometimes take them for granted. Here are a few tips to keep from doing that:
Look through your partner’s eyes. Scott and Britney came to us for a marriage tune up. They weren’t in crisis, but they knew their marriage was suffering from a bit of neglect. What was once a fun and playful friendship had devolved into a working partnership that centered on raising three kids while trying to make ends meet.
While counseling this couple, we led them through an exercise designed to help them empathize with one another. We had them each imagine what life would be like as the other person. They started at the beginning and walked through as many details of their daily routine as possible. We had them write about their thoughts and feelings and then read it to each other.
After facilitating this exercise, we knew that little more needed to be said. It’s always an eye-opener for couples. Why? Because immersing yourself in your partner’s world, temporarily seeing life as he or she sees it, alters your own perspective.
One month later, Scott and Britney bounded into our office. They had re-established their friendship and couldn’t wait to tell us about the preceding four weeks. What had happened? For starters, Scott had gotten his guitar out of the attic. He’d forgotten how much he and Britney used to love singing together. And Britney bought Scott a vintage T-shirt. He used to collect them, and Britney remembered exactly what he liked. They discovered that a little boost of empathy could reignite their friendship.
Set your clock to friendship. We try to make it, save it, seize it, buy it and even borrow it — yet time continues to elude many couples. But true friendship can’t be built without it.
Most married couples “borrow” time from their marriage and spend it on everything “out there,” hoping to repay their time debt sometime in the future. They believe someday they’ll have more, tomorrow they won’t be so busy and eventually things will be different.
But that’s not good enough for good friends. They live free and clear of any time debt and invest in their relationship now — and their calendar proves it. They schedule dates. They share meals. They book trips and adventures. They set their watches for each other.
Tickle each other’s funny bone. Proverbs tells us, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (17:22, NIV). Laughter is a healing balm for your marriage. It can relieve tension between you and your spouse and can even soothe old wounds in your relationship.
Laughter is also essential to being good friends. It bonds people like nothing else can. Sure, we feel sad when our friends are sad. We shoulder their pain. But we also share their sense of humor.
If you want to become better friends in your marriage, be sure to tickle each other’s funny bone on a regular basis. How? Recall moments from your past that always make you laugh. If you’re inclined, play a practical joke or watch a favorite sitcom or comedy together. Everybody’s funny bone is located in a different place. Some like the cerebral humor of Woody Allen while others enjoy the slapstick of the Three Stooges. So study your spouse’s sense of humor, and bring more laughter into your relationship.
Protect each other’s back. John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Good friends protect each other. Some call this “faithfulness.” Others call it “loyalty” or “consistency.” Whatever you call it, this trait is vital to the friendship of a husband and wife.
Think about it. Everyone, at some time or another, enters a dark day. We all suffer loss. We encounter pain and deep disappointments. It’s in these desperate times that we can protect one another from harm — we can watch each other’s backs.
There you have it — a few tips on how to become better friends as husband and wife. You know they’re paying off when the friend you saw at breakfast is the same friend you can’t wait to see when you come home at night. This friendship, more than any other, is loyal and lasting. And though we do sometimes take it for granted, we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are founders of RealRelationships.com and co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University. Their books include Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.
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