Romantic relationships often get their start in healthy friendships. Think back to the days when you and your spouse were dating and then engaged — the long talks, romantic picnics, casual walks, endless adventures and the fun you shared together. Then somewhere in the busyness of married life you lost sight of that friendship. And unfortunately, the flames of romance are no longer raging in your marriage without a solid friendship.
Studies now back up the understanding that friendship helps romantic relationships. The National Bureau of Economic Research notes that researchers found that individuals who consider their spouse to be their best friend get about twice as much life satisfaction from marriage as do other married people. The Gallup Organization has calculated 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. Apparently, growing a stronger friendship with your spouse needs to be of high priority because it will help lead to an overall stronger marriage.
I’ve seen this in my own marriage. My husband, Greg, and I were great friends prior to dating. We began our friendship in college because I dated his roommate — who had dated Greg’s sister. (Yes, this has provided many delightful conversations over the years.) Our friendship led us to the realization that we really had fun together and enjoyed each other, so we began dating. The four years of friendship built a solid basis for our romantic relationship, and 25 years after our wedding, we can see what a gift that friendship foundation has been to our marriage. It’s carried us through the ups and downs of our relationship because the friendship qualities of common kindness, honesty, empathy, loyalty and trust have brought stability to our marriage.
What happened to us?
As many couples settle into married life, the friendship can begin to fade. Often it is due to over-commitment, exhaustion, social-media overload, marriage administration or simply ceasing to do the “little things” for each other.
All these things have a negative impact on a marriage friendship. As you read through that list, did you consider whether any of those issues have weakened the special connection you have with your husband or wife?
Regardless of the cause, the fading of the friend connection in marriage can lead to a lonely, isolated experience. I’ve heard many women say, “We just aren’t friends anymore — it feels like we are just roommates living parallel lives.” If this is your experience, you are not alone.
What can we do to rebuild?
If you desire to rekindle the friendship in your marriage, there are a few simple things you can do. Consider the following:
Laugh together. Look for ways to laugh together … often! Laughter sets a light-hearted tone in marriage, often making a husband and wife feel safe in the relationship. Tell stories of the past, reminisce about silly things you once said or did, or watch a funny TV show or movie together.
Recognize the differences in how men and women view friendship. Male friendships tend to have different qualities than female friendships. Most men prefer “shoulder-to-shoulder” activities; so if you are a wife wanting to connect with your husband, engage in an activity with him. Most women love deep conversation in order to feel connected; so if you are a husband desiring to connect with your wife, take her for a cup of coffee and enjoy the discussion.
Take an interest in what interests your spouse. Although we all have different likes and dislikes, there are times when we’d do well to sacrifice for each other by participating in what our spouse loves to do. I love to bargain shop — Greg typically hates shopping. So when he offers to come along with me to my favorite store, I feel very connected to him. Now, there is one type of shopping that Greg loves, and that’s shopping for antiques. So when I get on board with his area of interest, it ultimately gives me an amazing opportunity to connect with my husband.
Don’t overcommit yourself. Leave special blocks of time on your calendar for just the two of you. We all run at such a fast pace that we need to create opportunities for connection with each other. Spontaneous times and activities are great, but realistically, most couples probably need to plan for shared time together. Prioritizing our marriage friendship should be apparent by the activities on our calendar.
Put your cell phone down. We often don’t recognize that having our eyes glued to our cell phone or computer can actually rob us of opportunities to connect with each other. Our spouse deserves our undivided attention — and our eye contact. In my marriage relationship, I struggle with screen distractions the most. I feel guilty even writing this, but I have to continually remind myself to “set it down” when Greg is around. I don’t want to continue missing out on the daily connections that are available with him. And I want him to feel confident that he is more important than any incoming texts or emails.
How do we reignite the romantic spark?
Don’t stop intentionally pursuing each other as friends. And remember that you need to be the type of friend you desire your spouse to be for you. That means you need to model the kind of friendship you want to experience with your husband or wife.
Greg and I have now been married for almost a quarter of a century, and I’m certain that not one pursuit we’ve shared has been more profitable than the pursuit of a thriving friendship with each other. We’ve discovered that the time, effort and intentionality have been more than worth it. We are reaping relational benefits today, and we’re confident that we’ll reap more in the years to come.
So build your friendship with your spouse and you just may be amazed at the romantic spark that is reignited when your husband or wife becomes your best friend.
Erin Smalley serves with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, in the Marriage and Family Formation department at Focus on the Family. She is a co-author of The Wholehearted Wife.
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