I’ve always been a morning person. When I open my eyes at 4:30 or 5:00, it’s the best time of the day. It’s quiet and peaceful, and I get to wake up slowly.
That’s a problem in the evening, though. After about 8:30 or 9:00, I have trouble forming multisyllabic words or walking upright. When my head hits the pillow, I’m asleep in less than two minutes.
Then I started dating Diane, who eventually became my wife. We were falling in love and wanted to spend every minute together. We didn’t just love each other; we liked each other. Being together was fun and refreshing, and we learned more about each other every day.
Suddenly, I wasn’t tired in the evenings anymore. During the year of our engagement, we’d typically be together until midnight or later before I’d drive home, sleep four or five hours and start my day. I thought I’d become a night person as well as a morning person.
After the wedding, everything changed. I had kept late hours for more than a year, but gradually started slipping back into my old ways. I was with the person I loved the most in the world, but I couldn’t stay awake anymore.
Forty-four years later, I still fall asleep early, and she wakes up late. But those differences don’t matter because we’re still the best of friends — and the emotional connection in our marriage is strong.
Most couples are great friends when they get married, but after a few years, the pressures of life start sapping their energy and time for each other. If a marriage continues without friendship, many couples see divorce as the only way out. But it’s not! If you think fun, friendship and emotional connection in marriage aren’t possible, think again.
The importance of friendship in marriage
Friendship isn’t optional in marriage; it’s the lifeblood of long-term success. Research by the Gottman Institute has revealed that “great friendship” is highly correlated with “high marital satisfaction.” In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman writes, “… happy marriages are based on a deep friendship.” If my wife and I are good at working through the tough struggles that come into our lives but there’s no depth of friendship, it’ll feel like all work and no enjoyment. But if we’ve learned how to nurture our friendship and make it a priority, we have the resources to face the tough stuff together.
Make friendship a lifelong priority in your relationship and your marriage will thrive. Friendship lubricates emotional connection in marriage.
What is emotional connection in marriage?
A strong emotional connection in marriage includes several elements:
When you work with someone, attend the same fellowship at church or meet at an event you’re both attending, you’re sharing a common experience. It’s where romance often begins because there’s that touchpoint of being in the same place at the same time. What experiences have you shared with your spouse lately?
Resist the Drift Marriage Conference
Since the early stages of romance involve getting to know what the other person enjoys and what they value, it’s natural to find things to do that you both like. Doing those things together gives you time to talk, and certain activities will rise to the surface as favorites for both of you. Of course, you can’t expect a sports fanatic to get excited about sewing or an outdoor person to thrive on having conversations on the couch. But you can explore your differences and maximize the things you both enjoy. How many interests do you and your spouse share?
Genuine friendships aren’t immune to conflict; they just don’t walk away when it gets tough. In a healthy marriage, both spouses are deeply committed to the relationship — enough to face the challenges. They believe the relationship is worth much more than the momentary feelings, and they’ll do what it takes to work through those issues. They’ve learned to see the issue as the enemy, not each other. Even though these spouses are frustrated, they concentrate on the issue and commit to working on it together instead of letting it come between them.
How committed are you both to your relationship?
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
If both spouses focus on meeting their own needs in the relationship, it means they’ve investing in themselves more than their spouse. It becomes a “taking” relationship instead of a “giving” relationship, with spouses keeping score of how the other person is performing.
If a person focuses on investing in the well-being and growth of their spouse instead, making them their top priority, there’s a continual desire to see them thrive. In that environment, investing in each other becomes a catalyst for fun and friendship — a true emotional connection in marriage.
What evidence do you see of a giving relationship in your marriage?
How to strengthen your friendship
A strong, friendship-filled marriage doesn’t happen by default; it happens by design.
Think of a new vehicle with that new-car smell. As time goes by, the car picks up the odors of dropped French fries, diapers wedged under the seats and stinky soccer uniforms. It might still drive well, but it’s not fun anymore. The same thing can happen with our marriages. If we clean up messes as they happen, we’re investing in the long-term enjoyment of the relationship.
In both cases, if it’s been years and the mess is still there, we might need the services of a professional to get things back in shape (a car detailer for the vehicle, or a therapist for the marriage).
No matter how your marriage “smells,” here are some simple, practical ways to invest in your friendship and strengthen the emotional connection in your marriage:
- Never stop dating — and if you have, start up again. Talk about what you did for fun in the early years, then find a way to do similar things again.
- Schedule weekly time with each other before anything else. It’s easy for the urgencies of life to crowd out investing in your friendship, so schedule time with each other. Protect those appointments the way you would an important meeting with your boss.
- Dream together. Discuss how you’re both feeling about the future, then share your feelings without critiquing them. You’re not looking for immediate solutions or changes; you’re just reminding each other that you’re on the same team.
- Learn to listen deeply. When your spouse speaks, put your phone across the room, turn off the TV and give them direct eye contact. Ask questions to explore their thoughts. When they reply, say “Tell me more.”
- If you’re both readers, explore a book together. Read or listen to a chapter each week, and then go to a restaurant to talk about your reactions. Or maybe you’d rather listen to a podcast together.
- Stretch yourself. If your spouse wants to try something new, don’t automatically say no. Be willing to try most things at least once.
- Pull relationship weeds quickly. As soon as a problematic issue shows up, acknowledge it with each other. You don’t need to have the solution right away, but you need to get it out in the open. Don’t let the roots grow too deep.
- Get professional help when it’s needed. You wouldn’t try to do your own brain surgery, so don’t hesitate to reach out when it’s warranted.
- Find something that’s simply fun for both of you and do it regularly. Make fun a priority in your schedule.
- Celebrate your spouse’s successes and lift them up when they’re struggling. It’s a way of saying, “I’ve got your back.” It’s what friends do for each other, so it’s even more critical to do this for your spouse.
Make friendship a priority
There’s a common myth about marriage: It’s that the longer you’ve been married, the more work and less fun it is. This belief implies that the first few years of marriage are the enjoyable ones when friendship is really strong and there simply won’t be time or energy for that kind of connection over time.
But marriages don’t have to end up that way. Having a strong friendship and emotional connection in marriage is an intentional choice. It’s a choice made by two people who are committed to a long-term relationship, and it also requires action. The second law of thermodynamics says that when something is in motion, it tends to slow down unless someone keeps pushing it. If we don’t pay attention to our friendship and keep it going, that friendship will lose momentum and disappear over time — and then the rest of the relationship will begin to wither.
The German poet Goethe said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” The longer you’ve been married, the more things will edge their way into your schedule and keep you apart from your spouse. They might be good things that seem to have real value; but if they get in the way of keeping the friendship with your spouse alive and growing, it’s time to review your options.
Friendship is vital to building a world-class marriage and a strong emotional connection with your spouse. Don’t leave it to chance; make it a priority and pursue it with intention. Make your marriage fun again!