The most commonly thought of F-word is not the one that most often causes marriages to decay. Despite what social media influencers might imply, happily married couples do NOT typically have sex every day or even every week. After the initial passion subsides, most happy couples get into a routine of having sex a few times per month. That’s enough to maintain romantic intimacy and keep the marriage fire going.
When it come to a ensuring a happy, long-lasting marriage, Friendship actually is the F-word that matters most. The single most distinguishing characteristic between happy couples and distressed couples is that happy couples are more likely to be best friends and treat each other as best friends would.
These married friends truly enjoy each other’s company. They routinely create opportunities to be together doing activities they both enjoy and alternating between each other’s favorite activities. They know each other’s simple preferences, like how they like their coffee, their back scratched, and their steaks prepared. They know each other’s pet peeves and either share them or find them amusing.
Friendship is the foundation of a lasting marriage. Because they are friends, happy couples share and express mutual respect. They know each other’s intimate secrets,
disappointments, hopes, dreams, and deeply held values. They have a deep and strong positive regard for each other and naturally demonstrate their care and support of one another in dozens of ways – big and small – every day.
Married friends also have both typical, solvable conflicts and the more distressing on-going conflicts that can be very troubling for some couples. The difference between happy couples and those heading for divorce is not the absence of solvable conflict, on-going conflict, or even gridlock.
What allows married friends to remain happy through the inevitable ups and downs of marriage is that they treat each other as they would their best friend. They respectfully and directly address their solvable issues, seek to understand one another, and are willing to cooperate in having the difficult conversations needed to identify the hidden issues disguised by their conflicts. But, to be in this marital zone, you and your spouse truly have to be friends.
So, the next time you complain to your partner for the 10th time about the same thing, ask yourself this very important question: Is this the way I should talk to my best friend? If not, focus on the friendship, not the incident, calm down, and start again, softly this time. And, if you’ve done something worthy of your partner’s complaints, ask yourself: Could I show more respect for my best friend by avoiding behaviors they find annoying? If so, apologize, demonstrate understanding, ask for forgiveness, and truly try to make a change.
If you and your spouse have stopped enjoying activities and downtime together and otherwise let your friendship wane, your marriage is likely less satisfying than it once was. And you could be headed for distress. Remember that marital happiness flows from the affection, admiration, activities, and mutual respect that married friends share. So, to save your marriage, start making your spouse your new best friend…again. Let me know if I can help.
Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Gottman Methods Couples Counselor. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and marriage revitalization sessions for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out.” You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.