“True friends are never apart; maybe in distance, but never in heart.”
According to research by Dr. John Gottman, long-term vitality and connection is maintained through moments of intentional friendshipwoven throughout the course of your relationship. Below are five simple ways to strengthen the friendship in your marriage.
1. Make small moments into pivotal experiences.
Think about the honeymoon phase of your relationship. That time when everything about your partner seemed fascinating. Eros had taken hold of you, and everything from your partner’s hair follicles to their crazy comments to the passionate way they looked at you drew you even closer to them. You were head over heels!
Fast forward a year or two into your relationship. No doubt there are moments that still draw you to your partner, but you notice that “flame” is a little less vibrant and it seems like more of a chore to make time to be together. This is when the intentional work of maintaining your marital friendship is most important.
Couples in long-term relationships must learn to make the seemingly small and mundane moments actually pivotal moments that show your partner you are in tune with their world.
“Are we out of olive oil? I forgot to check when I was in the kitchen earlier.” Partner shrugs and doesn’t look up from the magazine they are reading. Or, Partner puts their magazine down and responds: “Hmm, I have no idea. But I’ll check on my way out and stop into the store on my way back from the gym later and grab one!”
The difference is that you intentionally take the time to tune in, actively listen to, and respond to your partner in a way that leaves them acknowledged and heard.
2. Express genuine interest in your partner.
Do you do fun things together during your free time? You don’t have to have the same interests as your partner, but you can absolutely enjoy time spent together by engaging in one of their (or your) interests.
Open yourself up to the opportunity of doing things you may not otherwise do on your own, for the sake of your relationship. What you will find is that, through your willingness to do so, these activities actually become enjoyable. The goal is not to force yourself to like golf if you don’t enjoy golfing, but to look for moments to enjoy with your partner while you are golfing with them.
3. Make everything positive in your relationship foreplay.
As contrary as it may sound, the smallest ways that you acknowledge your partner’s questions and expressions are the most significant in strengthening and securing your physical bond. According to Dr. Gottman’s research, there is actual legitimacy to the “romance starts in the kitchen” mantra.
Daily experiences like doing the dishes, folding laundry, watching TV, or cooking together can be opportunities for a deeper connection to occur. These can be moments to share about your day, talk about your goals, or simply to check in on how each other is feeling.
In his New York Times bestseller The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman includes an extensive list of potential activities that couples can do together throughout their day to prioritize emotional connection.
4. Make your friendship unconditional.
When you think of your closest friends, you probably know that there are few things (if any) that could dissolve the bond between you. There is an acceptance of your differences, an understanding that you may disagree on certain issues but love each other nonetheless.
Simply bringing this mentality into your marriage will do wonders for your connection and romance. Recognizing that you will have differences in opinion and ways of addressing certain issues that come up throughout your life can allow you to explore your partner in a different way.
Work stress, issues with the kids, issues with other family members, and so many other things can overflow into your marriage. There should be no conditions when it comes to showing up for your partner. Treat your partner with the same understanding and unconditional support as you would hope to receive from them.
5. Be on your partner’s team.
This goes beyond being able to accept your differences. When it comes to you and your partner versus the world, you should always take the side of your spouse. Never side with the enemy.
Show genuine interest in being on your partner’s side, and never do or say things that could leave them feeling insignificant or alone. Stand up for your partner when you see them feeling uncomfortable in a social setting. Ground yourselves in your relationship by reminding your partner of your future goals when they are doubting themselves.
As with any friendship, your marital friendship is a bond that must be nurtured and prioritized. Creating meaningful experiences, showing genuine interest in one another, prioritizing romance, and being on the same team are all simple, daily actions that you can make right now to strengthen your marriage.
Cultivating these will become a lifeline for your relationship and, later down the road, could potentially save your marriage from otherwise drifting apart.