Love and Friendship: The Ties That Bind

Authentic friendship is the key to long-term healthy and happy relationships.

During the course of a lifetime, most people report having had lovers that have come and gone but friendships that have stood the test of time. There is no doubt that combining love and friendship makes for a stronger lasting connection.

Research shows that one of the primary predictors of a successful long-term relationship is having a strong friendship at the base. Fun, collaboration, trust, good interaction and dependability comprise the foundation of a high-quality friendship — and are necessary for a long-term, fulfilling relationship. In other words, having a deep friendship greatly enhances the quality of an intimate relationship. 

Though most couples enter a relationship as friends, daily life events
(jobs, bills, kids, in-laws, illness, etc.) can stress the friendship over time. Therefore, deliberately nurturing the friendship in your relationship is crucial. It is important that you find small ways during the course of each day to nurture and grow the friendship with your mate.

Despite the usual frustrations, differences and disappointments that all couples experience at times, ask yourself regularly, “What can I do to prompt positive feelings in my mate?” These “random acts of friendship” help show your mate that he or she is valued. They can be small gestures and take very little time or energy, like a firm, loving hug hello or goodbye;  a gentle rub on the cheek when passing; or perhaps delivering a  cold drink on a hot day. These small acts quickly generate positive sentiments and lead to optimism, warm feelings and lasting relationships. Remember, your time and attention is a GIFT that keeps on giving!

Be mindful that the ability to rebound after a crisis is also necessary for the long-term survival of a relationship. For that reason, it is not surprising that couples in successful committed relationships report that their mate is their closest friend — and credit the friendship for enabling them to survive tough times.

In his book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” John Gottman, Ph.D. states that it is important for couples to “know each other intimately” and “be well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams.” While this book has “Marriage” in the title, its powerful insights are useful for any committed couple. The book highlights the importance of the friendship bond in a relationship and guides you through the process of developing emotional intimacy.

Below are 12 key questions that have been adapted from the book. Answering “Yes” to most of the questions indicates a strong friendship with your mate.

  1. I can list my partner’s best friends.
  2. I am aware of the stresses my partner is currently facing.
  3. I can name people who are presently irritating my partner.
  4. I am knowledgeable about my partner’s life dreams.
  5. I am aware of my partner’s religious beliefs.
  6. I am able to list the relatives that my partner likes the least.
  7. I know my partner’s favorite music.
  8. I know the three movies that my partner would say are favorites.
  9. I am aware of some of the most stressful things that happened to my partner as a child.
  10. I know what my partner would do if he/she became an instant millionaire.
  11. I keep abreast of my partner’s world.
  12. My partner knows me quite well.

If you struggled with the answers, you may want to pay much more attention to the details of your mate’s life and truly understand what makes them tick. Many people fear that sharing their innermost life — the blemishes and insecurities — will be a turn-off to their mates. Interestingly, it is precisely these imperfections that distinguishes you and endears you to your partner. Couples that allow each other access to their inner worlds become emotionally connected through the process of sharing fears, vulnerabilities, hopes and dreams.

Another component of strengthening the friendship within your relationship is to have common goals and values. Truly getting to know and support each other can cultivate a sense of “we-ness” and generate feelings of safety
and security (“you and me” against the world). The friendship must be deliberately nurtured in order for it to withstand the stress and strain that
will inevitably be placed on it over time.  “Creeping separateness” happens when the initial passion wanes and both of you gradually begin to focus on separate activities and interests. Soon, you’re living very separate lives.  As separateness creeps in, the friendship slowly diminishes.

It is a commonly held belief that a couple that plays together stays together. Play dates/friendship time can be achieved by regularly scheduling short walks, talks, long drives, an early morning cup of tea, weekly nights out, occasional weekends away and yearly vacations. This time to bond fosters a sense of togetherness and helps you develop your own unique rituals and traditions. Remember, remaining best friends is the key to living “happily ever after.”