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How good of friends are you with your spouse? Good friends? Best friends? For some of you this question may even seem a bit unusual, because you think of your spouse simply as, well, your spouse. For others, your spouse may recently have begun to feel more like a stranger than a friend. Each of these are valid responses for how someone might describe the current state of their relationship with their spouse.
However, are you aware of what research says about the impact a deep friendship shared between spouses appears to have on relationship satisfaction and longevity? Dr. John Gottman’s work has shown that couples who share a deep friendship report greater satisfaction in their relationship and, on average, tend to live several years longer than individuals who either are not married or do not share a deep friendship with their spouse. A strong friendship can also help to sustain an emotional connection between the two of you and empower your commitment to your relationship. So, if the potential of adding a few more years of laughter and connection sound appealing to you, here are four tips for how you can maintain, build, or perhaps rebuild a deep and meaningful friendship with your spouse:
1. Remain Curious
Take a moment and consider what it is that makes exploring a new relationship or reconnecting with an old friend so satisfying. Certainly one of the primary elements is the curiosity, interest, or desire to know about them that inspires the numerous questions that inevitably get asked. Whether it’s the big things, day-to-day things, their thoughts, or opinions, we want to know about them, and it fuels the fires of connection. Practice this same sense of curiosity and exploration with your spouse. It may be a greater challenge with them because you interact with them more often, but that certainly doesn’t mean you know everything about their inner world, or that they have stopped growing and changing as a person. So ask questions and be eager to learn more about them.
2. Be an engaged listener
Over time, it can be easy to slip into bad listening habits, such as not giving them your full attention, pretending you heard them, interrupting them, or simply not acknowledging that they have spoken at all. A good check-in for us can be asking if we are listening to our spouses with the same respect that we show our friends. It won’t always feel easy, and we certainly won’t be perfect at it, but feeling heard and listened to is essential to any good friendship.
3. Have fun together
There are many aspects of adult life that don’t exactly inspire the essence of fun. Emails, bills, work, chores, and much more can quickly begin to feel all-consuming. While it may be easy, and perhaps even natural to let “fun” slip off the radar of life, don’t let it! Maintaining a playful element to your relationship not only nurtures your friendship, but it can also act as a protective factor during times of stress. And remember, fun does not have to be some big, expensive, or day-long commitment; fun can be had together even in the small, mundane moments each day.
4. Be their ally
A couple of important aspects of a friendship are knowing that you are not alone and that you can count on the other to show up for you when you are dealing with something difficult. Sometimes with our spouses we might enjoy playing “devil’s advocate” or perhaps we might simply hold a different perspective on a matter from our spouses. However, as a friend, there are times when our spouse truly needs us to back them up, be on their side, or at the very least validate their personal experience.
While it can be easy to look at our relationship with our spouse as a lifelong constant, similar to the commitment of marriage, the truth is that this relationship requires regular maintenance and investment. These tips can serve as valuable tools for maintaining, building, or rebuilding a deep friendship with your spouse and reaping the benefits that come with it.