Every day we hear yet another bit of advice about what it takes to have a marriage that lasts. The latest: Find a spouse who can be your best friend.
Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?
Kindness, companionship, a special someone to come home to…
For many of us, the friendship we have with our spouse is what we value the most in our relationship. And according to recent research, friendship plays a key role in what makes a good marriage even better.
Mind you, the researchers aren’t saying that you have to start out as best friends. They’re saying that, over the course of a lifetime, those who consider their partner to be their best friend are happier, in part, because their friendship is a comfort to them as they face life’s ups and downs.
As happens with all research, the skeptics and naysayers chime in.
Some say that expecting your spouse to be your best friend is a set up for disappointment — citing (here come the gender stereotypes) women who complain that their husbands don’t show the same measure of interest and empathy that their women friends do; and men who wish their wives would be more into, say, the NFL Draft.
Others maintain that best friend status turns spouses into roommates, claiming best friends come to bed in old sweat pants and gym socks while lovers show up wearing… well, that’s yours to imagine.
Still others take issue with the word “best” — as if your spouse as best friend means he or she will, by definition, replace your dearest, life-long friend. The one you love like a sister. Whom you wished, in third grade, had been your actual brother. Who knows your deep and dark secrets… You get the point.
The good news: you’re not in seventh grade. There’s ample room in your heart for two best friends — perhaps even more. Never mind just choosing one.
Sadly, for many, the issue isn’t whether or not to be best friends with their spouse — it’s whether they’re able to be friends at all.
Married life can be hard. With all the demands and frustrations we juggle — managing children and work, finances, in-laws, and who’ll do what, when — the friendship aspect of our relationships can be neglected or lost.
Sometimes our struggles can leave us feeling like enemies.
Whether your goal is to be a good friend, a best friend or simply a better friend, here are some ways to start:
1. Show up.
Friends show up when it matters. They show up — at the door, at the hospital, when we’re carrying things in from the car.
They’re there when we need someone to listen, to lean on, when we need some well-thought-out advice. Maybe not all the time, or in perfect form, or with a smile on their face.
In a good marriage, mostly is good enough.
2. Cut your partner some slack.
Have you ever forgotten to lock the back door, pick up the dry cleaning, leave the porch light on when your spouse is coming home late?
Maybe you’ve been impatient, or grumpy, or used a sharp tone.
Chances are your spouse has, too.
We all make mistakes. You, me, and the person you married. Nothing says love quite like having your missteps met with a smile or a shrug, instead of a scolding.
Even, (especially) in small ways. A hug. A smile. A goodnight kiss.
Besides being a sweet thing for your spouse, generosity does a host of good things for the one who’s doing the giving.
4. Bring Your “A” Game
Couples often complain that they feel taken for granted. They say, “She comes home grumpy and tired, but when the phone rings she answers as if she’s all sunshine and light!”
Or they say, “The people he works with call him the human dynamo. It’s all I can do not to feel envious or roll my eyes.”
Why give the best of ourselves out in the world and bring the worst home? Raising your standards — a lot, or a little — will go a long way.
No news here: Allot quality time. Turn off your phone and the TV and set aside work.
Listen. Ask questions. Engage.
When something needs to be done, why not just do it? And if you have to say, “no,” being kind is far better than being gruff.
Remember: Even tired, overworked people can be nice. In most cases, nice begets nice.
5. Draw your lines.
Remember the saying, friends don’t let friends drive drunk? There are a good number of things friends should not let go by. Like nastiness, rudeness, shoddy behavior, and blame.
You’ve heard it before, you can’t control what your spouse says and does. What you can do is make choices about how you respond.
Keep in mind that it’s both loving and supportive not to take too much guff.
6. Go bowling.
Or to the opera, or the rodeo. Or be willing, for the twentieth time, to watch It’s A Wonderful Life.
Yes, there are limits to the ways we’ll hang out with our spouse, doing the things they love to do. The key is to play in their world, even once in while.
A close friend of my husband wanted to celebrate his 60th birthday by flying to Dallas for a four day Dallas Cowboys extravaganza. His wife couldn’t bring herself to say yes, though she truly wished that she could, so, good friend that he is, my husband joined him instead.
7. Tell the truth.
Honesty builds trust, and trust is a cornerstone of every good friendship.
But telling the truth is not always easy. Sometimes what we say will provoke anger or hurt. Sometimes we don’t trust our perceptions, so we hesitate to come forward. Sometimes our fear of being judged or rejected makes us want to clam up.
There are also times that it’s fine to keep our thoughts to ourselves.
One of the best ways to create a solid friendship in your marriage is to be courageous enough to reveal your thoughts and feelings, and steady enough to hear the truth without being defensive or punishing.
If you ask each other to tell you the truth, no matter how upsetting it is, the most loving and respectful response is to say, “Thanks. I appreciate your honesty.”
8. Be a card carrying fan.
I’ve never heard anyone complain about getting too many positive strokes.
Having a spouse who’s an avid supporter — knowing that someone is cheering you on from the sidelines, wants good things to happen for you, believes you can do it — makes life’s victories sweeter, and it’s difficulties, just a little bit easier to face.
There’s no need to hold back and there’s no success too small. You can say, “Hey good for you!” or, “Nice job!” when he gets the burnt stuff off of the roasting pan, when she fixes the leak in the faucet, when she finds your lost keys.
It’s not possible to adore everything about the person you married. And, thank goodness, a good marriage doesn’t require that we do.
What’s important is that you behave in ways that say I love you, I’m rooting for you, I’m glad to be with you. If you do, chances are, your spouse will feel the same way about you.
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